Sunday 22 November 2020
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Let us pray
Heavenly Father. This morning, as we gather once more for our Sabbath Day Worship, we have come here with heavy hearts and with a very tangible void in the midst of our church family.
Sally’s sudden passing has deeply affected all whom she ministered to in our linked parishes, as well, of course, as those most closest and dearest to her, in both her family and circle of friends.
Her numerous contributions to the welfare of local and presbyterial spiritual life was significant, and complemented, too, the many other Christian led services that she provided within Church departments further afield both at home and through world church partnerships. She will indeed be much missed by many many people.
So, Father as we begin our time of worship we give thanks, not only for the manifold daily blessings that we each of us receive from you, but also for Sally’s valued and long standing committed ministry and her cheery friendship.
In turning toward ourselves, we now ask your forgiveness, too, for the many times that we each have failed in our own witness and response to all that your son Jesus Christ taught and demonstrated in his life, and through his ultimate death upon the cross for the salvation of all. Have mercy upon us we pray and guide us anew, in the days ahead. Through Jesus Christ, your son, and our savior who taught us when we pray to say
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, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever, Amen.
Hymn 64 (Psalm 100)
Sing all creation, sing to God in gladness;
joyously serve him, singing hymns of homage,
chanting his praises, come before his presence:
praise the Almighty!
Know that our God is Lord of all the ages;
he is our maker: we are all his creatures,
people he fashioned, sheep he leads to pasture:
praise the Almighty!
Enter his temple, ringing out his praises;
sing in thanksgiving as you come before him;
blessing his bounty, glorify his greatness:
praise the Almighty!
Great in his goodness is the Lord we worship;
steadfast his kindness, love that knows no ending;
faithful his word is, changeless, everlasting:
praise the Almighty!
James Quinn (1919–2010)
Ezekiel 34 v11-16, 20-24 Shepherds and Sheep “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.”
Matthew 25 v31-46 The Sheep and the Goats “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Reflections on our readings
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Ezekiel was prophesying at a time of great upheaval and uncertainty for the people of Israel. Trapped in exile in Babylon (Mesopotamia), he heard from afar the news of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. His prophecies open with the oracles against Judah, identifying the falling away from God’s commandments which has led to this destruction. Then Ezekiel is told by God that his beloved wife, the “delight of [his] eyes,” will die, but that he may not mourn her, just as the people of Israel are not to mourn the temple (Ezekiel 24). The other nations also fall under God’s judgment, expressed in Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations. Today’s passage follows on from these pronouncements of judgment against Israel and the other nations, to speak of redemptive hope. God is like a shepherd who will seek out the scattered sheep and bring them to good pasture, tending to them, and binding up their wounds. Ezekiel’s prophecy promises God’s care for the people of Israel, but this is also a prophecy of redemption to all those beloved of God, also amongst the other nations.
God’s promise includes an element of judgment. God’s care is for the lost, the strayed, the injured, and the weak. God will destroy the fat and the strong. Here the missing verses from this lectionary reading appear crucial. The fat and the strong including those who take what they need from the green pasture, or the fresh water, but despoil and contaminate what they do not need so that no-one else can benefit from it. God condemns this mean-hearted behaviour, favouring the lean sheep over the fat sheep that had pushed them aside and deprived them. We may like to believe that we are the lean sheep, but this passage calls us to examine our lives – and our lifestyles – and assess honestly those places where it is we who are the fat sheep, pushing the lean sheep out of our way, condemning the lean sheep to poverty or leaving them with ruined resources.
The passage from Matthew’s gospel emphasises that this greater good is not only about our love for the “the saints”, that is the other believers, but also about how we treat the other people we encounter. At this moment of judgment, it is clear that how we have treated others does matter. The affirmation of those who have fed the hungry, given the thirsty something to drink, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked and visited the captive resonates with the third and fourth of the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission, also adopted by the Church of Scotland: The mission of the Church is the mission of Christ To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom To teach, baptise and nurture new believers To respond to human need by loving serviceTo transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth What we do matters, but what Matthew is proposing here should not be understood as some kind of works righteousness. What is striking in the conversation between Jesus and those who did – or did not – succour those around them, is that they do not know. “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?” they ask. Or for the others, when was it that they did not? These are works of neighbourly love done – or not done –not with the intention of putting oneself right with God, or earning God’s favour, but done –or not done – because of the person’s fundamental attitude towards the world. They are, in the language of Reformation theology, not works intended to earn justification, but the fruits of justification, the outpouring of the believer’s love of God.
Continue to uphold Sally’s family in your prayers, and for guidance anew for the future of our linked parishes.
This is the final Sunday in the Church’s year and is maybe a time to reflect on our own journey of faith over this past 12 months – Where have I seen Christ in my own life? When have I turned to him for help? Have I put my talents to good use?
Covid 19: There has been much news, this week that a vaccine is imminent and we continue to pray for all those involved in the trials. We are all equal in God’s eyes and pray that the poorer nations of the world will have equal access to the vaccine.
USA election: Pray for healing of the ongoing divisions within American society.
Hymn 374 (The Servant King)
1 From heaven you came,
entered our world, your glory veiled;
not to be served but to serve,
and give your life that we might live.
This is our God, the Servant King,
he calls us now to follow him,
to bring our lives as a daily offering
of worship to the Servant King.
2 There in the garden of
my heavy load he chose to bear;
his heart with sorrow was torn,
‘Yet not my will but yours,’ he said.
3 Come see his hands and
the scars that speak of sacrifice,
hands that flung stars into space
to cruel nails surrendered.
4 So let us learn how to
and in our lives enthrone him;
each other’s needs to prefer,
for it is Christ we’re serving.
Graham Kendrick (b. 1950)
Closing Prayer Teresa of Avila (1515-82):
“Christ has no body on earth now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world; yours are the feet with which he walks to do good; yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.”