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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church for Sunday 12 November
Today’s service is led by the Revd Andy Braunston
Call to Worship
We seek refuge in the Most High, who is always pleased to deliver us! We shelter in Christ, our rock and redeemer, who makes haste to help us! We find strength in the Abiding Spirit, who rejoices in our salvation!
Hymn Christ is Coming! Let Creation John R Macduff (1853) Public Domain. Sung by Matt Scott from his album Poets and Saints.
Christ is coming! Let creation from her groans and travail cease; let the glorious proclamation hope restore and faith increase:
Earth can now but tell the story of Thy bitter cross and pain; she shall yet behold Thy glory, when Thou comest back to reign:
So come back home, come back home, come back home; haste that joyous jubilee.
Long Thy people have been pining
for Thy peace and rest in Thee. Soon, in heav’nly glory shining, their Restorer shall they see:
With that blessed hope before us, let no harp remain unstrung; let the mighty advent chorus onward roll from tongue to tongue:
Prayers of Approach, Confession & Forgiveness
Eternal Majesty, source of life and love, help us to rest in Your presence and be ready to hear.
Lord Jesus, radiant wisdom of the Most High, help us to discern Your call and be ready to serve.
Life-giving Spirit, gracious guide in our paths, help us to understand Your will and be ready to obey.
Most Holy Trinity, we come to rest, discern, and understand, but realise our own frailties as Your wisdom casts our foolishness into stark relief. We prefer our own ideas to Yours, we forget to prepare for the future, failing to replenish the oil of love and service that You require, ignoring Your warnings and hoping we’ll be let into the feast anyway.
Teach us, O God, to love wisdom, and to show our discipleship through loving service of others, that, at the end we may be ready to follow You to the banquet of life. Amen.
My sisters and brothers, God is like a father who runs to welcome home the estranged, a mother hen who shelters her chicks, and a rock behind which we shelter in the storm, God is gracious, loving, and faithful and forgives all who truly turn their lives around. So have the courage to turn back to God, and the bravery to forgive yourself. Amen.
Prayer for Illumination
As a lamp in the dark, Your word, O God, gives direction and hope. Bless us now as we listen for Your truth expressed in sermon and reading, in song and silence, that we may hear Wisdom and become wise. Amen.
Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her. One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for she will be found sitting at the gate. To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding, and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought. The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction, and concern for instruction is love of her,and love of her is the keeping of her laws, and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality, and immortality brings one near to God; so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.
St Matthew 25:1-13
Jesus said: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 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.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Alleluia! Hurry the Lord is near. Alleluia! Alleluia! Hurry the Lord is near.
Sound the trumpet, the Lord is near; hurry the Lord is near. See, He comes to save us all; hurry the Lord is near.
Earth has longed for his approach; hurry the Lord is near. Straighten the road smooth the path; hurry the Lord is near.
Go out to meet shout his name; hurry the Lord is near. His mighty Kingdom shall never end; hurry the Lord is near.
They say that wisdom is different from knowledge and depends on context. Whilst it’s true there’s no law in America stopping a convict becoming president it might not be entirely wise. Knowledge may tell an opposition party what voters want, wisdom might be about saying what’s possible. Whilst it’s true that a tomato is a fruit, it’s wise not to pop it in the fruit salad! We know more and more things and search engines can quickly direct us to an online encyclopaedia where we can learn even more at the swipe of a finger. Our thirst for wisdom is as old as the ages; our failures at working out how to use it is even older. Both our readings today dealt with wisdom; personified as a young woman in our Old Testament reading and used in a parable about young women, a late groom, and the perils of waiting.
The Book of Wisdom is part of a group of books that Protestants usually refer to as the Apocrypha but which most Christians accept as being part of Scripture. Around the time of Jesus, they were found in Greek translations of the Old Testament but not in Hebrew. This led to debates throughout Church history about whether they should be recognised as Scripture. They were rejected at the Reformation giving a propaganda gift to Catholics who would point out that the newfound Protestant commitment to the Bible wasn’t as deep as had been asserted! Luther put these books in a section between the two testaments and this pattern was followed for some time, but many twentieth century Protestant Bibles left them out. More recently they’ve been restored, often to where Luther had them, and passages from some of these books are included, as today, in the Lectionary.
