Worship Service for November 15, 2020

November 15, 2020 – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

A message from the Rev. Helen Smith

Welcome message in spoken audio by Rev. H. Smith. Click on the triangle at left to start listening.

Dear Friends,

Rev. Dr. Charles Fensham is providing the worship resources for us this week.  Charles is Professor of Systematic Theology at Knox College.  His interests as a theologian lie in the areas of missiology and ecology. We are grateful to him for leading us in worship this week.

Rev. Helen Smith

Prayer of David”, miniature depicting Psalm 123; folio 53r from the illuminated manuscriptTrès Riches Heures du Duc de Berry” (1412–1416). From the collection of the Musée Condé, Chantilly, France. Taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

Call to Worship

God is with us.
Whether we celebrate in joy, or have to struggle in the midst of a pandemic
God is with us.
Whether we are able to hug, shake hands, or have to wave at a distance
God is with us.
Whether we are able to sing together as our hearts desire, or have to say the words of
our hymns in our minds
God is with us.
God will not forsake us
Let us worship God.

Opening Hymn

Book of Praise – 477 “Your hand, O God, has guided

  • Video with on-screen words; with some differences from the words in the hymnbook; verse 3 is omitted entirely.
  • Words first published in 1865 by English scholar Edward Plumptre (1821–1891); music (tune: “Thornbury”) completed 1898 by English organist and composer Basil Harwood (1859–1949). Words and music in the public domain.
  • This recording from the August 14, 2011, episode titled “Fife’s Finest” of the BBC programme “Songs of Praise”, filmed at Dunfermline Abbey (a present-day Church of Scotland congregation).


Amnesty International

“Amnesty International Write-For-Rights campaign” announcement by Bonnie Horton. Click the triangle at left to play the audio.

Prayers of Approach and Confession

O God of all life
You are the great gift Giver
You have given us the gift of creation
You have given us the gift of life
You have given us the gifts of companionship and love
We praise you for being our giving God!

O God of all healing – Jesus our Lord!
You have come among us as the healer of all
Born as one of us
Living in our human condition you touched and healed us
You told us stories to help us flourish and love
You walk with us along our own path through joys and challenges
You share in our sorrows even in the pains of death
We praise you for being our self-giving God

O God of presence – Spirit and Comforter
You have come to be among us
You dwell in our hearts and in our community here at Guildwood
You comfort us in sadness and inspire us with hope
We thank you for being our comforting God.

O God, Creator, Healer and Comforter
So often we turn in on ourselves and seek only what is good for ourselves
We forget about the needs of others and desperately seek to protect our own interest
We live as if we are not connected to all that you created
We damage and harm your creatures and your creation
We hurt and harm others
We ignore those who suffer most in our society and in our world
Turn our hearts to one another
Turn our hearts to follow your example
Turn our hearts to be willing to give and to share
Turn our hearts to be willing to stand up for justice and the care of all

Now, let us pray as our Lord taught us to pray,

Our Father, who art in heaven,
            hallowed be thy name,
            thy kingdom come,
            thy will be done,
            on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
            as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
            but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
            the power, and the glory forever.  Amen.

Declaration of Pardon

After his resurrection, Jesus stood among his disciples and said, “Peace be with you, as the Father sent me, so I send you.”

When we share the peace, we respond to Christ’s gift of peace.  Today, due to COVID, we may not be able to shake hands or hug, however, the gift of God’s peace is as real and powerful as ever!   We share the peace.  Peace be with you.

Scripture Readings

Scripture readings of Psalm 123: 1–4 and Matthew 25: 14–30 by Cindy Similas. Click on the triangle at left to start listening.

Psalm 123: 1–4 <– these link to on-line texts of the NRSV bible
Matthew 25: 14–30

Click here for additional scripture readings from today’s lectionary. Links courtesy of the Revised Common Lectionary, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.


Toiling with your superpower

What is your secret superpower?
Oh? You don’t think you have one?
Well, I have good news for you. According to Jesus, you have been given a special gift and the power to use that gift. You can take it as the biblical version of a superpower! We find this promise in one of the Kingdom parables in the Gospel of Matthew that was our Gospel reading for today. This is a story with similarities to a story in Luke, and in Mark there is a verse that echoes this story somewhat with an emphasis on vigilance.

