First Presbyterian Church
27 N. Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost • Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, July 30, 2017 – 9:30 a.m.
You are the light of the world. You are the body of Christ.
Gathering Music “Berceuse” Leo Brouwer
Greeting: Assisting Elder: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Announcements Assisting Elder: Martha Kumler
Preparing for the Word
Musical Call to Worship “Break Forth in Joy” J.S. Bach
Call to Worship:
Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
If God is for us, who can be against us?
Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Time with Children
*Hymn 805 “Come Sing to God”
Prayers of Confession (Mt 11:28-30)
Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Let us ask God to forgive us.
Almighty God, our Heavenly Parent, we have sinned against you and against one another, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. In your mercy forgive what we have been, help us correct what we are, and direct what we shall be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Assurance of Grace
For God so loved the world that God gave the only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 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
Special Music “Come Thou Almighty King” Giardini
Old Testament Readings: Genesis 29:15-28
15Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” 16Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. 18Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” 20So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
21Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” 22So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. 23But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24(Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) 25When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” 26Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. 27Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” 28Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.
Epistle Reading: Romans 8:26-39
26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
31He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Sermon “The Kingdom of God is Like…” Rev. David Ashby
We have been touring Galilee with Jesus and his disciples as Jesus has been teaching, using, in particular, parables. We’ve overheard the parable of the seed on the good, rocky, and bad ground, the weeds sown into the wheat field, and such, mostly about faith. Today we run into a couple of more. This set hints more at what the kingdom of God is like. And even more than some other concepts, Jesus relies on parables to indicate what the realm of God’s grace to come will be like. The problem, of course, is that the kingdom will be only “kinda” like what we know and experience here and now. It will be at least somewhat different, and that causes us trouble grasping it! So Jesus has to resort to similes: The kingdom of God is like….”
Parables are wonderful, albeit interesting things. They are more than stories. They are more than object lessons. They are more than similes. They are glimpses into the unfathomable. They are parabolic; they curve up and around. They speak to huge, ungraspable truths using more manageable images or situations. But they also have a disquieting element of exaggeration and hyperbole. They won’t be pinned down to humdrum reality. They melt around the edges when we think too hard about them, like an ice cube in our hands. Parables exaggerate and often emphasize one lesson at the expense of some logic. Certainly, if we get overly picky about some of the peripheral questions, we’ll miss the main point. Like, how was that guy supposed to eat if he spent everything for the pearl? If the other guy found the treasure, why didn’t he just dig it up in the middle of the night and sneak away? Parables make us think… sometimes more than we want!
Anyhow, this particular pair of parables works on us about how the Kingdom is like a pearl of great price and a treasure buried in a field. The discoverers, upon finding the prize, drop everything in order to have it. One pearl merchant goes and sells everything, all the rest of his pearls, to buy the most precious pearl. The other guy sells everything to buy the field with the treasure. They forsake all else, they trade all else, to have the one thing, the only thing, worth having. They become totally focused. All lesser possessions pale into insignificance and serve only to allow them to have the prize.
Clearly the gospel is the prize; the prize is the realm of God. These two characters find it and know it and obtain it and hold onto it¬— more or less theologically— for dear life. All their lesser investments give way to the investment of a lifetime. We, the readers, know that it’s not just the investment of a lifetime; the gospel, the kingdom, is the investment of an eternal lifetime! Everything leads up to it. Everything makes it possible. Everything else becomes secondary to the precious treasure. They find it!
But remember that these two are searching… they know the only thing worth having is out there… they know the prize is hidden somewhere and that they must look for it. These two characters in the parables would get along well with people I know who are always searching for that hidden, overlooked, treasure on eBay, at yard sales, or with metal detectors on the beach! The difference is that when the merchant and the real estate buyer find the prize, they stop and know they are fulfilled by the prize… by the gift.
As we read about these two souls who find the prize and devote themselves to it, most of us naturally ask ourselves, first, if we found the perfect pearl on eBay, would we really sell the house, the car, the rest of our stuff in order to buy it? Then, most of us rein ourselves in and remember that this is in the Bible and is a parable about the kingdom, and we ask ourselves, is the good news of our redemption and reconciliation in Christ Jesus that important to us? Do we place it above all else? Is our faith in the kingdom of God which Jesus taught of such surpassing value that we rank it ahead of everything else? Are we willing to sacrifice to hold that treasure?
