November 26, 2023
Ezekiel 34.11-24 — God will shepherd us, rescue the lost, and save them from the fat, oppressive sheep.
Psalm 100 — We are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture.
Ephesians 1.15-23 — “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened” that you may know the greatness of God’s power, which raised Christ from the dead to be head of the church and all things. (See my paraphrase of the book of Ephesians.)
Matthew 25.31-46 — The final judgment of sheep and goats. “What you have done to the least of these…”
The promise of God’s grace doesn’t come in a vacuum, but in the context of a world of hurt, evil and injustice. So the tending of God’s vulnerable ones includes saving them from the ravages of the selfish ones. Viewed socially, it’s a political outlook. How do we support the weak and vulnerable, and hold the rich and powerful to account? The “Reign of Christ” isn’t just a religious idea; it’s a vision for the real world, the way God intends for us to live together. How do we shape our laws, policies, economy and social structures to reflect God’s care for the weak, the marginalized, the dehumanized, the silenced and the exploited? To fail to do this is to give license to the “fat sheep” and their various systems of privilege and exclusion, and the resulting oppression and exploitation.
Ephesians (Click here for my paraphrase of the book of Ephesians.)
If you’re ever feeling blue, read Ephesians. It’s just one blessing after another. (One hint that it’s not Paul writing but a follower, is that it never lapses into legal arguments. Just blessings.) As is often the case, pretty much every phrase in this passage is the seed of a good sermon. Among the gems:
• “May the eyes of your heart be enlightened.” May you see through the lens of God’s love.
• “The hope to which God has called you.” Trust that God’s will for you is good.
• The power God exercises toward us is the power that raised Christ from the dead. The spirit of resurrection. Strong stuff.
• Christ is above all human hierarchies and power structures. Love is more powerful than governments.
• Christ is the head and the Church is the body, which embodies the fullness of God’s love.
The kingdom of God is not the afterlife. Jesus was intently interested in this life. The Kingdom of God is the world as God intends it, and the image of Jesus as “king” or sovereign means Love reigns over this world, and is the greatest power, even as greed and fear exert their will. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God it was s a real-world alternative to the Kingdom of Herod, the Lordship of Caesar, the Empire of Rome. “Jesus is Lord” is a political statement. Reign of Christ Sunday celebrates that Christ is as Ephesians says “far above all rule and authority.” Jesus is Sovereign over a real, actual, worldly Empire of Grace, a real-world alternative—subversive, treasonous, even—to consumerism, Christian nationalism, capitalism, white supremacy, and all our hierarchies and power structures.
The parable of the great judgment lets us glimpse something of what that Empire is about: compassion is the law of the land. In the Realm of God everybody gets what they need to thrive as members of the Body. That means special attention to the folks who are most harmed by our systems of privilege and exclusion. So God takes the side of the poor and powerless and marginalized, and commands us to do the same. Honoring Jesus as our king means committing to obeying his command to care for the poor and hurting.
The reign of Christ means that Jesus is sovereign not only over the powers of the universe, but also over us and our own inner worlds. To claim Jesus as ruler of our lives is to make him the center of our rule of life, our intentional discipline, our way of living. A piece of paper is aligned with the use of a ruler. If Jesus rules our lives, our lives are arranged and measured with Jesus as our template, the ruler that provides straight lines of justice and righteousness. For Jesus to reign over our lives means we are willing to suffer for the sake of love and justice, to be faithful to God and in harmony with God and God’s grace, no matter what. So it’s not just Christ’s demand over us but Christ’s rule within us us that leads us to care for the poor.
For those who believe in a literal hell, this story in Matthew is one of two stories Jesus tells specifically imagining such a thing—the other is the rich man and Lazarus. In both cases, the way you end up hell is not based on your religion, your creed, your faith, or even your prayer life, but ignoring the poor. It’s a great passage to begin with when discussing with “literalists.” Our true Sovereign is not found among the trappings of power, but among the poor. God does not just care about the poor; God is among the poor. To obey the sovereign of the Empire of Grace, we share the ruler’s passion and compassion for the poor.