Wisdom, despite its full title as The Wisdom of Solomon, is accepted by scholars to be written in either the first century BCE or the first century CE by a Jew who took on the persona of King Solomon as he was reputed to be wise. The author’s style is reminiscent of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs – all books associated with Solomon. These books make profound observations of the natural world and human behaviour and highly value wisdom, which is often personified – as in today’s passage as a young woman. Wisdom itself is seen as a desirable quality and one which leads to obedience of God’s laws leading, again, to immortality.
This personification of Wisdom as a young woman works well with Jesus’ parable of wise and foolish bridesmaids. This passage is part of a longer sequence teaching about the end of the age – the Lectionary compilers are getting us ready for Advent! We’ve been told there will be war and persecution, sacrilege and false teachers, and a shaken heaven and earth before Jesus returns at some unspecified time in the future. It is part of a sequence of three other stories (including the Faithful and Unfaithful Slaves, the Talents, and the Sheep and the Goats) about the End. It is a story about waiting. The earliest Christians assumed Jesus would return quickly but had to learn how to wait. As the apostles and eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life died the Church had to rethink its theology. Instead of hurrying as the Lord was near, now the Church had to settle in for a long wait. This parable was one used to encourage us as we wait.
Clearly Jesus intends us to live as wise, not foolish, bridesmaids but is short on detail as to what that might mean. It’s a brave preacher these days who will ask the congregation if they are wise or foolish virgins!
Some people think it’s about staying awake – a common Advent theme. However, both wise and foolish became drowsy and slept and neither are criticised for that, so it’s not about staying awake.
Some think it’s about bringing all we need or want if we seek to be wise. But the feast is provided for all the guests (who got in). The only difference is the wise bridesmaids thought to bring lamp oil; that’s the only thing the foolish ones didn’t have.
Some people think it’s about waiting without grumbling – but that’s not part of the story. Wise and unwise waited and there’s no comment on the quality of their waiting, just on their preparations, or lack thereof.
Some think it’s about hope that the groom will come; but they all doze off, all rejoice when he comes, and no one was doubting that he’d turn up eventually.
So, if the passage isn’t about staying awake, bringing all we need to the feast, waiting without grumbling or being hope filled, what is the story about? The only difference between the bridesmaids seems to be that the wise were prepared for the wait, whilst the foolish weren’t – they hoped for a shop open at night that stocked oil. So, it’s a story about being prepared for the wait. The wise guessed they’d be in for a long wait and came prepared, the foolish didn’t and so were, eventually, left out of the party. The story is about being prepared for a long wait and not relying on what’s already in our lamps. So what might that mean for us in our contexts?
First, we’re in this together. The bridesmaids all waited together, foolish and wise, and stuck with each other; we wait together in church, foolish and wise – faithful and muddled – bearing with each other and seeking to model a new type of community where every time we break bread and share wine, we replenish our oil and anticipate the wedding feast of the Lamb. And remember, being in it together means we don’t get to decide who’s wise and who’s foolish!
Second, we keep some spare oil. I think that might mean engaging in works of mercy, forgiving those who’ve wounded us, and working for justice. All the things that Jesus tells us – as we’ll see when we read the parable of the sheep and the goats in two weeks’ time.
Third, the text also reminds us that this isn’t as good as it gets. There’s a party coming; the groom will return, and things will get better. Evil and injustice won’t have the last word, death won’t be the final victor, the pain we experience will lessen, at last all things will be reconciled with God. Many contemporary Christians don’t talk much about the end of the age – save the acclamation at Communion about Christ coming again – for fear of being associated with the type of Christians who salivate at the idea of God punishing the lost. Yet a central part of the Christian faith is the idea that Christ will come again. It’s a paradoxical idea as we believe he’ll come but, at the same time he’s a long time coming and so we’ve always had to work out how to live in joyful expectation but with realistic wisdom.
As Christians we live in hope – the hope that God hasn’t finished with us, that the project started at creation will come to fruition despite our best attempts to frustrate it, the hope that we may be found amongst the wise. Living in hope does not deny the evils of the world. We cannot deny the world’s evil with
democracy under threat in the much of the West,
torturers enjoying peaceful retirements instead of prison cells,
wars of aggression going unpunished, and
creation groaning not so much with eager longing but tired exhaustion at our rape of the planet.
