First Presbyterian Church
27 N. Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
Order of Divine Worship
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost • Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time • Proper 20
Sunday, September 24, 2017 – 9:30 a.m.
You are the light of the world. You are the body of Christ.
Greeting: Assisting Elder: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Announcements Assisting Elder:
Preparing for the Word
Musical Call to Worship
Introit “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” Hymnal 802 Verse 1
Call to Worship:
Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Live in a way that is worthy of the gospel.
Stand firm in the Spirit, side by side.
Time with Children
*Hymn 265 “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun”
Prayers of Confession (Rom 5:8, Heb 4:16)
The proof of God’s amazing love is this: while we were sinners Christ died for us. Because we have faith in him, we dare to approach God with confidence. Let us ask God to forgive us.
Almighty God: you created us for life together. We confess that we have turned away from your will. We have not loved one another as you have commanded. We have been quick to claim privileges for ourselves while being careless of the rights and needs of others. We have taken much and given little. Forgive our disobedience, O God, and strengthen us in love, so that we may serve you faithfully and joyfully, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Assurance of Grace
Hear the good news! The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might be dead to sin and be alive to all that is good. People of God, hear the good news:
In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
*Response of Praise, No. 581
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World without end, Amen, Amen!
Hearing the Word
Anthem “Redeemer” Hayes
Old Testament Readings: Exodus 16:2-15
2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
4Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him— what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.”
9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11The LORD spoke to Moses and said, 12“I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’” 13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.
Epistle Reading: Philippians 1:21-30
21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
27Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 20:1-16
1“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Sermon “God’s ‘Fair Share’” Rev. David Ashby
Someone counted that Jesus brings up money something like 104 times in the gospels, more than any other topic. If one is inclined toward stewardship, as some people like me are, this is an intriguing thing. However, if you are not, like many folks sitting in many pews in many congregations, Presbyterian and not, this is a bad thing. If you don’t think your money is “any of God’s business,” this is a very bad thing!
The Matthew lesson today provides a glimpse into the way God transacts business. By the end of the parable, it is clear that God (represented by the vineyard owner) does not subscribe to Keynesian economic theory. Every economics professor and business school, and Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen would be understandably dismayed by the employment and compensation practices in the parable. Most of us would probably be just about as dismayed as the workers hired for the vineyard in the morning. Virtually everyone except Jesus thinks the owner was nuts. Virtually everyone thinks the owner didn’t get it… if you get more, I must get less… If I get more, you get less, right? And just about all of us would be wrong… only God gets it! God knows that you can get more… and I can get more…. and he can get more… and she can get more… and never run out!
You see, God does not work with the economics of scarcity. God’s economic theory is based on abundance, as Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life… and have it abundantly.
A big piece of that comes from the fact that God… being God (remember?!)… can do things God’s way. Where human beings are constrained by scarcity, by limits, by the fact that there is just so much stuff “there” to go around, God can generate inordinate, unlimited, unreasonable amounts of grace. Economics professors are fond of starting the class talking about sharing a “pie,” and that for some to get more others get less. God, like a loving grandmother, figures, take all you need, I’ll just bake up more pies! God, like that vineyard owner, figures “There’s always more where that came from.” God can fling denarii around like a twenty-something dot.commer! God has an unimaginably huge vault of funds to draw on… and runs the mint! In plain fact of the matter, God cannot run out! God is in the extravagance business, the abundance business… the grace business.
So here’s the question for those of us who profess faith in Christ, who profess faith in a graceful God, who profess faith in Christ who came to bring us life abundantly: do you trust God to keep whipping up more pies, grace upon grace? Will God keep throwing money at payroll? Will there be more for tomorrow? Will tomorrow’s daily bread be there tomorrow? That was the lesson of manna in the wilderness after Israel escaped through the Reed Sea from Pharaoh last week. Manna is a test of whether you trust providence… or not.
Honestly? Israel’s record with trusting God in all things, even the extremes, was a bit spotty! Time after time in Exodus the people rip into poor old Moses because the unknown ahead was scary, even if was toward freedom. They wanted to go back to the bad old way it used to be… at least they knew where their next meal was coming from when they were enslaved. With even the slightest hint of things getting tight, they panic and choke down tight, immediately worrying that they will run out and not have enough and not have any way of getting enough or more. The faintest rumbling in their stomachs, and they think they are going to die. Their other problem is an utter lack of imagination. They know what they had in the past, but they don’t know about the future, so since the future is hard to imagine, they imagine a blank, a black hole— a whole lot of nothing. Not only can’t they imagine that maybe there would be different sorts of fruits and vegetables and game, but they fear that there would be nothing. No food. So let’s go back to bondage. The future is going to be different… so let’s roll over and die. Go completely blank on what God has done for them in the past. Go completely brain dead. Forgot everything they knew. Total blank! Not only do they forget that the God of the burning bush might be able to do something to help them… they forget God is there at all!
