ZION UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
22 Gettysburg Street Box 538
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 4, 2020
Before you begin to follow this service and before you view/read the sermon, please get a piece of bread and keep it close by.
Please also read the Scripture lessons for the morning.
Welcome to Zion and a special welcome to our visitors. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic we are unable to gather as a community of faith in the sanctuary, so if you have chosen to view the YouTube worship opportunity, we invite you to use this revised bulletin to pause for reflection and as an expression of your abiding faith that our God is merciful and present with us in these difficult days. It is most likely the same sermon that we will share at the outdoor worship at 9:00 a.m. We hope you are keeping safe and maintaining social distance in order to slow down the spread of the virus and protect yourself. But please continue to check on your friends and neighbors via social media or the telephone. We may learn a new meaning of community and caring by the time that things return to a more regular routine. God bless!!
Light a candle before beginning your personal worship, signifying the presence of God in this time.
CALL TO WORSHIP
Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord,
Praise the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord, from this time on and evermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Restore to us, we pray, a sense of your divine presence.
We live in a world of tension and anxiety,
a world of shrill voices and explosive anger,
a world of scams and injustices.
In the midst of all this we seek the peace and confidence
that can come only from you, our Lord and our God.
TIME OF CONFESSION
How often this week have we pondered the magnificent blessings and presence of God?
How have we cared for God’s creation and responded to God’s people?
What have we done to encourage life at its fullest and best?
God invites us to confess our sins and to seek forgiveness that we might find new life and renewal of life.
We confess, holy God, that sometimes we regret what we have done,
and sometimes we regret not doing what we should have done.
Sometimes we have said words that hurt,
and sometimes we have failed to say words that heal.
Sometimes we have said things that were false,
and sometimes we said the truth too harshly.
Forgive us, we pray, for sins of omission and sins of commission,
for we know that we are responsible for both.
Now let us silently reflect on the personal sins and fears that
keep us from being fully free.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance,
that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
By the grace of God be assured that you are a forgiven people,
not of your own deeds, but by the mercy of your loving God.
Thanks be to God for this magnificent gift of love.
THE GIVING OF OURSELVES AND OUR OFFERINGS
As we present our tithes and offerings today, we remember the land owner in Jesus’ parable who required an accounting from his tenants.
(Your ongoing support is appreciated and can be mailed to Zion United Church of Christ, PO Box 538, Arendtsville, Pennsylvania 17303. The work and witness of Zion continues in new ways as we adjust to this new normal.)
*PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Lord God, we want to be worthy caretakers,
always loyal, always careful, always wise,
always remembering that we do not belong to ourselves,
but to you, our Savior and Lord.
Philippians 3: 4b -14, p. 187 (NT)
3:4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:
3:5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;
3:6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
3:7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.
3:8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,
3:11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
3:13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
3:14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus
St. Matthew 21: 33-46, p. 22 (NT)
21:33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.
21:34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.
21:35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
21:36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.
21:37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
21:38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’
21:39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
21:40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
21:41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”
21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?
21:43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.
21:44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
21:45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.
21:46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
THE MESSAGE FOR THE MORNING – you can also view the sermon at https://youtu.be/gsubyehAyQY
October 4, 2020
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Philippians 3: 4b-14
St. Matthew 21: 33-46
This morning’s sermon has to do with the consequences of irresponsibility and a lack of willingness to be accountable; of wanting to claim for yourself what really is the accomplishment of someone else; of trying to usurp what properly belongs to another.
Now as most of you know already, I am not a person who believes in what are often called “Hell and Damnation” sermons. I don’t believe that fear is what God intends for us, nor that we can truly and honestly worship if we are afraid of the one whom we are told is a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness. However, there is a danger in my kind of thinking that, if it is taken too far, we view God as just a ‘forgiving machine’, that somehow we can confess our sins on a Sunday morning, receive the offered forgiveness, and then go about our way to do precisely as we please. Sort of like depositing your sins in a vending machine, pushing the button, and out comes God’s mercy. On the contrary, there has to be an accountability and a responsibility that we have as the people of God.
If we have gotten into the mode of taking God’s forgiveness for granted, this morning’s parable reminds us that while God is loving, merciful and full of grace, we can bring judgment upon ourselves by taking the demands of God too lightly. Jesus says some very harsh things to the chief priests and the elders of the Temple in Jerusalem. The same Jesus who offers hope to those who are the most despised in the society of his time, offers words of warning to those who are the most comfortable, those who are, in the eyes of that same society, successful and have the most opportunities. “And so I tell you,” says Jesus, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce proper fruits.”
