A short service for the second Sunday before Advent 15th November 2020
Call to worship
God of all time,
you made time and you entered time to be with us.
We move from ordinary time to extraordinary time,
and in all this, we wait for you.
Keep our hearts aflame with the things that please you:
mercy, humility, justice.
And as we turn to worship you,
we worship you in time, in spirit and in truth.
A gathering prayer
We gather here, at the end of one week
and the beginning of another.
O Lord of decades and days,
centuries and seconds,
we stop now, for this moment,
and turn together to you –
who holds all time in your hand.
Make us ready to receive you,
as we gather here today.
A prayer of approach
Turning towards you, O God,
we also turn towards ourselves.
We think of what we bring, and what we don’t.
And we know that even though you call us to be ready,
you also support us in bringing the little we have,
whether we feel ready or not.
O God of readiness, ready us, as we pray.
A prayer of confession
You call us to a life of mercy, justice and humility –
but we do not always live like this.
You call us to a life of welcome –
but we do not always welcome.
You call us to a life of solidarity –
but we do not always offer a helping hand.
Have mercy on us, O God, for the times we have failed,
and for the times we have failed to care.
For your name’s sake, and your mercy’s sake.
Of God and Human Beings
O Lord, you have always been our home.
Before you created the hills
or brought the world into being,
you were eternally God,
and will be God forever.
You tell us to return to what we were;
you change us back to dust.
A thousand years to you are like one day;
they are like yesterday, already gone,
like a short hour in the night.
You carry us away like a flood;
we last no longer than a dream.
We are like weeds that sprout in the morning,
that grow and burst into bloom,
then dry up and die in the evening.
We are destroyed by your anger;
we are terrified by your fury.
You place our sins before you,
our secret sins where you can see them.
Teach us how short our life is,
so that we may become wise.
Bible reading Matthew 25.14-30
The Parable of the Three Servants
“At that time the Kingdom of Heaven will be like this. Once there was a man who was about to leave home on a trip; he called his servants and put them in charge of his property. He gave to each one according to his ability: to one he gave five thousand gold coins, to another he gave two thousand, and to another he gave one thousand. Then he left on his trip. The servant who had received five thousand coins went at once and invested his money and earned another five thousand. In the same way the servant who had received two thousand coins earned another two thousand. But the servant who had received one thousand coins went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master's money.
“After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The servant who had received five thousand coins came in and handed over the other five thousand. ‘You gave me five thousand coins, sir,’ he said. ‘Look! Here are another five thousand that I have earned.’ ‘Well done, you good and faithful servant!’ said his master. ‘You have been faithful in managing small amounts, so I will put you in charge of large amounts. Come on in and share my happiness!’ Then the servant who had been given two thousand coins came in and said, ‘You gave me two thousand coins, sir. Look! Here are another two thousand that I have earned.’ ‘Well done, you good and faithful servant!’ said his master. ‘You have been faithful in managing small amounts, so I will put you in charge of large amounts. Come on in and share my happiness!’ Then the servant who had received one thousand coins came in and said, ‘Sir, I know you are a hard man; you reap harvests where you did not plant, and you gather crops where you did not scatter seed. I was afraid, so I went off and hid your money in the ground. Look! Here is what belongs to you.’ ‘You bad and lazy servant!’ his master said. ‘You knew, did you, that I reap harvests where I did not plant, and gather crops where I did not scatter seed? Well, then, you should have deposited my money in the bank, and I would have received it all back with interest when I returned. Now, take the money away from him and give it to the one who has ten thousand coins. For to every person who has something, even more will be given, and he will have more than enough; but the person who has nothing, even the little that he has will be taken away from him. As for this useless servant—throw him outside in the darkness; there he will cry and gnash his teeth.’
As we journey through this year, one of the most striking effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic are the land marks and milestones that have been altered or swept away. Each of us carrying disappointments and frustration at the celebrations and events that have either been deferred or cancelled. It feels important that we should not underestimate the cumulative effect that all this has upon our mental health and general well-being. For it is as we begin acknowledging these losses and their impact upon us, that we recognize the burdens that we are currently carrying. This can be profoundly helpful in encouraging us to go gently with ourselves.