But let’s go another step… The parables’ challenge to us to invest all in the gospel is just as pointed when we apply it as a congregation. The great treasure, the pearl of great price which the church has found is the message of the kingdom drawing near us in Christ Jesus. That is the surpassing treasure. Are we willing enough, faithful enough, brave enough to invest everything into possessing that treasure and to be possessed by that gospel? Most churches, and this one, too, have invested in buildings and location, in the stuff of running a church— in hymnals and organs, in tables and chairs, in nursery furniture and kindergarten toys, in choir music and copier paper, in janitorial supplies and photocopiers, and zillions of important, although not ultimately important things. Churches have, as well, invested much money in the conventional financial arrangements, like savings accounts and CDs and markets and endowment funds, to even out the cash-flow and to give us a buffer. Most churches doing that explain the investments as a way of maintaining the operation of the congregation… of maintaining the institutional patterns, largely. Frankly, I can’t complain too much, since one of the institutional considerations is the interim pastor’s salary! Yet these stories push that pretty hard. Have we so locked up our investments that when we find the pearl of great price we can’t pursue it? Have we found the great treasure in a field, and paved over it? Has the institution and the building become our first focus? A few years back in a previous church I worked in, a candidate the Search Committee interviewed raised some provocative questions. This candidate noticed that the church had been pulling money from endowments and has done relatively poorly with ongoing giving and with supporting people programs and leadership.
Lots of congregations are in the same boat. Today’s lesson raises the stakes on that. Are we willing— congregationally— personally— to invest in pursuing the gospel of the commonwealth of God? Are we prepared to redirect our attention, investing our money less in institutional survival and more in the future, more in people, more in spreading the good news to our friends, family, and neighbors, more in aiding the less well-off, more in demonstrating individual and corporate faith in God’s providence and less in our own financial acumen? Can we, will we, invest in the gospel instead of ourselves? Dare we invest in the unfamiliar rather than the comfortably familiar? Is that treasure so compelling, so life-giving that we can be bold enough to put all our eggs in that basket, to redirect our priorities and let everything else be put in the service of the Gospel? Do the merchant and the man buying the field have anything to say to us? To us individually about investing in our faith? To us together about our church priorities? And, if they have something to say to us, are we open enough… and brave enough to listen… and even more, to do what they did and invest themselves totally in God’s treasure?
If that’s not enough to unsettle us, a further, even somewhat more threatening, reorientation is pushed by our lesson. One of the jobs of a pastor is to be kind of a theologian-in-residence, trying to give the perspective of our faith on the various things that go on. I’ve also spent something over thirty years working on the principle that Sunday lessons answer a question; the preacher’s job is to figure out what question goes with the answer for that particular congregation and its life at the time. This week, I sense also that the Holy Spirit has given us these parables about the kingdom as a broader perspective on eternal values and investment as a kind of the “where your treasure is, there will be your hearts also” thing. And kind of along the lines of “lay up for yourself treasure in heaven where rust and moth do not consume.” Or maybe these days: “where stock price plummets and criminal accounting procedures and risky loans do not consume!”
On a more serious note, the wild swings of the last couple of years in our investments worry us and raise deep questions about trust and about the future. Everyone has been talking about how the biggest problem is not so much the underlying fundamentals but about trust. Can you trust the accountants and the auditors and the regulators and executives? And broader, can you trust your savings and investments? And even deeper, can you trust in your savings and investments? The Christian response is, of course, no, you cannot really trust or “trust in” any of those things, you can only trust God to provide for you. All else can pass away, even things which seemed so promising and positive and secure last year. Have we mortgaged our souls to our investments? And the last years have reminded us that anything and everything less than God alone will fail us.
Although the market has been up in the past two years, the economic debacles of the last decade also force us to reconsider the true values in which we want to invest. On the one hand we have the collapse in greed of the most celebrated forms of financial investments. On the other hand, we have discovered (or perhaps rediscovered) time and again in community responses to disasters, the true value of human investments: neighborliness, integrity, helpfulness, determination, compassion, caring — which has revealed the true capital of our country, our communities, our churches, ourselves. The value of people and their efforts to do good is immense. The previously bright shining lights of magazine covers, famous CEOs leading multi-billion-dollar companies, have been dethroned. The system of valuation based on numbers, dollars, “greed” has proven hollow. But the system of valuation based on compassion, community, caring has stood the test of time and the crashes of all the other idols. The financial wizards, corporate titans, dot.commers, sports heroes, political stars, and entertainment superstars, and the rest have come crashing down, yet the fire fighters, EMS personnel, medical people, law enforcement, volunteers, and the people whose support and prayers surround those harmed by natural catastrophe or human violence withstand the test. Our national treasure is less on Wall Street than on the back roads and the streets of our neighborhoods. It takes the toppling of the idols to find the really valuable investment. The last few years tell us we let ourselves be seduced by the glitz and the hype and the bandwagon and by our own greed; it is time to invest our money and our effort in things and people that really matter.
