November 26, 2023
Christ the King Sunday
· Please join us in Calvin Hall following worship today for a time of fellowship.
· Today we receive and give thanks for the pledges and many gifts of our members. If you need a pledge card, you can find one at the door where bulletins were found.
· Ladies Lunch Bunch will meet at Candlelight on Wednesday, Dec. 13 at 11:30 AM.
· On December 10 we will have our annual meeting and elect new elders. Please come to be a part of this important meeting.
· The Gathering Place will host BINGO on November 30. Please Join us. We will not meet on December 22, 29 nor Jan. 4. We start again on Jan. 11. Hope to see you then!
· JoAnn Grimm who struggles with health problems.
· Joan Pinkston, on hospice.
· Ellen and Keith Miller who struggle with health issues.
· For our world where conflict and struggle causes such pain and suffering.
*CALL TO WORSHIP (adapted from Psalm 100)
We come to make a joyful noise to the Lord!
We come to worship the Lord with gladness.
We come into his presence with singing
The Lord is our God. It is he who made us, and we are his.
We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter with thanksgiving and praise, giving thanks to him as we bless his name.
For the Lord is good.
His steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Amen
We come this day to rejoice before you, our Lord and King. Hear our songs of praise, Gracious God, as we gather together. We are the sheep of your pasture and the people of your heart. We pray that you will meet us here, and bring us more truly into your service and into the care of your fold. Amen.
*HYMN All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name! #142
(You may be seated.)
CALL TO CONFESSION
Sometimes the word of God is a word of condemnation. For we have wandered away. But Christ comes to lead us back to our God of grace and love. Let us confess our sins that we might know forgiveness and be enabled to live joyfully in Christ our Lord.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Lord, forgive us for the many times when we failed to recognize you in the hungry, and the thirsty, the stranger and the naked and the prisoner. Forgive us for so concentrating on our own lives, our own needs and worries that we pass by without offering the things needed by these vulnerable ones. Forgive us for the excuses we make and for assuming that we have the right to judge them. In their need, may we see your loving face. Help us to offer care and compassion and hope in your name. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Be assured, My Friends, we are a forgiven people, justified by faith and knowing peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us believe the good news and take Christ’s hand to live into the hope of our Lord.
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
May the peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
We come to hear your word, Gracious Lord. May the eyes of our heart be enlightened, and through these words may we know the hope to which you call us and the riches of our inheritance into your amazing love. Amen.
SCRIPTURE LESSONS Ezekiel 34: 11 - 16, 20 - 24
11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice…….
20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.
Matthew 25: 31 - 46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life
SERMON Goats and Sheep
So why do the goats in this parable get such a really bad rap? Why goats? After all goat milk, goat cheese, even goat meat is at a premium at different places around the world? But sheep are seen as the blessed animal. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that sheep are more passive animals and goats can be quite mischievous. I would suspect that all of us are goats at one point or another, but hopefully we can all be sheep, too.
One of the major titles of Jesus is that of good shepherd. While a shepherd could herd both goats and sheep, it was probably more recognized for the sheep. They needed more care. Their heavy wool made it hard for them to run and so they were more likely to become a wolf’s dinner or if they got wet to drown. They wandered off and if they get sick, had a less robust system of antibodies to battle infections.
Nonetheless, Jesus loves both his sheep AND his goats. I think that’s why I am turned off by the bumper sticker that proclaims, “Jesus loves you, and that’s good because no one else does!” Really? Exactly why is that funny? If Jesus loves someone, then don’t we all want to love them, too?
We learned in preschool the song, “Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Well it might be the Bible that proclaims it, but we come to really know that we are loved by Jesus because others treat them as loved ones, too.
That youngster who goes to Bible School but who doesn’t get the good cookies because the church members kids get first pick. Or when they have an activity like riding a pony, but time runs out before the unchurched kids get their turn, or that youngster who is scolded because he forgot his quarter for the offering—does he or she really feel loved by Jesus?
Or how about the people who live down the street from you? When they don’t have enough to eat and then they watch us host an elaborate cook out with massive amounts of food—but of course they are not invited—do they feel Jesus’ love? They know we got to church. We were the one who knocked on their door to hand them a flyer, and they know that WE know they are going through a really tough time, but we don’t seem to care about their need. Do you think they feel the love of Jesus?
The reality is that each and every one of us come to know Jesus because someone took the time and effort AND the love to introduce us and to care for us along the way.
In ancient Israel, Ezekiel is speaking to people who are in the midst of a foreign aggressor’s invasion. A take-over of their land and their way of life is in process. High taxes are being levied, and people are being shuttled away, never to be seen again. Those left behind are asking the questions, “Does God really love us? Really? If you love us, God, how can you let this happen?”
So Ezekiel is finally ready to answer that question. He begins by assuring the people that God is their true shepherd. He will gather up the lost sheep. He will lead them into the green pastures of Israel, and he will make them to lie down and rest amidst the plush landscape of their homeland. He will bind up the injured ones and strengthen the weak.
But Ezekiel doesn’t end there. He goes on to explain, at least in part, the cause of their misery. Our Good Shepherd shakes an angry finger at SOME of his sheep—the fat ones. They push the weak out of the way. They take advantage, they abuse the vulnerable. God’s wrath and judgement falls upon those fat ones because they didn’t have the compassion to share equally. They didn’t play fair. They looked out for themselves only. Their greed consumed them. Ezekiel is speaking about the kings and those in power who took care of themselves while selling out their own people.
