The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury

November 8, 2020
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
9:30 am

PRAYER OF PREPARATION

You call me to wait on You, Lord,
but I get tired of waiting.
Your answers to my prayers,
Your call for me to serve You,
the promise of Your coming Kingdom,
they all seem to take so long.

You tell me to watch for Your coming, Lord,
but I’m not sure how to prepare for…
a thief in the night,
an undisclosed time,
and Your disconcerting habit of secrecy and mystery.

Yet, something inside whispers
that You’re not all that hard to find;
That You’re always coming to me,
and that both the waiting and the watching,
are more about being open to You now,
than about trying not to be surprised in the future.

And so I will keep waiting,
and I’ll try to stay alert,
so that I can catch the glimpses of Your glory
that fill my day, every day. Amen.

PRELUDE       Songs of Thankfulness and Praise              Rachel Lummi

CALL TO WORSHIP

Are you awake? Are you alert?
Christ is coming into our lives in a new way.
Are you watching the signs?

Are you interpreting what is happening today?
Christ is coming into our lives in a new way.
Do you see opportunities for ministry?

Do you see the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the needy?
Christ is coming into our lives in a new way.
Come, let us worship and let us work in the reign of God.
Christ has extended the invitation:

let us work together in the reign of God on earth.

HYMN          “Called as Partners”

Called as partners in Christ’s service, called to ministries of grace, we respond with deep commitment fresh new lines of faith to trace.  May we learn the art of sharing, side by side and friend with friend, equal partners in our caring to fulfill God’s chosen end…

Christ’s example, Christ’s inspiring, Christ’s clear call to work and worth, let us follow, never faltering, reconciling folk on earth. Men and women, richer, poorer, all God’s people, young and old, blending human skills together gracious gifts from God unfold…

Thus new patterns for Christ’s mission, in a small or global sense, help us bear each other’s burdens, breaking down each wall or fence. Words of comfort, words of vision, words of challenge, said with care, bring new power and strength for action, make us colleagues, free and fair…

So God grant us for tomorrow ways to order human life that surround each person’s sorrow with a calm that conquers strife.  Make us partners in our living, our compassion to increase, messengers of faith, thus giving hope and confidence and peace.

CALL TO RECONCILIATION

How quickly we forget – our faith, our calling, our hope.  All because we try to do everything our way, rather than God’s.  But God is quicker to forgive, and to restore us to new life.  Let us confess to our God, as we pray, saying,

PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS

It is never easy to admit how foolish we are, Approaching God.  You have chosen us for yourself, and we continue to shelter false gods in our hearts.  You promise to be with us in every moment, but we can find little time for you.  You send your Word to us, but we are too busy listening to the noise of our culture to pay attention. Have mercy, Eternal One, and forgive us.  Speak to us, so we might listen, and in hearing be transformed into your people.  Fill us with holiness, so we might give ourselves wholly to others.  Enable us to serve you faithfully and completely, even as did our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Silence is observed

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

This is our assurance: God forgives us.
This is our hope: God’s love is everlasting.
This is our truth: God is with us always.
We will speak the truth;
we will live the hope;
we will share God’s mercy.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

RESPONSE

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.

PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST

The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.

ANTHEM                   “For Such a Time as This”                Joseph Martin

CHILDREN’S MESSAGE

(all children will remain in the sanctuary)

PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION

Lord of the ages, our hope in times of trouble, and our consolation in grief; bring us a spirit of renewal, so that Your people may honor those who have given their lives in service to their country in conflict.  May their service kindle in us the desire for peace and unity, which is Your hope for all people. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen

SCRIPTURE              Matthew 25:1-13

25“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

SERMON

“Make haste to help me, Lord! Hasten to me, O God! Lord, do not delay!” The words of the Psalmist, in conversation with the Gospel reading for today, seem like just the right words of response.

They seem like the kind of words that the disciples would have uttered after hearing Jesus’ parable of the ten bridesmaids — “How long will we have to wait, Jesus?” They seem like the words that would come to the lips of the Thessalonians as they witnessed their loved ones dying before their eyes and before Jesus’ return. “When are you coming back, Jesus?”

“Lord, do not delay” are words of waiting.

They express what is almost unutterable — the lack of control, the fear of the unknown, the worry of whether or not we are ready, the anxiety about being prepared for what is to come.

Waiting carries many emotions — anticipation, wonder, eagerness, dread, agitation, fear, longing, loss. Of course, much of our emotional response is determined by that for which we wait. Our time of waiting will be experienced differently depending on that which we expect. Waiting is hard. Yet, my difficulty with waiting is not so much the spectrum of feelings experienced, but the fact that I can’t seem to be content with the present.

