ZION UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
22 Gettysburg Street Box 538
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 20, 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 am. 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
Come, worship the One who lifts up the weak,
who brings back those who have wandered, who comforts the bereaved,
who rejoices with those who rejoice, who weeps with those who weep,
who calms those who are afraid, who stands by each of us, whatever our need.
Come, worship the Lord your God.
PRAYER OF INVOCATION
God in heaven, creator and sustainer,
we set aside this hour as a time of awe and wonder,
reflecting on the glorious mystery of life.
We set aside this hour as a time of thanksgiving,
reflecting on all the things we have received and continue to enjoy.
We set aside this hour as a time of dedication and devotion,
asking how we can invest ourselves for the betterment of others
and the glory of your name.
TIME OF CONFESSION
Come, all who plugged your ears or averted your eyes
when God’s commands intrude on your self-interest.
God calls individuals and nations to account.
God expects our complete devotion and faithful obedience.
Let us confess our sin in response to God’s faithfulness to us.
Forgive us, Holy and Merciful God,
if we have been unwilling to pay the price of discipleship;
if we have been unwilling to pay the price of being honest;
if we have been unwilling to pay the price of being faithful;
if we have been unwilling to pay the price of being compassionate;
if we have been unwilling to pay the price of being different;
if we have been unwilling to pay the price of being generous.
Pardon us, we pray, for our self-centeredness,
and help us to become true disciples of Jesus our Lord.
Now let us silently reflect on the personal sins and fears that
keep us from being fully free.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
All the prophets testify about Christ, that everyone who believes in him
receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
The Holy Spirit will never leave or forsake us.
Our helper is ever available and eager to respond to our prayers.
Thanks be to God for this magnificent gift of love.
THE GIVING OF OURSELVES AND OUR OFFERINGS
As we give, let us do so thoughtfully, prayerfully, and graciously,
remembering the importance of the ministry of Jesus Christ.
(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
We give these tithes and offerings
as concrete and unmistakable evidence that we wish
to be witnesses to the loving power of Jesus Christ,
both here and around the world.
Philippians 1: 21-30, p. 185 (NT)
1:21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.
1:22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer.
1:23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better;
1:24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.
1:25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith,
1:26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
1:27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel,
1:28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.
1:29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well–
1:30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
St. Matthew 20: 1-16, p. 20 (NT)
20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
20:2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.
20:3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace;
20:4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
20:5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.
20:6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’
20:7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
20:8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’
20:9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.
20:10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.
20:11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner,
20:12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
20:13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
20:14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.
20:15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
20:16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
THE MESSAGE FOR THE MORNING – You can view the recorded sermon at: https://youtu.be/26ZVz8uFbE0
September 20, 2020
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Philippians 1: 21-30
Matthew 20: 1-16
You are carefully driving along Route 234 between Arendtsville and Biglerville in the early evening on what has been a beautiful day, listening to the radio, thinking about whatever, when all of a sudden out of the field a deer runs out in front of you. You slam on the brakes but it’s too late. Your car bags inflate and you find yourself dazed and confused. The cars coming your way and behind you stop to offer you assistance. You get out of the car and you are all right, not injured. You see the deer lying on the road and then you look at your vehicle. It will need to be towed somewhere. That means calling the insurance company, finding a rental vehicle, getting an estimate, having the estimate approved, and then waiting until the body shop can get your vehicle back on the road. It’s not something you had planned on having to do. So terribly inconvenient. Life doesn’t seem fair!
In other ways, there are a lot of things in our lives that seem unfair – and we want life to be at least fair to us. All of us, at some time or another, have felt that we have been treated badly, that someone has taken advantage of us because we have played by the rules and they have not. If you are a sports fan, invariably you have felt that the referee made a blatantly bad call favoring the other team and it caused your team to lose. Sometimes it’s because we spent hours working on preparing for a volunteer event in the community and someone else put in an hour the night before, and both of you got the same recognition. Sometimes it’s because you are conscientious in your work, while those around you are always looking for ways to avoid giving their best; they take advantage of their employer by taking unnecessary days off, or making excuses to get out of distasteful work or shunning their responsibilities – and yet, come pay day, they get the same wages as you do.
Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair. So we try to deal with the unfairness, like the little truck driver, just a small man, who had parked his tractor trailer at the local diner and gone in for lunch. While he was sitting there at the lunch counter, three well-built motorcyclists came in the door and started to pick on him. They made fun of him, took his food, and laughed in his face. The truck driver didn’t say anything, but just took the abuse. He simply got up, paid his bill, and left. One of the motorcyclists laughed to the waitress, “Boy, he sure wasn’t much of a man, was he?” The waitress replied, “No, I guess not. He’s not much of a truck driver either,” she said pointing out he window. “He just ran over three motorcycles.”
We try to deal with the unfairness of life in some way or another. Some people just try thinking positively. No matter what happens to them, they always seem to find some good in it. Some people are able to shrug off life’s being unfair, to give the impression that it really isn’t that important. They have an attitude that seems admirable, for nothing gets them down.
