Christ the King Sunday
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is among the least of these. Amen
Today we are at the end of the church calendar,
instead of ringing in the new year
with late night parties and champagne,
new year’s resolutions and year end retrospectives,
we take time to consider who God is,
what kind of God we have
and what the world will be like
when the time of God comes to fullness,
when God’s kingdom comes and it is on earth as it is in heaven,
something we pray for each time we say the Lord’s prayer.
We do this using the image of Christ as a King,
one who has the power to make all the decisions for his people.
In this system of government
who the king is
makes all the difference for how life will be.
And to help us in this task today
we are given the parable of the sheep and the goats
The Son of Man returns in glory surrounded by angels
and he gathers all the nations to him
and begins to sort them as a shepherd sorts the sheep from the goats.
because we also confess
that Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead
The sheep go to the right hand- the place of honor
while the goats go to the left hand.
The sheep he invites into the kingdom
and the goats he sends away from himself.
The sheep, are confused
when they are welcomed into the kingdom
because they fed the king when he was hungry
and gave him something to drink when he was thirsty,
put clothes on him,
visited him, took care of him, welcomed him.
When did we ever do this for you? They ask.
The king responds,
Just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family, you did it to me.
the king calls the least
members of his family,
he has gathered all the nations around the throne
and calls all the people members of his family,
Jesus is an inclusive
rather than an exclusive king.
In this sentence he affirms that we are all children of God,
everyone, all the nations.
Now the goats,
they are surprised too
at where they ended up in the sorting.
“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?”
And the answer comes
“just as you did not do it to one of the least of these you did not do it to me.”
The goats, the unrighteous
I think are like the fat sheep from Ezekiel,
where we have another sorting scene.
In Ezekiel the Lord is envisioned as a shepherd
caring for the whole flock,
not just the sheep that are doing well,
in fact the fat sheep are the ones that are judged and separated out
because they pushed with flank and shoulder,
and butted at all the weak animals with their horns
until the weak sheep were scattered.
The fat sheep got fat at the expense of the others in their flock
and this is not acceptable to God our shepherd.
The unrighteous were so focused on getting ahead,
that they did so at the expense of others.
They are surprised
when the King says that they didn’t feed him,
focused on power and getting ahead
would have noticed if the most powerful needed something.
And that is where they fall short,
where they miss the most powerful one
who surrenders that power for the powerless.
That is the kind of God we have
One who becomes one of us
One of the least of us
We have a God that is like a King
who considers all his subjects family,
who is concerned about every last one,
especially the weak and lowly subjects who,
are traditionally not paid attention to by a ruler.
We have a God that is like a shepherd
concerned with the health of the whole flock,
where all the sheep must be healthy not just a few.
We have a God
that has promised to come in the fullness of time
and make the vision a reality,
to sort out those
who stand in the way of justice, mercy and abundant life for all
We believe this
We proclaim it as good news
But sometimes we wonder
Are we sheep or are we really goats?
And here we have an advantage,
unlike the sheep and the goats
who were unaware of who would judge them,
we know who will judge us
as well as the standards to be used,
we know that our king, our God
identifies with the last and the least,
those who are hungry, weak, and outcast,
the sick and imprisoned,
looking back through the empty tomb
we know that Christ is found at the cross,
the times of intense suffering
whether in our lives or the lives of others.
As one commentator I read (Karoline Lewis) said,
“If you have to ask Jesus, when was it? You are not paying attention.”
We know where Christ is found
We know what Christ expects of us.
Not noticing is no longer an excuse
actually it was never an excuse that we could use.
It seems like all around us things in the world are being uncovered
and people are being asked to account for their past actions,
some are responding with the equivalent to the question when was it?
And the answer is always,
God was with the powerless,
the least of these.
That is the kind of God we have.
In the end we don’t need to try to figure out whether we are sheep or goats,
or whether the person sitting next to us is a sheep or a goat
because what we really are,
are children of God.
What happens to us matters to God.
Our neighbors are children of God,
what happens to them matters to God.
Our enemies are children of God,
what happens to them matters to God.
The world is Gods,
what happens to the earth matters to God.
Our God is one
for whom the health and well being of all
are of great concern,
and when God reigns as king
all will have everything they need.
And until God returns,
God expects us who know this
to begin to live this way,
the begin to bring about the reign of God,
to look for and see God in all things
so that in the end,
when we come before God
we will not have to ask ‘when was it?’
because we will have seen the Lord. Amen
24th Sunday After Pentecost
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who trusts us in the meantime. Amen
Well, here we are,
nearing the end of the church year,
and we have another set of readings about the coming of the Lord after a long delay,
and again this ends in weeping and gnashing of teeth and outer darkness,
the word of the lord thanks be to God?
While it’s tempting to get caught up in the language of the end
and visions of judgment
and whether or not we think it’s fair
the end is not really what these passage are about,
rather they are about the middle, the meantime,
living life right now and what God expects of us,
They speak to where we are
because we are living solidly in the middle,
our life and faith is lived out in between already and not yet,
between Jesus came, lived, died, rose and ascend to the father
and Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead.
