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  • Rev. Peter Surgenor

November 15 Worship

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

Hello Union Church Presbyterians,

Worship this Sunday, November 15 will be hosted on Zoom with an option for in the sanctuary attendance (limited seating) We will share prayers and reflections.

The Zoom meeting will open at 10:15 am to allow folks to connect and greet each other.

If you have a camera, you will have the option to share your face and smile—be prepared. You can also have a cup of your favorite morning beverage at hand.

The worship will include familiar elements (although recorded rather than live) as well as live leadership of prayers, scripture reading, and the sermon.


Union Church, Newburgh NY

November 15, 2020 10:30 am


We are glad that you are joining us today and hope you feel God’s blessings. If you do not have a church home, we sincerely invite you to be a part of the Union Church fellowship.


Food Pantry operates every other week. Next: Mon. Nov 23 and Wed. Nov 25 from 9:30-11:30 am. Serving LOTS of people! If you would like to help, contact Kathy or Debby.

VIRTUAL Coffee Hour: Begins immediately after worship. If you have joined worship on Zoom you don’t need to do anything more. If you are joining us for fellowship time only use mobile phone or computer video. Check email or website for access instructions.

Choral Music will precede the worship service beginning at 9:45 as people ‘tune in’ to the zoom service.



PRELUDE Let All Things Now Living Welsh Hymn

Nancy Miller, piano


Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.” For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance. For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh. The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you. So, teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us and prosper for us the work of our hands—O prosper the work of our hands!

OPENING PRAYER Church of Scotland

God of all time and space, You were with Your people of old. You are with us now. You have promised to be with us until the end of time. We give You thanks, that in Your presence we are not alone. Your love has held us from seed to personhood. Your grace has infiltrated our lives, never letting us go Your hope leads us on, encouraging us to find You in ever new and ever surprising ways.


Almighty God, we confess that sometimes we lose faith and trust. We look at our lives and our world and don’t like what we see. We are impatient, ungrateful, and angry. There doesn’t seem to be a clear plan. Our ideas come unstuck and we question if there is any purpose to anything. In this time of worship, remind us of your promise never to leave us or forsake us. Help us to trust your promise that you will be with us. Teach us again about the power and folly of your love. We ask this in Jesus name. Amen


Beloved, through the love shown to us by Jesus, we can be sure that we are God’s children now. The Spirit of Christ is among us in this gathering and the nature of Christ is revealed within us. We are becoming more and more like Christ each day. Therefore, let us live joyfully as God’s people; saints and instruments of God’s way.



Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept your Word.

Silence in us any voice but your own,

that, hearing, we may also obey your will;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


FIRST TESTAMENT Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is at hand; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests. At that time, I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, “The LORD will not do good, nor will God do harm.” Their wealth shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them. The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring such distress upon people that they shall walk like the blind; because they have sinned against the LORD, their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord's wrath; in the fire of his passion the whole earth shall be consumed; for a full, a terrible end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

SECOND TESTAMENT Matthew 25:14-30

For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents,’ His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return, I would have received what was my own with interest. So, take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

SERMON What Return? Rev. Peter Surgenor


You can support the work of Union Church by mailing donations to 44 Balmville Rd, Newburgh, NY 12550 or visit to donate online.

OFFERTORY Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place

Nancy Miller, piano





Loving Lord, we give what we have. We bring who we are. Knowing that it can never be perfect and never enough. Yet we bring our talents. The gifts you have given us your people. You have made us. Knowing that you accept us and love us use our lives and our living to build your people. Use your people to build a better world, use this world to show the beauty of life with you. When we get complacent or downhearted teach us to count our blessings. When we count our blessings, teach us to pray for those who need Your blessing.

Bless those entrusted with decisions about justice and how it is enacted. We pray for politicians, advisors, judges, and lawyers. We ask a blessing on community and charity workers striving to improve lives on the margins. We pray for the media that they might ask questions about how our communities do justice and not seek vengeance and incite hatred. We pray for ourselves, that we might seek justice and pursue it.