And for some people that works pretty well, at least for a time. Then life deals a blow that really lays us low, so low that it brings even the most positive thinker down. You know people for whom life has seemed most unfair. The faithful couple who raised their children to follow the way of faith, who devoted their time to responding to their children’s needs and wants, who were devout in supporting the church’s work. Yet, now, as adults, their children have gone astray. One is an alcoholic and the other never has time to visit. Meanwhile, up the road, there is another couple. They never had time for the church and God never seemed to be an important part of their family life. Their son is now a well-known doctor, while their daughter works for a prestigious company in New York City.
Life is unfair. We are reminded of that over and over when bad things happen to good people – and they do and they will. The good do die young while the wicked sometimes live long and seemingly happy lives. The good do get cancer and suffer while the bad are often physically and emotionally healthy. The honest and the hard-working do lose their jobs and their businesses, while the cheats and the liars seem to keep theirs. Sometimes life is so unfair that not even a positive thinker can overcome it.
Maybe we think that this problem of fairness is a new one. But throughout the Scripture we find many who wondered about how fair life really is – take Job, for instance, who as a righteous man lost everything he had worked for and wondered why; or Jeremiah, the prophet, who cried out to God, saying, “Cursed be the day I was born,” or Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers who were jealous of him. Positive thinking was never going to help them, and it often does not help us.
The issue in this morning’s Gospel raises the problem of fairness as well. Some workers had gotten out of bed early in the morning so that they could be at the village square available to anyone who might come to hire them for the grape harvest. They worked hard all day long and watched as additional workers came out into the fields later in the day – those who had slept in, or were known as not very productive workers, maybe some who were just lazy – and they watched as those who had been hired last received a full day’s wage. They watched, anticipating that they would be rewarded with a bonus for their diligence and ambition and dedicated labor. And yet they received the same as those hired at almost quitting time – they received no more and no less. And, perhaps naturally, at least quite humanly, they resented not the workers, but the owner of the vineyard who appeared to treat them shabbily and without the consideration they thought they were due. Not only was life not fair to them, but neither was the owner of the vineyard. Why should those who worked only one hour and that in the cooler hours of the evening, receive the same wages as those who were industrious and worked through the heat of the day?
The owner of the vineyard doesn’t play by the normal rules, or at least he doesn’t operate within the expectations of the workers. Of course, Jesus is using this parable to make a point. The owner of the vineyard, apparent to all who were listening, is God. And here is the crucial point in today’s parable. Saying life isn’t fair is not the same as saying God isn’t fair for two very specific reasons: first, God doesn’t owe us anything, and second, God’s justice doesn’t work the way the world’s justice works. God doesn’t owe us anything – on the contrary, we owe God everything: our time, our talent, our money, even our very lives. The lives we live are lives that God has given us; even the breath, each breath that we take in at this very moment, the clothes on our backs, the food on our table, our health in its varying degrees, the gifts of our minds – each and all of them due to the sheer gift of God. In addition to all these things is the incredible gift of forgiveness and grace given by God through Jesus Christ.
None of us can dare say to God, “You owe me. I deserve more.” Simply because we have done nothing to earn or deserve God’s love and mercy. God doesn’t owe us a thing. And when God doesn’t owe us anything, we shouldn’t begrudge God’s acceptance of those who seem less deserving of God’s love than those of us who have been struggling to follow the way of God for all our years.
Neither should we think of God’s love shown to those who could seemingly care less about following God’s way as being unfair, because God’s justice doesn’t work the way the world’s justice works. If you identify your own situation as similar to the vineyard workers who worked twelve hours, then you probably have a lot of questions about the justice of God, God’s fairness – God may seem unjust and uncaring about what is fair.
But what if you see yourself, not as one who labored twelve hours, but only for one hour? What if you see how much more you should be doing to live out your faith? Then God is unfair as well – because from that perspective God is ridiculously generous and overly merciful – giving more than we either deserve or earn. Then God is unbelievably compassionate and good. While the attitude of those who feel they have labored long and hard and so deserve God’s mercy will likely evaluate constantly if they got what’s coming to them, those who truly understand their relationship to God will express gratitude for the injustice of God – God’s generosity. Jesus seeks to remind us that with the proper attitude we will come to view and to appreciate in the depth of our hearts, the mercy of a lavish God.
Like the time you thought you would never survive the crisis you found yourself struggling with, and yet somehow you did; and then later you realize how some good came from having to deal with that difficulty. Or when you hurt somebody by your actions and yet forgiveness was offered when you least expected it. Or when you reached out to help someone else and found yourself receiving more than you gave.
We can either focus on how unfair life seems or we can cling tightly to God’s mercy and love and generosity that has blessed us each moment.
