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Sermon for Sunday 26 November 2017

FIRST READING Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

11“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13And 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 ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
20“Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.”


PSALM Psalm 95:1-7a

1Come, let us sing to the Lord; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation. 2Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to him with psalms. 3For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4In his hand are the caverns of the earth, and the heights of the hills are his also. 5The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands have molded the dry land. 6Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before the Lord our Maker. 7a For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.


SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

20In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.


GOSPEL Matthew 25:31-46

31{Jesus said,} “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who 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 drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, 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 no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, 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.”



It was one of those events that was made for a television drama. A skyscraper was being built in the heart of the city. Hundreds of people passed by each day, pausing for a moment to see the latest progress. The day was overcast; there was almost an eerie feeling as those watching that day saw yet another giant metal beam being raised to be placed high on the enormous steel skeleton of the skyscraper. And then something terrifying occurred. Things didn’t go as planned. As the girder came near, a workman leaned out from the sixteenth floor to grab it. The spectators gasped as he lost his balance and fell. Fortunately, he was able to clutch the end of the giant beam with both his arms and legs.
The ground crew, seeing what had occurred, stop the hoisting engine so the man could continue to hold on, but the man’s weight situated on the one end of the beam caused it to tilt, putting the man in danger of losing his grasp and falling to his death. Just when all seemed lost, something else occurred that seems almost miraculous to the onlookers below. Without pause, another worker on the same floor, seeing his friend’s predicament, leaped through space and landed on the other end of the girder, where his weight leveled the beam. Amid the applause of the crowd, both men were safely lowered to the street. It pays to have a friend in high places, doesn’t it? A person willing to literally risk their life to save yours. What is it we say? It’s not what you know . . . it’s who you know that counts. It reminds me of the story about the little boy who came home from the playground with a bloody nose, a black eye, and torn clothes.
It was obvious the boy had been in a fight and lost. While his father was patching him up, he asked his son what happened. “Well, Dad,” he said, “I challenged Larry to a duel, and I gave him his choice of weapons.” “Uh-huh,” said the father, “that seems fair.” “I know,” said the boy, “but I never thought he’d choose his big brother!” On this last Sunday of the liturgical year, it’s appropriate that we take time to thank God, that we have a big brother! It’s good for us to pause and give thanks to God that we have a Friend in the highest place possible: A Friend who was willing to give His life for ours.
Today is of course the last Sunday in the church year. Next Sunday, we’ll once again start the new church year with Advent followed by the season of Epiphany. Then in the following months, we’ll move through Jesus’ life, His passion, death and resurrection, then to His ascension to be with the Father. We’ll then read about the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. This is, of course, followed by the Sundays after Pentecost; and then it’s rinse and repeat; the cycle will begin all over again. But before we start the liturgical cycle all over again, I think it’s appropriate that we take time to ponder just what it means to proclaim Jesus as our Lord and to celebrate Christ as our King.
Today it’s fitting for us to remember all that Christ means to us, to celebrate His exalted role at the right hand of the Father, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21.) It’s fitting for us to reflect with thanksgiving on the fact that we have a “big brother,” or, if you will, a Friend in the highest regions of heaven. However, even though we’ve celebrated this day for years, do we truly understand what proclaiming Jesus as Lord and King really means to us and our lives?
Do we truly comprehend in our modern, western, minds what it means to have a King who rules over us? To proclaim a Lord who we’re devoted and obedient to? This is what this Sunday is about. Its about taking the time to truly understand what it means to subject ourselves to an ultimate authority. Today it’s important for us to take a few minutes to focus on why Jesus is so important to us.
