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Sermon transcript for November 16, 2014

“Entrusted With the Gifts of God”
Matthew 25:14-30
Belmont UMC—November 16, 2014
Ken Edwards

We recently had a call from the broker who manages a modest IRA account for us. She likes to ask what our risk tolerance is. Can we make high risk investments without staying awake at night? Are we more comfortable with a lower risk and possibly lower yield investment?     

As I read this parable again I reflected on a few years back to 2008. I had been here about a year and the church had borrowed money to build the Community Center and to update this building. There was construction noise and dust everywhere and the stock market was going down dramatically. I’m sure the Belmont folks wondered if the new pastor was bad luck or they wondered why they would have a pastoral change in the midst of a building program and a global economic crisis. At that time we seem to have been entrusted with a lot of responsibility but the results were out of our control.

Jesus’ parable is about a rich and powerful master making the necessary arrangements for a long trip. He calls three servants together and gives them portions of his property depending on their abilities. He is entrusting everything he has to them.

This is a stunning thing for a master to do and he is treating the servants with unusual and surprising honor and respect. He offers them different measures of talents or  valuable coins. A talent is a huge measure of wealth. Charles Bartow writes, “There is a master who turns over to his slaves enough of his own wealth to scare half to death even the most confident Wall Street money manager.” (God’s Human Speech p. 154 quoted in Pulpit Resource, Oct-Dec, 1999, p. 28) A talent was worth between 5,000-6,000 denarii or about 15 years of wages. The amount for which they assumed responsibility was enormous. It was like a CEO mega bonus.

Jesus said two of the slaves took their money and doubled it. But the one slave, the one who was given only one talent, buried it in the ground. This was not unusual for the time. There was a long-standing rabbinic tradition that anyone who buried money in the ground is no longer liable for its safety. He had taken the safe, prudent course of action. Upon the return of the master, two slaves were rewarded with more and received the joyful affirmation of the master. The one slave lost everything and received the harsh judgment of the master.

This text in the lectionary cycle comes to us every third year in the fall of the year, at the time when many churches are conducting stewardship campaigns. It often gets tied to those well used stewardship sermons about using our talents. I’ve preached a few of those sermons myself. But this parable is about more than that—more than using the talents God has given us. It’s about what we do with all that God has given us—like a master who entrusts everything to the servants. It’s about our entire response to God’s incredible generosity.

God has entrusted us with so much--with the grace and love of God, with the powerful message of good news, with the work of the kingdom, with many gifts for service, with resources to share with others, with the resources of creation and the environment, with the gift of God’s self in the life of God’s son, with time and energy, with strength, courage, and resolve to serve and with the gift of the church, our community of faith friends. It sounds like a thanksgiving litany as we name all that God has entrusted to us.

And the reality of these gifts with which God has entrusted us, compels us to respond, summons us out of our complacency and comfort zones to use what we’ve been given. How can we do anything other than respond?

But some respond by playing it safe! People play it safe because they are afraid. They bury their heads, hearts, hands and the gifts of God in the sand. Fear paralyzes them and undermines the accountability that God wants from them. They don’t respond to being entrusted with the gifts of God because they are afraid of failure.

There is an old saying in baseball that “you can’t be charged with an error unless you touch the ball.” Some are afraid to touch the ball.

I’ve known churches that were afraid to respond to what God had entrusted to them. It’s too risky and they rest on their past achievements, lose their spiritual vitality, institutional maintenance is about all they can muster and begin to die. I’ve challenged churches to quit ringing their hands in fear and take some risks. When those churches said, “You’re right!” and began to take risks, then I was afraid we would fail. It is human nature.

The church is to be about the work of Jesus and the work of Jesus is often not safe or comfortable work. The work of Jesus will create some tension and it will seem fearful at times, but it is the work to which we are called.

In the 1960’s Connell Memorial faced the issue of racism head on. The pastor at the time was a civil rights activist and planned to go to the march on Washington. Many of the well-heeled members were angry asked for a meeting. They planned to leave the church if they did not get their way. Older members told me how afraid they were, but agreed that they must be faithful to the equality of all persons. At the meeting, the faithful would not back down, and the well-to-do members left the church. But God had faithfully blessed the church by the time I arrived many decades later. They believed that God had blessed them because they had used what was entrusted to them.

People play it safe because they have underestimated the value of the gift of God. Only one coin? Better play it safe! But Matthew’s parable is about the enormity of each coin—everyone is given a lot. We live with that scarcity mentality. We are the culture that looks into a full pantry and finds nothing to eat. We look into a full closet and find nothing to wear.

We forget what God can do with willing hearts. We forget who has entrusted us with these gifts. We forget what God can do with a few loaves and fishes. We forget what God can do with fishermen, tax collectors, and everyday folks who were given the responsibility as Christ’s followers.

People play it safe because they have become complacent.
This parable may be another jab at the complacency of Israel. Jesus is trying to drive his hearers out of a spirit of complacency, because complacent people accomplish very little. The status quo is not enough for the followers of Jesus Christ. It is not enough for this Christian community. We must move beyond being satisfied with things as they are or as they have always been.

