First Presbyterian Church
27 N. Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
Order of Divine Worship
Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost • Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time • Proper 28
Sunday, November 19, 2017 – 10:30 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 “Come, Ye Thankful People Come” Hymnal 367, Verse 1
Call to Worship:
Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Keep silence before the Lord God!
The day of the Lord is at hand.
Time with Children
*Hymn 336 “We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing”
Prayers of Confession
If anyone sins, we have someone who pleads with God on our behalf— Jesus Christ, the righteous one. And Christ himself is the means by which our sins are forgiven, and not our sins only, but also the sins of everyone. Let us confess our failings before God and one another….
Lord our God, in Jesus Christ you have taught us that love is the fulfilling of the law. Send your Holy Spirit upon us, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, that we may love you with our whole being, and our neighbors as ourselves; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you in unity with the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever and ever. 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 “Give Thanks” Courtney
Hebrew Bible Readings: Judges 4:1-7
1The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died. 2So the LORD sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. 3Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years. 4At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. 5She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. 6She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. 7I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”
Epistle Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-1
1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:14-30
14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.
29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Sermon “What’s Your Talent” Rev. David Ashby
OK… how many of you heard the parable of the talents and said, “uh oh! Is it stewardship Sunday?” Then you remembered, “oh, wait! Last Sunday was Stewardship Dedication Sunday.” And breathed a sigh of relief?
Even though (as some of you may know) one of my specialties was steward-growing and stewardship development in my Presbytery, even I’m pretty suspicious about the way the Lectionary committee seems to have just “accidentally” put this passage mid-November, just about the time most congregations do their major budget-raising push. Seems like too much of a coincidence, doesn’t it!?! Anyhow, I’ll spare you the usual harangue to be five talent givers and not some no-account, one-talent, hide-it-in-the-dirt-or-in-a-mayonnaise-jar-under-the-mattress pessimists of little faith.
Generations of preachers (including me, fairly often!) have encouraged church members to use their money and their personal, God-given talents productively in the service of the Gospel based on this passage. The idea being that those with a “talent” for making money do so, and, not coincidentally, that they take some of that profit and return it to the church for God our master to use. Just so we can’t be blamed for talking only about “money, money, money,” preachers branch off lots of times to talk about using your own particular gifts and graces, your “talents” for music, singing, art, baking, working on the grounds and buildings, fixing stuff around the church, teaching or helping with children, whatever, in the service of Christ and his church. I’m betting that most of you could outline the usual “stewardship of the talents” sermon as well as me, right?
So here is where I’ll jump to a further, deeper, more challenging reading of this well-worn parable. A commentator I read once moved beyond the obvious, monetary definition of a talent here— literally a specific weight used to measure precious metal— and even beyond the English-language pun of what talents (as in skills and abilities) you may have to invest for Jesus’ Church— onto a very spiritual definition of what was the treasure given by the master to the servants. Ponder this with me: the fantastical treasure left with the three is parabolically the gospel itself. Someone has calculated that the talents were something like a thousand times the annual earnings of the average person, so we’re talking about Jesus exaggerating for startling teaching effect. He does that a lot. When he does, we need to pay attention. This commentator observed that the thing which was of surpassing value to the early church was the Gospel; nothing else would come close. It’s only in the last hundred or so years that we have limited the parable to financial stewardship. The early church probably heard this in evangelism terms. So, look at this not as how three souls invested these talents in the stock market or buried them, but as how they exhibited— or didn’t exhibit— stewardship of the message entrusted to their care. One leverages his five talents to make more… to reap more spiritual riches, to make more disciples. The next leverages his two pretty well. But one is so paralyzed by the enormity of what has been entrusted that he buries it, covers it up, and sits on it, fearful of taking out and using it. If you are too worried about the precious thing you have that you don’t do anything with it, you’ve failed the gift, the giver, and yourself. Which is why the master in the story is so provoked! This treasure is not like some Hummel figurine sitting on the shelf to be protected and preserved behind glass. Ahhh, but that impulse not to risk your precious treasure is pretty familiar, isn’t it? Think of all those perfectly lovely children’s toys that are not being played with because a Beanie Baby or die-cast collector has them sealed in plastic. This third guy mistakes the gospel for a “collectible.” It’s not; it’s a living, moving, changing, growing, thing to be used and spread around. It gets its life from being used and shared and passed from one person to the next, more like a good old-fashioned teddy bear which nobody gives a thought to… but enjoys and loves and finds comfort in.