So they must have freaked out when God came up with solutions from unanticipated directions. God flings a couple of flocks of quail across the plains. God sprinkles manna over the landscape. Totally new and different. Totally unexpected. Totally unlike anything in their experience. Totally unlike an economy of scarcity, there is abundance in the least likely of circumstances. And, in fact, part of the lesson of the manna was its perishability which forces Israel to trust in the Lord for sustenance and grace. If they tried to hoard it, it spoiled. If they gathered too much, when they measured it out they would have just enough. If they couldn’t gather enough, the measuring cup would be just full enough anyhow. God engineered it so they always had just what they needed, no more, no less. Even if they didn’t exactly trust God with this manna stuff, it came out right. Whether they liked it or not, whether they did a good job gathering or not, whether they liked it or not, they got just what God knew they needed.
More proof of how skewed humanity’s perspective on generosity has become is in Jesus’ parable of the vineyard owner. Sin and selfishness have so infected us that the workers blame the owner who graciously decides to give all the workers the same wage he offered the first arrivals for being unfair! The vineyard owner is more than fair, and subtracts nothing from the earliest laborers when he settles up with them. In fact, they are just fine with it… at first… until the mid-morning crowd gets the same. And their human nature starts to taint their appreciation, until they resent the owner’s kindness. They are so eaten up by jealousy that they convince themselves that what is more than fair is somehow, in their strange fallen calculus, less than fair. They don’t like it that they are treated equally by a generous employer! Instead of being delighted that all received well, they complain. They have so bought into the economics of scarcity that they cannot grasp generosity; they cannot conceive of God’s abundance.
Lots of times in the church we fall prey to this subtle variation on jealousy. Instead of being delighted that an unchurched soul has met God in a special way and has felt a deep conversion in the heart and started to attend church, long-time members may sniff about how the young Christian doesn’t wear proper Sunday-go-to-meeting attire or doesn’t know when to stand up or sit down or doesn’t know the good old hymns or any of that stuff. Worst of all, that newcomer might sit in my pew! How can such people be treated as graciously by God as those of us who have been attending here since 1971?!? The gall of God to reward all equally! And even if we quickly get over it, even in a church which sees a priority on being welcoming, we will have fleeting moments of that “Hey, I’ve been here longer…!!” We all have to watch that!
But I don’t want to lose the fact that this is talking about money. The owner gives everyone his money… no one gets it from somewhere else, and the owner is pretty generous with it all anyway. I’ve done stewardship consulting for my presbytery for years, so I’m probably too inclined to get a jump on the annual pledge season, but bear with me! Stewardship is not fundraising, nor is it meeting the institutional budget. It is the joyful response of a grateful heart to the goodness of God. The Christian steward, the Christian disciple, understands that all we have comes from God and that we simply have use of it while we are alive. The Christian steward understands that God created us to share and to be in community with others, created us to have generous hearts. Somewhere along the line, the vineyard workers forgot that generosity thing. Sharing with others, in various ways and through the church, makes us feel good, too. Being generous and considerate and concerned about others is the antidote to the grumpy, me-first, gimme-gimme, “more, more” mindset that poisons so many in our society. As God shared with us, so we share with others. The goodness and serenity to be found in sharing is one of the things we discover when we tithe, or at least when we give proportionally to our means and proportionally to the ways God has blessed us. I suppose if God hasn’t done anything for you lately, it might be hard to give part of your money and time and skills and efforts and consideration away. If you feel no joy in your heart, no comfort from God’s presence, no hope for the future, I suppose it would be hard to let go of your stuff and your money. But when you feel all that in your soul, you want to spread it around!
The Biblical model for giving is tithing. That’s the one part in ten concept. What’s crucial to that spiritual discipline is not the exact percentage but that you share in proportion to God’s blessings upon you. Some people find five percent a workable proportion, some a little less, but honestly, the average of 1.8–2.3% of family income given by mainline Protestants is a touch low! If you think all you have is what you’ve got, then giving away part seems foolish, but that’s good old Keynesian economics-of-scarcity catching you. If you realize that God gives you the 90% for yourself, and promises abundant life besides, God’s fair share starts to work for you. In addition to the proportion, the other crucial biblical model is of first fruits, that is, taking God’s share off the top. If you wait until the end of the month to see what’s left for God, you’re back to human scarcity; if you step out in faith and write the first check of the month to God, you will find the rest actually feels easier. God keeps faith with us when we keep faith with God. Remember? “Seek first the kingdom and its righteousness, and all these things will be added for you.” Keeping your priority on God even in your money actually helps keep your family and personal and financial priorities in line, too. Starting off with generosity, sharing, and trust that the God who provided manna in the wilderness will provide for your well-being will reduce your anxiety and let you live more graciously and confidently. Putting God first works all the way around!
