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Friday, November 10, 2017

Christ the King/Reign of Christ A November 26, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"In church on Sunday, or at the cricket, we will be a motley bunch. There’ll be folk like my grandma
who always worried, a little bit, that grandpa might not make it into heaven. And some of us will worry that perhaps we will not be among the sheep."

"Love Changes Everything," Andrew Prior, First Impressions, 2011.

So, like Paul and Dylan, my leaning these days is to refrain from reading violent kings or masters in parables as referring to God. My bias is to associate the kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven with that which is rejected, persecuted, killed, banished, tortured ... as Jesus was.

Exegeting Matthew 25, Brian D. McLaren.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from

How wonderful a king, Lord God, you have given us in Jesus your Son: neither a monarch throned in splendor nor a warrior bent on revenge, but a shepherd who seeks and rescues the flock, bringing them back, binding them up, strengthening them and feeding them with justice.  Prepare us for the day of Christ's coming glory by shaping our lives according to his teaching that what we have done for the least of his brothers and sister we have done for him, the Christ who was, who is, and who is to come, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 25:31-46

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This is Christ the King Sunday. The last Sunday of the Christian Year; it is the Sunday before Advent 1.  We have been reading from Matthew's Gospel and we are about to segue into Mark's for the second of our three year reading cycle called the Lectionary.

So in this last passage for the year we have an image of Christ as King, at the end time we have a great judgement going on and a division of the sheep and the goats. I love the quote above because of the incredible anxiety and weird things this passage does to us as Christians.

Andrew Prior is right.  There will be a great number of people in Church this Sunday discomforted by this passage.  And the few that are comfortable probably shouldn't be.  Let's be honest: we do worry about getting into heaven and it is typically such a disquieting notion that we don't pay any attention to it at all and so dismiss all accountability for our actions. Or we lord this over others. We say things like we must save all those goats. Or, we should do mission and just let God do the sorting out.  We worry about parents and family members and ourselves. we have lists of things we have done that are bad and really bad. All in all I think we read this passage and we miss the whole point.

Do I think there is going to be a judgement? Yes, I say so every week in the creed and I believe it. I sure hope the meager life of service and a full measure of God's grace and love will help me make the cut.  But that is not what this text is really saying to me and to us as a church. At least I don't think it is. I don't think God wants us to worry about that stuff; the end times and what will happen when we die. We all die and it will eventually happen and we hope that when it happens we may pass from life to everlasting life. That is our hope and upon such hope to I have faith.

But I think the purpose of the passages which urge vigilance and seek to encourage action on our part have three basic points to offer us as Christians trying to live a Christian life, as Episcopalians trying to live out that particularly difficult baptismal covenant that we are continuously promising to keep.

First, I think the intention of Jesus' ministry has been to tell people that God does love them and God cares for them. God cares so much that he wants to gather them in and that God wants for us to be one unified family.  I think as part of that message Jesus also conveys in his teaching the reality that God cares what we do and how we treat one another.

In a society where most people believe in God, believe God is distant (except when they need something), and believes God wants them to be a good person and be happy this is a very difficult passage to read. It says quite the opposite in point of fact. The passage says that God is near, God cares, God hopes we will live a life completely oriented on God and not our happiness, and that God wishes us to act and make the world sustainable for all people.

The second, point that I think this passage is clear about is that God wants us to act now and not wait.  This is a Gospel shift from the inherited Jewish tradition that understood it was good to confess on your death bed assuring your amendment of life.  Rather the Gospel of Jesus seeks amendment of life - this reorientation to God and action on God's behalf daily.  The sense of urgency, the idea the kingdom is now, it isn't just coming, but that we have an opportunity to live in the reign of God today is an ancient Gospel truth.

The last thing point of this passage is that God wishes for us to understand that one of the primary ways we amend life is by serving others who have no value to society but who have value to God.  The poor, the hungry, the naked, and those in prison are of such value to God that in our passage today they are the incarnational (little I) presence of Jesus in the world.

If we are serious about placing God in Jesus Christ at the center or our lives, upon the throne of our hearts, we cannot separate this trifold reality of his reign from our spiritual pilgrimage on this earth.  The king of our spiritual life cares how his subjects treat one another.  The king expects actions to be taken on his behalf now and in this world; the kingdom is not about what happens to us when we die.  And, the king himself is incarnationally present in pauper's robes, with a hungry outstretched hand,  and with legs shackled.

We live out our life towards our passing and towards the final judgment by making God first, and making neighbor second.

