STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH MARCH 14, 2021

Rev. Sabrina Ingram                                                                                                                                           Lent 4

 

WORSHIPPING TOGETHER AT HOME

 

Call to Worship:

The journey to Jerusalem is long.

This is a wilderness journey and we are not always comfortable. But we trust and we persevere.

We are pilgrims on a journey.

We are travelers on the road.

 

God’s people are familiar with wilderness.

After Egypt, they wandered in hunger and thirst—confused and tired—waiting for the promised land. Our destination is different.

We aim for Jerusalem—where it all ends—and where there will be new beginnings.

We are pilgrims on a journey.

We are travelers on the road.

 

Let us pray.

God of the wilderness,

give us strength when we wander.

When we stray and grieve, hunger and thirst, you have promised to make water spring up in the desert.  Quench our thirst. Feed us with manna. 

Strengthen us when we are tired or lack trust.

In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

(Extinguish the 4th Candle)

 

Hymn:

 

Prayer of Adoration and Confession:

God of Grace, you give us your Word, you pour out your grace, you provide for our needs.

In Christ you let go of your divine entitlements and humbled yourself becoming human.  As a person, you endured humiliation and torture to bring salvation to creation.

Even now you continue to give us your Spirit.

We praise you for the unassuming nature that was in Jesus.

 

We confess to you that we are proud people, always watching out for ourselves.  Our sense of entitlement, is not only a distortion of justice, it causes us to be angry and destructive.  Remind us that in your eyes we are deserving of death.

 

We confess to you that we are not grateful people.  Our sense of entitlement is a distortion of your generosity.  It causes us to be demanding and unhappy, and to pity ourselves as victims.  Remind us that all we have comes from your hand.

 

We confess to you that we are have lost our ability to be enchanted by the wonder and mystery of life.  Our sense of entitlement causes us to be judgemental and unloving.  Remind us that we too are people who sin and fail.  Be with us on our journey of sanctification and give us mercy for others who are in need of redemption.

 

Worshipping today, we give you thanks for all our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We thank you that your Spirit makes us one.

 

May our worship turn our eyes away from ourselves and onto you.  May we praise you with thankful hearts as you alone are worthy.  Amen.

 

 

Assurance of Pardon  Ephesians 1: 1 & 6 – 8

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is!

He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross,

we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds.

And not just barely free, either.

Abundantly free!

 

Prayer for Illumination

Lord God, your Word lights our way and illumines our spirits.  Help us to show our appreciation by listening attentively and living gratefully.  Amen.

 

Scripture Readings

James 1: 1 – 12

Matthew 20: 1 – 16

 

Message: Unchallenged Sin: Entitlement

What do the cartoon characters Daffy Duck, Cookie Monster, Ariel, and Anjelica Pickles have in common?   They all feel entitled.   Daffy is entitled to treasure; Cookie Monster is entitled to cookies, Ariel is entitled to “more”, and Anjelica Pickles is entitled to whatever she wants.  Entitled people think it’s their right to have power, material goods, attention, opportunity, licence or anything else they might want, on their terms. As a society the wealthier we become, the more sophisticated our technology and the more abundant our possessions, the more there is to feel entitled to.  Every generation looks at the one coming up behind them and sees them as being entitled.

 

Entitlement is a mindset.  Entitled people differ from spoiled people.  Spoiled people get too much of everything.  Entitled people believe wealth and status are due to them.  They are not earned, they should be bestowed.  Professionally, education and working your way up the ladder are not in the framework of the entitled.  It reminds me of the Jim Croce song, “I just got out of the county prison doing 90 days for non-support, I tried to find me an executive position but no matter how smooth I talked, they wouldn’t listen to the fact that I was genius…”  He ends up working at a car wash.    Entitled people think the world owes them.  Entitled people believe they deserve the best of everything.  Entitled people want to have their cake and eat it too.  They want what they want on their own terms.

 

To some degree we all feel entitled.  At times I operate from an attitude of entitlement.  I have a wonderful husband.  The more he does for me, the more I let him over-function.   I begin to think I’m entitled to be lazy.  Or again, when I go into a store for groceries, I may buy something else, not because I need it, but because I feel justified in having things.  I am entitled to the superfluous.  On a global scale, wealthy countries feel justified in all our excesses.  We are entitled.

 

This week, due to Oprah’s interview with Meaghan and Harry, we were exposed to a deluge of entitlement.   For the record, I wish their story was different.   But in terms of entitlement: on the one hand, we have the British royal family who like all royalty are, by virtue of birth, entitled to influence, input, respect, wealth, lands and titles.  On the other hand, we have the Duke and Duchess of Sussex who want to break free and be independent of expected obligations and responsibilities yet feel entitled to all the benefits, provisions and honours. The press, starting with the British papers and including Oprah, feel entitled to expose and exploit people.  Piers Morgan feels entitled to spew his contempt.  And the rest of us feel entitled to judge them all, privately and on social media.   To paraphrase Meaghan: does loving her mean we have to hate the family, or does loving the family mean we need to hate her?  How does hating people make a kinder world?   We should hate racism, neglect and bullying and examine ourselves for those traits.