Call to Worship
Leader: Eternal God, you are the light of the minds that know you.
All:You are the joy of the hearts that love you,
the strength of the wills that serve you
Grant us so to know you that we may truly love you,
And so to love you that we may gladly serve you,
now and always. Alleluia! Amen!
Leader: Creator God, you reign over all the universe with love and justice.
All: Glory! We thank you with love.
Christ, you reign over all human history with mercy and grace.
Glory! We thank you with love.
Holy Spirit, you reign in our hearts with beauty and power.
Glory! We thank you with love. Alleluia!
Leader: From the Spirit who was, the Rock who is,
and the Strong One yet to come, grace and peace to you!
All: To the Love that reigns over us, the love that walks beside us
and the love that guides us from within, be praise and thanksgiving!
We come before God with humble joy, that we may learn to obey
the Sovereign of Love, the Ruler of mercy.
Alleluia! Let us worship God.
4. [from Ephesians 1.15-23]
Leader: God, glorious Mother and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we praise you.
All: You raised Christ from the dead
and seated him at your right hand, at the heart of all things.
Christ is far above all rule and authority, power and dominion,
above any title that can be given,
not only in the world we see, but in the unseen as well.
You have made him sovereign over everything,
and made him the head of the church, which is his body.
God, we pray for a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know you better.
Alleluia! May the eyes of our hearts be opened.
Come, Spirit of Life, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Christ, Divine presence, Living Word,
God has put you at God’s right hand,
and you rule in power above all things.
Rule over our hearts, and work your infinite power within us.
Raise us to life, and direct us by your Spirit.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Collect / Prayer of the Day
Jesus Christ, you have taught us that what we do to each other, we do to you. Make us quick to help and slow to hurt, knowing that in our neighbor it is you who receive our love or our neglect. Shape us by your love, and fit us for your Realm of grace. Amen.
O God of Love, you have put all things under the rule of Christ, the Lord of Love. Bring us under your sway, that we may be faithful citizens of your Empire of Grace, and obedient to the spirit of love you birth within us. Speak your Word to us, and make us yours, in the name of Christ, our friend and our Sovereign. Amen.
Eternal God, you have set Christ to rule over all the earth. He reigns with mercy and grace. Under his glorious and gentle rule, help us as we read your scriptures and proclaim your good news, to listen with humble hearts and to devote our lives to your service. We pray in the name of Christ, our sovereign. Amen.
Gentle and mighty God, we thank you, that you reign over the world with grace and compassion. You revealed your Realm in Jesus, who embodied your mercy and justice. He healed the sick, raised up the downtrodden, destroyed the powers of oppression, and proclaimed your Jubilee. In his death and resurrection you have brought us out of the realm of darkness and into the realm of your eternal light and life. Holy God, pour out your Holy Spirit on us and on all your church, that we may serve you faithfully in all that we do, in the name and the love of Christ. Amen.
Gracious God, in this season of harvest and thanksgiving, we offer to you our gratitude and praise. For all that you have given us, we thank you. And we give you our hearts. Speak to us now, that we may hear your Word, and become your living Word by the Spirit of Christ living in us. Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
you create, you rule, you give life.
Take charge of our hearts.
Bless us that we may be obedient
citizens of your Realm of Grace.
God of love, Ruler of the Universe,
Gentle Christ, Sovereign of our hearts,
your love is supreme,
and we bow to your life-giving power.
May your love, and love alone,
rule our lives.
Prayer of Confession
Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you.
Though you have been our sovereign, we have not obeyed you.
We have not let you rule our hearts.
We have not let you direct our thoughts or command our actions.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
You who have power over us, forgive us.
Remake us according to your grace.
Guide us in every step we take.
May your presence be the power in our lives;
may your love control our hearts and minds.
