November 19 Sermon

With Thanks
A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
For November 19 2017, the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time and Thanksgiving Sunday
Based on Matthew 25:14-30 (CEB)

This passage is commonly known as the parable of the talents, an archaic translation naming this Greek coin. According to Wikipedia one talent equals almost 20 years military service. Five talents would then be pay for one hundred years’ service.

I will say this now, and I will say it again: Lyonsville, I am happy for you. Remember what angels say? “Do not be afraid! God is in charge! Things are about to change! This affects you! God is with you.”

Having a pastoral candidate – and hopefully calling a pastor –is why I came to be with you, and I knew when you did those things I would be departing you, because my ministry will have been concluded. I will miss you – but I want to remind you I’m not gone yet: we have 9 more worship services to share! I will miss you – but I rejoice with you that your Pastoral Search Team has identified a candidate whom they feel secure in presenting to you for your consideration to become your next pastor. There’s still a few steps you must complete before that occurs.

I will miss you Lyonsville – and I have to remind myself: I am not gone yet. We yet have journeys to take together, processing through Advent, sharing Christmas and Epiphany and the first weeks after Epiphany. I will need to say farewell to you in stages – because the more healthy our goodbyes then the healthier our new hellos can be.

I am not going to cease being your pastor until my final Sunday in January. I will continue to pray for you, pray with you, for your individual health, for your congregational health, for the transformation of Lyonsville as your heritage is celebrated and new ministries are explored. I will continue to laugh with you, mourn with you, cry with you, rejoice with you. And in truth: having Advent to share with you makes my concluding work so much sweeter.

I am thankful to God for the time I have had with you. We have done significant work. Not all of it has been easy, not all of it has been pleasant, not all of it is remembered well. Nevertheless, I think Lyonsville is healthier now than when I arrived. You are communicating with one another better, and you are collaborating more: these are signs of God’s spirit of reconciliation and your willingness to trust God and to trust one another. More of you are involved in making decisions for the congregation. That often complicates things, but it also makes sure no one is making unilateral decisions or making decisions without other’s input. You’re working better as a community, because you have been claiming a shared identity. You are becoming the church.

I’m not saying we were not a church before I arrived. Rather what I mean is you are more deliberate in being the church. And being the church is something none of us can do alone, but it is something all of us are invited to do together. One of the things I regret in my move from being a Religious Educator to being an interim pastor is the change of focus on faith formation. As a religious educator I was expected to work with people on a much more personal level helping their individual faith grow and deepen. As an interim pastor, I am expected to work on strengthening healthy structures so the congregation is healthier, so the congregations grows. Each are important to our Christian identity, but I have found it extremely difficult to attempt both at once – especially in a less-than full-time capacity.

I pray that as God observes my work as an interim minister, observes our work as a congregation in transition, God witnesses how we have been faithful, using our shared resources to invest in ministry together. It may not be the same ministry as any of the congregations within 10 miles from here, it may not be the same ministry in which this congregation invested 10 or 20 or 50 years ago – but it is ministry produced from the investment of the current available resources.

I pray God looks upon all the activities of Lyonsville and says “Well done, good and faithful servants. You have been faithful over a little; soon you will be in charge of more.” But for now, the message is come and celebrate. Come and celebrate what has been transformed. Come and celebrate new health, restored relationships, new ways of expressing faithfulness, new ways of doing ministry together.

You’ll see in the bulletin the next item of our worship is a confession. Wait?! Didn’t I just say “celebrate”?! How is confession a celebration? Well, this confession engages the future. This confession engages the way we receive gifts from God. This confession engages the way we give thanks. So even though Lyonsville usually does not have confession in worship except for communion Sundays, I thought it was appropriate to include this confession today.

Confession[i]

One:      There is a richness here – a gorgeous, flowing richness of unending abundance. But that doesn’t mean that it guides us. Our ways – within and beyond our control – speak of something different: of lack, of fear, of something other than an acknowledgement of God’s endless and beautiful river of grace.

Many:   But how do we step into that river? Do we step into it with trust? Do we trust the current of God’s generous gifts?

One:      Or do we run from the river? For when we run, when we turn away from God’s gifts in distrust, we lose the refreshment and joy of that richness… and something else reigns.

Many:   Then, what’s left?

One:      Now is the time – now is the time to consider just how we distrust God’s abundance. Now is the time – now is the time to begin something new. Now is the time – now is them time to trust … differently.

A time for silent confession

 

Assurance of Pardon

One:    We haven’t always trusted, God. But now we do.

Many:   We acknowledge the richness of your blessings. We see your flowing river of love. And we wade into your grace.

One:      There is a richness – a richness that says “yes” – eternally – even in the face of our behavioral “no”s. There is a richness that penetrates distrust and offers so much more. This richness forgives and gives even more.

Many:     We know this forgiveness. And we thank you, God.

[i] Kaji S. Douša, “The Time of Richness: Service Prayers for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, November 19, 2017” Worship Ways (Cleveland: Local Church Ministries, Faith Formation Ministry Team, United Church of Christ; 2014).

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