So the choice before us is whether we take this treasure— the gospel of God’s love in Jesus Christ— and invest it all over the place, watching it work and yield dividends, or whether we put it on a display in a cabinet at the back of the church library or on a shelf in the pastor’s study and occasionally dust it off, but otherwise avoid getting fingerprints on it. At the Vintage Grand Prix races at the Glen each fall, I enjoy them taking these glorious old cars, some of them quite historically significant, back on the road at speed, even though (objectively speaking) it’s not that smart to take rare, nearly irreparable machines out on the track. But it is the essence of a race car to race, not sit in a museum, and the drivers risk wrecking the cars because letting them rust away buried in a field is the true sacrilege. Sure, if it sits, it’s safe. But if it sits, it’s inert. Putting your talent in the ground is like parking a fine vintage car (a Jaguar SK 100, perhaps?)… or like hiding the value of the Gospel in dusty old corners of your church! You got to take the gospel out and use it, drive it, spread it around, invest it.
When you look at the parable this way, from the front, rather than just from the financial side where we’ve tended to stand in the past hundred years, the owner’s reaction to the servants and his indignation at the overly cautious one starts to have some new nuances. Imagine his brow furrowing and his expression darkening with every word from the last one, finally exploding in indignation, barking “Take back his money, and get him out of here!” Again, if you look at this from the church perspective and not just the individual perspective, that disgusted order to give the one talent guy’s resources to the now-ten talent guy has some staggering implications for lots of congregations. To put it bluntly, God will “fire” churches not multiplying the Gospel and divert their treasure to the ones that do! If a congregation is not meeting the minimum standard of at least making some interest on God’s gifts, then God is going to drop kick it out and redirect God’s energy to a congregation that is multiplying the gift.
Consider with me your stewardship of the gospel, how you, individually and congregationally, invest and use the precious treasure God has entrusted here. It can be very hard to keep the focus on the work and witness of the church. Yet I think it is absolutely essential that we keep that focus. Scriptures remind us that the central focus must always be the job of investing the heavenly treasure of the Good News of God’s love, forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, and new life in Christ Jesus. We don’t, as First Presbyterian Church, want to be caught wrapping the treasure of the gospel in a towel and hiding it, instead of multiplying it like the first two souls in the parable.
So what are the talents that God has given to First Presbyterian? Most of them are pretty obvious. We have a nice building, solid investments, cool people, good programs, and a reputation in the community for being a church who cares and is engaged in the community. We’ve got musical talents in the choir loft and behind the bell tables and on the organ and piano benches which can appeal to lots of people. We have a history of showing a real talent for doing hands-on outreach, and a great talent for marshaling community resources and organizations to accomplish broader goals. We have lots of members who have a talent for putting their faith into action during the week, at work, at school, in community organizations, in all sorts of ways that help people around them. The only shadow in this picture is that lots of Presbyterians are a bit too cautious about telling people “why,” that they are doing it because they are followers of Christ and members of this people of Christ. If we could hook those talents of engagement and compassion with a talent for talking about it, we’d have two talents to invest amazingly. But that can be worked on!
Another big talent: a guy in a church I served previously, Art Wellington, used the phrase, our “Sunday family.” In the two-and-a-bit-years I’ve been here, your support, love, and sense of belonging has been shown time and time again to be clearly a most golden of talents. People want to be embraced into the loving-care of this congregation. But you cannot stop actively investing it and let it languish on the shelf collecting dust, sort of like the old pictures at the back of the top of the dresser, reminding you of what once was, but not really anything you give any attention to now… faded old photographs of the past. But the Sunday Family is still here, and it’s still alive. There is still love and support to be shared, gospel to be shared. In fact, both demographic statistics and just plain talking to people both bear out that there are lots of people in Honeoye Falls and Mendon and Rush and Lima and hereabouts who desperately want to have this kind of church family, one which will surround them with love, one which will share with them the hope to be found in a life centered around Christ Jesus and not just the workday rat race. About a third of the people living and working right around here have no religious affiliation. It’s a missionary market almost as wide open as when the Apostle Paul went to Corinth, Thessalonika, Philippi, Rome, and the rest. Right here, right now, in these corners of Monroe, Livingston, and Ontario counties, there are people who thirst for the living water, who hunger for the bread of life, who want to see the sunlight of Easter in their drab day-to-day existence… rather like some of you and some of your families back fifty years ago, twenty years ago, ten years ago, when this place offered a treasure beyond words to you when you craved more, when you felt the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus through the First Presbyterian Church Family. That good news is a talent (in both sense of the word!) worth sharing right now, right here!