That’s what the Bible tells us, too! Do not be anxious, trust the God who clothes the lilies of the field and feeds the birds. Seek first the kingdom and its righteousness, and all the rest will come along. Pray with the Spirit. Follow Christ.
The kingdom as hidden treasure speaks to us personally, yet there is a collective message here, as well. Like many families and individuals, congregations have been seen a drop in their finances. How might the parable of pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in a field play out on our congregational level? It may suggest that when the mere financial returns of our money are up for consideration, it may be a good time to redirect them into the work and ministries of the church, in essence investing them in the gospel, not in Wall Street. Consider investing it as a gift to the church… and to the living part of the church, not just the brick and mortar and furnishings. This particular piece will become very significant as we prepare to invite a new pastor to join our work and ministry here and critical when we undertake our fall pledge campaign, and even more critical when we start developing our budget and our outreach for 2018. That’s when we will really be able to tell whether we are willing (as individuals, families, and congregation) actually to invest our money in the pearl of great price: the gospel of God’s love in Christ Jesus.
We will be making some choices. Will we make those decisions based solely on habit, the way we’ve always done it, or will we let the Bible speak to us and perhaps challenge us. We will have to see how we do. God has pointed out to us the amazing treasure. The really crucial thing is what we do with the treasure of the Gospel we have discovered. What will we… what will we… you, me, and us… do to obtain it and share it? What will we do?
*Hymn 36 “For the Fruit of All Creation”
Responding to the Word
Prayers for Others and for Ourselves
O great creator, God who gives growth to everything from seeds to people to oak trees to universes: Heavenly and eternal God, we sit before you with hearts brimming with thanksgiving, filled with joy because, here in worship and word and with our sisters and brothers in faith, we have found the treasure of heaven, the gift of the gospel of your love, a blessing of great price, and we devote our hearts to living within it. Thanks!
We sit here and pray, too, for the world, for it continues to be wracked by natural disasters and troubled by human hurt. For all the places enduring fires, floods, famines, droughts, and hardships, we ask your healing, and we ask that our hearts will be softened and led to help in ways we can. For those too many places where strife, injustice, oppression, neglect, war, terror, and other sorrows cause by human greed, intolerance, hatred, greed, selfishness, and other dark aspects, we urgently pray. Lots of us think it will take a bit of divine intervention to help our leaders find wise solutions to our national concerns, of fairness and justice, of immigration and refuge, of opportunity and health, of so many issues. We certainly lift to your care those harmed by the weather across the country, whether dangerous or simply uncomfortable. Teach us international wisdom, O God of all places and peoples. Speed the day when war and civil unrest and terrorism are ended, and all your children sleep in peace.
We pray for those starting new beginnings. We pray for those beginning new jobs, those moving, those starting businesses, those getting ready to go to college. Bless every new thing, and bless every good work undertaken in your name or for the least of our neighbors.
We lift our own concerns, our prayers for the ill and the injured, for those we know having a hard time, for those with medical problems, financial worries, job hassles, and all the rest of the things that can wear our spirits down. We ask again for your blessing and guidance to be with us as a congregation, with our leaders, with our “just plain folks,” with our pastor search committee, with everyone who loves this congregation. We pray for those of our number enduring hardship or sadness. ……………….. We pause here, too, to pray for ourselves, to place before you the particular things weighing on our own hearts, the particular joys soaring in our spirits…. O Holy Spirit, add your holy voice to our human voices, lift our prayers, help us when the prayers don’t even have words yet… and, so far as it is good and according to your will, O God, grant our prayers, for they are lifted in the name and for the sake of Christ Jesus……
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.
*Hymn 33 “Praise the Lord! God’s Glories Show”
*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.
*Postlude “Akaka Falls”
*Exit Music “Zapateado” Traditional Spanish