I’d also like to put in the hint from Exodus that the same God who rained manna back then is still looking out for this congregation. That story should help us all trust that God will, in fact, provide a minister when the time comes!
So, all in all, we find in today’s lessons perspectives on the future and our personal and congregational well-being which are, quite honestly, hard to swallow at first! They go against our human instincts to trust ourselves first and take care of ourselves first and to grab our share first. But when we can truly bring ourselves to believe (and the stories from the Bible serve to help us!) in God’s abundance and generosity, we don’t have to grasp as tightly, and we can find a better, more healthy, more spiritually open perspective on our future and on our possessions. We start to share as generously as God does… and that feels very good once you start doing that. In a world where people worry about not getting their share, it is a good and wonderful thing to live in a world where God’s share is always better than fair; it is abundant, life abundant.
*Hymn No. 435 “There’s a Wideness In God’s Mercy”
Responding to the Word
Prayers for Others and for Ourselves
Holy and majestic God, gentle and loving God, as our heads bow down, our prayers rise up! We start by remembering your acts of salvation and care and grace. We recall the great stories of the faith in the Bible, the Exodus from Egypt, the defeat of death in Christ’s resurrection, the gathering and dispersing of the church on Pentecost. We recall our own experiences of your grace, our births, our families, our friends, those perfect sunrises or sunsets, your presence in adversity, moments of clarity when we see your direction for us clearly, hours in hospital or other waiting rooms when we knew you were sitting with us and those we love, days when you gave us manna when we were hungry (either real bread or money or less tangible feedings of our souls), signs of relief when we felt our own exodus from captivity, the day we welcomed you into our heart, all the times when we have felt so in your hand. And, recalling your blessings, we thank you.
We pray for others. Sometimes it seems overwhelming; the interim pastor strings together long lists of people and problems, celebrations and concerns, prayers great and small, and it seems like there is no end to what we need to pray about. We can imagine a series of expanding circles, and we begin with what is easy and on the top of our list, the people and things closest to us, and we pray for them…. we lift our attention slightly and pray for those in our community, for the people in our county who are sick or injured, recovering or declining, those with illnesses like HIV, Zika, Lyme, those who are hungry, poor, beset by problems, in financial straits, in mental or spiritual anguish, forced to do too much with too little, abused, confused, feeling beaten down by life… our gaze widens to see the bigger societal prayers, for justice, peace, opportunity… our view climbs to see the drone footage of homes and schools and rescue workers in Mexico… our perspective widens further like the weather radar and images to see the huge swirls of hurricanes which have in turn hit Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic, the Virgin Islands, and the rest… and we pray for all so devastated and those who help. We pray for travellers and those far from home at school, in the military, at work… we pray for places of research, trying to improve the human condition… so many people and their needs have come to our attention, and we pray about them…………. And, all over the landscape we see the steeples of churches, and we pray for your people and for the institutional church they work in and through, across the spectrum… we also see synagogues and temples and mosques and meeting houses and worship sites the world over and across the huge spectrum of ways you call your children to faith… we may not understand their traditions or language, but we pray for all who pray in any of your names… our prayers for others end with prayers for the whole world.
And yet, O God of all, we (shyly, perhaps) pray for ourselves… we each can be consumed by worry or fear or confusion, and there are things about ourselves and our lives which we place before you, asking your grace, your presence, your comfort… We ask that as well for this congregation, moving steadily through this season of transition, feeling closer to the promised land of an installed pastor, but still aware of how much wandering your ancient people did when they lost their focus on you… we pray for our church, our leaders, our Pastor Nominating Committee, our members present and absent… we pray that, above all, we will live within your grace, that we will remember less the old ways and more the unfolding possibilities ahead, that we will be brave enough and faithful enough to live on your providence, the manna you send us each day. Fill us with gratitude and expectation and confidence to trust your abundance, far more than we see scarcity and limitation in human terms. And let the gratitude continues we see others coming to you and benefiting from your generosity… we hope we will have only the slightest twinge when others receive your goodness instead of being like the workers in the parable who resent your overwhelming generosity and grace. Let us celebrate and seize with both hands all the goodness and glory you pour into our lives and practically sing our prayers your son’s name, saying…
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.
Presentation of Our Gifts and Offerings
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
*Prayer of Dedication
Generous God, you come to us again and again, no matter how late it is in the day or in our lives. Calling to us, gathering us in, you give us your good work to do, daily bread, and boundless grace. Increase in us a generous spirit so that we may do your work with joy alongside others whom you also love. We celebrate your salvation not only in our lives, but also in the lives of other people, even those we had not imagined would be included in the kingdom you are bringing. Align us with your ways and help us receive your gift of justice and mercy as good news. In Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
*Hymn 475 “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
*Charge and Benediction
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; be affectionately devoted to one another; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow in the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.
The grace of our Savior Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
*Choral Response “Blest Be the Ties that Bind”