Help us to follow your Way, in the name of Christ,
and by the power of your Spirit in us. Amen.
[Silent prayer… the word of grace ]
… God of love, we bow to the power of your love.
Gentle Christ, we submit to your mercy.
May your compassion cast out our fear.
May your forgiveness overrule our guilt.
May your generosity banish our selfishness.
May your grace supplant our sin.
O Love, rule on our hearts.
Make us obedient to your love.
Ephesians 1.15-23 — a paraphrase
I pray that the God of our Sovereign Jesus Christ,
the Father and Mother of glory,
who in Jesus has embodied among us
the love that creates and orders our lives
and makes them good and beautiful,
may awaken in you deep awareness
of God’s presence and love.
With the eyes of your heart enlightened
may you have the hope God has for you;
may you live in wonder and trust
of the gifts we all receive as God’s Beloved;
may you come more deeply to trust
the immeasurable power of God’s love.
It is love that raised Christ from the dead.
Christ’s love is the power that orders the universe,
that rules over all human dominion
and all realms before and after humans,
in the visible world and the unseen.
All things are subject to the sovereignty of Love.
And we, the church, are the Body of that love,
love that fills everything, and contains everything.
[See all of Ephesians paraphrased, here.]
The least of these
Whatever you did to the least of these
you did to me.
This is not a simile.
The poor are not an allegory.
God is the poor.
God is not observing them, but in them,
the lonely and the rejected.
God takes the lowest place.
God is the powerless one,
the misunderstood one,
the crucified one.
Under the bridge,
in the nursing home,
this is the throne of the Sovereign,
the Ruler of the universe:
Until you see the glory of the divine
in the street gang, the wheelchair,
the power of the heavens in the lifer,
you do not believe.
Don’t go elsewhere to worship in ease.
Bow down, and serve, and know.
The great judgment
“Lord, when did we see you
shot dead in the street and not cry out?
When did we see you walking in the desert
and not leave water for you?
When did we see you deported
or carted off to prison and not protest?
When did we see you homeless, and not reach out?
When did we see you struggling in the ICU,
or the nursing home, or on the locked ward,
and did not come to you?”
And he will answer…
Response / Creed / Affirmation
We believe in God, Creator of all, who is beyond all and in all, whose love and power is unsearchable and yet mysteriously present.
We place our trust in Jesus, and not in any earthly authority; for Jesus fully embodies the loving presence of God: he taught and healed, and performed prophetic acts of mercy and justice. In his life, death and resurrection he released God’s infinite power for life and healing: grace that is eternal, free from all human authority, power or expectation.
We live our lives by the grace of the Holy Spirit, God’s loving presence within and among us, which makes us the church, the Body of Christ. We live by the grace of forgiveness, the mystery of resurrection and the gift of eternal life. We rejoice that we are under no human authority, but under the grace of God; we are beholden to no earthly powers, but to the power of love. Therefore we devote ourselves to lives of worship through fearlessly giving the gifts God has given us, and loving and serving others in the spirit of Christ, for the sake of the blessing of the world, to the glory of God. Amen.
2. [Ephesians 1.15-23]
We believe in God, the glorious Mother and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We rejoice that God has put immeasurably great power to work in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every title that can be named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. God 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 Christ who fills everything in every way.
We pray that God may grant us a spirit of wisdom and revelation, and that we may come to know God more deeply. We pray that the eyes of our hearts may be opened, that we may know the hope to which God has called us, and that we may know the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe. As we give thanks for one another and remember each other in our prayers, may God deepen our faith, and our love for all the saints. Amen.
3. [Corinthians 15.1, 3-4, Ephesians 1.20-23]
Leader: Sisters and brothers, remember the good news
that has been proclaimed to you, in which you stand.
All: We gladly proclaim what we have received:
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,
that he was buried, and that God raised him from the dead;
and God seated him at God’s right hand in the heavenly places,
above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and has put all things under his feet.
In Christ all things hold together.
God has made him the head over all things for the church,
which is his body, by which he fills everything with his presence.