In Matthew’s gospel we find some encouraging words of Jesus that may help us in times like these
“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest” (Matthew 11.28-29).
Friendship with God and finding faith in Jesus is all about the possibility of burdens being eased. The burden of failure being lifted through the grace of forgiveness. This was the experience of the early disciples, like Peter, who so often came up short, but were still received and restored in their relationship with Jesus. Even Peter who at the end, in Jerusalem, denied knowing Jesus three times was restored and his burden lifted. Peter may well have felt that he had gone too far, that his personal failure was too great, to be healed and restored, but what Peter’s experience tells us is there is no burden too great or heavy that is beyond God’s power to heal and restore. If this can work for Peter with his heavy load, then it can certainly work for you and me too.
In today’s bible reading from Matthew 25 we find The Parable of the Three Servants with Jesus addressing issues surrounding a final judgement. Here is a reminder that on the last day, as Jesus returns to gather us together, our lifetimes behavior and deeds will be assessed and weighed. We will remain accountable for what we have accomplished in life or left undone, but always forgiven, for our shortcomings through the cross.
In the parable of the three servants we have three servants each given an enormous sum of money, equivalent to something like fifteen years of wages, and they are told to put it to use whilst their master is away. Each servant does so, but with contrasting results. When the master returns two servants have doubled their masters money are highly commended, with the words “Well done, you good and faithful servant” (verse 21). In contrast the third servant returns the money that the master lent him, but without any profit or loss. This servant defends his actions by stating
“I know that you are a hard man; you reap harvests where you did not sow, and you gather crops where you did not scatter seed. I was afraid, so I went off and hid your money in the ground” (verse 24-25). The master is harsh in his judgement of this servant describing him as bad and lazy, before throwing him out.
What are we to make of this parable and the masters different responses to the three servants that range from apparently being generous and philanthropic on the one hand through to harsh and unjust? We are presented with a dilemma and that is often the effect of a parable. This is certainly not a blind endorsement of capitalism, but it is a teasing exploration of what the terms “good and faithful” mean. As one biblical commentator has remarked being good and faithful is more than theological correctness, passive waiting or strict obedience to clear instructions. It requires active responsibility that takes initiatives and risks. So it seems then that Jesus requires us to do something with our faith and here we can recall how he regularly sent out his disciples two by two, to heal the sick and proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near. So I wonder what it is that you and I are being called to do next, on our faith filled journey?
It is also telling that the motivation behind the action of the third servant was fear of his master. But fear is not always helpful. Fear and a failure of courage can sometimes prevent us from doing the right thing. It rather depends upon what we are fearful of. In the Bible in the book of Proverbs we are told that
“The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility goes before honour” (NRSV Proverbs 15.33) and so by implication this fear of the Lord can be helpful to us. But a fear that incapacitates us, that causes us to freeze, that somehow diminishes the fullness of life that we are promised as followers of Jesus is not what we are made for.
In an age when our fears, on many fronts have been magnified, let us be mindful of the promise that perfect love drives out fear and let us rest upon the promise and invitation of these words to love deeply.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1John 4.18).
Rev Mike Sermon Vicar St Paul’s Church Blackheath
We pray to God, who is always ready –
for those overtaken with demands.
Give rest, O Lord.
For those overburdened with anxieties.
Give rest, O Lord.
For those overcome with debt.
Give relief, O Lord.
For those oppressed by powers that despise them.
Give salvation, O Lord.
For those in situations they cannot see a way out of.
Give freedom, O Lord.
For those in need of hope.
Give hope, O Lord. Amen.
A final prayer
O God, you have made us your people,
we who once were not a people.
You have spread your arms wide and welcomed all.
Your invitation is always open, always ready to extend and expand.
Send us out, now, in the joy of your inclusion
and with the mission of your hospitality for all.
Father, Son and Spirit,
you dwell in community and call us to community.
Source, Light and Love, you welcome all.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found;
was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come.
‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures;
he will my shield and portion be
as long as life endures.
When we’ve been there a thousand years,
bright shining as the sun,
we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
than when we first begun.
Vs 1-4 John Newton (1725-1807) alt
v5 John Rees (1828-1900)
Let us go in peace,
In the name of Christ. Amen.
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Good News Translation (GNT)
Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society