Service and Sermon Sunday November 22nd, 2020
Leighmoor Uniting Church
-Rev Barbara Allen
TIS 228: Crown him with many crowns
TIS 517: Hallelujah! Sing to Jesus
TIS 215: You servants of God, your Master proclaim
TOS 224: All hail the power of Jesus’ name
TIS 256: From heaven you came, helpless babe
TIS 718: Glory to the King of kings
TIS 276 There’s a light upon the mountain
TIS 223: How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
?TIS 629: When I needed a neighbour, were you there, were you there?
? TIS 650: Brother, sister, let me serve you
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Confession
Jesus Christ, you are our king!
You are our Lord, Lord of all, the one who reigns forever and, like a shepherd, leads us and feeds us.
You are the king of the blind and the lame,
of the leper, as well as king of wild flowers, ravens and sparrows, of the lonely and the outcast.
You are also a King who knows us, and loves us.
A compassionate, servant king.
You are also king of all who are betrayed, as you were,
and of those falsely tried.
You are the King of the criminal, of those grieving, King of empty tombs.
We thank you God,
for those who first welcomed us into the church, and taught us about how much you love each one of us.
We also thank you for those who have challenged us in our faith over the years, who remind us of Christ’s inclusive love, and who call us into action.
We also thank you for those who bless us through Christ, even though they do not call themselves ‘Christian.’
O God, with faith and belief in your inclusive and merciful love, we come before you, knowing that we need forgiveness,
We have been called to follow Jesus, the King of love, but we love selectively.
We do not go to the heights and depths and breadth of your love.
We do not always love our friends well-let alone our enemies!
We hold on to grudges, we nurse ill feelings.
At times we defend our prejudices and create division-rather than breaking down barriers.
Forgive us when we do not welcome the stranger, or the one who is different, or the one who is unsure of what it means to be part of the church.
And in a time of silence we remember other things for which we seek forgiveness.
God is love.
Through Christ our sins are forgiven
(thanks be to God)
Take hold of this forgiveness and live your lives in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24
Ephesians 1: 15-23
Matthew 25: 31-46
‘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, you did it to me.’(Matt 25:40)
Today is the last Sunday in the long ‘Season after Pentecost’ and the last Sunday in the church year.
Maybe we can count the new year from next Sunday! We are ready for it, aren’t we!
Today is also Christ the King Sunday.
-a day when we hear stories of God’s concern for the little ones of the world.
-and we remember that the one who sits in judgment upon the nations of the world is the Crucified One, Jesus and Lord and Saviour of all.
Today’s parable has often been preached to explain the Christian faith.
In the end, the story says-we shall by judged
-our lives shall pass before the judgement seat
-we shall be made to answer for how we’ve lived, what we’ve done.
Frightening, isn’t it?
And yes, it would have been very easy to avoid this reading, and choose the one from Ezekiel!
We prefer comforting images of a compassionate King-but we are also to be challenged-as in this reading in the lectionary for today.
You shall we be judged-on what basis?
‘I was hungry; you gave me food.
I was thirsty; you gave me drink.
I was a stranger; you welcomed me.’
Want to see Jesus?
Want to do his will?
This parable spells it out-in great detail-how we shall be judged.
There need be no secrets
No surprises about how God will evaluate us.
And yet-there is something about this parable that is troubling.
v.32 ‘All the nations will be gathered before him.’
‘all nations’ is better translated as ‘all the Gentiles’-all people other than Israel.
On the last day all of the Gentiles, all ethnic groups, will gather before the throne to be judged.
Note that this judgement of the Gentiles-not Israel. Long ago, God told Israel that it would be judged on the basis of its fidelity to the Torah, the revealed way of God.
But here we are dealing with everyone else.
In Matthew 19:28, Jesus told his disciples that they will have a special role in the judgement of Israel.
They will sit on the seats of judgement.
But here-in today’s reading-there are no twelve apostles.
This is a judgement of the Gentiles.
Vs 32: ‘…and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.’’
When sheep and goats are kept together at night, the goats must be separated because they require more warmth than the sheep. Every night, in the daily work of the shepherd, the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
Ordinarily-the sheep were considered more valuable.
He will put the sheep on his right (the preferred place) and the goats on his left.
‘The king will say, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, and I was thirsty, and you gave me something t drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’
They are welcomed into a ‘kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world.’
‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’-literally ‘you gathered me in.’
The word is ‘synagogue’, Greek for ‘gather in.’
‘I was a stranger, a foreigner-and you synagogue me-treated me like family.’
This is quite a concept to get across to non–Jews.
Don’t we talk about ‘gathering in’ regarding church?
We speak about the ‘churched’ it could mean ‘the gathered in, ‘you churched me.’
And they will say, “Lord, when did we see you?”
Who? Us? Me?
