Welcome to the church
Call to worship and welcome
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His faithful love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the LORD proclaim
That he has redeemed them from the hand of the foe
and has gathered them from the lands
From the East and the west, from the north and the south.
Welcome to worship!
We come together to worship God, whether in person or on-line, praise God, to read the scriptures and seek God’s word and to pray for ourselves and others.
Whatever our background, whether young or old, wherever we are in our faith journeys, Jesus calls to us.
Hymn: All people that on earth do dwell
Prayers of adoration and confession
Our prayer of adoration this morning is based on Psalm 145
We will extol you, our God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
You are great, and greatly to be praised; your greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud your works to another, and we shall all declare your mighty acts.
We will meditate on the glorious splendour of your majesty, and on your wondrous works,
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and we will declare your greatness.
We shall celebrate your abundant goodness, and shall sing of your righteousness.
You, Lord, are gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
You, Lord are good to all, and your compassion is over all that you have made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
You, Lord, are faithful in all your words, and gracious in all your deeds.
You uphold all who are falling, and raise up all who are bowed down.
You are just in all your ways, and kind in all your doings.
You watch over all who love you, but all the wicked you will destroy.
Our mouths will speak your praise, and all flesh will bless your holy name forever and ever.
And we continue in a prayer of confession:
God our Father,
you love us with an everlasting love.
But we confess, with sorrow,
that we have loved neither you nor our neighbour as we should.
You have called us to be your people,
but we confess, with shame,
that our response has been half-hearted and indecisive.
enable us to face up to what we really are, so that,
turning to you in penitence and faith,
we may receive forgiveness and healing;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Assurance of forgiveness
We are assured in the scriptures that:
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins
and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Hear Christ’s word of grace to us: “Your sins are forgiven”
Thanks be to God.
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 many descendants.
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.
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.
It has been an eventful week, but I want you to cast your mind back to last Saturday – the 31st of October. Do you remember what was significant about that day?
Let me give you three things:
The first thing, is it was Hallowe’en. The feast of All Hallow’s Eve. And while I suspect it was not particularly popular amongst the congregation here, but over the last twenty years it’s become more and more part of our society. The shopping centre up the road at Thornleigh even had a special space set up decorated with Hallowe’en things, so that you could take a selfie. I walked past a few times in October, but never saw a single person taking a selfie.
But lots of people don’t like Hallowe’en. Some because of what they see as things which stir an interest in the occult – but of the people of spoken to, by far the greatest objection is that it’s an American thing. And I guess this year in particular – or this week in particular – lots of people are wanting to steer clear of American things.
More significantly, and this is something that I did celebrate, is that the 31st of October was Reformation Day. When we remember the start of the protestant reformation when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. If you check last week’s Looking Out in our church newsletter, you can read a bit more about it.
So, Hallowe’en and Reformation Day. But there’s another significance of the 31st of October which was at the forefront of my mind: It’s the day that Australian personal income tax returns are due. Although, when I went to lodge my return on-line last Saturday morning, I saw that the deadline had been extended to last Monday, because the 31st was a Saturday.
But the 31st is the usual date. Now, you can lodge your tax return earlier than that. Much earlier than that – potentially from the 1st of July. But I’ve now lodged 35 annual tax returns, but just about all of them have been lodged in the last week of October, and many of them, on the 31st.
And each year, I reflect that it wasn’t too hard to do, and that I should really do it as soon as I can. I’m generally due a refund, so the sooner I lodge, the sooner I’d get my refund.
But I don’t. Each year, other things come up. Other things are more interesting. And I know I don’t have to do it earlier… I don’t really make a conscious decision to put it off. But I do.
I’m not alone in doing that. I couldn’t find the stats for this year, but there’s always a surge in lodgements in the last week of October.
So I think it’s a very human thing to do. To have a deadline, and to work to it. If you know anyone at school or university, how often to assignments get put off to the last minute? How often do people cram for a test at the last moment? In a work situation, how often do reports get put off to the last minute? In a church situation, how often is the sermon written late on a Saturday night? (As an aside, I can honestly say I have never written a sermon on a Saturday night – but I am told it does happen.)
We like our deadlines. We like our due dates. And if we don’t have those things, we find it hard. So often, people say something like “If we can just get to the end of the year, then things will be okay.”
I understand that Lifeline is bracing for a surge in calls in early January, because they think that so many people are thinking that 2020 is bad, for so many reasons, and they are - perhaps subconsciously – expecting that all the bad stuff will end come January 1, 2021.
At the moment, we are expecting a COVID vaccine in 2021. Our government is planning to be able to distribute it at the end of the first quarter. But it might not happen. And there’s a very good chance that April 1 will arrive and a vaccine won’t be available.
Which is all a very long introduction to today’s parable from Matthew 25. Traditionally known as the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, but in our translation called the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids.
This parable tells the story of ten bridesmaids who are waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. They have their lamps – as was the tradition – to light the way for the bridegroom. They wait, but the bridegroom was delayed, and they nodded off.
In modern times, of course, it’s usually the bride that is late – at a wedding I preached at at Pymble Chapel a few years ago, the bride was an hour and a quarter late… but no one waiting dozed off, the anxiety level was way too high – but in the parable, it’s the bridegroom who’s late.
And then at midnight there’s a shout, and all the bridesmaids rush to get their lamps ready – they’d trim the wicks so they didn’t make too much smoke, and as they did so, half of them realised they had no oil left. So, obviously, the first thing to do is ask those with oil to share.
But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ (25:9)
It’s midnight. The foolish bridesmaids are going to miss the banquet. Their lamps are dry, and there’s not enough oil for the wise bridesmaids to help out.
