The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
November 22, 2020
CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Eternal God, you set Jesus Christ to rule over all things, and made us servants in your kingdom. By your Spirit empower us to love the unloved, and to minister to all in need. Then at the last bring us to your eternal realm where we may worship and adore you and be welcomed into your everlasting joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
PRELUDE Chorale Prelude on “Royal Oak”
CALL TO WORSHIP
Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice!
Christ will reign forever and ever.
The Lord is robed in majesty and girded in strength!
Christ will reign forever and ever.
God has established the world, and God’s realm will never be shaken!
Christ will reign forever and ever.
God will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity!
Christ will reign forever and ever.
The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord!
Christ will reign forever and ever.
Jesus Christ, our Sovereign and Savior, you pour out your power for the powerless and your salvation for the lost. Remember us in your new creation, so that we may live in peace with you in the presence of the Holy One, to whom be all honor and glory, through you, in the Holy Spirit, now and forever.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
In Christ, God came to reconcile all things,
Making peace through the blood of the cross.
Trusting in God’s grace, let us confess our sin…
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
Righteous God, you have crowned Jesus Christ as Lord of all. We confess that we have not bowed before him, and are slow to acknowledge his rule. We give allegiance to the powers of this world, and fail to be governed by justice and love. In your mercy, forgive us. Raise us to acclaim him as ruler of all, that we may be loyal ambassadors, obeying the commands of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God has rescued us from the power of evil and claimed us for the realm of Jesus Christ, in whom we have redemption. In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!
Thanks be to God!
Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen, amen.
PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
God makes peace within us.
Let us claim it.
God makes peace between us.
Let us share it.
Let us greet another as a sign of God’s peace.
The peace of God is here… to stay.
Thanks be to God.
ANTHEM “In Thee Almighty King” Dan Forrest
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Sovereign God, let your Word rule in our hearts and your Spirit govern our lives until at last we see the fulfillment of your realm of justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Matthew 25:31-46
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. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then 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; 35for 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, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then 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? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And 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.’ 41Then 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; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I 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.’ 44Then 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?’45Then 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.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The average child asks 300 questions a day. Child experts say that kids between 2 and 5 ask 40,000 annually. Some of those many questions are easy for parents to answer, but often others are difficult. According to a recent survey, the top impossible questions include:
- What does God look like?
- What came first, the chicken or the egg?
- Where do you go when you die?
- What are black holes?
- Why is water wet?
- Why do people die?
- How did the world begin?
- Where do babies come from?
- Why is the sea salty?
- Why is the moon sometimes out in the day?
Children aren’t the only one with questions, we also have questions some are about life or family situations, but we also wrestle with divine questions. Today is a day to question our relationship with our Savior, and how we live out that relationship.
Today we are celebrating Christ the King Sunday, the last sabbath before Advent and a new liturgical year, and this significant symbolic placement was chosen by Pope Paul the Sixth to emphasize the game-changing dimension of what it means to call Jesus Christ King. In Jesus’s own lifetime and in the generations immediately following, to call Jesus Lord was to say that the Roman emperor was not the great authority over human lives; it was to honor what Jesus called in Matthew 16 the counter-cultural and spiritual dimension of life.
Our gospel lesson for today comes late in Matthew’s gospel-just before the Passion of Christ. Some scholars call it the Judgment of the Pagans, and others refer to it as the Last Judgment. In our reading, Jesus is seen separating sheep and goats, described as a king on his throne, rewarding his subjects according to their adherence to his great ethical commandment of compassion. The passage comes in the last great teaching discourse in Matthew, a long section about the end of the world and the time of completion, it follows numerous parables about being ready for whatever is coming, whenever it gets here.
A thief in the night.
A slave and a master.
Foolish bridesmaids who are unprepared.
Slaves given trust over small things while the master is away.
Apocalyptic stories about judgment and being prepared.