Those who want to can find a lot to complain about. They can make a solid case for life’s unfairness. From one perspective life seems to have played a cruel trick on humanity. But Jesus wants to change our perspective to the attitude of those who work one hour, who didn’t expect or demand much, but received more than they ever bargained for. Surprised by God’s generosity, they trusted in God’s continual love. God is not fair. God is unbelievably kind. Out of that generosity we have received more than we deserve. Thank God for the abundant love that has been shown to us and blessed us on our way.
SERVICE OF THE BREAD OF LIFE
(please take the bread into your hands)
Holy God, we your people remain scattered this morning; but we trust that you are near to each of us in this day and in all days.
You have promised that nothing can ever separate us from your love, and that as we are open to your Spirit, you will make yourself known to us wherever we might find ourselves.
We recognize that, in the midst of what seem like endless days, we need your encouragement and the endurance you can give us to deal with the ongoing need for social distancing and a cautious approach to life.
We get tired of wearing masks every time we go out as if we were hiding from each other.
Grant us the hope that we will be enabled to continue as long as is necessary To prevent the spread of this disease within our community.
We know that we need to be nourished by you, so we ask for you to make your presence known in this bread which we bring to you this morning.
Bless it and fill it with your Spirit that we may know that we abide in your love.
Send your Holy Spirit and its mighty power to be with us, that in you we might have strength and patience in these times.
We pray for all those who continue to work toward finding treatments and a vaccine so that this coronavirus will lose its power over society and we can get back to more normal days.
Even though we cannot be together as one, we remain together in your spirit and we share in the breaking of the bread.
May this bread empower us to be your people wherever we might find ourselves.
May it remove all fear and all doubt, so that we might be nourished and strengthened for the days ahead, knowing that you walk with us in our journey of this life.
And being fed, may we continue with a new and profound hope, always witnessing to your love by sharing that love and care and concern with others.
Bless this bread and us, that we may be your people at work in the world.
(you may now eat the bread)
Let us pray.
We give you thanks, O merciful God, for this bread
through which we receive the presence of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
May it strengthen us always to be your willing and obedient servants
until that time when life’s journey ends
and we share in the eternal feast of your heavenly realm. 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:
September 20 Outdoor Worship Zion House 9:00 a.m.
Sunday School Zoom 10:00 a.m.
September 21 Mens Breakfast Apple Bin 8:00 a.m.
Consistory Mtg Zoom 7:00 p.m.
September 23 Bible Study Zoom 6:30 p.m.
September 27 Outdoor Worship Zion House 9:00 a.m.
September 29 Covid-19 Task Force Fellowship Hall 7:00 p.m.
September 30 Bible Study Zoom 6:30 p.m.
Pastoral Care: If you would like a visit from George, please contact him and let him know a convenient time.
Happy Anniversary to: Ken and Liz B. who celebrate 58 years together on September 22nd!
Survey Says: As we prepare for in-person worship at the beginning of November (November 1st), the Covid19 Task Force and Consistory need your help in planning. Please fill out the survey located on the card table and return it via the offering box or by mail to the church office by October 11th. Thank you.
Holy Communion: We will celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion during worship on October 4th. Please bring your own bread and grape juice/grapes/wine as we share together. We will be prepared if you happen to forget.
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.
Hot Dog Roasts are finished for the year.
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.
Bible Study: We have started Exodus! If you want to join the journey, let us know!
Community Aid Bin: At the moment, Community Aid is only accepting clothing and shoes in the donation bin on the church parking lot. They also have a shortage of drivers for pickups. So, please either dispose of your household and home décor items in other ways or keep them until Community Aid can make use of them. We thank Angie V.and Debra S. for sorting and loading the contents of the bin and then delivering to Hanover.
Book Club: The Book Club met Thursday evening for a rousing discussion of A Company of Liars. Look for details on the church web site blog. Zion’s readers will meet October 8th to discuss The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. A synopsis: In 1936, tucked deep into the woods of Troublesome Creek, KY, lives blue-skinned 19-year-old Cussy Carter, the last living female of the rare Blue People ancestry. The lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian, riding across slippery creek beds and up treacherous mountains on her faithful mule to deliver books and other reading material to the impoverished hill people of Eastern Kentucky. Along her dangerous route, Cussy, known to the mountain folk as Bluet, confronts those suspicious of her damselfly-blue skin and the government’s new book program. She befriends hardscrabble and complex fellow Kentuckians, and is fiercely determined to bring comfort and joy, instill literacy, and give to those who have nothing, a bookly respite, a fleeting retreat to faraway lands.
Mens Breakfast: Zion’s men will meet tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. at the Apple Bin for breakfast.
Soda Can Tabs for Ronald McDonald House: Keep those soda can tabs coming.
Book & Puzzle Shelves: Our puzzle and book selections are growing in Fellowship Hall! Feel free to explore after worship on Sunday.
Zion’s Financial Information
Income through August 2020: $114,421.48
Expenses through August 2020: $112,580.34
YTD Surplus: $1,841.14