I don’t remember ever having visited you, clothed you, or given you something to drink.
And here is the shocking element of this story.
Now the unrighteous, those who failed to give food, drink, and welcome-didn’t know what they were doing.
Of course-you expect the unrighteous to be ignorant.
One expects Gentiles, those outside the fold, those who have never attended Sunday School or listened to a sermon-not to know.
So it’s no shock in the story to hear the unrighteous asking
‘Lord when did we see you?’
‘Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.’
Yet the truly shocking thing is:
These righteous, the people who are gathered into the kingdom-they didn’t know what they were doing either.
-the righteous, those who are called blessed, those gathered in-are as ignorant as the unrighteous.
BOTH the sheep and the goats ask the same question:
‘Lord, when did we see you?
In this story of judgement, the righteous is also ignorant.
Here, the ‘blessed’ are those who don’t know.
‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.’
‘the least of these’ or ‘these little ones.’
Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, the followers of Jesus are depicted as ‘little ones’, people who are meek, lowly, poor, powerless, with no one to protect them ot to speak up for them other than Jesus (Matthew 10: 40-42)
These ethnic groups, these Gentiles, are judged on the basis of how they dealt with the ‘least of Jesus’ family, his ‘little ones.’
Interesting that after the Holocaust, those non-Jews who dared to protect Jews were called ‘Righteous Gentiles’
-the ones who protected Israel’s ‘little ones, in time of trial.
This is a threatening story.
We think we are nice, politically correct people. We’ve dealt with sexism, gender, racism, ageism-we are in the know.
When we hear of the judgements of God, we smugly say:
‘Sheep here! Nonracist, non-sexist. We’re informed sheep.’
Surprise! In this parable, the people invited into the kingdom don’t know.
They haven’t been baptised.
They haven’t read the Apostle’s Creed.
They have never laid eyes on Jesus.
Yet in their actions, they are judged to be more like disciples-than disciples.
More like family-than Jesus’ family.
Did not Jesus warn in Matthew 7:21:
‘Not everybody who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom. Not those who speak my name but those who do the will of my Father, shall enter…’
In Matthew’s last parable of judgement (today’s reading), Jesus says that standing before the throne, both the righteous and the unrighteous don’t know him (‘Lord, when did we see you?’)
In Matthew’s first parable of judgement, Jesus says he knows who his people are.
Catholic theologian Karl Rahner speaks of ‘anonymous Christians’-people whose actions were more faithful than the self-identified faithful.
John Wesley, in his commentary on this parable, says that many are blessed, “through Christ-though they know Christ not.”
The prophets spoke of those who do right because the law of God is ‘written on their hearts.” They do what they do because it is so much a part of who they are, their very being.
In Acts 10: 35, Peter meets a military officer, an Italian Gentile, Cornelius. He talks to him-then declares:
‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’
Judgement entails division-yet we must never forget who sits in judgement.
The one who judges is also the one who goes forth to die for the world, the whole world and all of its people.
Therefore, when he judges, he is busy judging his own, and those whom he has loved and for whom he died.
When people respond to human need, or fail to respond- they are in fact responding or failing to respond to Christ.
-to serve Christ is to serve humanity-with all of its ‘little ones, the ‘least of these.’
To close with a story:
‘A religious man was praying, and as he prayed, people went past him-the crippled, the beggars, the beaten. Seeing them, the pious man prayed and cried out:
“Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”
And out of the long silence God said, “I did do something about them- I made you.”
Prayers of the People
Jesus, our Lord and King, you challenge us with revolutionary ideas of your kingdom.
You invite us to share in your glory, the glory of one who takes the form of a servant, a slave.
You teach us that it is the small, and often unnoticed, acts that delight you.
So we come to serve you, as you taught us-to care for the outcast, the poor, the sick, the lonely.
Servant King, build your church into a community of love, so that we may be willing sharers in your mission.
Servant King, bless this world you created. Grant world leaders gifts of true leadership: compassion, wisdom, love, respect and a desire for peace.
Help us to transform those parts of the planet we have wrecked, back into the glorious beauty with which you created it.
Servant King, we pray for the sick, for those suffering and dying from Covid-19.
For the health workers.
For those who are ill in other ways, and may be facing the end of life, or surgery, or treatment.
Be with them when they are feeling alone, or abandoned, overwhelmed or frustrated.
And in a time of silence we bring before you other concerns we have:
Servant King, O Compassionate One, you have heard our prayers. We are indeed fortunate that we can say the prayer you taught your early followers:
‘Our Father in heaven…
You are subjects of the Servant King:
‘So let us learn how to serve
and in our lives enthrone him;
each other’s needs to prefer,
for it is Christ we’re serving.’
Go out and serve our loving King, love one another, love the world and all of its inhabitants:
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
*(Graham Kendrick, verse 4 of ‘The Servant King)