I must confess that I am always personally uncomfortable with biblical passages that seem to be about judgment. I was raised in a Christian tradition that shyed away from eternal damnation and rings of hell. I would love to be able to pretend that this gospel reading is not in some way about judgment, but that would be neither true to the text, nor true to our need to wrestle with it, like Jacob wrestled with that angel, hoping for a blessing. If we’re given an answer here, it is this: Jesus singles out those who treated others with compassion, who served those who were in need, alone, despised.
So, what is the question?
Is this passage about believing in God so you go to Heaven when you die?
Although some Christians talk about little else, and eagerly come to the Bible in general and this passage in particular posing that question, the Bible in general and Matthew in particular don’t seem to be that interested in Heaven and Hell, whatever those might be. Nor are many of the great biblical scholars. In the 1500 pages of the Institutes of Christian Religion, John Calvin devotes only a couple of passages to Heaven, and one paragraph to Hell.
More recently Anglican theologian, N.T. Wright notes that there is almost no talk in the Bible about going to live in Heaven when you die, and less still about Hell. He also reminds us that the continuous talk about the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew’s gospel is not about a place-Heaven-but about something else entirely, God’s sovereign rule breaking through into the earthly realm.
The Bible’s central message is not about believing in God so you go to Heaven when you die, or whenever it is that things go all cosmic apocalypse on us. In fact, in Matthew, belief in and of itself is not sufficient for disciples. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus laments that many people will call him Lord, but only those who act upon his ethical teachings can be his true followers. And in the so-called Great Commission, coming at the end of this gospel, Jesus doesn’t say to form disciples who believe that he is the Messiah; he says, teach them to observe every ethical teaching I have commanded of you.
If you think the question is Am I going to Heaven?
Will I be saved?
Am I a sheep or a goat?
Matthew suggests that you have missed the point. And anyway, if you are listening to this sermon today, chances are that you are less concerned about the End of the World than you are about the End of the Month. What you’re seeking is probably not pie in the sky, but, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, pie in the here and now. Strength for the journey. A nudge–or a jolt from a spiritual cattle prod–that will help you struggle up the path that awaits you this week.
So maybe the question rightly asked is not what happens at the end of things, but more like what am I supposed to be doing right now?
What does Jesus want me to do?
How will my life be different if Christ is King?
The conflict over who is lord is acted out in our lives today even though Rome is long gone. The world still wants us to worship all that is Not-God, and the culture rewards us when we do. But this conflict between the two Kingdoms, one of this world, one of the divine realm, becomes clearly outlined in the life of Christ. Jesus tells us and shows us that the usual things people elevate as gods-
and fame-are subsumed in the Kingdom of God by the supreme values of service, love, self-sacrifice, and faithful community.
Life in God’s Kingdom is not about self-promotion, it’s about denial. It’s not about big words, it’s about powerful actions. Life in God’s Kingdom is not about what you have or who you are, it’s about what you do. It’s not about what the world values, but what God values.
Author Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story about how when she was in seminary she wanted God to tell her what she was supposed to do with herself. She prayed hard, she asked often, and the result, she says was this: God told her, Do anything that pleases you-and belong to me. Like Augustine’s similar spiritual prescription- Love God, and do what you will-this could be read by a selfish person as a license to print money. Do anything that pleases you. Do what you will. Have a party. Knock yourself out. Except, pretty clearly, that’s not what God was saying to-and through-Barbara Taylor and Saint Augustine.
The takeaway from these pronouncements is absolutely not “Believe in me, and act like a goat.” Instead, the message is this: if you love God, if your values are God-values instead of the world’s values, if Christ actually is King, then you will love as God loves, give as God gives, forgive as God forgives. If your values are God-values, you can’t help but live as Christ taught.
