November 12, 2023
25th Sunday after Pentecost
· Please join us in Calvin Hall following worship today for a time of fellowship.
· Reminder to Committees—Annual reports need to be to Karla by
November 15. (Annual Meeting on December 10.
· JoAnn Grimm and Joan Boyd residents of Fieldstone in DeWitt.
· Joan Pinkston, on hospice.
· For our brothers and sisters in Israel and Palestine.
*CALL TO WORSHIP
On this day we are invited to choose. Whom will we serve?
Will we walk in the faith of our ancestors or will we forsake the Lord to serve other gods?
Choose now that we may live this choice.
We choose--- We will serve the Lord!
Again -- whom will you serve?
We choose--We will serve the Lord!
In consideration of our choice let us take God’s hand to worship and offer joyful praise to our God.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty. Amen
As questions swirl, as doubts linger, as apathy enfolds, we come to you, O God of Hope. May our prayers and praise reach your ear that you might lift us into your arms of grace. Help us to know the truth of your hope that we, and all of life, are held in your eternal love. Amen.
*HYMN Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty! #138
(You may be seated.)
CALL TO CONFESSION
Come, my friends, let us release the pressure of our guilt and the stress of our failings. Let us lay them before the Lord and know the relief of watching them float away as the grace and goodness of Christ’s love showers upon us. Please join me in prayer.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Lord God, we are an impatient people. We want to see the fruit of our labor—right now! We want our family and friends to be ready and waiting on our schedule. We want you to come and show yourself when we call. Forgive us for wanting to be the center of all things. Forgive us for our impatience and for throwing up our hands when things don’t happen as we desire. Help us to remain steady in the faith which you have taught us. Allow us the joy of being your hands and feet in a world in need. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
The love of God comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s own son who came into our world to offer grace and healing in God’s name. Let us accept this gift that allows us the freedom to do better, to walk with our Lord and bring calm to our world. Amen.
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
May the peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
We hear your call, O Lord. “Give ear to my teaching” you say, “Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.” So here we are with open ears and open hearts ready to receive your word this day. Help us to hear truly. Help us to offer our hearts to you. Amen.
Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25
24 Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.
2 Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him….
14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”19 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.” 21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.” “Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied. 23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.” 25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws.
Matthew 25: 1-13
25 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ 9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ 13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
SERMON Choosing and Living that Choice!
Choosing and Then Living that Choice!
Martin Luther was the famous reformer who nailed those 95 thesis to the door of the Wittenburg church, and thus began the battle that would usher in the Protestant Church. But do you know what led up to that hammer and nail moment?
Luther was a very anxious young monk. He worried a lot about whether he would make it into heaven. The understanding of the day was that upon one’s death there was a heavenly score card that had kept a record of all the positive ways that one had followed God’s law, said their prayers, held pure thoughts, loved and cared for their neighbors and worshipped God in word and deed. Also on that score card was a tally for all the ways that a person had sinned, the ways they blew it, ignored God, failed to think godly thoughts and failed in a whole bunch of ways. IF the positive column out-numbered the negative stuff, that person made it to heaven. If not they went to purgatory where they waited while relatives and friends on earth said prayers to add to the positive column so they could make it to heaven.
One way to get more positive points was to go to confession, so young Martin Luther went a LOT—sometimes multiple times per day. He went so much that his confessors basically told him he needed to relax and get a life! But it wasn’t until Luther found the passage in Romans that said we are saved by grace, by believing in Jesus and that our sins were forgiven that he was able to relax.
We might shake our heads at Martin’s obsession, but at some level don’t we all want the assurance that when our days here on earth are over, there is something waiting—God’s love that will enfold us, loved ones with whom we will be reunited. It’s probably a question that pastors are asked in one way or another above all other questions.
The people for whom Matthew is writing have most certainly asked that question. In Chapter 24 the disciples have just seen the temple in Jerusalem for the first time. It was amazing. It is one of the listed 7 wonders of the ancient world. But Jesus had said of it, “I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another. All will be thrown down.” The implication was that it would be destroyed at the end of the age when God would bring his new kingdom into being.
That led to the disciples question, “Tell us when will this be and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end on the age.” The rest of that chapter and into chapter 25 is Jesus answering that question. What would the end of the age look like? How could they tell when it was upon them?
In reality, Matthew is writing his gospel some 80-90 years after Jesus’ death. The temple has been destroyed when Rome came in and stomped out a Jewish revolt, and just for vengeance they destroyed the Jews beloved temple. Persecution of Christians has become a way of life for the early church, and they are looking at one another and asking, “Where is he? Why has he not come to us? After all the signs have been met, especially in light of increasing persecution!”
So Matthew reports this parable of Jesus. It’s an urging for patience and for steady, faithful following of Christ’s call to his followers.
The virgins or bridesmaids (depending on the version we use) are the church, the followers of Jesus. The wedding banquet is the joyful time of gathering up. The oil is the faithfulness, the prayers and worship, the caring for one another, the obedience and faith to which we are called. It’s a parable that calls us to patience and steady perseverance in spite of persecution and difficulties.
Everybody loves a wedding celebration. These ten bridesmaids looked forward to the dancing, the toasting, the food and drink, maybe even flirting a bit with other guests. But they had to wait to be let into the reception hall. The groom was suppose to come and let them in, but he was delayed. They waiting and waited and waited. Finally because it was late, they fell asleep, and when he finally did arrive, only half of them had enough oil to go into the all. Others scrambled to go get the needed oil, to catch up, but the moment had passed. They had missed the opportunity because they weren’t ready.
