Morning Service for 2nd Sunday before Advent

HYMN - Blest are the pure in heart

1 Blest are the pure in heart,
For they shall see our God,
The secret of the Lord is theirs,
Their soul is Christ's abode.

2 The Lord, who left the heavens
Our life and peace to bring,
To dwell in lowliness with men,
Their pattern and their King;

3 Still to the lowly soul
He doth himself impart,
And for his dwelling and his throne
Chooseth the pure in heart.

4 Lord, we thy presence seek;
May ours this blessing be;
Give us a pure and lowly heart,
A temple meet for thee.

PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen

PRAYERS OF PENITENCE
God the Father forgives us in Christ and heals us by the Holy Spirit.
Let us therefore put away all anger and bitterness, all slander and malice,
and confess our sins to God our redeemer.   cf. Ephesians 4.30,32

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
we have sinned against you
and against our neighbour,
through our own fault,
in thought, and word, and deed,
and in what we have left undone.
We are truly sorry
and repent of all our sins.
For your Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
forgive us all that is past;
and grant that we may serve you in newness of life
to the glory of your name. Amen.

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen

THE COLLECT
Heavenly Lord,
you long for the world’s salvation:
stir us from apathy,
restrain us from excess
and revive in us new hope
that all creation will one day be healed
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

FIRST READING - Zephaniah 1.7,12-18
Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is at hand; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests.
At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts,
“The LORD will not do good, nor will he do harm.” Their wealth shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.
The Great Day of the LORD, the great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.
I will bring such distress upon people that they shall walk like the blind; because they have sinned against the LORD, their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath; in the fire of his passion the whole earth shall be consumed; for a full, a terrible end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

HYMN - Thy kingdom come, O God

1 Thy kingdom come, O God,
Thy rule, O Christ, begin;
Break with thy iron rod
The tyrannies of sin.

2 Where is thy reign of peace
And purity and love?
When shall all hatred cease,
As in the realms above?

3 When comes the promised time
That war shall be no more,
And lust, oppression, crime,
Shall flee thy face before?

4 We pray thee Lord, arise,
And come in thy great might;
Revive our longing eyes,
Which languish for thy sight.

5 O'er lands both near and far
Thick darkness broodeth yet:
Arise, O morning Star,
Arise, and never set.

GOSPEL - Matthew 25.14-30
“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 

For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

SERMON
The book of Zephaniah was written during the reign of Josiah, king of Judah from 640 BC to 609 BC. His mission was to correct the lax state of his country’s obedience to the Torah, particularly its tendency to worship the ancient Canaanite fertility gods. Despite the king’s reforming zeal, or perhaps to provoke it, Zephaniah sees doom and judgment for his errant people. But there is hope in his book, at least towards the end, though there is some doubt that it was the hand of the same author. For Zephaniah Israel’s God was a threat to be taken seriously.

This well known parable of the talents is not an easy read. Matthew’s version has a parallel in St Luke, which differs significantly in detail - it also has a parallel in the Gospel of the Nazarenes, a gospel lost to us except in the quotations by Greek Bishops of the 3rd and 4th centuries.

At first the parable seems clear enough, work hard and you will be rewarded, idle your time away and you will be punished. It goes well with a Victorian work ethic and capitalist profit motive. It serves school assemblies very well - be industrious and you will make money, be idle and be put out into the outer darkness, the darkness of poverty and shame. We even get our word ‘talent’ from this parable, a confusing misuse of the word which demonstrates the pervasiveness of bad theology.

The story just isn’t as simple as that. For a start the legal duty of someone given property to look after was fulfilled when they buried it, at least so said the rabbis - anything else was taking risks with that which is not yours. Also the charging of interest, usury, was specifically against the Torah - financing bankers would seem to be questionable at best. The amounts concerned are also extraordinary, a talent, usually of silver, was of some significant weight, a Roman talent was about 71lbs. - and that is a lot of silver, about 6,000 denarii worth, or 16 years pay for a farm hand. And who is this man with all this wealth to invest? He accepts the 3rd servant’s description of him as one who reaps where he did not sow, surely a euphemism for rapacity and exploitation. This man sounds like a gangster, or the worst kind of absentee landlord. If Jesus’ original audience were most likely to be Palestinian or Jewish peasants who worked the land, whose side would they have been on? Where is the kingdom or rule of God here? It would appear that Jesus’ usual scale of values have been turned upside down.  Profit is king and righteousness condemned.