Preaching in front of the Ebenezer Baptist congregation he loved in Atlanta, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. told them–just two months before his untimely funeral–how he would like to be remembered, and in doing so, he zeroed in on that ultimate question: If Christ is King, what does that mean? If Christ is ruler over our lives, Dr. King told them, then my Nobel Peace Prize is less important than my trying to feed the hungry. If Christ is King, then my invitations to the White House are less important than that I visited those in prison. If Christ is Lord, then my being TIME magazine’s “Man of the Year” is less important than that I tried to love extravagantly, dangerously, with all my being. (I Have a Dream, 191)
How are things going to end? What happens after we die? I don’t know, and neither do you. But we do know the shape of the story a loving God is writing: If Christ is King, we know Jesus waits at the end of that story, that he will see us, and know us, and that if we have done what he taught us, he will claim us as his own.
And, I have to say, that is question and answer enough for me.
Let us pray:
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 in the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
Commentary provided by Desmund Tutu, Barbara Borwn Taylor, David Schnasa Jacobsen, Karoline Lewis, Greg Carey, Susan Hylen, Scott Hoezee, Karoline Lewis, Lance Pape, Jill Duffield, Sarah A. Johnson, & David Lose.
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH (from A Brief Statement of Faith)
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,
and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.
Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition, Jesus was crucified,
suffering the depths of human pain
and giving his life for the sins of the world.
God raised this Jesus from the dead,
vindicating his sinless life,
breaking the power of sin and evil,
delivering us from death to life eternal.
THE PRAYER’S OF THE PEOPLE
Gracious God, when the Son of Man comes in glory and judges between the nations, where will we find ourselves? Among the sheep or the goats? We recognize our limited ability to know when we see you and we fail to notice you in the least of the members of your family. We pray for the eyes to see you and the faith to follow you. We ask again for your mercy when our loyalty to lesser gods obscures your image in us and blinds us to your image in others.
We reflect this Lord’s Day on a season of much turmoil and pain. There are many known to us and countless known only to you who suffer in body, mind and spirit, yearning to be sought out and cared for with compassion. We pray that those far off would be gathered close and welcomed home. We ask that the injured have their wounds bound. We lift up to you the grief-stricken and those who cannot quiet their fears and worries. We trust your word, that you yourself will seek out the vulnerable, that you yourself will bring justice, that you yourself will heal and make whole those who are hungry, lonely or imprisoned. We ask for the wisdom and courage to participate in the outpouring of your compassion on the world you so love.
Even as we recognize the great needs and the deep hurt around and within us, we know too the joy of your sure presence and the gift of this earthly life. We do not want to neglect to give thanks for the beauty of the sunset, the love of friends and family, the pleasure of music, the enjoyment of our daily bread. There is more than we can name for which to rejoice, give thanks and sing.
As we reflect on what has been, we look in hope to what will be, trusting that you are unquestionably Lord of all and Christ is indeed king. There is nowhere we can flee from your Spirit, no centimeter of creation unredeemed, no person beyond your purview of care or transformation. In this wonderful knowledge we live our lives and make our prayer in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray, Our Father…
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; and 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, forever. Amen.
Flowers are given in the glory and honor of God by Marian Craig in loving memory of John Craig; and by Don Tatham and Family in honor of Thomas H Tatham.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
In recognition of our loyalty to our God and our gratitude for all God has given to us, we make our offering with joy and thanksgiving. Let us seek to show our love for the God who relentlessly seeks us out and tenderly cares for us through the gift of our tithes and offerings.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise God, all creatures high and low. Alleluia, alleluia! Praise God, in Jesus fully known: Creator, Word, and Spirit one. Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Holy One, we pray for a spirit of wisdom, the wisdom to know whom to follow and how to treat one another, the wisdom to steward the gifts you have entrusted us in ways that bring you glory, the wisdom to worship you and you alone. Take these gifts, we pray, bless and use them that the least of these members of your family would be fed, visited, cared for and clothed in your name. Amen.
Go forth into the world in peace.
Be of good courage.
Hold fast that which is good.
Render to no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the fainthearted.
Support the weak.
Help the afflicted.
Show love to everyone.
Love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
and the blessing of almighty God,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.