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Virtual worship - 22 August 2021


Today is the tenth Sunday of our series exploring Parables for Bradford, listening to some of the stories told by Jesus with an ear to what they might say to us in the places we live, work, worship. Today’s story is about three bags of gold, or more particularly the actions of those to whom these bags were entrusted.

As we begin to engage with this story, we might find ourselves thinking about our bags of gold, or their equivalents, and what we do (or don’t do) with them.

Call to worship

Psalm 84 (NIVUK)

How lovely is your dwelling-place,
LORD Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.

3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young –
a place near your altar,
LORD Almighty, my King and my God.

4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
8 Hear my prayer, LORD God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob.
9 Look on our shield, O God;
look with favour on your anointed one.

10 Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house 
of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favour and honour;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose way of life is blameless.
12 LORD Almighty,
blessed is the one who trusts in you.

Let us pray: 

God of Generosity, we thank you for your gifts to us, help us to realise what they are, and how we can use them to make this world a better place. Amen.

Song

You might like to sing, or reflect on Brenton Brown & Brian Doerksen’s song at Singing the Faith 98, Your love is amazing with the refrain Hallelujah, your love makes me sing. 


As we are worshipping today, whether you are reading these words or hearing them on the screen, you will be surrounded by pictures. Some of these pictures will be photographs of family members or friends, on your mantelpiece or bookshelf, perhaps some portraits, others snapped on holiday or at special occasions. Other pictures might be painted, whether by skilled artist or enthusiastic grandchild, and remind you of place or person. Other ‘pictures’ might be the view through your window, or in ‘your mind’s eye’ as you imagine or remember. Take a few moments now, perhaps pausing the video or laying down your sheet, to look at these pictures and give thanks for the people and places they represent.

Let us pray: 

Generous God, thank you for the many blessings reflected in my pictures, especially the people I see and the places and occasions I remember. As you receive my thankfulness, so turn it into generosity, that I might be open to the many ways I can bless others. Amen.

Reading: 

Matthew 25:14-30 (NIV UK) The parable of the bags of gold


14 ‘Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 ‘After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.”
21 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
22 ‘The man with two bags of gold also came. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with two bags of gold: see, I have gained two more.”
23 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
24 ‘Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”
26 ‘His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 ‘“So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Reflection

Before we think about our bags of gold today, whether we have five, two or one, let’s notice the context of Jesus’ story. We are looking at the middle chunk of Matthew 25 today. Preceding the bags of gold is last week’s story, the parable of the ten virgins, five of whom are wise, taking enough oil to fuel their lights as they wait the bridegroom’s coming, whilst the other five are foolish, forgetting supplies, and then missing the moment as they are away buying oil when the bridegroom finally arrives. In their foolishness they miss out. Following on from the bags of gold will be the ‘sheep’ and the ‘goats’, separated by their different responses to those who were vulnerable and in need. The sheep helped, the goats failed to help, and in these choices the creatures bring judgement on themselves, the more so as it is revealed that it was the king himself who was present in the form of those vulnerable and in need. ‘Whatever you did (or failed to do) for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did (or failed to do) for me.’ These stories are about the choices we make in the here and now having significance, both in the moment and into the future. These choices matter. We might put the three stories together and say, ‘Be prepared, be courageous, be generous, and so be blessed.’ Or turn that on its head, “Be unprepared, be cowardly, be selfish, and so miss out on blessing.’

So let’s look at our bags of gold and be courageous.

What have we been given? In the story the gold is entrusted to the three servants by a fairly unpleasant master. We are not intended to focus on the master, but on the choices made by his servants in his absence. It is their receiving that which is entrusted to them, and what they do with it, that matters. The three receive different amounts, with two putting their gold to good use, and the third hiding his for fear of loss.

So what might our gold be?

For all my ministry I have believed in the theological principle of Christian stewardship.

On Friday I spoke at a service celebrating the life and ministry of the Revd. Ray Trezise at Mirfield Trinity in the Kirklees & Morley Circuit. Ray was the minister who brought me into membership of the Methodist Church as a teenager at Trinity. Some of you will have heard me speak of the time when my family moved from Mirfield to Scotland, with me as a young person struggling with this, and leaving home, heading back to Yorkshire. Ray was the one who both worked out where I would be, and took time to listen, understand, and find a way forward. That way forward involved school holidays staying in the (Yorkshire) manse, and it was those times with Ray and his wife Shirley that planted in me the seeds of my calling into ministry.