There are numerous examples of things, events, persons, for which we wait. But I wonder about this. Not that we shouldn’t acknowledge the multiple realities and situations of life for which we wait. But waiting for the Lord seems like a different kind of waiting altogether. I doubt that many of us are actively waiting for the return of the Lord. So, what are we waiting for, then? How can the waiting described in our texts translate to the waiting in our lives now? How are we getting ready? Will we be prepared? After taking stock, do we admit woefully poor planning?

Perhaps what we are waiting for –is waiting for the Lord– to show up in our waiting.  As we wait, I believe it is essential to recognize that the kingdom of God that is coming is a very different type of government than our democratic experiment.  It is not about voting or ballots or recounts or majority rule.

The 50 percent plus one will not determine what the church should or will be. Nor will a poll be taken to determine what the general will might be.  The agenda for God’s Kingdom is set by the Lord of Lords!!

The parable from Jesus about waiting is also about the kind of authority Jesus proclaims – that is the kingdom of God – it suggests that there may be some tension between the political order that is the church and that form of social and political organization called democracy. I need not tell you this is the season Americans elect the president and a host of other offices. We will be told this is the season the people rule. That sounds like a good idea, but you need to remember that there was a democratic moment in the Gospels, and the people asked for Barabbas.

Voting is often said to be the institution that makes democracies democratic. I think, however, that is a deep mistake. It is often overlooked but there is a coercive aspect to all elections. After an election, 50.1% get to tell 49.9% what to do.

I do not mean to underestimate the work elections might do to make our lives less subject to violence, but elections are not ends in themselves. In classical democratic theory, elections are only the means to make a people have the kind of exchanges necessary for the articulation of the goods we have in common. I think I can honestly report that the campaign climaxing in the election on Tuesday does not seem to fit that description.  We are a deeply divided nation.

It is tempting to blame Donald Trump or Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell for that result, but I think the problem goes deeper than them. The problem, quite simply, is us; a sobering but true realization. We get the people we deserve running for office.

Maybe we need to turn back to a focus upon our relationship with our Savior, and turn off CNN, FOX or MSNBC.  We did not elect Jesus to be President. We did not elect Jesus to be the second person of the Trinity. We did not elect him messiah or savior. We did not vote on whether there should or should not be a people gathered to worship Jesus. We thought our leadership could even be determined by lot. We did not vote to legitimate what we now call “the Bible.”

There were times and there will continue to be times Christians take votes, but often it takes centuries for what was determined by a vote to be received by the whole church. Elections are no substitute for argument. Thus, the observation often made by non-Christians that Christians must surely love one another, because how else could we explain their willingness to engage one another in argument?

Stanley Hauerwas states that Truth matters. We are to be people of truth, even as we wait for the Bridegroom’s return. The truth that makes us Christians means we are a people who are not destined to be celebrated in any social order, whether it calls itself democratic or not. Do not misunderstand! I am not suggesting that there are not better and worse forms of social and political organization. We do not live in a night when all cows are grey. But it is also the case that Christians are a people that believe what we believe is true. Such a people cannot help from time to time coming into conflict with those regimes organized on the assumption that there is no truth other than what “the people” say is the truth.

Jesus tells his followers that we will be arrested and persecuted because of his name as the wait for the Kingdom of God. This should be received as good news because Jesus tells us we will therefore have the opportunity to testify. To testify is to tell the truth before a world that often does not believe it possible to say what is true. Jesus assures us that we will be given the words and the wisdom to say at the appropriate time what is true. And this, thank God, is the truth: Jesus is Lord, even as we wait!!

Lord is not a democratic title; it is a truthful designation for the one we worship. We have the authority to testify to the truth that is Jesus because that Jesus is Lord is not some general truth that can be known without witnesses.

That what is true is known by witnesses to Jesus cannot help but be a deep and profound challenge to the status quo. It is a challenge because the status quo is based on the assumption that whatever is true must be available to anyone. Christians are not anyone. We are Jesus people who Jesus says will be hated and some of us will even be put to death. But if Jesus is who he says he is, what choice do we have? After all, we did not elect Jesus. He elected us, and we wait for his Kingdom like ten bridesmaids! So let us proclaim the truth that Jesus is Lord, no matter who is president!!

Commentary provided by Stanley Hauerwas, Barbara Brown Zikmund, Karoline Lewis, Greg Carey, Susan Hylen, Scott Hoezee, Karoline Lewis, Lance Pape, Jill Duffield, Sarah A. Johnson, David Lose, Clayton Schmidt  & Jeannine K. Brown.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH (from A Declaration of Faith)

God has not taken his people out of the world, but has sent them into the world
to worship God there and serve all humankind. We worship God in the world by standing before the Lord in behalf of all people. Our cries for help and our songs of praise are never for ourselves alone. Worship is no retreat from the world; it is part of our mission.

We serve humankind by discerning what God is doing in the world and joining God in that work. We risk disagreement and error when we try to say what God is doing here and now. But we find guidance in God’s deeds in the past and in God’s promises for the future, as they are witnessed to in Scripture. We affirm that the Lord is at work, especially in events and movements that free people by the gospel and advance justice, compassion and peace.