These are harsh words. It seems a landowner has created a vineyard – well-planted, with a hedge around it, and a complete wine press already installed. This is no rundown property that needs fixing up; it is well-equipped and ready to go. Having done all this work, the landowner rents out the vineyard and leaves it to the care and the tending of tenant farmers. It happens that this landowner goes on a trip to another country, but he still expects that he will receive the benefits of what he has done by receiving a portion of the harvest. So, when the time comes to collect, he sends his servant back to get the portion that belongs to the landowner. The tenants, refusing to recognize the landowner’s rightful claim, beat and kill the servants. He sends other servants and they are killed and beaten as well. Finally, the landowner sends the one person whom he thinks the tenants will respect and obey – his son, thinking that, after all, his son will be honorably received. But the tenants, who by this time had become bold and who had received no dire threats, thought that the son’s arrival meant that the landowner was either dead or helpless to do anything – so they made a final claim to keep the vineyard and all its fruit, and all the profits, for themselves by killing the landowner’s son.
Now Jesus asks those who are listening to this story, “What do you think will happen when the landowner himself comes back to the vineyard to deal with those tenants?” And the response is quite logical and plain, given by the priests and elders themselves: “Certainly the landowner will kill those evil men and rent the vineyard out to other tenants, who will give him his share of the harvest at the right time.” There will be other tenants who will respect the owner’s work in building the vineyard and respect his rights when it comes to the harvest.
There are those, perhaps, who would argue that the landowner himself is responsible for this situation. After all, he left the area and trusted his tenants to do what is right. But if we consider carefully this parable, we see that the absent landowner never abandoned his property – he simply does not smother the tenants with his presence. He is not constantly forcing his will upon them, even though it belongs to him. He allows them freedom, a free will, to act as they choose. They are even free to rebel against him, to act as if the vineyard belonged to them to do with as they please. Surprisingly, he allows them to have their way, until they finally even kill the landowner’s son, acting as if it was their right.
Now how are we to understand this parable today? My friends, it is sometimes very easy for us to ignore God, isn’t it? Our God has created the world for our enjoyment and for our stewardship. It is not our possession, handed over to us to do as we please, but rather entrusted to our care. Our God has created each one of us as well and given us whatever we need to make the most of our lives. We are filled with potential, namely gifts, talents, abilities, strengths that provide us with opportunities to live, and to live in some comfort. All that we have, all that we are, all that we possess, is a result of the work and the care, the love and the grace, of the owner of the vineyard we call ‘earth’. Can any one of us really claim that what we have become is solely the result of our own efforts? Is it not God who has endowed us with the ability to develop what has been given to us? God has fashioned each of us and blessed us in our journey through life.
But it is easy to ignore God. After all, our God is not always pressing down on us, making demands, forcing us to follow. In addition to all the gifts we have been given, our God of love has given us a freedom of choice, a free will, as part of our nature. We often fall into the trap of considering our accomplishments and our possessions as solely our own, and we resent when we are reminded that, in the end, all belongs only to God. We don’t like to think about the fact that God has only entrusted us with gifts and abilities, possessions and successes – not for us to use merely as we please, but rather to use them in such a way as might bring honor and glory to God. We tend to dismiss the reality that what we have is held as a trust. We bring nothing into this life and we take nothing from this life. In between, along the journey, God has given us everything we need, and much more than we need. How we handle what has been given us reflects our stewardship of what has been entrusted to our care.
The judgment that comes upon the tenants is of their own making, simply because they failed to acknowledge the rightful claims of the owner of the vineyard. It is a judgment that is pronounced by the chief priests and elders, not Jesus. They condemned themselves because they ignored God’s claim on their lives.
By the way we live out our lives, by the way we handle what God has entrusted to us, by the way we respond to God’s claims on our lives, we will be found to be faithful and obedient tenants or we will be found to be resentful and rebellious ones. Do our lives reflect gratitude and thanksgiving for what God has given us, or do we view it merely as our right and privilege? The judgment we pronounce is one of our own making as well. Out of love, God has created this vineyard ‘earth’ and given us all that we need to live. Everything we have and all that we are. Will we reject that love, ignore it, despise it when it comes to how we use what is given? Or shall we, in faith, respond with all that we have become and offer it to God in gratitude and thanksgiving?
SERVICE OF THE BREAD OF LIFE
(please take the bread into your hands)
We lift up to you, O God, our praise and thanksgiving for your wondrous love made known in all times and in all places.
Even though we live in days of change, when we are not exactly sure how the future will unfold, your care and concern for us is steadfast and secure.
We trust that, through you, we will find a hope and a peace that will endure wherever the journey may lead.
You challenge us to be your witnesses as we go about our daily living.
May we be found faithful to you. Enable us to look within ourselves and see how we might make a difference as we go about our daily tasks. A kind word, a gesture of care and concern, the ability to make others know they are children of your love, recognizing that all people should be treated with worth and dignity, able to express our faith as a reassurance to those who need hope.
Help us to understand that even the smallest gesture on our part can make a world of difference to someone who feels stressed and alone.
So, bless this bread which we eat that it might strengthen us for the week ahead, both in giving us a sense of hope and peace and giving us the courage to accept the challenges of living as your people.
May it so remind us of your love for us that we might share that same love with others.
And being fed, may we continue with a new and profound hope, rejoicing in the days that you give us.
(you may now eat the bread)
Let us pray.