In Matthew there are a series of parables in which Jesus is recorded as explaining the nature of the Kingdom of God in contrast to the “spirit of this age.” Some of the themes that come up before this parable is Jesus’ condemnation of the fig tree that does not bear fruit, and the call to vigilance in the story of the unknown hour of the coming of the Lord. Directly preceding the parable of the talents is the story of the wise and foolish maidens and their lamps, which also emphasizes vigilance and preparedness. But then, in Matthew 25:14 Jesus turns to talents or gifts which we can assume metaphorically as given to each of us as a feature of the Kingdom of God.

It is important to think of this parable in the context of how Matthew records the beginning of Jesus’s ministry in Matthew 4:17 “Turn, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” Immediately after is the calling of his disciples to follow him. In fact, in these texts, at the beginning of Matthew and in our parable for today, the Greek word kaleo which means TO CALL, is a shared theme. The Kingdom, it seems enters our lives through being called by God. In the parable of the talents the master calls his servants to give them their talents. It begins with the gift of a call or, to use traditional Christian language, it begins with a vocation.  What follows the announcement of the Kingdom that is near throughout Matthew, is an unpacking of nature of this Kingdom that has come near in Christ. It explains the content and meaning of what it means to have faith and to join the kingdom of God. Among the promises of the Sermon on the Mount, the actions of healing of Jesus, and his insistence on caring for those who are most in need among us, the poor, the hungry and the destitute, he promises superpowers but … he also leaves us with a warning… So, what IS your superpower? What is your gift or talent? What are you given and called to, by the Master?

The first time I had a sense of call, it came unexpectedly, after my second year of architectural studies. I had successfully completed my year and loved my studies. That Summer I volunteered at a Christian Summer camp and it was a wonderful experience. A few days after returning home to get ready to go back to school I, was doing my daily devotions, and read Hebrews 3:15, “Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your heart…”. The words became an earworm that would not leave me alone and it had me walking nervously around the house until my father called me into his office and we talked about the call of God… .

Calls come to us in different ways. It could come through this meditation today, or it can come dramatically through a life-changing event. However, God’s call is always a gift.  It is a gift that requires work.

In our text verse 16 explains that one of the good servants did something with her gift. Various English translation use different words to translate the Greek term. The International Standard Version of the Bible says the servant “invested” the talents. According the King James Version the servant “traded” with the talents. The Old 1576 Geneva Bible says the servant “occupied with the talents” and the contemporary Good News Bible says the servant “invested his money.” At the root of the Greek concept used in this sentence is hard work or toil. The economic metaphors used by the various English translations, particularly the 20th century ones, are perhaps reflective of our capitalist pre-occupation, but it is not completely uncalled for because the word for talent most probably refers to a kind of currency in the parable.

I am sure you would agree with me that parables are metaphorical and so Jesus is not actually telling you that he is giving you a $100 bill and you should go and find the best stocks on the market to invest in! Jesus is telling us that each is given a gift in God’s kingdom, and our call is to toil or … to work hard … with that gift, to use that gift, to make it available for the gain of the kingdom.

So, what is your gift? What is your superpower?  Maybe you say, well look at my friend “X” she is brilliant. She hardly has to work at it and she gets promoted in her job! Me, I did not seem to get that gift! It is easy to look around us and to see many people who seem to have more talents than we do.  Jesus is well aware of this experience of discrepancy and so, in this text he actually uses the Greek word for “superpower” — dynamis to address this. We find that word, translated in English by the good word “ability” in verse 15. Jesus is saying that we are given different gifts and perhaps even more, or less, spectacular gifts, but each of us are given a power — a superpower — a dynamis — a special ability — to exercise whatever that gift is. The size or the impressiveness of the gift is not the key matter. It is what we do with ours that matters.

What are you doing to toil with your superpower?  Years after that first call that set me on a path in intercultural mission in the South Pacific among the Maori people of French Polynesia, then, after that in a ministry that had to confront the Apartheid system in South Africa, and later brought me to Canada to minister to salt of the earth people at Kirkwall and Sheffield church in Flamborough and later on the Hamilton Mountain, another call came. It was a long time in coming — it literally took many years from the time of the call for it to actually come about. It was also a call that seemed disconcertingly impossible.