Hear us now as we share our community concerns:

Now gathered together as the community of God, not alone but gathered we say together the prayer which Jesus taught us:

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, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

CLOSING PRAYER Church of Scotland

Let us go from this place with minds that never forget, with hearts that grow in hope, with lives that shine Christ’s light. Let us go to serve, to reconcile, to bring peace, and to stand united as children of the light. And may the blessing of God, Creator, Peacemaker, Peace bringer, go with us all, this day and every day. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


SERMON TEXT Return Rate Rev. Peter Surgenor

Remember that we are reading Matthew this month. He is a former tax collector who is accustomed to having all the figures and details correct and organized. But as this follower of Christ, his attention to detail – his worry about the bottom line filters the way he chooses to include stories, events and parables. The bottom line for Matthew is that he is focused on the promised return of Jesus. Not personally concerned, but trying to help others around him see how to be responsible followers of Christ. So this section is a series of stories about judgement.

Remember that we were talking about eschatology two weeks ago? Dictionary definition suggests that this is thinking about the second coming (philosophically by theologians) and thinking about the last judgement. We were focused on All Saints Day reading the beatitudes thinking about characteristics of people blessed by God. People who should also be our concern.

Last week the Matthew passage was the story of the ten bridesmaids. Cathy summarized it best last week when she shared that the lesson from the passage is “Be the best you can be”. Remember that life is not just about us, but that there are tasks God lays before us that don’t arrive on a time schedule or when the local convenience store is open.

Matthew is trying to impress his readers on the importance and imperative of the end times that Jesus spoke about often. Whether it was couched in knocking down the temple and rebuilding in three days or Jesus promising the kingdom of God – there was always judgement promised.

Today we need to admit that the word or image slave is a challenge to our 21st Century

sensibilities. But it was a completely acceptable image as Matthew wrote. Let us think about three characters who are challenged in this story. And Matthew being a tax collector, familiar with commerce and currency uses the word talent (a denomination of currency) as his illustration. When we read that today we easily slide into thinking about investments of dollars and cents in the stock market or in a particular business or project. Investments that imagine growth just the way the first two characters expected growth of their wealth. But stepping back, there are some stories of great success investing dollars and cents – but also many more stories of high hopes and dashed expectations and lost wealth.

We need to admit that our minds go to realms like the stock market quickly today. But then we need to stop and recognize that this is not an economic treatise or lesson. One rate of return we often use as a marker is one of the stock indices or rate of return on a specific investment.

Matthew is writing to emphasize what Eschatology. Remember – thinking about the last judgement, however it concerns or bothers or worries you. As Christians in the Reformed tradition, we easily come to worship (in the sanctuary or on zoom or Facebook or YouTube) and confess our sins in joint prayer and silent confession. (If you ever catch me smiling during the silent confession it is because I am remembering the story of a young new minister leading worship for the first time. After the service a crusty, elderly church member came out to shake his hand. His comment to this new pastor was this, “Pastor, you only gave me time to remember my sins through Tuesday. Leave a little more time next week.”)

As Christians in the Reformed tradition, we easily come to worship confess our sins in joint prayer and silent confession. And we calmly accept the reassurance that in our faith our sins are forgiven. Matthew wants to tell us that easy to gloss over.

Do I fear God’s judgement? Do I live my life in fear of falling short of what God expects? That is the understanding that drove the third character in our scripture this morning to avoid punishment, to avoid loss by burying his wealth. Only to receive harsh punishment.

Or do I really live my life trusting God who forgives and has already forgiven me so easily?

Am I a turtle scared in a shell to avoid danger? Or am I confidently moving toward the next pond or food source?

Remember the third character in the passage. “Master, I know you to be a harsh master, finding return when none seemed possible.” “I was afraid of failing, so I protected your asset so that I could return it as you gave it to me.” Sounds like a turtle in a shell to me.

Or consider the other two characters who recognized the same thing about their master. That he often found return when none seemed possible. A master who appreciated risk taking in expectation that wealth or wellbeing would increase. So, they carefully risked losing the wealth and found a pleasant return.’

Matthew uses this story to make his point. That fear of the last judgement can lead to hoarding and inaction. How many times have we been there? Fear of the opinion of others or fear of losing an asset leading to inaction.

Matthew is pointing readers and communities of faith toward paths that look for ways to invest the talents given to individuals (monetary, intelligence, love for others) to improve the quality of life of the people of God.