HYMN          “We Are Marching”

We Are Marching In The Light Of God
We Are Marching In The Light Of God
We Are Marching Marching
We Are Marching Oh Oh
We Are Marching In The Light Of God
We Are Marching Marching
We Are Marching Oh Oh
We Are Marching In The Light Of God
We Are Marching In The Light Of God
We Are Marching In The Light Of God

We Are Dancing In The Light Of God
We Are Dancing In The Light Of God
We Are Dancing In The Light Of God
We Are Dancing In The Light Of God
We Are Dancing…Dancing
We Are Dancing Oh Oh
We Are Dancing In The Light Of God
We Are Dancing…Dancing
We Are Dancing Oh Oh
We Are Dancing In The Light Of God

We Are Praying In The Light Of God
We Are Praying In The Light Of God
We Are Praying In The Light Of God
We Are Praying In The Light Of God
We Are Praying…Praying
We Are Praying Oh Oh
We Are Praying In The Light Of God
We Are Praying…Praying
We Are Praying Oh Oh
We Are Praying In The Light Of God

THE PRAYER’S OF THE PEOPLE

God, we are gathered to worship and pray even if we are in separate places. We are with you, united in Christ, and part of the communion of all the saints, past, present and future. In recognition of the vastness of creation and your never-ending creative power, we humbly and confidently speak our heartfelt hurts and share our deepest hopes.

We choose to serve you this day, knowing that serving you requires our all. Do not let us falter when discipleship gets hard and we are tempted to serve lesser, easier gods. Encourage us with the gift of community and the power of the Holy Spirit. Help us to not grow weary in doing good.

When we survey the state of our world, the suffering and the evil, the conflict and the hardship, we cannot help but cry out to you for help. While we know nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord, we often rip the fabric of our life together apart, sowing division instead of seeking to be ministers of reconciliation. We know that you are with all those who hurt and we ask for the courage to stand on the side of the oppressed, to seek out those left half-dead in the ditch and to feed your sheep. Increase our compassion for people and indeed for all creation.

As we continue to try to navigate the many storms of this season, we are mindful that we do not do so alone. We are grateful for the ways you provide for us, granting us glimpses of peace that passes understanding, giving us rest that restores and pursing us when we are lost and afraid. We thank you for the gift of one another, those with whom we agree and those whose views we cannot comprehend, each of us your child, made in your image.

When we are unsure what to do, where to go or how we will serve you well, remind us to refill the oil for our lamps, the oil of gladness and healing, the oil that consecrates and anoints, the oil that allows us to see Christ when he comes to meet us. May our desire to serve you provide the wisdom we need for the living of these days. We make our prayer in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, the one who taught us to say when we pray , Our Father…

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, forever. Amen.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS

There’s a difference between planning and preparation. We can’t plan the future that God holds, but we can prepare for each day by practices of generosity. Generosity helps us to forgive and to heal; it helps us to make peace in the world; it helps to bring justice and mercy to those in need. Our gifts this morning are one way we prepare for God’s coming into the world in the most unexpected ways. Let us gather our gifts together and offer them to God in gratitude and praise.

DOXOLOGY

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.  Praise God, all creatures high and low. Alleluia, alleluia!  Praise God, in Jesus fully known: Creator, Word, and Spirit one. Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

PRAYER OF DEDICATION

We can stand at the edge and watch while you seek to bring hope, healing, peace, and joy to everyone in the world.  Or we can take that step, of committing our lives as well as our gifts, in working with you in this ministry of grace.  Bless our gifts, bless our lives, bless our service, we pray.  Amen.

*HYMN          “O God of Every Nation”

O God of every nation,
of every race and land,
redeem the whole creation
with your almighty hand;
where hate and fear divide us
and bitter threats are hurled,
in love and mercy guide us
and heal our strife-torn world….

From search for wealth and power
and scorn of truth and right,
from trust in bombs that shower
destruction through the night,
from pride of race and nation
and blindness to your way,
deliver every nation,
eternal God, we pray!

Lord, strengthen all who labor
that we may find release
from fear of rattling saber,
from dread of war’s increase;
when hope and courage falter,
your still small voice be heard;
with faith that none can alter,
your servants undergird…

Keep bright in us the vision
of days when war shall cease,
when hatred and division
give way to love and peace,
till dawns the morning glorious
when truth and justice reign
and Christ shall rule victorious
o’er all the world’s domain.

BENEDICTION

In the presence of the Lord
we have reflected on his words
about the wisdom of vigilance.
What are we, foolish or wise?
Probably a bit of the two:
foolish when we sin,
wise when we are vigilant
and try to live a bit like Jesus
and to put his words into practice.

May almighty God keep you vigilant and wise
and bless you: the Father, and the + Son,
and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Go in the peace of the Lord,
and may he keep you always faithful.

Thanks be to God!