But, it’s not just kings or presidents or people in congress. It’s not just CEOs of multinational corporations or hedge fund managers who seem to feather their own nest at the expense of those who are already vulnerable and hurting. At some level we all have a bit of self-interest that pushes us to hold a clenched fist around our checkbook. It compels us to vote a certain way because that candidate has promised to look out for our interests. It encourages us to turn away from the pain of our brother or sister lest that suffering rub off onto us.
Jesus has just spent the last chapter and a half in Matthew urging his followers to persevere in their faith, to be obedient to his word. He’s offered the criteria for how God will judge them. For Christians it will be on the basis of their obedience to his word. For Jews it will be on how or if they come to accept him as God’s Messiah. But there’s a group left out. The gentiles, those who still worship gods made of stone or wood. Some of those folks were kind, caring, loving people, despite the way they bowed down to other gods. “Jesus can you explain that? Can you tell us what will happen to them?”
So this parable of the sheep and the goats does that. There is no mention of faith or obedience to God’s word. There’s no speaking of worship to our God or even WHO they assisted as criteria for salvation. Instead the only thing considered was whether or not these folks offered care to others who were in need.
The sheep were placed at the King (God’s) right hand, a place of reward and celebration and power. Why? “ 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. 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.”
Do you notice that these who were singled out for reward were surprised? They didn’t know what he was talking about! “When was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? When was it we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? When was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
“As you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me.” And conversely, as those others didn’t extend care and comfort to hurting people, they didn’t extend it to Jesus.
You see, Jesus so identifies with vulnerable and hurting people that our care for them becomes a sign that we are IN Jesus whether we know it or not.
In fact, the freedom to step outside our own selfish interest is probably the best measure of one’s faith!
That’s why our denomination has initiated a program of revitalization around this scripture. It’s the Matthew 25 Initiative. It urges churches to pledge revitalization along the path of reaching out to address some of the many injustices and sorrows of our world.
In the early church even the Roman officials were amazed at the outpouring of care that the church lifted up. Sick people were brought into people’s homes. The poor were fed, travelers were offered hospitality. Even in the midst of an epidemic, these Christians would go into people’s homes to care for the sick—even at the risk of catching the contagious illness. The financial cost alone for this outpouring of care would equal billions of dollars in today’s currency. They loved in a great big way, and people saw that love and wanted to be a part of something so transformative.
Don’t we all want to be a part of something like that? Something that truly makes a difference in our world. Don’t we all want to know that because of us and our actions our world is a better, kinder place when we leave this world than when we arrived?
We have the power to know that! It comes to us as a gift of our faith. The Holy Spirit leads us to let go of our selfish concentration on ME. “ME” consumes us. It sucks all our energy and resources. And it’s never really satisfied. We always want more—more security, more comfort, more power, more advantage. More is so seductive. It just keeps pulling us in. It makes us miserly with our wallet, with our time and energy, with even our thoughts of care and compassion. It leads to an “Us against Them” mindset that spells disaster for so many.
How much money is enough? Ask a Fortune 500 CEO or a movie star or a politician, and they probably can’t answer. We always want just a little more.
For the rest of us, those who don’t have 6 zeros behind a number for the total on our financial sheet, we get to choose. Will we live joyfully into our faith seeing the face of Jesus at every turn and feeling the joy of truly making a difference in people’s lives, or will we concentrate on me—on my advantage?
To loosen our grip on ME is to be more open to God AND to our brothers and sisters. It leads to peace and contentment. To tithe becomes a joyful thing. It allows us to think and plan and designate the places to which your care—and your financial gifts will go. In my work in Christ’s church, I get to watch it bring new life to people as they come to know Jesus as they relinquish themselves to his care and to share with those in need.
Jesus loves you and me. And Jesus loves all those others out there, whether we call them sheep or goats. Some of the people we care for, know Jesus. Others who don’t, and even those who have turned their back on him are loved. Jesus has a special affinity and identification with those who are most vulnerable, most in need, most filled with pain and despair. When we, too, can identify with them, and work to alleviate their pain, we get to meet Jesus face to face.
Jesus is our King, our ruler, our Lord. Let us bow down before him and serve him with all our being. Amen.
*HYMN Rejoice, the Lord is King #155 (you may be seated.)
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.
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, now and forever. Amen.
OFFERING OUR GIFTS AND OUR PLEDGES TO GOD
*DOXOLOGY Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow #592
*PRAYER OF DEDICATION
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH (From the Brief Statement of Faith)
In life and in death we belong to God.
Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God
And the communion of the Holy Spirit,
We trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel,
Whom alone we worship and serve.
We trust in Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God
Jesus proclaimed the reign of God:
preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives,
teaching by word and deed and blessing the children,
healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted,
eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners,
and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.
We give ourselves to this Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior of us all.
*HYMN Crown Him with Many Crowns #151
(You may be seated.)
*CHARGE & BLESSING
* Sections of the service preceded with * are times to stand if you are able to do so.
Bold text is to be read together aloud as a congregation