ZION UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
22 Gettysburg Street Box 538
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 27, 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
As we come to this time of prayer and praise,
let our worship come from the heart;
let us leave behind anything that would detract from our time with God;
and let us open our lives to the refreshment of God’s Holy Spirit.
* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
We praise you, holy God,
for your glory, for your majesty, for your power.
You have created the universe and uphold it by your power.
You are the author of all truth, all beauty, and all music.
With all creation we tremble before your holy splendor.
TIME OF CONFESSION
Confess your sins to one another,
and pray for one another,
so you may be healed.
Prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective.
We seek that right relationship with God that empowers our prayers and our service.
We confess, Jehovah God, to unfinished tasks, to neglected duties, to unkept promises, to withheld love, to postponed acts of kindness.
Forgive us, we pray, not only for the wrong we have done, but also for the right we have neglected, through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.
Now let us silently reflect on the personal sins and fears that
keep us from being fully free.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
Even in an uncertain and angry world where we sometimes muddle our way through,
we can be confident of the grace and the love of God, expressed through Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God for this magnificent gift of love.
THE GIVING OF OURSELVES AND OUR OFFERINGS
The Lord God says: “Every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine, for the world and all that is in it is mine.”
(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.)
Yours is the land, O Lord; yours is the time,
yours are the bodies and minds created in your image,
and yours are these, our financial tithes and offerings.
Philippians 2: 1-13, p. 186 (NT)
2:1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,
2:2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
2:4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
2:7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
2:8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.
2:9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
2:11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
2:12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
2:13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
St. Matthew 21: 23-32, p. 22 (NT)
21:23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
21:24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.
21:25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’
21:26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.”
21:27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
21:28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
21:29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went.
21:30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.
21:31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.
21:32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
THE MESSAGE FOR THE MORNING – you can also view it at https://youtu.be/OEGa3PBMeMg
September 27, 2020
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Philippians 2: 1-13
Matthew 21: 23-32
I would ask you to use your imagination for a couple minutes. Suppose a middle-aged couple had two sons. Both of them were in their early twenties. The older son lived at home with his parents. The younger son had an apartment nearby. It happened that one day the older son accessed his parent’s bank accounts, transferred their savings and checking accounts to his accounts, and disappeared. On a limited income, the parents are soon in a dire financial situation, having depended on their savings to meet their expenses. Out of desperation they ask the younger son to come back home to live and help them. The younger son responded that he would gladly return home and help them through this difficult time. And for a while, things went much better for the parents and the younger son seemed content. But after about three months the younger son quit his job, began to sleep in every morning, did the minimal amount of work around the house, and basically became dependent on his parents to meet his own financial obligations – his car payment, his insurance premium, and in addition, demanded spending money for the work he did around the house, little as it was. This, of course, only added to the stressful situation the parents faced. After a year, a letter arrived from the older son. In it was a significant amount of money; as a matter of fact, precisely what he had stolen from them twelve months before. He expressed his regret for his actions and promised that he would try to make something of his life in the new community where he lived. Which one, do you suppose, brought joy and comfort to his parents?
My friends, I don’t think mom is going to write much of a Christmas letter to friends and family this year. Although neither son was a shining example, I suppose that if you had to choose, you would probably quite reluctantly choose the son who felt badly about what he had done and returned the stolen money. Neither one of them would truly bring delight and satisfaction to his parents, but at least one had some sense of regret. You really don’t think very highly of either son.
So it was for the two sons in Jesus’ story. When asked to go out to the vineyard, the older son refused, talking back to his father – an unthinkable and scandalous refusal to the people of Jesus’ day. “No Dad! I won’t go. I’ve got other plans. I can’t make it. No way. It’s not my turn. Get my brother to do it. You are always after me. It’s not fair. Forget it!” The father would have been totally disgraced by such behavior. Even the son’s eventual change of heart and going out to the vineyard would not take away the sting of his initial unwillingness to obey. The younger son responds to his father’s request with all the right words, “Sure, Dad. I’m not doing anything right now; I would be glad to help you out.” But he never followed through by actually obeying and working in the vineyard. In reality, both sons were a disappointment to their father; neither one made their father proud.
Jesus tells this parable to the Pharisees and scribes who question his authority to act out his ministry. And they would have understood how directly Jesus attacks their self-righteousness and smug attitudes. This story would have made them very nervous and very angry. In essence Jesus was saying to them, “Those who have scammed you but now have become honest in their dealings, and those prostitutes on the streets of downtown who have cleaned up their act and sincerely changed their ways but don’t come to worship every week have a better shot at heaven than you do.” Imagine, if you will, Jesus speaking today, and saying, “Mahatma Gandhi had just as good a possibility of going to heaven as most of those who go to church every Sunday because he really lived what I was trying to teach. And those who work at the soup kitchen, ladling up bowls of stew to the homeless out of a concern for the well-being of the poor have a better shot at heaven than those who are so overly concerned with singing the right hymns or feuding over what color to paint the walls of the Sunday School rooms.”