You see, when we are given a call and talent most of its exercise in the Kingdom is not shivering spiritual ecstasy, but rather hard toil, and much blood sweat and tears, with many ups and downs. Those servants in the parable worked hard for a long time without knowing when the Master would return… God’s focus is not on the size of your profits in toiling with your call and gift, God’s assessment is focused on your faithfulness. That is literally the phrase used by the Master in this parable when he says, “good and faithful servant!”  The Master declares that faithfulness is good to the servants who worked with their gifts regardless of the size of their gift.  Are you working with your gift?

So, that second call, the impossible one, what was that?  Well, it was simply so preposterous that I did not actually believe it was a call.  It happened during a meeting of a Committee of the General Assembly that took place in a classroom at Knox College. During that meeting, while someone was droning on and on in a very boring way, it was as if the room lit up around me and I heard a voice in my mind that said, “One day you will teach in this room.” I remember literally shaking my head and saying to myself, “what was that?” I did not tell a soul about that experience. In fact, I thought it was a function of my human arrogance – I was embarrassed. I thought to myself that perhaps I am imagining I am more important that I am? So, I simply stowed the memory in my heart. Yet, it stayed with me. At the time it seemed impossible. I had just submitted my doctoral thesis at the University of South Africa, but it was in the study of Mission, not something that Knox College was known to teach. Moreover, I felt like an imposter in academia. What did I know?  The theological world is so vast, and I know so little. I have met others much wiser and better at it than I am… Also, I loved my pastoral work and had not desire to leave it.

One thing I learned from that experience is that a gift is also a promise.  When God calls and gifts us, God also grants the dynamis — the ability — to fulfil the call and to toil with the gift. Sometimes the call seems ludicrous, impossible, and perhaps even boastful.  Most of the time the call also seems beyond our ability, yet, God’s call and commission will grant us the ability to fulfill it adequately. Perhaps my gift is not as brilliant as that of my colleagues, but, be assured, that is not the point, the point is, God has called and gifted me and my task is to work with it the best I can, be it one talent or a thousand.

I hope that you are now at the point that you can hug to yourself the superpower that God gave you. That now you can cherish it. That now you can accept it as a gift without having to think about others who may have more or better gifts… I hope that you are ready to toil with your gift and call.

Which brings me to my third story of call. Yes, there is another one! Well, you have to understand that when you reach the age of 64, there is lots of time for things to happen!  My most recent call happened several years ago before my sabbatical before the last one I just completed in 2019. Through some excruciatingly painful life events I became aware of the profound harm that LGBTQI people experience in many Christian communities. In my ministry I had witnessed two beautiful human beings, creatures of God, friends, take their own lives in their deep spiritual struggles. One day, I found myself at the brink of similar despair. Through that dark journey I learned that, that despair in my experience, was a gift that allowed me to feel deep compassion for people with similar struggles. What I did not know was that, that gift was also a call.

One morning I sat in my home congregation at Rosedale Presbyterian Church waiting for the service to begin. I tucked myself in the corner against the wall as the prelude played on the organ. Suddenly it was not light that surrounded me but darkness. I experienced a profound sense of despair, shame, and desperation. I felt alienated to the point that I felt I did not belong in worship and presence of God. I hasten to say that, that feeling had nothing to do with Rosedale and its wonderful welcoming congregation! Nevertheless, there I sat, ready to get up and run out of the church… But then, through the haze of darkness, I heard that voice in my mind again. That rare but now familiar voice that echoed “Today if you hear his voice” and “One day you will…” this time the voice simply said, “this is why you are here — be my witness.” The journey that followed that call was long and arduous. It involved a lot of toil, writer’s block, and publishers turning down my manuscript or not responding at all. At one point, in my research, when I read the history about the child abuse, extreme torture, hateful behavior and murder the Christian church has engaged in, I became so discouraged and depressed that I wanted to give up… But toil really describes well what it was like to respond to the call with my limited talent.