But we are assuming that the reward given to those servants who turn a ‘good’ profit - that is, entering into ‘the joy of their master’ - is a good thing. If we see the ‘master’ as some kind of Trumpian character I would suggest that that is a very dubious reward. They don’t get to keep their profit, of course, their reward is to live in Trump Tower. 

If we accept that the man who goes on the journey is not God and that he just might be someone you wouldn’t wish to meet, then that puts a different complexion on the story. The story becomes, not so much a guide for living as a warning to those who would seek to follow in the way of Jesus. The kingdom of God will draw people away from reward and comfort, its values are not those of the world we live in. This should not be a surprise to us.

Like every good parable this one can be seen in many different ways. Any or all might be correct. The God of this parable might be the God of Zephaniah, who threatens judgement and outer darkness. Or he might be the God of the man who does the right thing and must face the consequences of a world where that is an anathema.

HYMN - Who are these like stars appearing

1 Who are these, like stars appearing,
These before God's throne who stand?
Each a golden crown is wearing;
Who are all this glorious band?
Alleluya, hark! they sing,
Praising loud their heavenly King.

2 Who are these of dazzling brightness,
These in God's own truth arrayed,
Clad in robes of purest whiteness,
Robes whose lustre ne'er shall fade,
Ne'er be touched by time's rude hand--
Whence comes all this glorious band?

3 These are they who have contended
For their Saviour's honour long,
Wrestling on till life was ended,
Following not the sinful throng;
These, who well the fight sustained,
Triumph through the Lamb have gained.

4 These are they whose hearts were riven,
Sore with woe and anguish tried,
Who in prayer full oft have striven
With the God they glorified;
Now, their painful conflict o'er,
God has bid them weep no more.

5 These like priests have watched and waited,
Offering up to Christ their will,
Soul and body consecrated,
Day and night to serve him still:
Now, in God's most holy place
Blest they stand before his face.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH 
Let us declare our faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the scriptures;
he was buried;
he was raised to life on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures;
afterwards he appeared to his followers,
and to all the apostles:
this we have received,
and this we believe.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 15.3-7

INTERCESSIONS - Keith Atton

O Lord, we pray for your church throughout the world. May we and all who call themselves Christians use the talents which we have for the good of all.
Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

O Lord, we pray for those in positions of leadership throughout the world and especially those in our own country. May they use their positions of power and their abilities  not for selfish ends but for the common good.
Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

O Lord, we pray for our families, our friends and those we meet in our places of work, both paid and unpaid. May we recognise the skills that we have and offer them gladly in the service of all.
Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

O Lord, we pray for those in any kind of need in body, mind or spirit, especially those on our benefice prayer list and any others known to any of us personally. May those capable of doing so, help them in their need and may they be sure Your love is present surrounding them.
Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

O Lord, we give thanks for for the lives of those we have known and for the good that they did, which we and others experienced as a result of the contribution they made.
Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

O Lord we thank you for the talents we have been given. May we never be jealous of the talents of others but thankful for what they bring too. May we be ready too stand back sometimes and let others make their contribution when appropriate, so that wherever we are, a small part of your kingdom may be here on earth as it is in heaven.
Father, it is such an honour to be invited to your banquet, make us worthy of our calling.

Merciful Father, 
accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:

Our Father in heaven, 
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, 

your will be done,
on earth as in heaven. 

Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive 

those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation 

but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, 

and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

BLESSING
The power of God be about you,
the love of Christ enfold you,
the joy of the Spirit be within you;
and the blessing of God Almighty, 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be among you, and remain with you always.  Amen

HYMN - Jerusalem the golden

1 Jerusalem the golden,
With milk and honey blest,
Beneath thy contemplation
Sink heart and voice opprest.
I know not, O I know not,
What social joys are there,
What radiancy of glory,
What light beyond compare.

2 They stand, those halls of Sion,
Conjubilant with song,
And bright with many an angel,
And all the martyr throng;
The Prince is ever in them,
The daylight is serene,
The pastures of the blessèd
Are decked in glorious sheen.

3 There is the throne of David,
And there, from care released,
The song of them that triumph,
The shout of them that feast;
And they who, with their Leader,
Have conquered in the fight,
For ever and for ever
Are clad in robes of white.

4 O sweet and blessèd country,
Shall I ever see thy face?
O sweet and blessed country,
Shall I ever win thy grace?
Exult, O dust and ashes!
The Lord shall be thy part:
His only, his for ever,
Thou shalt be, and thou art!

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
In the name of Christ. Amen

To end:

VOCES8: The Road Home - Stephen Paulus