Prayer of the Day (from the Advent Project)
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
20 Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22 I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.
1 O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6 O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would listen to his voice!
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[a]toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God[b] put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove
It’s the end of the church year, Reign of Christ Sunday. At the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, we heard the lineage of Jesus—linking Jesus to King David, the most famous king in Israel’s history. We heard the story of wise men from the east following the star, searching for the new king so they could pay homage.
Again, and again, we have listened in as Jesus described the new kingdom, not the kingdom of David and Solomon. God is doing something new. It is not a far-off kingdom but a kingdom here and now in which everything is turned upside down—the poor, the meek, the merciful are blessed; we are to love our enemies; and Jesus is king above all others. It started with the strangest upside-down story of all—a king born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough.
Yet this morning we see a ruling Jesus who sits on his glorious throne as the judge of humanity. No more parables of maidens and lamps or slaves investing talents. Today’s text is a judgment scene. Jesus uses an agricultural metaphor, sheep and goats. The judgment is actual, real, decisive, threatening, hanging over humanity like a lowering thundercloud.
Like all trials, it passes judgment not on thoughts, but on actual deeds–in this case, deeds done to the judge: feeding him when hungry, giving water to him when thirsty, welcoming him as a stranger, clothing him when ragged, comforting him when sick, and empathizing with him when in prison.
Those judged are equally surprised, whether rewarded or condemned. “When did we do such deeds to you?” The reply, “when you did these things to the marginalized, the outcasts, the weakest and neediest in society.” Christians see Jesus in the least, if they see him at all.
From the beginning of Jesus ministry there has been an emphasis on doing the faith. Jesus himself must “fulfill all righteousness.” The disciples acts of piety include giving alms, praying and fasting. These must be done before God alone, not with a view to demonstrating one’s faith for the world to affirm.
The Apostle Paul’s phrase “faith active in love” fits this view of the Christian life well. Even right belief is not enough. One of Jesus’ most severe words comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). To call Jesus Lord is the basic confession of faith in the early church, but it is not enough. Neither is prophecy, exorcism or miraculous deeds. Unless one does the will of the Father, Jesus will confess against those deeds. “I never recognized you; go away, you who produce that which breaks the [law].”
We are freed from sin and death by God’s mercy through Jesus Christ. We are freed for loving our neighbor. The parables leading up to today’s Scripture passage have set the stage. The bridge grooms, both those who did and did not have enough oil, remind us to keep awake and to be prepared for whenever the bride groom appears. The parable of the talents reminds us that God has gifted each of us uniquely but that investment in the reign of God is indeed part of our calling. How we do it will differ. That we invest our talents in the kingdom is nonnegotiable.
What our neighbor love looks like might reflect today’s passage. You might actually feed people, clothe people, care for people in prison, or care for the sick. It might be neighbor love with a different expression. Most people we admire who love their neighbor do it so naturally. Like the characters in the parable, they wonder when they served Jesus. When was it? They ask. They have already been embodying what one scholar called “joyful living in mercy without calculation.”
The thing about today’s parable that I find fascinating is that it actually is not about the kind of individual acts of love I have mentioned. Those actions certainly fit a reading of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, and certainly our individual actions matter. But today’s text starts this way, “When the Son of Man comes in glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him…” All the nations.
So, we might say that this is just addressed to the leaders of the nations, and we are off the hook. But in this particular nation, we all get to participate, not just on election day, but every day. Systems are made up of individuals. Individuals make up neighborhoods, communities, and systems.
Jesus, it seems to me, is not only concerned with how we care for our neighbor individually. How we do it communally matters too. It is always unfortunate, when reading scripture, that the English singular “you” is the same as the plural “you,” but it is especially unfortunate with today’s passage from Matthew. The parable would read more accurately if the king answered, “Truly I tell you, just as you nations did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,” or “just as you alldid it to one of the least of these.”
What precisely does this communal neighbor love look like? What does the reign of God look like for an entire community or country? The easiest way I can think about it in Nampa, Idaho is to share what I experience when I attend community meetings focused on feeding and housing. See, our feeding and housing ministries have made me curious about the statutes, practices, laws and systems that create the problems in the first place.
Neighbor love expressed by an entire community, not just one person, not only helps someone move out of homelessness, it asks, “what is causing the affordable housing crisis right now?” a crisis that existed before the pandemic. Neighbor love expressed by a community wonders why the income gap has gotten so wide? Are the poorer people lazy, because it sure does not look like it—not when they are working three jobs. What laws and practices need to be changed to create more equity, more flourishing for all people? Neighbor love expressed by an entire community wonders why more people of color are being diagnosed with COVID-19 and then tries to provide more safe-guards. What needs to changed so that all people are blessed, not just spiritually but physically?
These are the questions and framework used by German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The church, and really the entire country, because they were so united, of his day were basking in God’s grace and needed to be reminded of how to faithfully respond to that grace. Bonhoeffer wrote “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.” In contrast, costly grace is the hidden treasure in the field. “It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it costs people their lives; it is grace, because it thereby makes them live.”
We might still wonder what costly grace will actually looks like in daily living. Bonhoeffer asks, “But how should disciples know what their cross is? They will receive it when they begin to follow the suffering Lord. They will recognize their cross in communion with Jesus.” Discipleship is not about looking for the triumphs of Christianity or of Jesus. We look to the suffering of Jesus. Bonhoeffer writes, “The cross is at once what is necessary and hidden, and what is visible and extraordinary.” We are completely dependent on God for grace and mercy. There will always be conflict between the way of the world and the reign of God. The cross, including why Jesus ended up there, and resurrection remain central.
Immediately following our gospel passage Jesus says to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” This is a king who continues to surprise. What kind of god shows power by dying on a cross? The same one who leaves the 99 for the one lost sheep. The same one who heals and feeds and restores the outcast to community. The God we worship is loving and tenacious. God’s reign is going to break in; it is in fact already happening. It is always both already and not yet here.
Today our calling is not to cringe before an angry Judge who will wreak apocalyptic havoc on a creation gone bad. Instead, we have responsibilities as agents-in-Christ of God’s reign for a renewed creation. We are encouraged to look toward a hope that is neither millenialist nor rapturist. Instead, it is a vision perhaps best realized when it is set to the glorious music from George Fredrich Handel’s oratorio: “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever. Halleluiah.”
Prayers of Intercession (from Sundays and Seasons)
Longing for Christ’s reign to come among us, we pray for the outpouring of God’s power on the church, the world, and all in need.
A brief silence.
Sovereign of all, train our ears to hear your cry in the needs of those around us. Bless all social ministries of the church through which we seek to serve others as we ourselves have been served. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
You cause rain to fall on the just and unjust alike. Direct our use of creation to provide for the needs of all people in ways that are sustainable for the earth. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Bring peace to every place where conflict rages (especially). Grant opportunities for ending divisions among us and usher in your reign of unity and reconciliation. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Heal the sinful divisions we erect between us and release us from systems of oppression and prejudice. Restore our capacity to see your image in those whose dignity we have stripped away (especially). Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Pour out the gifts of your Spirit on children and youth throughout the church. Sustain those who work in children’s ministry, youth ministry, and campus ministry as they nurture the gifts of young people. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Here other intercessions may be offered.
Thank you for saints now departed who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and tended to the sick. Inspire us by their example, that we may see your presence in those in need around us. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Receive our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, until that day when you gather all creation around your throne where you will reign forever and ever.