The foolish bridesmaids go anyway, and when they get back they find the door shut – and they plead “Lord, lord, open to us.”
And then verse 12 tells us “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’”
They had their chance. But they weren’t ready. And they missed out.
It seems very harsh – and it is – but think about it: All the bridesmaids had the same opportunities and the only difference among them was that some were wise and some were foolish. It’s not that some could afford oil, and some couldn’t (and indeed, the foolish bridesmaids went off to buy some oil, so we can assume that they all could afford it!).
The only difference was that some did the wise thing and some didn’t. They all had the same opportunities, the same invitation to the banquet, but they acted foolishly and they missed out.
They didn’t know when the bridegroom would arrive, but those that were wise acted accordingly. They brought flasks of oil, as well as their lamps. And because they acted wisely, they were ready when the bridegroom came.
You might remember that last month, we looked at another of Jesus’ parables – from Matthew 22, another one about a wedding banquet. We heard that all were invited, but that someone who came chose not to wear the wedding robe, and was thrown out as a result. The one thrown out didn’t do the right thing – I think we can safely say that he didn’t act wisely. And he missed out on the banquet.
Finally Jesus concludes the parable, saying “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
It would be really nice to know the day and the hour. It would be nice to know when there will be a COVID vaccine. It would be nice to know when we will be able to safely sing at church again. It would be nice – if you were a bridesmaid – to know when the bridegroom was going to arrive.
But for us, for Christians who await the return of Jesus, or who await the day when we will meet him when we die, we also do not know the day that that will happen.
We don’t know. We can’t know. Jesus said “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son,but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)
The point is that we need to be prepared.
A lamp without sufficient oil was useless. The bridesmaids who took their lamps and extra flasks of oil understood that they needed to be prepared for the long haul, that they needed oil - fuel.
And so do we – and the fuel of our Christian lives is prayer – prayers of praise and confession and intercession .
And it’s the scriptures – meditating on God’s law as we heard a few weeks ago in Psalm 1.
And it’s the engagement as the community of Christ – our fellowship with each other and the wider church. Encouraging each other. Helping each other.
And it’s also being open to the action of the Holy Spirit within our hearts and within our lives – our openness to being changed by God.
And if we’re taking all that fuel into our hearts and lives, then we will be being wise. We will be ready.
We are saved solely and completely by grace…undeserved, unearned, unmerited favour. When we believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, when we turn away from our sins and turn to God, we are saved.
And that is the free gift of God, and if we truly accept that free gift, then our lives will reflect that. We will wisely choose to do what God wants us to do.
We shouldn’t trying to get our houses and our lives in order the moment before Jesus arrives, or the moment before we go to meet him, but we should be ready – we should be staying faithful - even though we don’t know the day or hour.
We spend so much of our lives working to dates, working to deadlines, but there is so much uncertainty in the world and in our lives. But we can all know the sure and certain hope that Jesus gives us, even though we don’t know when he will return, we can know that he will.
And we as his followers can be ready for that day, we will be wise and we will have oil for our metaphorical lamps, we will be staying faithful.
To the glory of God.
Hymn: Let us sing to the God of salvation
Prayers of intercession
Loving and gracious God, we thank you for your faithfulness to your people through all generations.
We bring our prayers to you for the world.
We pray for countries where Covid-19 is out of control. May their leaders have wisdom and may the people follow the instructions. We uphold healthcare staff who are working tirelessly to care for the sick and we pray for comfort for those who have lost loved ones.
We pray that persecution of Christians will cease and we pray especially for Nigeria, Mozambique and Ethiopia. We pray for good support for South Sudan who have been struggling with floods, famine and conflict as well as Covid-19.
We pray for good support for the people of Turkey and Greece after an earthquake, for the people of the Philippines after a typhoon and for the people of France and Austria after terrorist attacks.
We give thanks for Christians who are sharing their faith in difficult places. Keep them safe and guide them day by day. We remember Alison Roeth.
We pray for our own country: for people who have lost their jobs, for people experiencing mental health issues, for people who are still recovering from the bushfires and drought and for people in hospital, quarantine or prison. We pray for welfare workers and chaplains as they care for these people and bring them your love. We thank you for all those who are helping others.
We pray for the churches in Australia and especially the Uniting Church as it reaches out to help the homeless and disadvantaged through its missions. May they receive good financial and practical support.
We pray for support for Frontier Services so that the Bush Chaplains can continue their work in remote areas. May they keep well and safe.
We thank you for Richie’s ministry with us and we uplift him before you. We remember our pastoral carers and Church Council and members of our congregation, and we remember our own family and friends who are struggling with difficult issues. May we continue to be strong in our faith and witness through these uncertain times. We ask for wisdom and guidance for the JNC and the Presbytery as they consider the future ministry for our congregation.
We pray for healing for those known to us who are receiving treatment or recovering from illness or surgery, and we pray for your blessing upon those in care or shut in: Audrey, Luke, May, Pat and Sheila.
In Jesus’ name
We give you thanks and praise, Lord, for all you have given us.
We ask you to accept the gifts we return to you, however and wherever we give them.
Guide us in the wise and faithful use of all that you give us, so that all people may come to know your love and hear of your saving grace.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
We do not know the hour or the day, but we wait in the sure and certain hope that God has given us through the death and resurrection of his only Son. Strengthened by this hope, let us stay faithful to the God created us, who redeems us and who sustains us.
By the power of God, may there be oil in our lamps today and always.
Hymn: Give me oil in my lamp/Power in the blood
Next Sunday 15 November 2020
Psalm 123 or Psalm 90:1-8,9-11,12
Judges 4:1-7 or Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
1 Thessalonian 5:1-11
Psalm 123, Matthew 25:14-30
Theme: “Using our talent(s)”