Ray was always committed to Christian stewardship, and for many years served as Secretary of the Methodist Stewardship Organisation. In time I was privileged to serve with him on the Connexional Stewardship Committee, and act as an associate working with churches engaging in stewardship campaigns.

The question, ‘What is Christian stewardship?’ is the same question as, ‘What might our gold be?’ What are those things that make us who we are, and what is God calling us to do with them? What have we been entrusted with, both through our nature and our nurture, and how can we use these gifts to serve our neighbours?

Stewardship asks these questions into three areas of life – my time, my talents and my treasure.

How do I use the time entrusted to me, months, weeks, days, hours? What is the balance between work and leisure, activity and rest? What time do I give to service, to worship, to fellowship? Is there something particular that God is calling me to give time to, perhaps in the life of the church, perhaps with my neighbours? Is there wasted time that could be redeemed into good use?

What about my talents? What skills, experience, know-how have I buried in the ground rather than putting to use. What needs are there in church or community that I could help meet? What might transfer from my working life into service? What childhood skill might be revisited?

And treasure. Do I use my possessions with generosity and consideration, or selfishly? Is my home a place of hospitality? Do I consider the effects of my choices on the climate and use resources responsibly? Am I generous in response to others’ needs?

All this assumes that God has entrusted us with gold – time, talents and treasure – and calls us to be good stewards of this bounty. This implies a principle of mutual responsibility – we are also entrusted with each other’s’ care, and called to use our gifts for the common good.

So today I invite you to recognise the bags of gold which God has entrusted to you. Be thankful! And don’t bury them in the ground, hiding them away, but rather put them to good use.

‘Be prepared, be courageous, be generous, and so be blessed.’ Amen.

Let us pray: 

God of Generosity, we thank you for your gifts to us, help us to realise what they are, and how we can use them to make this world a better place. Amen.

Song

We sing or listen to Martin Leckebusch’s hymn – StF 660 Called by Christ to be disciples, every day in every place…..as we serve a faithful master, faithful service may we give. Richly varied are our pathways many callings we pursue: may we use our gifts and talents always, Lord, to honour you.

Praying for others, and ourselves.

We use Robert Cameron’s song as a response to our prayers: (Songs of Fellowship 304)  I want to worship the Lord with all of my heart, give him my all and not just a part, lift up my hands to the King of kings, praise him in everything.


Loving God, in thankfulness we acknowledge the many ways in which you have blessed us, and the rich array of gifts which you have entrusted to us. We thank you particularly for those special people whose influence has shaped us, and pray that we in turn might play our part. 

Response: I want to worship the Lord …….

Lord Jesus, we bring to you our brokenness and anxiety, and all that gets in the way of our responding fully to those around us. Where we lack confidence, encourage us. Where we are selfish, unfold us. When we are afraid to commit, release us from our fear. 

Response: I want to worship the Lord………

Gentle Spirit, we offer you our concern for others. In some moments of quietness we ask your blessing on those who are hurting, hungry, troubled, afraid……………….. As you hear our prayer, turn our concern into appropriate action, that we might use our gifts as you intend. 

Response: I want to worship the Lord …….

Trinity of Love, Father, Son, Spirit, you are the source of all that is good, and you have entrusted to us the stewardship of your creation. Help us so to spend our time, so to use our talents, and so to share our treasure, that we contribute to the wellbeing of all and the detriment of none. Guide us to where we are most needed. 

Response: I want to worship the Lord……

We bring our prayers together, as we pray, with all God’s people, the Lord’s Prayer.

Sing

We sing or listen to Daniel L Schutte’s hymn StF 663 - I, the Lord of sea and sky with the refrain: Here I am Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart. 

Blessing

We go in peace, in the power of the Spirit, to live and work to God’s praise and glory. Amen.

We bless one another, and all those we have brought to mind this day, as we share the Grace:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all, now and always. Amen.

(CCLI 79951. Service prepared by Rev’d Nick Blundell)

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