 

One of the worst expressions of entitlement in our culture is the INCEL subculture, an on-line group of men who are “involuntarily celibate” and because women, who in their minds exist to have sex with them, are not.  An INCEL in Toronto drove his van onto a sidewalk and killed 10 people, because he was an unstable, angry, entitled misogynist.  Sadly, there are reasons some people aren’t in relationships.

 

Is entitlement one of the “sins” the Church recognizes?  Well, yes and no.  The Church believes life is a gift from God, not an entitlement.  We object to the evils of selfishness, and value “laying down one’s life” and “taking up one’s cross”.  We speak of grace – the undeserved love and saving action of Jesus Christ.   We believe in the dignity of work, and value the practice of charity and taking care of those in need.  In the US, 62 percent of religious households give to charity compared to 46 percent of nonreligious households.  As well, those with a religious affiliation are two times more generous than someone without.  On the other hand, there have been many times when the Church has acted with a sense of entitlement.

  • In the medieval era, the Roman Catholic Church misused it’s power to perpetuate wealth; the leadership felt the “rules” of moral integrity didn’t apply to them; there was political corruption by people who felt entitled to high offices, including the papacy.
  • At other times, the Church felt entitled to impose our faith on others – think of burning heretics and residential schools.  While I believe we’re called to share the story of our faith, the “good news” of Jesus Christ, it’s abusive to force our faith on others.  The gospel is a gift to be received freely.  It’s both harmful and meaningless to insist or force people to believe it.
  • Another terrible entitlement in our world, is slavery. There was, of course, the slave trade from the 16th to the 19th C, when the Church either actively or by their silence, allowed slave-traders and slave-owners to believe they were entitled to steal or buy people and force them into labour without recompense.  To be fair, some Christians (Quakers and some evangelicals) opposed it, and Christians were instrumental in bringing that era of slavery to an end, although slavery is still widespread in the world today.
  • Child-abuse is another destructive entitlement the Church has perpetuated with cover ups.   Breaking a child’s trust, instilling deep shame, giving the message that their worth is solely sexual, making them feel powerless comes from a very warped sense of entitlement, and stands against everything Jesus taught.

 

Today, for most Christians entitlement is about other things.  We often think we’re entitled to a reward.  We have the right to the best God gives.  We can be confused and resentful when people we think are less deserving, (maybe those who convert on their deathbed, or the corrupt person of wealth, or the people who never give God a second thought) fair better than we do.  In Jesus day, unemployed men would go to the marketplace hoping someone would give them a day’s work.  Jesus told the parable of a farmer who goes to the market at dawn to hire labourers for his vineyard.  They agree upon a dollar for the day – a generous back then, and the men go to put in a day’s work.  The farmer does the same thing at 9 am, at noon, at 3 pm and at 5 pm.    At the end of the day, the farmer instructs his manager to pay the men, starting with those who began the latest.  The manager pays the latecomers one dollar.  The guys who laboured all day figure that since they worked much longer, they’ll be paid proportionately.    When they get to the front of the line, the manager hands them the agreed upon dollar.  Feeling cheated the workers confront the farmer, saying “it’s not fair; we’re entitled to more than the latecomers”.  The farmer responds, “‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we?  So, take it and go.  I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you.  Can’t I do what I want with my own money?  Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?’” (Matthew 20: 15).   God is always true to his word.  God gives to us not because we’re entitled but because God is generous.  Like the early-rising workers, Christians can be assured we will get the blessings God promises us.   How generous God is to others is not ours to decide.

 

Christians may also feel entitled to be spared from suffering.  What good is believing in God, if you have to face the same tragedies as everyone else?  Scripture states that trials and tribulations are unavoidable.  Jesus assured us that his disciples would be hated and suffer persecution.   Yet, we don’t feel entitled to those promises.  James tells us it’s not what we suffer, but how we deal with our plights that counts.  He tells us to greet them with joy, knowing  “…that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.  So, don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work, so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (James 1: 3 – 4) .   An easy life is not our right, but God remains generous.   “Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate.  For such persons loyally in love with God, the promise is life and more life” (vs. 12)

 

The Church (like other religions) believe we are entitled to God’s favour when it comes to salvation.  I have a girlfriend who had a tongue in cheek T-shirt that read, “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite”.  Christians sometimes think being Christian makes us special, or even superior.  It’s a warped conclusion.   If we are saved, it’s not because we’re entitled.  We haven’t earned God’s love and don’t  deserve it.  God loves us not because of who we are, but because of who God is and what Christ has done.  And God owes no one.  No one is entitled to God’s love or grace or eternal life.  In God’s eyes, there is nothing intrinsic about us that sets us apart from the rest of the world that God also loves and for whom Christ also died.  No one, including Christians, deserves salvation.  Philip Yancey writes, “Punishment is getting what you deserve; mercy is not getting what you deserve (which is punishment); grace is getting what you do not deserve (which is the gifts of freedom and life)”.  If God loves any one of us; any human being that’s ever lived, it’s because God chooses to be generous with his love.  We are not entitled.   Grace is God’s gift.