Bishop Willimon has written about the Grimke sisters of South Carolina, courageous ante-bellum anti-slavery activists and leaders of the early women’s movement in America. The two sisters grew up in privileged household in Charleston, South Carolina. They were raised to be cultured, but uninvolved upper class ladies. The great challenge in Angelina Grimke’s life came when she heard this parable read in church. She went home, sat in her chair and asked herself, “What have you done with the talents committed to your care?” That question led her to a dramatic change in her life, a change which helped transform a nation.    

The last line of this parable is surprisingly harsh.
It alludes to the judgment of outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth. When we read this in our staff meeting, we said, “Wow!” It’s hard to remember anything else about the parable. Jesus seems very harsh with the little guy who got only one talent.

But the real shocker is the first line. “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. . .” Who would entrust slaves with everything? It is the surprise of grace!



As we make our financial commitments….as we prioritize our ministries…as we seek to be faithful in loving God and one another let us imagine communities where all God’s children are cherished, honored, and loved; where all God’s children are fed and clothed and live in safe homes; where all God’s children experience and know the love of Jesus Christ.

 

Music Ministry

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Music Ministry Mission Statement

The music ministry of Belmont United Methodist Church strives to glorify God through music in all gatherings and presentations.
The music programs at Belmont offer opportunity for:

- Education
- Spiritual Growth
- Fellowship
- Participation in ministry
- Stewardship of gifts and talents
- Outreach

All choirs are voluntary, and everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate, regardless of experience. All participants strive for excellence, dignity, reverence and integrity in all musical endeavors.

For additional information regarding the Belmont Music Ministry, contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , Director of Music Ministries
383-0832 ext. 29, or click on these links:

Adult choirs
Youth choirs
Children's choirs

Music News


Belmont UMC's Pipe Organ Specs

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To view or download the organ specs, click here
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Sermon transcript for November 9, 2014

“When God Comes”
Matthew 25:1-13
Belmont UMC – November 9, 2014
Ken Edwards

There are signs along the highway that read, PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD!  We probably read those signs as something ominous, like a God of judgment who is going to sweep down in a great moment of wrath. The bold letters of the signs convey urgency and warn us that God is coming, but the signs are true. If we believe that God is coming into our lives, more in moments of grace than anger, will we be prepared to meet God, to greet God, to welcome the God who wants to come into our lives?

“Prepare to meet thy God” could be the theme of this interesting little parable in Matthew. The Gospel paints a picture of a Middle Eastern wedding at the time of Jesus. We aren’t sure about all the customs of these weddings, but it is often assumed that these were events that took place over several days and involved the whole community. Weddings and wedding feasts are found throughout the teachings and stories of the Gospels.

It was the job of the bridesmaids to attend to the bride until the groom came for her. Although someone was supposed to come into the street and shout, “The Bridegroom is coming!” it was not known when that would happen. The wedding could take place at any time and part of the fun was the surprise.

In the story there are 10 bridesmaids, 5 who are ready with oil in their lamps and 5 who have run out of oil. Five wise bridesmaids who were prepared with extra oil and five who were foolishly ill prepared. In Vacation Bible School we used to sing, “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning—burning until the break of day.”

This eschatological story reminds us that the people of the early church were preoccupied with the coming of the Lord, which they believed to be eminent. They wanted to be ready and many were weary of waiting for this anticipated event. Many were suffering persecution; many saw Christ’s coming as relief from their present suffering. Many scholars believe that this story arose out of the early church’s need for patience and preparation.

There are many people today who are preoccupied with the second coming of Christ, the parousia. Jesus was expected to return on a particular day in 1988. Books were written about it; people gathered to wait. Jesus did not return. When I was a young Christian, so many people were talking about this that I read the Revelation of John before I read the Gospels. I thought “I need to know more about this.” I must confess that I was much more confused after reading the Revelation of John.

But most of us are not sitting around wondering about the second coming, and we wonder to what to make of these stories for our modern age. The truth is the stories still speak a powerful word about being prepared, not so much for that Great Day of the Lord but for the times when God comes into our lives in moments of wonder and grace.

PRACTICES
A few years ago we began asking two questions: Where did you see God at work? Where is God calling you? Simple questions, but the first assumes that we believe that God is coming into our lives in profound ways. Or that God is always at work in our lives and we must learn to see it. Many groups in our church, including our youth, staff and many of our committees have begun to follow the practice of beginning or ending meetings with these simple questions. Our staff now reflects on where we see God at work in the  realm of our core values of diversity, hospitality, mission and nurture.