We, the Body of Christ, are given the ministry of grace,
that by the power of the Holy Spirit
we may bear witness to the Reign of Christ over all things,
now and forever. Amen.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion
[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) In gratitude we give you our lives, symbolized in our gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. By your Spirit in us form us as citizens of your Realm, obedient to your law of grace, eager to work for justice in this world, in the name of Christ. Amen.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
Bread and Justice (Tune: Amazing Grace)
[This can be found in Table Songs, a collection of communion songs.]
Dear Jesus, when we break our bread
with those who are in need,
we then by grace commune with God,
and it is you we feed.
When we sit down and eat with those
who hunger and who thirst,
we know that we are also poor,
and you have fed us first.
So call us to your table, Lord,
your grateful children, call:
where we receive your grace, unearned,
and turn to share with all.
Christ, Ruler of All Things (Tune: ST. ELIZABETH – Fairest Lord Jesus)
Christ, Ruler of all things, what is seen and unseen,
your love reigns; your grace is sure.
Beneath our fear and strife, death fails to conquer life:
your tender mercy still endures.
Christ, Ruler of our hearts, come and reign within us.
Make us comrades, siblings, friends.
Your love be our life, our only power,
that gives us life that never ends.
Christ, Ruler of the earth, bring your gentle justice:
your Realm come, your will be done.
Heal all oppression; fill us with mercy,
as faithful as the rising sun.
Christ, Ruler of all things, of what is and is to come,
Risen One, our song we raise.
Rule in our living; guide us with tender love.
Your grace in us will be your praise.
Love Is Enthroned (Tune: Finlandia)
O, risen Christ, who once appeared among us,
you have ascended! Loud we sing your praise.
Though we may see no shadow of your nearness,
you have not gone; your loving presence stays.
You are no longer in one time or place,
but in all things, to radiate your grace.
Christ has ascended, reigning now above.
Love is enthroned at the Creator’s side.
All powers on earth are subject to Christ’s love,
who is our history’s unseen, gentle guide.
Though evil try to make this world its home,
Love is its Lord, and love shall overcome.
Go in the peace of Christ who is our Lord,
and gently heal, amid the fear and strife.
For we who eat and drink the living Word
are now Christ’s Body, and Christ’s earthly life.
We may not see the journey or the end,
but Christ still reigns, our ruler and our friend.
O Jesus, Wounded Sovereign (Tune: O Sacred Head Now Wounded)
Dear Jesus, you who suffer and walk among the poor
whose hearts and lives are broken, whose faith is still unsure:
despised, accused and battered, you do not say a word.
So powerless, yet loving!— you are my Sovereign Lord.
You bear no arms but loving, no threats nor flags unfurled.
You wear no kingly robes, but the sorrows of the world.
Yet your forgiveness conquers each worldly rule and reign,
and rises, whole, undaunted, from evil, death and pain.
While emperors abuse you, and people shrug or stare,
and dark injustice troubles the ones for whom you care,
your mighty grace arises, and hidden from our sight,
enfolds all living beings in your triumphant light.
O Jesus, wounded Sovereign, I pray, give me the nerve
without this world’s armor to love and bless and serve.
My master and companion, rule all eternity
with grace and deep compassion, and, Love, begin with me.
O Sovereign Love
(Tune: O God, Our Help In Ages Past, or Amazing Grace)
Beloved, you who guard and guide and give for every need,
reign in my heart, O Sovereign Christ; direct each thought and deed.
O Sovereign Love, my root, my sun, my purpose and my peace,
I spurn the world’s vain, anxious rule, and trust your Law of Grace.
The Empire of your justice, God, with mercy’s clear command
shall be my home; my loyalty is to no lesser land.
In humble and obedient thanks I pledge my life to you,
to join your work of justice, God, to make the world anew.
Reign in my heart, O Christ, my Rule. In faith I am compelled
to serve you, who by love alone have conquered all the world.