Our task to keep enough oil on hand and roll up our sleeves and work for the coming of the kingdom. Jesus reminds us that it’s not enough to cry with the foolish, “Lord, Lord.” Instead, with the wise, we have to quietly prepare. The banquet is reserved for those who’ve done God’s will and attended to the oil of mercy and love. Being a Christian in name only isn’t enough to secure a seat at the banquet as hands need to be dirty, sleeves need to be rolled up, and spare oil is needed in abundance! Will you pray with me?
Lord Jesus, inspiration to the wise and stumbling block to the foolish, help us to know how to wait, to spread the oil of kindness and mercy around us, that, at the end, we may enjoy the banquet of life. Amen.
HymnI Cannot Tell The Revd W Y Fullerton (1857-1932). Public Domain, sung by Joy and Ruth Everingham and used with their kind permission.
I cannot tell why He, whom angels worship, should set His love upon us now or then, or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wanderers, to bring them back they know not how or when. But this I know, that He was born of Mary, when Bethlehem’s manger was His only home, and that He lived at Nazareth and laboured, and so the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is come.
I cannot tell how silently He suffered, as with His peace He graced this place of tears, or how His heart upon the Cross was broken, the crown of pain to three and thirty years. But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted, and stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear, and lifts the burden from the heavy laden, for yet the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is here.
I cannot tell how He will win the nations, how He will claim His earthly heritage, how satisfy the needs & aspirations of east and west, of sinner and of sage. But this know, all flesh shall see His glory, and He shall reap the harvest He has sown, and some glad day His sun shall shine in splendour when He the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is known.
I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship, when, at His bidding, every storm is stilled, or who can say how great the jubilation when every human heart with love is filled. But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture, and myriad, myriad human voices sing, and earth to heaven, and heaven to earth, will answer: at last the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is King.
Affirmation of Faith
Since the earliest days God’s people have waited. In Egypt we waited for deliverance. In the Wilderness we waited for settlement. In the Kingdom we waited for godly rulers. In the bitterness of exile, we yearned for a return home. We waited and trusted in the Most High.
In the fullness of time God became one of us. To a people suffering occupation Jesus promised freedom. To the poor He promised release. To the sick He gave healing. Yet the powers of the age were happy with waiting, struck Jesus down, nailed him to the Cross, and killed him, hoping that his light would be extinguished. After three days of waiting in the tomb Jesus was resurrected; the first fruits of all who wait. He waited and trusted in the Most High.
Jesus commissioned his friends to preach, teach and baptise, and to wait for his return. Since then we’ve waited; empires have risen and fallen, peoples and species have come and gone, and now creation still waits with eager longing for deliverance, Yet still we wait and trust in the Most High.
We wait with hope for Jesus to return, to reconcile all things with the Most High, to enable us to live in harmony with each other and creation, that justice and righteousness might flow like a river, and for all things to be made new. For this we wait and trust in the Most High. Amen.
Eternal Majesty, Your light shines in the gloom of our world where we wait for things to change. Bless those who, this day, wait for justice: those imprisoned without trial, those tortured by the state, those who wait in pain for medical treatment, and those who wait for their poverty to end. Bring into the light, Most High, those who operate justice for their own ends, those who torture, those who ration health care and those who exploit the poor, that, Your Kingdom shall come. pause Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
Risen Lord Jesus, You came to the gloom of our world and experienced human life in all its complexity. Bless those who, this day, wait for change: those who work in and research renewable energy weaning us off polluting fuels, those who secure the rights of the poor and oppressed, those who welcome the refugee, the torture survivor, and the stranger seeing You in them all, those who seek to learn how to live with creation and adapt to climate change. Bring into the light, Lord Jesus, those who greenwash their pollution, those who wish to keep the poor in their place, those who seek to divide and conquer, blaming refugees for their own greed and incompetence, and those who deny what we are doing to the earth, that, Your Kingdom shall come. pause Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
Most Holy Spirit, Your radiant unfading wisdom enlightens the gloom of our world. Bless those, this day, who wait in hope: those worshipping in secret for fear of the authorities, those aching to love but face legal and social persecution, those waiting for the birth of a child and those waiting for life to come to its end. Bring into the Light, Most Holy Spirit, those who hate freedom, those who hate love, those who harm children, and those who devalue life, that, Your Kingdom shall come. pause Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
O Trinity of Love, hear our prayers as we join together with those who love you throughout space and time and pray as Jesus taught: Our Father…
The Lord be with you! And also with you! Lift up your hearts! We lift them up to the Lord! Let us give God our thanks and praise! It is always right to do so!