“How do we know when God comes?” someone asks recently. For me this has meant learning to be attentive, attentive to the moment, and this is an ongoing learning experience. I’m distracted. On my morning walks I’ll plan to focus on one thing, like the sounds of birds or the variations of red colors in autumn leaves. I’m good for about two blocks, then I start wonder if I locked the back door, or turned off the coffee pot or returned an email that came two days earlier. As Christians we have begun to incorporate spiritual practices that help us to be attentive to the moment. The Quakers call this the state of “all-thereness,” living fully in the moment God has given us, giving ourselves fully to the moment. The foolish bridesmaids were not there at all. And much of the time we are not either—we are focused on the next thing or we are distracted.

I attended a meeting that Bishop Carder was hosting, a large group had assembled. In the back of the room sat a woman with a young child, a child who was at the age when children learn to make little sounds with their voices. The little one was making sweet sounds, not angry or sad sounds, and Bishop Carder stopped and asked us all to listen. “Listen to that little one,” he said. He did not ask the woman to leave or ask her to quiet her child. He said, “My friends, that sound is the sound of God.” He turned what could have been a distraction into a sacred moment.

Practices such as centering prayer, quiet reflection, prayerful meditation, lectio divina, Sabbath keeping, and spiritual journaling have sharpened our skills of attentiveness in a hectic and busy world.

DEEDS OF LOVE AND MERCY
The oil or “having oil” represents deeds of love and mercy in our allegorical story as it often does in Hebrew literature. We experience the presence of God in acts of love and mercy. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, counted deeds of love among the means of grace, or means by which we experience God’s grace. (Wesley named other means of grace, such as the sacraments, study of scripture, Christian conferencing, giving alms, etc.) He believed that we always experience God’s grace and presence when we serve the needs of others.  How many times have experienced God while offering ourselves in service to God?

Room in the Inn began on Friday night here at Belmont. We welcomed homeless guests into our church for a warm meal and a warm place to sleep. We believe that those who welcomed the homeless were welcoming God into their presence.

EXPECTATIONS
I think this has a lot to do with living with expectation. Expect God to come into your life with wonder and grace!

When we have those experiences they surprise us like a bridegroom coming in the night. Recently, I was speaking with some friends who had returned from a two week retreat, focused on Mindful Practices. They said, “It was an amazing time. We are always talking about being in the present moment. And when we experienced it on retreat we thought, ‘so this is what we’ve been talking about.’ It surprised us.”

When I was in seminary I led a Bible study at the home of our pastor. We were part of a new church and we held home Bible studies on Wednesday evenings all over town. There was a woman who came to our Bible study and one night she was deeply distressed when she arrived. At one point she began to cry. She confessed to being depressed and troubled and I offered to pray for her. When I prayed, persons got up out of their chairs and circled her and put their hands on her shoulders. After our prayer she confessed to feeling such blessed relief that it surprised her—and us as well. We certainly were not prepared for God to answer prayer so quickly.

I have enjoyed the writing of Reynolds Price. I’ve read most of his novels. But in his autobiographical book, A Whole New Life, he writes of a vision of meeting Jesus, Jesus baptizing in the Jordan, a vision that Reynolds was given one night during the depth of his bout with cancer. In the vision Price is invited into the Jordan where Jesus poured water over his spine, the place where cancer had been located. He always wrote and spoke of this vision with a kind of certitude that surprised people. I recall hearing him interviewed by Terri Gross, on NPR’s Fresh Air. She asked Price the obvious question, “How did you know it was Jesus?” Price answered, “I recognized him from his pictures.”

He said he was once questioned about the vision in a New York television program. He answered, “Look, I’m from North Carolina. Maybe that explains it. When you grow up in that part of the world, you just naturally get the impression that Jesus cares about you and that one day he will get to you. So, I just thought to myself, ‘Well, here it is.’ I was ready for it, being from North Carolina.”

Should we not live in a spirit of expectation--expectation of the coming of God into our lives? Fred Craddock said, “All of my life I wake each morning with the possibility of being surprised, not only in my own life, but in the life of someone I had not even noticed. God is working now and so am I.”  (Craddock Stories, p. 77)
God is coming. Prepare to meet thy God!



As we make our financial commitments….as we prioritize our ministries…as we seek to be faithful in loving God and one another let us imagine communities where all God’s children are cherished, honored, and loved; where all God’s children are fed and clothed and live in safe homes; where all God’s children experience and know the love of Jesus Christ.

 

Adult choirs

Sanctuary Choir

This is the primary choir for 10:30 a.m. Sunday worship. In addition, they present several musical programs each year and sing for other various church events. No audition is required for membership and rehearsals are every Wednesday 7:15-9:00 p.m year-round. Childcare is provided.

Belmont's Sanctuary Choir has released Song in the Night, a CD collection of worshipful music from various cultures. All selections on the recording have been performed in Belmont worship services. The CDs are $10 each, and you can place your order now by downloading and filling out the order form posted here. Please return your order form to the church office or e-mail in your order to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Bell choirs

Carillon Ringers - A group of intermediate/advanced handbell ringers with music reading abilities. They rehearse on Sunday 5:30-7:00 p.m. August-early May.

Celebration Ringers - A group of beginning/intermediate handbell ringers who rehearse on Thursdays 1:00-2:00 p.m.


   

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