Of course, the parable of the talents includes a stern Kingdom warning. It is not all grace and mercy, there is also judgment. The judgment is not on who you are, but on what you do with God’s call and gift. The servant who buried his talent is sternly rebuked. That servant is judged to be wicked and slothful.

What is your superpower? What is your call? Are you toiling with your gift?  Please understand that rebuke is not the most important final word of this parable. The most important final word is to be found repeated in each verse where the good and faithful servants toiled hard with their talents regardless of how many they received. The final word of the Master is a call to joy. Literally, the Master says, “Come in and share my joy!” The life of the kingdom for those who receive their call and work with their talents, is joy together with the Lord.

Joy abounds, our gifts, no matter how few and feeble they may seem, will multiply!  Joy Oh joy!  The joy of the Lord is our strength, our — dynamis — our ability, our superpower!  A few weeks ago, I received a letter from professor who teaches at a Baptist seminary in Alberta. He wrote to me after reading my book, “Misguided Love” — that manuscript turned down so many times. In his letter he writes appreciatively of the book and the way it makes its case and shares that his local Baptist church has just decided to declare itself the first Baptist congregation affirming of LGBTI people in Alberta. You have no idea, how much joy that letter brought me…


“The Parable of The Talents or Minas” (17th century) by Dutch painter Willem de Poorter (1608–1668); from the collection of the National Gallery Prague; taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

Musical Meditation

We will be posting music recorded live at this week’s service shortly. In the meantime, you can enjoy all our previously recorded music on our Music playlist on YouTube (our videos with audio) or on SoundCloud (our audio-only pieces).


We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.

Dedication of our Offerings

O God of giving, you give us so many gifts! We abound with talents and abilities to exercise them. Take our gifts in kind and our gifts in life and help us toil with them for the coming of your kingdom. Amen.

Prayers of the Thanksgiving and Hope

O God who is our Creator, Christ who is our Healer, and Spirit who is our Comforter
All praise belongs to you
Thank you for the gift of the sacred time of prayer and reflection
Thank you for each talent we have received in this community
Thank you for the gift of prayer

We come, as you instructed us to pray, let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

We pray for one another
For each of us struggling to live in the midst of this pandemic
Give us strength and hope
Sustain us when we are sick and comfort us when we mourn
Let your kingdom come, let your will be done.

We pray for the Christian church
We pray for all the different sisters and brothers in so many different forms of Christian faith
Help us to work together in unity for your kingdom
We pray for the Presbyterian Church in Canada
Inspire and lead us to be a people of compassion and care who are witnesses to your message
We pray for Guildwood congregation, for our leaders in this community and all members, help us to exercise our talents in ways that will glorify your name
Let your kingdom come, let your will be done.

We pray for our city and our country
We pray for those who are given wisdom, power and authority
Guide them to make good decisions that will help us all flourish together
Inspire them with wisdom and curb self-centered interest
Let your kingdom come, let your will be done.

We pray for those who suffer most in our society
We pray for those isolated in nursing care
For those, who are struggling to survive
For those working on the frontlines in hospitals, nursing homes, and businesses
Strengthen and protect them O Lord
Let your kingdom come, let your will be done.

We pray for our world
There is so much suffering and inequity in this world O God
Help us to be part of the solution
Guide us to live wisely and with care for all who share your planet
Grant us wisdom to protect and care for your creation
Let your kingdom come, let your will be done.

As we pray, we give you praise for your presence and comfort
All glory and praise belong to you

Closing Hymn

Book of Praise – 769 “Lord of light, whose name and splendour

  • Video with on-screen words taken from the hymnbook.
  • Lord of light, whose name and splendour”. Words completed in 1916 by Welsh minister and hymn-writer Howell Elvet Lewis (1860–1953); music: tune “Bethany (Smart)” completed in 1867 by English organist and composer Henry T. Smart (1813–1879). Words and music in the public domain in Canada.
  • Keyboard and vocals by Rachelle Risling, GCPC Music Director.
  • Recording © copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.


Benediction in spoken audio by Rev. H. Smith. Click on the triangle at left to start listening.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. AMEN (Romans 15:13)

Danish Choral Amen. Book of Praise 780. Music director Rachelle Risling (keyboard); Robert Quickert (vocals). Click triangle at left to begin listening.

© Copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church