Almighty and ever living God, we thank you for feeding us and for assuring us
that we are living members of your blessed and eternal community.
And now, Holy One, send us out to do the work that you
have given us to do, to love and to serve you as faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
During this virus crisis, the Office Manager will often be working from home. Please call the office before stopping by.
Cancellation of Worship: If outdoor worship is cancelled due to inclement weather, an email blast will be sent and a message placed on the church answering machine by 7:30 a.m. The email will have an invitation to Zoom worship at 9:00 a.m.
Coming Up Next Week:
October 4 Worship & Communion Zion House 10:00 a.m.
Sunday School Zoom 9:00 a.m.
October 7 Bible Study Zoom 6:30 p.m.
October 8 Book Club Fellowship Hall 6:30 p.m.
October 11 Worship Zion House 10:00 a.m.
October 12 Ladies Breakfast Apple Bin 9:00 a.m.
October 14 Bible Study Zoom 6:30 p.m.
October 15 Search Cmte Fellowship Hall 7:00 p.m.
Pastoral Care: If you would like a visit from George, please contact him and let him know a convenient time.
Time Change for Worship: Don’t forget that outdoor worship will be at 10:00 a.m. during the month of October!
World Communion Sunday: Today is World Communion Sunday, and we unite with Christians around the world as we affirm our belief in Christ’s message of hope, peace, and salvation by celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion during worship. May our shared beliefs open our eyes to the beauty of God’s creation and allow us to protect, preserve, and restore its bountiful diversity.
October 4th is Also Neighbors in Need Sunday! All children have the right to simply be children. . . “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of those things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me.” ~ Matthew 25:40 (The Message) Neighbors in Need (NIN) is a special mission offering of the United Church of Christ that supports ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States. One-third of NIN funds support the Council for American Indian Ministry (CAIM). Two-thirds of this offering is used by the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) to support a variety of justice initiatives, advocacy efforts, and direct service projects through grants. Neighbors in Need grants are awarded to UCC churches and organizations doing justice work in their communities. These grants fund projects whose work ranges from direct service to community organizing and advocacy to address systemic injustice. This year, special consideration will be given to projects focusing on serving our immigrant neighbors and communities. Your generosity is greatly appreciated, and we will accept donations through the month of October.
Last Day for the Survey: We greatly appreciate the surveys that have been submitted. If you have not yet filled out a survey, they are available today on the table by the offering basket. The Covid-19 task force will assess the information as they plan for worship in the sanctuary in November.
Book Club: Zion’s readers will meet this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Fellowship Hall (at an appropriate social distance) to discuss The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. Look for our discussion summary on the church website afterwards.
Ladies Breakfast: Ladies of Zion, you are invited to join us at the Apple Bin at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, October 12th. There is room to socially distance, and antiseptic is available for your use.
Pumpkin Sunday, October 18th! On Sunday, October 18th, all the children will receive a pumpkin, which they will decorate following worship services on the parking lot. While they are decorating the pumpkins, their parents are invited to meet with the Sunday School staff in the sanctuary for a brief meeting to talk about the start of Sunday School on November 1st, some of the changes because of Covid-19, and answer any questions. If you are not going to be attending worship, please meet at the sanctuary about 10:45 am (bring your children to decorate their pumpkin).
Save the Date: Zion’s members are invited to attend UACT’s annual day of fellowship on October 24, 2020 at Oakside Park. This gathering is in lieu of the annual meeting. Arrive at pavilion #3 beginning at 1:30 p.m. to help celebrate the 5th full year of UACT Service to the Community! You may wish to bring lawn chairs to take advantage of hopefully sunny weather. As UACT continues its mission to strengthen the community, youth and adult, we’d like to take the opportunity to define new needs and ways to address them while a “new normal” takes shape. All UACT members who enjoy baking are invited to bring “Pandemic Desserts” (cookies, rice krispie treats, bar cookies, etc.) which are individually wrapped or bagged to share with others.
All Saints Sunday: Sunday, November 1st, is All Saints’ Sunday when we remember all those loved ones, friends, and neighbors who have died in the past year. If you would like someone included in the Prayer for the Saints on November 1st, please contact the church office by October 25th so the name can be included in the bulletin.
Sunday School: Reminder: Zion’s position of Christian Ed Director is open as of November 1st. It can be filled individually or jointly (if team leadership is more attractive to you) – just let Minda H. know of your interest. The curriculum is in place, and it is hoped that regular Sunday School can commence on November 1st after worship.
Community Aid Bin: Due to the enormous cost of disposing of unusable items found in their bins ($250,000.00 in 2019) as well as a chronic shortage of drivers for pickups, Community Aid has evaluated the placement of their bins and decided to remove some, Zion’s among them. However, while the bin will disappear in the near future, Zion will still benefit if you take your donations to Community Aid in Hanover or Mechanicsburg and tell them to credit Zion’s account. The Mission Committee is brainstorming some ideas for other ways to deliver donations. Look for details in future bulletins.