Longing for your light, O God, we wait in darkness. Before the ages Your Spirit breathed on the waters and brought forth life, She danced at Creation’s start and sanctified the earth, our mother. Long ago you called a people to be Your own, You gave them freedom and law, land and responsibility, waiting always for them to care for the poor and the stranger. Time and again You sustained Your prophets, who taught Your people to wait for salvation. In due course Your Spirit overshadowed Mary, and, obedient to Your will, she became the God Bearer. Through nine long months of waiting, You grew within Her and, in the fullness of time she was delivered of a vulnerable, fragile, baby, wrapped in her blood, born poor and exiled.
Jesus grew, gathered friends around Him and told us to work and wait for the Kingdom to come. Proclaiming good news to the poor, liberation to the oppressed, sight for the blind, and healing for the sick, Jesus showed through word and deed how to live. Yet those opposed to him waited in the dark, had him betrayed, handed over, and tried at night, then tortured and crucified by day. For three long days He waited in the tomb, until You raised Him up revealing Your costly love, Your extravagant yet expensive grace. Jesus promised he would return at the end of the age, to separate the sheep from the goats, to put all things right, and make all things new, and so, with the wise of every age we sing of Your praise and glory:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory, Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest.
On the night he was betrayed Jesus shared in the simplicity of a meal with his friends. There, with Judas who had betrayed him, with Peter who would deny him, with the young man who would run off naked in fear from him and with all the disciples who’d melt into the night, Jesus shared his very self with them.
Using the ancient prayers of blessing, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke the bread and gave it to his friends saying:
“Take this all of you and eat it, this is my body which is broken for you.”
In the same way, after Supper, again using the ancient Jewish prayers of blessing, Jesus took the cup of wine, gave it to his friends and said:
“Take this all of you and drink from it, this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting promise of God for you and for many that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.”
Let us remember Jesus as we wait for him to return:
We proclaim your death O Lord and confess your resurrection ‘til you come again again.
Come now Spirit of our God, as You danced at creation’s start, dance with us now, overcoming us with Your gentle power, transforming these simple things of bread and wine, into the body and blood of Christ. Lift us to dance with You in the heavenly places, that we may be given strength as we wait, passion as we proclaim the coming kingdom, and patience to see You at work in our world, until that day comes when we will share in the great wedding feast of the Lamb.
All praise is Yours O Most High, through Jesus Your Word made flesh, in the power and love of the Abiding Spirit, until the end of the age, Amen.
To prepare ourselves to meet the Lord in Holy Communion we sing the Lamb of God.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world; have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world; have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world; grant us peace. Post Communion Prayer
Eternal God, for whom we wait, You have fed us with the bread of eternal life: keep us ever watchful, that we may be ready to stand before the bridge groom, Jesus Christ our Lord, when he returns. Amen.
HymnMine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord Julia Ward Howe (1862) Public Domain. Conductor – Nathaniel Oswald Maben, Pipe Organ – Avinash Mario Grubb, String Orchestra and choristers from various St Andrews Church, Bangalore Conservatory Choir, Bangalore Mens Ensemble, Bangalore East Marthoma Church, CSI East Parade Malayalam Church , CSI Kannada Church Electronic City, Healing Service Choir, Indira Nagar Methodist Church, St Johns Church, Koramangala Methodist Church, Kothanur CSI Church, Pavanasar Lutheran Church Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church and used with their kind permission.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.
I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps; They have builded him an altar in the evening dews and damps; I can read the righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps; His day is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; He is sifting out the hearts of all before his judgment seat; O be swift, my soul, to answer him; be jubilant, my feet! Our God is marching on.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me; As he died to make us holy, let us die that all be free! While God is marching on.
May the One who waited until the time was right to shine light into the world, enlighten you as you wait.
May the One who gives patience to those who work for change, grant you perseverance as you wait.
May the One who hastens to make Herself known to those who desire Her, enfold you in love and light as you wait,
and may the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy be with you and all whom you love, until the end of the age, Amen.