It’s enough to make a person stop and think. Jesus does not seem very impressed with those who would seem to be very religiously devout in the eyes of most people. Jesus seems more concerned with how faith results in actions. Like the Pharisees and scribes, there are those who tend to have the idea that since they worship regularly, since they participate in this hour of recognizing God’s presence in life, and they are concerned with the survival of the institution of the church, God will somehow look favorably on them – that somehow each week of worship is a ticket that gets us a little closer to heaven. But Jesus tells us that is an assumption we cannot take automatically for granted. What Jesus seems to be saying is that those who don’t profess faith but live in such a way as to fulfill Jesus’ values of treating each person with dignity and respect, have a better shot at salvation than those who profess to have faith but don’t live out their everyday lives by living out their faith. Worship, for Jesus, is a only minor part of what it means to follow the ways of God. It’s what happens outside of the walls of this place of worship that really counts, and indeed what happens within the context of worship on a Sunday morning is really meant to affirm what is happening outside of worship, as well as encourage and challenge us how we might bear the good news beyond these walls. The problem with the Pharisees and scribes, and the trap that can ensnare them is that they never equated worship with how they lived out their worship in everyday life; as long as they followed the religious rituals, they thought that was sufficient to please God and it really did not matter what happened outside. And that is precisely what makes the difference. In the parable told by Jesus and in the story with which I opened this sermon, neither one of the sons was an admirable character. Neither one could be lifted up as a person we would want our children to become. But the difference between the two sons was that one, although at first acting badly, did go out and do what was expected of him, while the other said all the right words, but never followed through with them.
The difference is if and how people are willing to fully embrace Christ. The Pharisees could never accept him. And sadly, many church people never really do either. They come, some even regularly, but they never really accept what it means to be ‘in Christ’. And what does it mean? It means getting to know the mind of Christ, Jesus’ values of treating others with respect and dignity, showing mercy and embracing those who are the rejected by society. It means experiencing the grace of Jesus Christ by truly repenting and then following the way. It means living the life of Christ every day by thinking of others, especially those in need, before we think of ourselves.
I attended a meeting for pastors a couple weeks ago and met a pastor whom I hadn’t seen all summer. We stopped to chat and I asked him how he was doing. He responded to me by saying, “Well, if I haven’t fallen into the sin of pride, I guess I’m doing just fine.” I didn’t say anything, because it caught me by surprise. But to tell the truth, his response bothered me a great deal. I must admit that perhaps I am judging, but I am sure that all of us fall far enough short of God’s goals for us that there is more to worry about than the sin of pride. What about all the opportunities to say a kind word of compassion that we failed to speak; or the silent, festering grudges we bear inside of us as a hidden wall of resentment; or the self-centered attitudes that keep us from reaching out to the needs of another; or our failure to acknowledge our own shortcomings because we are too busy pointing out the faults of others? We all need to repent, to admit our need for the mercy of God. We all live in danger of being entrapped into our own smug attitudes that leave out Jesus Christ. It is indeed what happens outside the walls of the church that confirms if our faith is truly alive and at work. When you leave here this morning, you will invariably encounter people who know you attend on a regular basis and they will evaluate if what you experienced inside of these walls really makes a difference in how you live your life outside these walls. Do you constantly criticize, are you quick to judge others, do you have a negative attitude, do you seem pretty well self-absorbed? Or are you open, the kind of person who takes the time to listen, seeks to build up, is positive? Even though you sometimes stumble, do people see you at least trying to live the faith?
The difference between the two sons is simply this. One of them came to his senses enough to realize his need to repent, to change his ways, to respond to the call of his father. The other paid only lip service, saying all the right words, but never following through on them. He never felt the need to put those words into action.
What about you? Which have you done with your life? Accepted the way of Christ or brushed him and his words aside, in the way you live your life and the way you treat those around you? Have you really accepted the Christ who challenges you and comforts you all at the same time? This parable is a warning to all those who casually assume that they have the salvation of God and think they know who doesn’t. It is meant to keep us from judging others as a way of avoiding having to look into the depths of our hearts. We live our lives solely by the grace of God’s mercy. It is to God alone that we look for our hope; freedom from fear, freedom to serve in Christ’s name. God accepts us and loves us, just as we are – but only when we live faithfully to God will we truly find our lives overflowing with meaning and fulfillment. This is something that the Pharisees could not, or would not, understand. May the presence of God keep us from making the same mistake.
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 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.
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 7:00 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: Don & Lois H. who celebrate 62 years together today, Sept. 27! Also, Happy Anniversary to Gerry & Sandy P. who celebrate 50 years together on October 3rd!
Happy Birthday to: Dick H. who celebrates his 80th birthday on September 27th!
Time Change for Worship: Don’t forget that outdoor worship will be at 10:00 a.m. during the month of October!
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.
Survey Says: If you have not filled out a survey for the Covid-19 Task Force yet, please do so. Copies are available on the card table and completed surveys can be placed in the offering basket. Thanks for your participation.
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 Harbaugh 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: 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 Vines and Debra Scarborough for sorting and loading the contents of the bin and then delivering to Hanover.
Book Club: Zion’s readers will meet October 8th in Fellowship Hall (at an appropriate social distance) 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.
Book & Puzzle Shelves: Our puzzle and book selections are growing in Fellowship Hall! Feel free to explore after worship on Sunday and take a few to keep you busy inside as daylight hours decrease.