 

Entitlement grabs and grasps, demands and rails.  Entitlement breeds anger, hatred, and a lack of forgiveness.   As Christians we are called to let go of our expectations and entitlements.

 

In light of that, is there anything Christians can expect?   We’re entitled to nothing, but we are called.

  • We’re called to humility. Knowing we’re no better than anyone else and we’re saved by grace, should move us to have an unassuming nature, which deems people as better than ourselves and treats everyone with respect and dignity.   We are to repent of the arrogance and superiority that leads to an attitude of entitlement.
  • We are to be thankful. The opposite of entitlement is gratitude.  Whatever we have or are given, we receive it with gracious thanks.  Knowing God “owes” us nothing, we’re appreciative of any and every blessing he chooses to bestow.
  • Free from our demands and expectations, we are open to wonder and joy. Demands and expectations make us bitter.  The un-entitled are free to be happy about the good things in the lives of others, because we don’t lay claim to them.
  • Finally, we’re called to serve. We are not here to get, we’re here to give.  We are on this Earth to bring glory to God, to be a mirror that reflects God’s radiant light and love, so that God becomes visible to all.  We’re here to be a living blessing to our families, friends, neighbours and one another.  When we stop putting energy into demanding what we think we deserve and start putting it into what others need, we find purpose.  Life becomes meaningful.

 

There is only one being in the universe who is entitled and that is God.  The same God who gave up all his entitlements and became human, who died on a cross and was raised up from death.   God is entitled to a creation that loves and honours him, a community of people that cherish the gift of life in Jesus Christ, and people who are ready to serve without  sense of entitlement.

 

 

Silent Prayer and Reflection

 

Offertory Prayer:

Generous God, everything we have has come to us freely from your giving, loving heart.   Help us to receive from you with open hands, knowing all things are gifts and help us to give as generously.  Amen. 

 

Hymn

 

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession

Generous and gracious God,

by your great mercy, you have made us alive together with Christ.

By your grace we are saved from sin and despair and promised hope for everlasting life with you.

You have shown us immeasurable riches through your grace and mercy, and we offer you our deepest gratitude, now and always.

We pray that each person will know the fullness of your gifts in ways that touch their deepest needs.

 

We pray for those dear to us

and all those we’ve come to lean on in the months of the pandemic…

We pray for those who are struggling in isolation or frustration…

for all those who experience illness or pain in body, mind or spirit…

for all who have lost someone or something central to their lives

and have to cope with grief and loss…

May all these, know your grace and mercy.

 

We pray for peace and safety in the world…

for countries struggling to care for their citizens and to rebuild their economies…

for all who do not receive respect and consideration…

for all those persecuted for their faith…

for all who are oppressed and long to live in freedom…

May all these, know your grace and mercy.

 

We pray for your Church around the world and for the congregations we know…

for the work of presbyteries across Canada …

for all who have connected to your church in new ways…

and for ministers and other leaders who are building up congregations in these strange times…

May your church in all its many expressions know your grace and mercy.

 

We pray for the concerns on our hearts this day,

for the fears and frustrations with which we struggle…

for any troubled relationships…

for the doubts and the hopes which compete within us…

for any need of healing and support…

May we and those we love know your grace and mercy.

 

We offer the prayers through Jesus Christ our Lord who taught us to pray, saying:

 

The Lord’s Prayer

 

Hymn

 

Invitation to Mission

We go from here with grateful hearts,

To live in the grace of Christ,

To worship the living God

and to freely bless others.

 

Benediction                       May the Triune God bless you and keep you.  Amen.  

 

 

A Home Away from Home

Accused of being of bewitching her niece after she fell ill, Zenabu Sugri began to fear for her safety in her own home.  In Ghana, where belief in witchcraft is prevalent, it is often used to explain unusual and unfortunate events.  Unfortunately, older women like Zenabu, are blamed and subjected to cruel treatment and discrimination when accused.  After suffering from relentless taunting, Zenabu found sanctuary at the PWS&D-supported Gambaga Camp — a refuge for women accused of witchcraft.  Zenabu has now found a sense of belonging with the community of women. At the camp, she’s learnt how to make soap and sells it to earn an income. “It is peaceful.  I am in good health and getting enough to eat,” Zenabu shared.

 

This Lenten season faithfully respond to Christ’s call to serve the marginalized. Through support for PWS&D, we can combat stigma and discrimination while supporting the vulnerable to lead peaceful and secure lives.