Christ the King Sunday - Sunday before Advent 22 November 2020

Call to worship: Psalm 95 (the Venite) If you are worshipping with someone else you could read this responsively according to the light and dark type.

O come let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation!

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.

The sea is his for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come let us worship and bow down,
let us bow before the Lord, our Maker!

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

Today is the Sunday before Advent when we celebrate Christ as King.

Hymn: Singing the Faith 335

1 Rejoice, the Lord is King!
your Lord and King adore;
mortals give thanks and sing,
and triumph evermore;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

2 Jesus, the saviour, reigns,
the God of truth and love;
when he had purged our stains
he took his seat above;
Refrain

3 His kingdom cannot fail,
he rules both earth and heaven,
the keys of death and hell
are to our Jesus given;
Refrain

4 He sits at God's right hand
till all his foes submit,
and bow to his command,
and fall beneath his feet:
Refrain

5 Rejoice in glorious hope!
Jesus the Judge shall come,
and take his servants up
to their eternal home.
We soon shall hear the archangel's voice;
God's trumpet call shall sound, rejoice!
Charles Wesley

Prayers

Holy God, we bless you.
You create each one of us beautiful and blessed,
in your image and likeness.
You create us and stay with us.
You are our refuge,
You call each one of us by name.
You know all our hopes and desires.
You know all our aches and pains.
You know the journeys we take.

We bless you
for you sent Jesus Christ
and in him you have shown the world new ways of living and loving.
We bless you
for you give us through your Spirit
strength to live by each day.

Holy God, forgive us
for all the ways in which we and others assault and abuse your image in us, in others, and in all your creation around us.
Forgive us
that our living and loving
so often betray the living and loving in Jesus that we profess.

Hear the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: 'Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace'.
Amen. Thanks be to God.

Readings:

Ezekiel 34: 11-24

Matthew 25: 31-45

Reflection

This last Sunday in the church year can be a confusing one! It's what we call 'Christ the King Sunday', but it's also the Sunday before Advent, as well as being the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time, and Stir-up Sunday, when we're supposed to make our Christmas puddings! And we're faced with what is also a really difficult Gospel reading. A reading about God's judgement, the idea of which in fact pervades Matthew's Gospel and has been there implicitly in our readings over the last few weeks. We talk very glibly about 'separating the sheep from the goats' - but it's a really disturbing reading.

But let's look at our OT reading first. In that reading from Ezekiel we find the idea of God as Shepherd - an idea which pervades the Old Testament. God is the shepherd who will gather in the scattered flock and find them sanctuary in good pastures. Ezekiel paints a powerful picture of hope. It's a picture all the more powerful, because of the times in which these words are spoken - a time of national loss and disaster. All is never lost. In a world that is more fragile than we can bear, amid lives that are buffeted by the winds of cruel forces seemingly far beyond our control, God remains utterly faithful. Even though the people of Israel have forgotten the God who loves and cherishes them and failed to look after those less fortunate than themselves.

Our Gospel reading is another story involving sheep and shepherds. A striking, haunting, picture of God's judgement. A snapshot of the end times. Jesus shows us people being separated into two groups - sheep and goats. Not on the strength of their faith or their knowledge of God or of the Scriptures; not because they have or have not demonstrated themselves to be rigorous religious observers or rule-keepers. But because of how they have treated those less fortunate than themselves. We can't help wondering - are we sheep or goats? Or might we even be something of both, a mix of faithfulness and faithlessness? Jesus is not pointing out the difference here between sheep and wolves - between the good and the really really bad. He's pointing out the difference between sheep and goats, between those who think they are walking in God's way and those who are actually doing it. Between those who offer God lip-service and those whose lives are a demonstration of what they believe. Between those who say they are Christians and those who act out that Christian faith in what they do and who they are.

There are two twists to Jesus's words. The first is that, unknowingly, by responding to those in need these sheep have been serving Jesus himself. There's that lovely legend about Martin of Tours, Bishop of Tours in the 4th century, who on seeing a beggar one day, cut his cloak in half and gave half to the beggar. Later that night Martin had a dream where Jesus, surrounded by angels, wore half a cloak. When one of the angels asked Jesus why he was wearing the half-cloak, he replied 'My servant Martin gave it to me'. The King truly is among us. In the dust and despair, the Saviour and King sits with those who are dusty and despairing. This is God's great reversal; salvation's great surprise. And it is in noticing those who are least, in reaching out in love, compassion and care, that we truly become followers of Jesus.