Now don’t ask me why lamps, why oil was required. But that’s the parable. To be ready when the moment arrives is the message. For us that moment might be that time when God calls us home—when our time on this earth is finished. I don’t think God keeps a tally like Martin Luther feared. But I do believe that we will be asked at some level to account for ourselves. Did we love others? Did we live with integrity and generosity and compassion? At that point it will be hard to go back and fix it. I don’t think God shuts the door on us, but there will be moments of clarity when we realize how we missed the boat.
But maybe this time of reckoning is a bit less dramatic, maybe a bit more mundane in our world.
Are we ready when our neighbor asks us why we go to church on a Sunday? Why we follow Jesus at all? Why we pray and give our time to projects and programs that don’t offer any tangible benefits to us? In that moment can we tell them about all that God has done for us and why we work to follow Jesus?
Are we ready when our boss or our friend or even our child asks us to do something that is contrary to our faith? Do we have the courage to say “no,” to seek another solution even if it might cause significant problems for them or us or both?
Are we ready when we walk around the corner to see two bullies picking on another person? Are we ready to intervene in some way even if a price might be required for our actions? One never knows how things like that can go. Have we thought about it? Do we know what we will do?
Are we ready when life hands us a huge disappointment or personal tragedy? Have we done our homework to create a faith that can catch us when we fall, and keep us from plunging into the depths of despair?
Are we ready to offer a word of God’s love and comfort to someone who has fallen into that pit of despair? Can we relay to them God’s love for them? That they are not alone, that you will be there for them?
There are so many times and examples for when we need to be ready, when our faith will be needed to move us through a situation. At that point it will be pretty hard to say, “Oh, wait here. I need to go and prepare for this moment. I need to study scripture and pray and find the right words. I need to find the strength and the wisdom to meet this moment.” The reality is that we will either have it or we won’t, and very often there is no going back. No re-do. No second chance.
I believe we need to constantly be working on our spiritual muscles. We need to know how to call upon the Holy Spirit.
But the other side of the coin is that sometimes difficulties, disappointments, and struggles seem to be the standard fare. Life just seems hard, and we wonder how we are expected to keep moving in a positive, faithful way.
Those Israelites in the reading from Joshua had been asked to make the choice for God. But it had been such a long, exhausting struggle to get to this point. They had gone to battle with no less than 31 kings and their armies to wrestle the land away. God had been with them, but they had been consumed with the effort. Joshua had begun as their leader as a young man and now he was an elderly statesman. In the last several chapters the task of dividing this conquered land between the tribes of Israel had taken all their time and energy.
Joshua’s days were numbered, so he called all the people together. They had been so busy, so engaged, so intent on their survival and making a place for themselves that it was now time to step back and remember why they were there and what it was all about. It was about being the people of Yahweh. So Joshua reminded them of their history and of God’s hand that had led them to this place. God had given them victory. Now Joshua asked them to choose that God once again. For themselves, for their children and their grandchildren. “Revere the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served. Serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve….but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
He reminded them. He exhorted them, but then he recognized that they also had other choices. He told them that it was time for them to choose for themselves, and then to live that choice. He told them his own choice. “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” And the people chose the Lord. They pledged to serve God and to teach that choice to their children.
We, here this day, have all chosen God at some point in our lives. But the very act of living and moving through our days dealing with the nitty gritty of life can wear at us. Sometimes our choice becomes a bit fuzzy and less defined. We coast. We bend here and there to life’s demands. We lose sight of our original choice. And in the process we become less ready. Just like those bridesmaids who showed up without extra oil. Maybe we need to stop and examine our choices. Maybe we need to consider were we are and how we got here. Maybe we need to recognize other possibilities. Because it’s a process to get back to the clarity and the definition of what it means to have chosen in the first place.
God has chosen us. God has called upon us to be his faithful servants. Can we get back to the clear-eyed vision and the excitement of also choosing God, of choosing Christ?
Let’s stop. Let’s consider. Let’s take some time to examine our lives and then let’s consciously choose. Whom will we serve? How will we serve? How will we be prepared when life throws us into those situations? Will we be ready? Will we have the courage and the faith to live the choices we have made?
We choose. Gracious Lord, help us choose well, and then help us to be ready to live that choice to the fullest. Amen.
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.
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, now and forever. Amen.
OFFERING OUR GIFTS TO GOD
*DOXOLOGY Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow #592
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
*HYMN For the Bread Which You Have Broken #508 (you may be seated.)
INVITATION TO THE LORD’S TABLE
THE GREAT THANKSGIVING
We are your people, O Lord. You have chosen us, called us and led us forward.
Like your people Israel, you also invite us to choose you.
You sent your Son to show us who you are and how we might serve you in truth and love.
You placed the cross before him and gave him the power to take our sins to the grave with him.
You lifted him from the grave to show us your power for life.
We choose you, Lord, and we come to your table to receive the nourishment and the power to be your faithful people.
In the breaking of bread and the pouring of the cup let us feel your grace flowing through us that we might live our choice and walk in your ways today and tomorrow and beyond. Amen.
RECEIVING THE BREAD AND THE CUP
*HYMN Take My Life (Verses 1, 2, 4, 6)
(You may be seated.)
*CHARGE & BLESSING
* Sections of the service preceded with * are times to stand if you are able to do so.
Bold text is to be read together aloud as a congregation