Evangelist Billy Sunday once noted that there are two hundred and fifty-six names given for Jesus in the Bible. Sunday posited that this is because Jesus is infinitely beyond all that any one name can express. This is a great observation, and I don’t think I could ever, in a single sermon, explore all the grandeur of Christ. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t meditate on all that Jesus is, on all that Jesus has done, and on all that Jesus will do as the King of kings and Lord of lords. And to begin, I think it would be good for us to look at our Old Testament reading and ask ourselves, who is the “I” in our lives.
Looking at our Ezekiel reading, the prophet records God’s words. “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I” (v.11.) God is, of course, talking about Himself and 23 times in this short reading, God talks about all that He has done and will do for His people. Wonderful things like searching, seeking, rescuing, bringing out, gathering, bringing into, feeding, shepherding, causing to lie down, binding up the injured, strengthening the weak, destroying the fat and strong and judging between the sheep. God is telling us that it is He, God Himself and not us that is the “I” in our lives. The “I” who provides, protects and prospers all who listen and obey. But this is the problem isn’t it; us recognizing, listening and obeying the correct “I”?
Wade, Sam, Calvin and I went to the Sheriff’s office church safety briefing on Tuesday and one of the Deputies shared a story that I think illustrates the wrong “i” in some people’s lives. The deputy shared that he was sitting in a restaurant the other day when a family came in and sat down. None of them said a word to each other and all had their phones in their hand. The children appeared to be around 12 and 7. As he watched, the mom spoke up and said that they should take a selfie at which all of them gathered around mom, smiled big for the camera and then each gladly approved of the picture. As soon as the picture was over, they all went back to their phones and proceeded to eat without another word. The “i” in their lives is technology.
The “i” in their lives is the electronic world of texting, Instagram, Snap Chat, Twitter and Facebook. They’re slaves to followers, texts, likes and tweets. I bet that if you were to ask them if they were slaves to social media, they would deny it. They would forward that they’re in complete control and that technology is a tool; something they use and enjoy. But ask them to set down the phone, to forgo checking their texts and Twitter feeds, to delete their accounts and you would soon discover just how much they’re shackled, servants of their electronic world. Many of these people refuse to put down their devices even when driving, despite the danger to themselves and others. For these folks the “i” in their lives is the cyber world. And then there are others who they are their own “i”.
It isn’t always easy to recognize the folks whose sole focus is on themselves. Sure, we have the Kardashians, the Paris Hiltons, political figures like President Trump and former President Obama; those who will do anything to keep their name out there in the public eye. But then you have others who are not so obvious about their self-focus. The news is full of the A-list celebrities and sports figures who always seem to smile for the camera, but then, when away from the public eye, will throw temper tantrums anytime they don’t get their way or will storm off the stage when asked a difficult question. These are the folks who crave the limelight, who thrive on the hero-worship and who feel entitled because of who they think they are. But narcissistic behavior doesn’t have to be so obvious.
Placing oneself as the head, the king, the lord of their own lives is as simple as thinking that our desires come ahead of God’s commands and instructions for our lives. Being the “i” of your own life is as simple as buying into culture’s propaganda that you can have it your way, that you dictate the limits that you can be all you can be. Society’s message is to focus only on what makes you happy and anything else is to be dismissed. In our modern world, you are the “i” in your life. But God warned about this way of thinking, of making ourselves the “i” in our lives.
In Deuteronomy chapter 8 God warned, “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today” (11-18.) God warned the Israelites back then and that warning is still applicable today. Anytime we make ourselves the “i” in our lives we’re treading on dangerous ground.
The negative consequences of this ideology are just as obvious for the self-focused as it is for those who are addicted to their electronic social world. We can easily see the result on the nightly news of what happens when a sports star, politician or celebrity falls out of favor with the people. In the news right now are people who thought they were better than those around them; that they could abuse and take inappropriate liberties because of who they were. They thought they were the ultimate “i”. But they were wrong, and now they’re suffering the consequences.
These are the more extreme cases, but the 1st Commandment is clear; we are to have no other god before God almighty, creator of heaven and earth. Anytime the “i” in our lives is us and our desires, then we’ve failed to love God and others as Jesus commanded. This is why this Sunday is so important. This is why the readings from Ezekiel and Deuteronomy are so necessary for us to hear on this Christ the King Sunday.