And the second surprising thing about this reading is that it's the things which we've forgotten about that Jesus is talking about here. It's not the grand gesture, it's the going out of our way to do some small thing which then goes completely from our memory - those little things which flow automatically from the fact that we love God and have dedicated our lives to him. In serving others in need, in living unselfishly and loving extravagantly, we suddenly discover that we have been serving Christ and are being saved. We discover salvation as an unexpected gift, not a hard-earned reward.

Salvation is not what we grasp by our achievements and not what we hoard by our learning. Salvation is God's gift, grace freely offered, and we discover it unleashed and unbound as we open our lives to embrace our world and its deepest need. We're called into fullness of life a little more each time we reach out to one another, called into communities that need compassionate people, called into relationships which are sustained totally by love. This is what the great shepherd, this Son of Man, has demonstrated and will demonstrate on the cross. In Jesus people who were broken found God reaching out to hold them close, people convinced of their unworthiness and sin found themselves made welcome at God's feast, people weighed down with mighty burdens found themselves released from all that bound them. Here is the most profound lesson, the deepest knowledge, the greatest gift. Here is a power that saves and saves and saves and saves:

"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."

Amen.


Prayers for others

Let us pray that we may serve Christ the King in meeting the needs of others:

Jesus said: when I was hungry you gave me food, when thirsty you gave me drink.
God with us, we pray for the hungry and thirsty of our world:
for the victims of famine, drought, natural disaster
and the disruption of war.....
We pray for the leaders of the nations that they may serve you in serving their people.

Your kingdom come: your will be done

Jesus said: when I was a stranger you took me into your home, when naked you clothed me.
God with us, we pray for those without homes
or protection from the elements:
for refugees, for the destitute, for those thrown out of home,
for those living on the street....
We pray for those in power that they may serve you in serving the people.

Your kingdom come: your will be done

Jesus said: when I was ill you came to my help.
God with us, we pray for those who are ill:
for those with chronic or life-threatening conditions,
for those suffering the effects of Covid 19,
for those whose mental health is suffering during lockdown,
for those who have had operations postponed or treatment cut off.
For those known only to us as individuals....
We pray for doctors and nurses, that they may serve you in serving their patients.

Your kingdom come: your will be done

Jesus said: when I was in prison you visited me.
God with us, we pray for those who are in prison:
for criminals, for prisoners of conscience, for the victims of corrupt regimes,
for those imprisoned by fear or guilt...
We pray for prison staff that they may serve you in serving those in their charge.

God with us, where our prayers have brought to mind actions we should take, give us strength to carry them out; where we can bring your love to bear, point out the way; and where we can do nothing, use the love and concern contained in these prayers to fulfil your loving intentions for your world. And all these things we ask in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

The Collect for today - Stir-Up Sunday:

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people
that, richly bearing the fruit of good works,
they may by you be richly rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord
who is alive with with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.
Amen

The Lord's prayer

Hymn: Singing the Faith 672

1 Where can we find you, Lord Jesus our Master?
We want to serve you, to answer your call.
Where do you lead us, and ask us to follow?
What should we do in our service to all?

2 'Go to the hungry, to those who have nothing;
go where the farmlands are empty and bare.
I broke the bread for the people around me;
out of my plenty think what you can share'.

3 'Go to the homeless, to those who have nowhere;
go where my people sleep out in the rain.
I had no comforts but what others gave me;
offer them shelter, give ease to their pain'.

4 'Go to the outcast, to those who have no-one;
go where my sheep are rejected and lost.
I dined with sinners and reached out to lepers
go and do likewise, and don't count the cost'.

5 Where will we find you, Lord Jesus our Master?
We are your servants who answer your call.
You go before us, and there we will follow,
taking our cross in the service of all.

Allan Charles Dickinson

Blessing

Go now, and embrace the hope to which God has called us.
Recognise Christ in friend and stranger,
and as Christ has been gracious to you,
so be gracious to those in need.

And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you and with all those whom you love, this day and for evermore.

Amen