So what is the challenge for us today? Are we a community gathered to feel good about ourselves ignoring the world around us and Matthew’s concern the last judgement? I think not. We are not even a community that has taken oaths of poverty to serve our God. There are communities in the area where members have chosen poverty so they can focus on using other gifts of God. But that is not us.

We are challenged to accept responsibility to improve the world around us. To make the world a more livable and comfortable place for all God’s creation. Today there is a rate of return that is very important to us. We all need to be paying attention to the rate of COVID 19 infection in our county or community. Unlike the return on investment where we hope to maximize return this is a rate that we now know needs to be reduced as much as possible. Lower is better and crucial. We find ourselves these days constantly assessing risks around us and adjusting our behaviors. As a fellow pastor puts it, “Love your neighbor as yourself, wear your mask.” We are each taking actions and will continue to make decisions directed toward lowering this important rate in our lives.

Another important indicator or rate is the health and outreach of this church. Like so many organizations in our communities it takes dollars and cents to put our good intentions into action and to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Your dollars and cents are invested in this ministry are crucial even as we find our personal finances stressed. Recently a stewardship letter and a commitment card for 2021 were mailed. Now is the moment to think about this passage from Matthew. Do you see yourself as one of the three characters given a challenge? Are you able to commit to an investment in this ministry? Are you willing to risk what at sometimes seems a scarce resource to keep worship and outreach active?

Many churches today are inactive or struggling. Struggling because safety concerns have limited gathering as usual. Struggling because all ministry has been focused on meeting together. Yes, the future is uncertain these days. But ask anyone who was alive during World War II, or the Cuban Missile Crisis, or the Korean Conflict or the Viet Nam War or other times of challenge. Ask them how the future seemed short and in jeopardy. These are the times when we need to remember – Eschatology – thinking and belief about the coming judgement we need to remember the 10 brides maids and the challenge to “Be the best you can be”. Our faith challenges us to invest in ministries like this church in the times when return is easy to see and in times when we trust on faith for returns.

The risk we take to increase the return to God involves more than dollars and cents. A great example is the energy and resources which have transformed the Food Bank. What was a great ministry has doubled in service in spite of being open only every other week. This has been an investment of optimistic time commitment by volunteers, creative thinking that has led to new sources of donated or low-cost food. (Who would have imagined that dragon fruit would be a Food Pantry item!). You have leveraged (a good investment word) your resources to make this happen. You have new partners in the regional food bank locations (including that semi-trailer by the side of a back road in Brewster!). You have engaged Hudson River Presbytery to provide a grant that allowed for better and more efficient food storage (and a dedicated refrigerator).

God has not given us a definition of hungry or a definition describing lack of clothing to use as a measurement for this giving. Instead, God has challenged this church to open the doors to all who feel a need for food or clothing. Everything that goes out the doors of the Food Pantry is meeting the felt need of some child of God. The return on this investment is measured by God and not ours to measure.

I hope that you will be able to take advantage of the Thanksgiving and Advent season church activities. Sure, they will not be usual, but will be designed to build our faith. Just because times are tough there is no need to act like those turtles we mentioned earlier.

Yes, it is harder to care for family, for students at home (or with grandparents), to care for those working from home, who face fear of the unknown ( a little like facing the fear of the last judgement). All of this encourages us to retreat and conserve energy and resources. This is when we need to remember the character in the passage given one talent. Don’t hide your God given talent.

Being careful of health risks, look around you and assess what little thing more you can do to add to the quality of the world around you. I recently noted that a group (not necessarily a church group) is organized to meet a need. They are offering free homemade lasagna to those who ask. To those who need food supplement – similar to the way Union Presbyterian is meeting the needs of neighbors.

Remember eschatology. God is expecting a return on the investment in you. The investment god has made in each of us.

Don’t be afraid. Be responsible. Respond to the forgiveness so freely offered.


Rev. Cathy Surgenor Rev. Peter Surgenor

(845) 216-4328 (914) 907-9685

Union Church

44 Balmville Rd, Newburgh NY 12550

Phone: (845) 562-0954 Fax: (845) 562-0955

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