First Thoughts From The Rev. Canon David Smith: 

Most weeks Fr. David sends out an e-mail with his first thoughts on the upcoming Sunday readings. These reflections are designed to encourage people to consider the readings before they come to worship which we hope will enrich Sunday worship. People are invited to respond to David with their own thoughts and sometimes interesting ideas and conversations occur that end up in the sermon. If you would like to receive these weekly e-mails e-mail David at  . 

Reflections on the Celebration of Christ the King

Posted by Emily Sanderson on Friday, November 21, 2014
This Sunday is the last Sunday of the liturgical year and it is often referred to as Reign Of Christ Sunday.  In other words now that  we have observed in worship throughout the year all of the great moments of Christ's ministry we want to acknowledge and worship Him as King, and to think about what it means  to crown Him King of our lives.

St. Paul in our reading from Ephesians describes the glorious power of Christ declaring in  a doxology that He is far above all rule and authority.  All of the other readings describe the kingship of God and Christ by using the metaphor of a shepherd.

Readings: Ezekiel 34: 11- 16, 20 -24,Psalm 95:1-7a , Ephesians 1: 15- 23, Matthew 25: 31- 46

Thanks to "Feasting on the Word" Year A Vol. 4 pgs 314- 337

The  context for our O.T. reading is that the Israelites find themselves as exiles in Babylon . The situation is bleak and so Ezekiel provides them with a word of hope and encouragement by describing God's  future rescue. He will act as a shepherd searching, comforting and restoring life. There is also a word of judgment in the reading. Scholars are undecided if Ezekiel is speaking against the kings of Judah and Israel who have neglected and abused their own people or against cruel foreign rulers. Regardless the prophet speaks harshly towards leaders who take advantage of the weak by using their wealth and power. They are the bullies of the flock. You know cyber bullying is such an issue these days that a sermon about bullying might be a good idea based on this text. It could also be a jump off spot to discus other forms of abuse which we are hearing so much about in the news such as sexual abuse towards women and girls and especially against First Nation women and girls.  I don't think it is too much of a jump  to go from "because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide..., I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged", to consider how this metaphor applies to situations of abuse and neglect in our world today.

This speaks into the fact that although there are very comforting pastoral images of God portrayed in this text there is no doubt that the role of God as shepherd also includes judgment.  We, I , often find this difficult because judgment has such a bad rap these days in our culture. We often get annoyed at people who are judgmental but ironically this means that to feel and act this way we have had to have been ourselves judgmental.  A perfect example of this is seen in our  lectionary readings for this week. We have been asked to read only the first 7 verses of Psalm 95. To do so conveniently eliminates God's anger against the people's disobedience.  Very superficially, I think the basic argument for acknowledging that God is judge and will judge is based on His holiness and love. A holy God cannot abide sin and a loving God cannot ignore sin. I don't think God's love would be sincere if to use an extreme example He never judged behaviors such as genocide. Our Gospel reading also includes the fact that God is a judge. Of course as Christians  we view God's judgment through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In Christ we see God's judgment, holiness, love, forgiveness converge on our behalf. A good sermon might consider God's judgment and what this means.

But a good sermon might also  consider the other features of God the shepherd king. Kayrn Wiseman highlights that shepherds are keepers , keeping the sheep fed and away from harm. Shepherds are searchers, searching for good pastures, the lost or sick sheep . Shepherds are accountants, accountable for the nourishment, well being and numbers of the flock. ("Feasting on the Word" Year A Vol. 4 , pg 315)

To be kinder to the lectionary it may have skipped the divine judgment  in the Psalm so that in worship  we  would proclaim only praise of God with pure joy and delight. That we would acknowledge God as a great King  and God above all gods. It is a Psalm that encourages us to praise God with thankfulness and with a joyful noise. I would be tempted to preach on the importance of thankfulness because I believe that thankfulness is  an absolutely essential and wonderful part of being a Christian. But if I do I will sound like a broken record because I have mentioned this so many times.  It also speaks of joy and perhaps I have not emphasized joy enough in my sermons  and what a wonderful thing to think about as  I think joy is one of the best ways to invite people into the faith. For those of us who watched
Shadow Lands last night we saw this truth played out in an ironic fashion when a woman named Joy came into  C.S. Lewis's life and filled him with joy.  And of course the Psalm emphasizes music and singing  which is a wonderful
way to praise God and to declare God King.  Included in the worship is also bowing and kneeling which perhaps is a balance to singing and important in worship as well and apt gestures to offer royalty.

Psalm 95 uses the metaphor of shepherd to describe God as King but it also points to God's acts of creation as an indicator of God's kingship.

The problem with St. Paul is that he packs so many themes in only 9 verses it is difficult to comment briefly on our epistle reading. He, like our Psalm also offers thanksgiving . Paul is often thanking God for the churches he serves. I am thankful for the churches I serve. He also prays for the churches he serves. I pray for the churches I serve. But it has just occurred to me that Paul's prayer for the Ephesians would be a wonderful way for us to pray for each other, " that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us."

This prayer leads us to the reason we probably read this passage on Christ the King Sunday. And that is Paul's discussion on the power and authority of Christ and his rule. A good sermon might tackle the notion of power, how it
can be a good thing, how it can be a bad thing, and how is it  seen in Christ. We might also consider the relationship between Christ the King and the church. Because if we share in this power how are we to express it?

Our Gospel reading definitely portrays Christ as King and as judge hence it's use this Sunday. Although I find this familiar text inspiring in that it motivates me as a subject of the King to care for those in need, it raises many difficult questions some of which I have already alluded to. For me the key concern this text raises is the role of grace. I thought our salvation was a gift not earned by our behaviour.  But clearly our behaviour does matter and a good sermon might delve into this dynamic.

Even though our behaviour matters it seems that there is an element of surprise in the story. The sheep had no clue that they had been serving the Son of Man. Wouldn't it be great if love were simply a habit of life that we did so instinctively that we were not aware even aware of it ? There is a great story and movie entitled the Fourth Wiseman which captures so beautifully this aspect of our reading. I think we should watch this movie together sometime. N. T. Wright speaks very strongly for the practice of spiritual disciplines and habits so that when a situation arises we
naturally respond in a Christ like fashion.

The goats were also surprised by their poor behaviour. It came as a shock to them and one  commentator I read today ( Lindsay Armstrong ) compared the story of Jesus to a medical checkup where the doctor gives us a wellness
report and perhaps Jesus is trying to give us a spiritual  wellness report that we would be well advised to heed when he refers to the goats.

Speaking of motivation and doing comparisons I just read this morning in a U. T. magazine a research article that concluded that children will lie less if you read to them a positive story about telling the truth then if you read to them a negative story about the consequences of lying such as the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Jesus as brilliant story teller uses both strategies in our Gospel reading. Do you respond better to the positive account of thesheep or to the negative account of the goats?

I fear I have not done justice to this gospel reading but I am running out of time and must end here. Any thoughts? What would you say in a sermon this week?
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