The Feast of Christ the King, Proper 29, 26 November 2017

Track One:
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100

Track Two:
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a

Ephesians 1:15-23
St. Matthew 25:31-46

Background: Hospitality

The hospitality amongst the ancient Hebrews was informed by their former nomadic life, in which hospitality was a necessity for living in a hostile environment. Such protection and provisions were not only available to the amiable but to the enemy as well, who enjoyed such protection for three days and thirty-six hours after having eaten with the host. As the culture urbanized, hospitality soon became almsgiving, and was a sign of righteousness. Christians continued the practice of hospitality and almsgiving among themselves. There are notable accounts of the works of deacons, or of special collections providing for the needy in their fellowship. It became a binding factor in the church, especially when the church was in the throes of persecution and oppression. Hospitality and almsgiving protected the Christian community.

Track One:

First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 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; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

It might be helpful, in beginning a study of this pericope, to compare it to a similar oracle in Jeremiah (23:1-8). Both look forward to a restored Israel, and a new Davidic leader who will reunite the country. The tie of David and shepherding had been established for some time, and so both Jeremiah and Ezekiel use it as a central metaphor for their oracles. It may have had an almost nostalgic or comforting flavor attached to it as readers thought back to ancient and better times. What is bemoaned here is the inability of the current leaders to honor the widow and the orphan. It is a familiar charge on the part of the prophets that Israel, especially its leaders, have forgotten the ancient hospitality (see Background above). Inferred in Ezekiel’s verses is the exile of the people, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed.” Beyond that is a remembrance of those dismissed by society and its leaders, “the fat sheep and the lean sheep.” God will become the shepherd, and the one that God calls will do likewise – lead and care for the sheep, just like David.

Breaking open Ezekiel:
1.      Who are the shepherds in this pericope?
2.      What does Ezekiel mean by “the fat sheep and the lean sheep”?
3.      What kind of shepherds are our current religious leaders?

Psalm 100 Jubilate Deo

     Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; *
serve the Lord with gladness
and come before his presence with a song.
2      Know this: The Lord himself is God; *
he himself has made us, and we are his;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
3      Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise; *
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
4      For the Lord is good;
his mercy is everlasting; *
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

One wonders why, since Track One and Tract Two share the same first reading that the framers of the lectionary didn’t share the psalm as well. Psalm 100, a thanksgiving psalm is centered in the Temple, and is at a bit of a remove from the more rustic scene in Ezekiel. Perhaps it is used for its obvious positive statement about our relationship with God, and there is “the sheep of his pasture” phrase.

Breaking open Psalm 100:
1.     In what ways are you connected to Creation?
2.     In what ways are you connected to the Creator?
3.    In what ways does God recreate you day by day?


Track Two:

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Psalm 95:1-7a Venite, exultemus

     Come, let us sing to the Lord; *
let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
2      Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving *
and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.
3      For the Lord is a great God, *
and a great King above all gods.
4      In his hand are the caverns of the earth, *
and the heights of the hills are his also.
5      The sea is his, for he made it, *
and his hands have molded the dry land.
6      Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, *
and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
7      For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.

Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Episcopalians will recall this psalm with a fondness springing from its use in Matins or Morning Prayer.  This is a hymn of the community, and it harks back to a time when YHWH was seen as one of several gods, but “a great king above all gods.” It centers on the beauty and reality of creation and on going care of the created by the Creator. Thus the psalm is a response to the reality of life and living – a song of thanksgiving in the Temple.

Breaking open Psalm 95:
1.     What are the gods of your time?
2.     Where does your God stand in that company?
3.    For what do you owe praise to God?

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so 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 who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

This opening pericope of Thanksgiving and Prayer sets a mood for the letter that Paul writes to the people of Ephesus. In the previous pericope, Paul has enumerated the several blessings that the Ephesians have experiences. Thus it is natural that a thanksgiving should follow the blessings. There is a distinct liturgical sense in both of these sections.  The gifts continue, especially as Paul sees them in the “spirit of wisdom and revelation.” There is an on-going nature to being in Christ, a continuing gift of knowledge and spirit. Paul takes the story, the history, of Jesus and makes a creed of it. It may be that these verses were confessed by the Christians at Ephesus as they remembered the work of Jesus.

Breaking open Ephesians:
1.     What are the blessings of your life?
2.     What thanksgivings do you need to make?
3.    Where is there knowledge and spirit in your life?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus said, “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. All the nations will be gathered before him, 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. Then 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; for 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.’ Then 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? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 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.’ Then 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; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I 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.’ Then 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?’ Then 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.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

There is a sense both of majesty and humanity in these verses. The initial vision of the pericope, the Son of Man in glory, the nations gathered before his throne sets a scene of beauty and then of discernment. What divides us, one from the other? It is that part of the Great Commandment that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. As Jesus tells it we are often unaware of what we do and how we give so that others might live. It is the hiddenness of such acts that becomes a surprise for the believer and follower, and a trap for those who don’t recognize the need of others. The Kingdom of Heaven divides. Just as the bridal attendants needed wisdom and foresight, so do we as we await the bridegroom.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     In whom have you seen Jesus?
2.     Where have you helped others?
3.    What were your feelings about doing that?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

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 and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller


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