And to fail to take that heavenly treasure and spend it, invest it in spreading around the Good News will surely disappoint God if we leave it sitting on the back shelf collecting dust! We all know of some churches which have become so anxious and pessimistic that they pretty much do what the third servant did, totally bury the talent. They dwindle away to just a few families or just a few people, for that matter, and sag away from any engagement in the world around them, tense and frightened that they might close. We have to do at least the minimum the master wanted, to invest the talent at least enough to get some interest from it. And yes, I think that’s God’s cosmic pun here, that we at least create some interest in the gospel, even if just a bit. Of course, most churches at least accomplish that, but we don’t want to be one that doesn’t, do we?! We want to be acting a bit more like the second servant, right? We may look at some of the big, vigorous or well-to-do congregations around us, congregations like Rush United Methodist, or maybe those loud, active evangelical congregations like Lima Baptist, and we figure it’s pretty hard to pull off being a five talent church. Still, if we get good at being a two-talent congregation, maybe, with some work and the grace of God, we can move up to being a five talent one!
So, would you have rather that the parable of the talents stayed in its customary location in a stewardship sermon, rather than confronting us as a challenge to greater evangelism? It’s precisely because evangelism is not our first instinct that I think it is so important to lift our heads and lift our eyes and lift our thoughts to the ongoing work of the gospel here in this place and among you, the people of God. You simply cannot retreat from the call of the gospel to get out there, even if you kinda want to! It is by remembering the beauty and power of the gospel that it will begin to pull you towards new life. And that includes new life for this congregation beyond an interim season. May God grant that we cheerfully take our place as a two talent congregation, investing in the Gospel to Honeoye Falls…
………unless you want to try for being that five talent one…!
*Hymn 712 “As Those of Old Their First fruits Brought”
Responding to the Word
Prayers for Others and for Ourselves
O Master who entrusts us with the treasure of grace, O God who calls us to spread the good news of salvation, O Spirit who prays with us, we come to you now with thanksgiving and praise, with prayers for others and ourselves, with prayers for our community and our congregation, with prayers lifted in word and silence.
The world around us reels with problems, some huge like natural catastrophes that wash away hundreds of miles of coastline with hurricane and flood, that peel mountains off in landslides, that erupt with volcanoes, that burn with forest fire, that tremble with earthquakes. Some problems are more human-sized, like the family without enough to eat, the person laid off from work, the child who is sick, the person trying to stop smoking, the teenager trying to figure out what to do, the person sitting friendless and alone, the person with HIV, the angry person, the depressed or anxious, families sitting by hospital bedside, the figure standing at a crossroads having to make a decision, the ill, the injured, and those caring for them. We all know way too many people who need your presence and comfort and our prayers and support… and so we lift our prayers in this silence… ………………. ………………………….. …………………………
Grant us thankful hearts O God, and not just on this week when we mark it on a calendar but every day, not just commemorating a feast in 1621 in Plymouth but celebrating your goodness in 2017 in Honeoye Falls and round about. Catch our attention so we pay attention to the little gracenotes you scatter around in our lives, so we cherish the people who surround us, so we enjoy each day you have given us, even if cold and snowy, even if hot and humid, even if sunny and perfect! As we gather around the traditional tables, we thank you for the bounty of the land, field, farm, and pasture, for those who process and transport our food, sell and prepare it. We thank you for the many who will be working so we may celebrate, public safety and utility workers, medical staffs, highway and travel industry staff, hospitality and restaurant workers, the folks it is so easy to overlook on a holiday… or any day. We raise our thanks for the harvest!
We pray for all congregations, blessed as we are with that immense treasures of the gospel of salvation, whether big five talent or modest two talent, and, of course, praying that mere one talent congregations may also come to life and be braver and more forward-looking tomorrow than yesterday, each catching a sense of your presence and looking for new ways to share that word of grace and hope and peace and justice and redemption. Bless and extend every good work undertaken in your name, no matter who does them! May your Holy Spirit whisper to us new hints of how we might phrase the old, story in a new key for new ears to hear and receive joyfully. Open our eyes to the opportunities around us to share our talents and the warmth of your love. Oh, and give us the talent to share and multiply your word among all around us! We ask your continuing blessing and vision (and patience and endurance!) to be with our Pastor Search Committee, and also with our Session, with Mission and Worship, Deacons, Christian Education, choir, bells, Women’s Group, all other committees, programs, and all the rest here, as we seek to be faithful, bold, energetic, and loving in everything we say and do, for we do and say it all in the name of 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.
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
O God, the gift of your Son is the life-changing treasure that is truly beyond all value. Your generosity and goodness astound us! Inspire us to teach your commandments and share your gospel, that all may enter into the joy of Christ. Amen.
*Hymn 643 “Now Thank We All Our God”
*Charge and Benediction Philippians 4:8-9 (ed.)
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in Christ, do; and the God of peace will be with you.
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 “Come, Ye Thankful People Come Hymnal 367, Verse 2