The prophet reminds us that everything we have; food, clothing, protection and shelter are all gifts from God. These are the things we pray for each Sunday when we ask God to give us our daily bread. Luther in the Small Catechism spelled this out, very clearly, when he said, “Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” Recognizing that it is God who is the “I” in our lives and yielding our lives to Him, obeying Him and serving Him means we understand that He is the One who seeks us out, provides for our every need, protects us from harm and danger, binds up our wounds and is the ultimate judge over us.
Accepting that God is the “I” in our lives means being obedient, trusting in His will and believing that He will take care of us both physically and spiritually. It also means celebrating the fact that Jesus is the One who reveals to us the very nature of God. Jesus is the One who shows us God’s nature in His teaching, and in His own life. It’s in the Old Testament that we find the beautiful, poetic language that describes the majesty of God, but it’s through Jesus that these words come into sharp focus.
According to scholars, Jesus was the first person to call God Abba, Father. The Hebrew Bible tells us many wonderful things about God, but it never calls God Abba. Jesus is the One who teaches us that God is like a loving Father who never turns His back on His children. Indeed, because of Jesus, we have come to know that God’s very nature is love. This is important for us to remember, and this understanding is made easier for those of us who are parents ourselves.
As parents we provide, protect and punish when necessary. We do this because we love and want the best for our children. And because we know what’s best, we provide for them hoping they will grow up to be responsible citizens and be able to in turn provide for their families. As loving parents, we lead by our example, provide instruction and put rules in place to protect them from things that can bring them harm. But they don’t always understand this do they. They don’t always appreciate what we do, nor do they always obey and because of this they get hurt. And for these reasons we repremand them when needed: We punish in order for them to learn. Sounds a lot like what Jesus tells us about our heavenly Father doesn’t it. We take time to celebrate Jesus as Lord and King because it is God who takes care of us, provides for us and who loves us beyond our capacity to understand. There’s one final reason this day is so important to us: In Jesus’ death on the cross, He made it possible for us to have new life in Him.
On the cross, Jesus died so that we can live. Biblical scholar and teacher Harry Ironside tells a favorite story was about Czar Nicholas I of Russia. The czar had a good friend who asked him to provide a job for his son. And so, the czar appointed the son as a paymaster in the Russian army. This was a position of responsibility. Unfortunately, the son was a gambler and lost nearly all the money entrusted to his care. Then word came that the auditors were coming to examine the young man’s records.
The young man realized that he owed a huge debt–far greater than he could ever repay. And so, he decided to take the coward’s way out. At midnight he would use his pistol to end his life. Before committing this act, however, he wrote out a full confession, listing all he had stolen. He ended his confession with these words: “A great debt. Who can pay?” Then he fell asleep, weary from his exertions. Late that night, the czar himself paid a surprise visit to the barracks and noticed a light on in the young man’s room.
The czar found the young man asleep with the letter of confession next to him. He read the letter and instantly understood what the young man had done. Then the czar did something quite stunning. He bent over, wrote a single word on the bottom of the letter, and left. When the young man woke up, it was past midnight. He took up his gun in order to follow through with his plan to end his life, when he noticed that someone had written something on the suicide note beneath his final words, “A great debt. Who can pay?” The one word was actually a signature: “Nicholas.”
Checking his records, he realized that the signature was genuine. The czar knew what he had done and was willing to pay the huge debt himself. “A great debt. Who can pay?” “Nicholas.” “Resting on the words of his commander-in-chief, [the young man] again fell asleep. In the morning a messenger came from the palace with the exact amount the young man owed. Only the czar could pay. And the czar did pay.”
We don’t fully comprehend just how Christ’s death on the cross atones for our sins. Different theologians have their own theories. But we do know this: God’s grace and forgiveness are at the very heart of the Gospel. St. Paul put it this way in 1 Cor. 15: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death . . . When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”
Christ not only revealed to us the nature of God, but in His death on the cross Christ made it possible for us to have new life in Him. When we stand at the foot of the cross and look at His hands and feet which were pierced in our behalf, we know just how much God loves us and we are led to live for Him; to recognize Him as the “I” in our life. We have a champion, a big brother, a friend in high places who will accompany us into any battle, help us carry any burden, even give His life for us. But for this to happen we need to recognize that the “I” in our lives is God. God is the one who seeks, gathers, provides, protects and yes will judge. But if we make Jesus the King and Lord of our lives, He’s also the one who forgives, redeems and gives eternal life.

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