This notion is not simply a discipleship rule but it is the rule that Jesus lives out in his own life. Remembering the model for Christian fellowship, mission, and discipleship in Matthew's Gospel is a reflection of Jesus own life we cannot help but hear the last words of this Sunday's Gospel as fulfillment of Jesus' own princely rule lived out in this world. He will love God whom he calls Father to the very end, he will love us (event forgiving us from the cross) and he will love us as neighbors and friends.  In the end Jesus himself comes to us and gives us his very self, sacrificially, for his fellow men; though we be bound by the shackles of sin, have the outstretched hand for grace, and a heart clothed in the robes of earthly pretenders to the throne. Goats we are, in Jesus sheep we become.

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 1:11-23

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"What meaning is communicated by the language of prayer not otherwise made available?"

Commentary, Ephesians 1:15-23 (Christ the King A), Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"...what happened with Christ was the beginning of something which reaches out and encompasses others and brings together into a network of people who share the same source of energy."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Christ the King, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Paul offers in this passage a vision of a Godly community that is unified by God in Jesus Christ and unified beyond the worldly religious divisions of his day. Christianity was to become a new thing as it embraced both the Gentile and Jewish traditions. 

He holds up as an example of this work the mission of the Church at Ephesus. In correspondence that we do not see we can imagine that they have shared the success in bringing together many around a unifying faith linked by fraternal love.

In this mission work, in this unified relational community, God is doing something. God is revealing ultimately God's love for all people. God is, through their interactions, moving and making known his true purposes. They will continue to grow in hope and in spiritual depth as they grow together in community beyond their differences. What is happening is that God's love for all humanity is being born out of their common life together. They are becoming more and more aware of the reality that God is creator of all and maker of all.

As they come into this new community, as they struggle and make their way together, they indeed experience and may see and speak to the reality that God is making all things new. The reconciling work of God is in their midst and is in fact bringing not only differing groups together but is bringing them together as a sign of the bringing together of all creation into God.

Often times I think that we settle for simple reconciliation which is life lived in the protection of like minded clusters. This is not Paul's experience of God or God's work in the world. It is not the experience of the Ephesians. It is in fact the very nature of God to reconcile to himself that which is utterly different. So too we find our mission and ministry to be reconciled across our differences as a very real incarnation of God's reconciling act.

Some Thoughts: Ezekiel 34:11-24

"The connection between justice and care is often lost in contemporary Christian practice." Commentary, Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Margaret Odell, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

"In a word, good leadership consists in the restoration of the common good so that all members of the community, strong and weak, rich and poor, may live together in a common shalom of shared resources." "Failed Kings and the Good Shepherd," Walter Brueggemann, ON Scripture, 2011.

"The heavy focus the justice role of the leaders is very interesting. There is no indictment in regards to their religious leadership only the condemnation based on their unjust behaviour." Ezekiel 34:11-24, Christ the King, Commentary, Background, Insights fromLiterary Structure, Theological Message, Ways to Present the Text. Anna Grant-Henderson, Uniting Church in Australia.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

We cannot read the New Testament imagery of Jesus as the Good Shepherd without understanding the Old Testament understanding of the same. Jesus’ critique of the hired hand, his understanding of sheep among wolves, his comments about sheep without a shepherd, and his lost sheep metaphors all depend upon the Old Testament understanding of shepherds and sheep. There is a historic arc that Jesus is playing with and is important if we are to understand the deep meaning for Christian community and leadership.

Ezekiel prophesies a new and different shepherd. But first, let us parse out the imagery here. Shepherds were leaders of Israel. They were religious and political leaders. Sometimes they were both. The prophet is naming that the leaders of Israel are not taking care of the people. They are not feeding the poor, caring for the orphan and widow. There is a long notion that God’s people are to be different and be in relationship with such people so as to care for them. In the great history of the story in the Old Testament – when they do not do this they cease to be the blessing God intends them to be.

The Christian community understood that the prophetic Good Shepherd is Jesus. He will bring about a different kind of world. Walter Brueggemann writes, “God is going to reconstitute the public order that will be in contrast to the old, failed order.” (

The Christian community, the church, and Christians are to be about becoming the blessed community of shalom that works to be a blessing to the world in which it lives. It is to be the body of the Good Shepherd today. It is within itself to set about the reversal of power, authority, and wealth dynamics of greed that infect the world. And, it is to work against the powers and authorities by setting about to be a different kind of community.

We are sometimes happier to shout at the man and tell them they are bad shepherd, without looking at how our communities might model good shepherding themselves.

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