Which begs the question:
what are we to do in the meantime?
Which is where our parable comes in.
In the parable we have a master and three servants,
the master is going away
and has quite a bit of property
which he entrusts to the servants to take care of while he is gone,
he gives each what he thinks they can handle
and even the smallest amount is a large sum of money,
a talent is equivalent to 15 years of wages for a day laborer.
It’s a big responsibility,
but the master hands it over with no instructions
other than the understanding that the master will return
and reclaim the property at some point,
this is a care taking situation not a gift
and the master leaves.
Two of the servants take the money and put it to work,
they invest it and trade with it
and by the time the master returns
they have doubled the original amount
and are celebrated when they give it to their master.
The third servant,
the one with the least amount,
fearfully takes the one talent,
digs a hole and puts it in the ground.
When the master returns he digs it up
and fearfully gives it to the master
who berates him for mismanagement,
at least you could’ve taken it to the bank the master says
as he takes away the talent from the third servant.
We who live in the meantime have a big responsibility
because God has entrusted to us the world
and God’s message for the world,
the message sent through the good news of Jesus Christ.
God expects us to do something with what God has given us,
to live out the message, the good news,
to share it and by sharing it, growing it
so that even though we’re in the middle,
the world starts to look like God’s vision for the world,
where all are loved and fed and clothed,
and there is no more war and creation flourishes.
We are entrusted with love,
the love of family and friends,
God expects that we work to make that love grow
by sharing it with others.
We are entrusted with a community
that shares good news with us,
God expects that we work to make that community grow
by sharing the good news with others.
We are entrusted with physical resources,
God expects that we share those resources with those who lack them.
Because the way God created the world
There is more than enough for all
And when we live in this way
we share, not because we are fearful of judgment,
the weeping and gnashing of teeth
but because we are grateful that God has trusted us in the meantime.
The actions of the first two servants
are riskier than the third, it’s true,
sharing is risky
but only by sharing will the message spread and grow.
If we are overwhelmed by fear and take no risks
there is no hope of anything spreading or growing.
And the tricky thing is that we in the meantime
are left to determine how much to risk.
How much of what God has given us do we give away?
We need some of it to take care of ourselves,
so how much is enough?
These are the questions we find ourselves asking
as we develop our congregational budget,
and we ask these questions when we consider our own giving
and resources of time and talents
and there are very few concrete instructions from God.
In some way this situation reminds me of one of my favorite professors in college,
I took several classes from him
and after the first class,
it was always fun to watch people who hadn’t had him before
when the time came for the first essay,
because in assigning essays
Dr. Jodock simply assigned a topic
there was no required word count or number of pages,
Dr. Jodock told his students
that the essay should be as long as it took to thoroughly address the topic.
And people freaked out,
because it meant that they would have to think hard
about the content of the essay,
and find the balance between what was too little and too much,
they couldn’t just write something
and then if it didn’t meet the required length add more,
or if it was too long cut things out.
It was up to them
to decide how much was enough.
It really stressed people out
who were used to having these things spelled out for them
whether it was so they could do enough to get by
or because they wanted the best grade possible
there was no way to calculate your potential grade
and that struck fear into some students’ hearts.
But after you got to know Dr. Jodock a bit
you learned that he was a gracious grader of essays,
and then it became fun to write for him,
because then it became about exploring the topic
rather than trying to meet a word or page count.
Don’t get me wrong,
he still took off points for things
but you knew that as long as you honestly engaged the topic
to the best of your abilities
you would get a passing grade.
When we think about stewardship,
that big church word
that means taking care of what God has given us
I think it’s in some ways like writing an essay for Dr. Jodock,
we’ve been given a topic
and it is up to us
to figure out how much is too much or too little,
and when we get to know God more,
we realize God’s a gracious grader
which frees us to take some risks,
explore what happens when we give love away freely
and invite others in to share what God has entrusted to us.
Sure God is going to be honest with us
when we miss the mark
but if we know anything from scripture
it is that God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
God wants us to succeed
and God will give us all the help we need
including God’s own son.
The Thessalonians were worried about the end
Paul exhorts them to live according to the light
to stay awake
but he concludes with these comforting words:
“For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”
So whether we are awake or asleep
We give thanks to God. Amen
23rd Sunday After Pentecost
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is coming. Amen
There was a bumper sticker I saw a few years ago
that I thought was pretty funny,
it said “Jesus is coming, look busy”
the readings for this week
reminded me of that bumper sticker,
before I used it as a sermon illustration
I looked it up online to make sure I wasn’t imagining things
and found that yes, I had remembered correctly
and that it is still available in a wide variety of styles.
Which surprised me at first
and then when I thought about it a little,
sadly made sense
because while it is supposed to be a tongue in cheek funny
I think it actually reflects the view of most Christians these days,
The view where though we confess in the words of the apostle’s creed
that we believe that Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead,
we rarely think about it
and if we do
our reaction is more like
realizing that family will arrive for thanksgiving in two weeks
and we haven’t dusted for a while
and if we don’t mom is going to spend part of her vacation dusting our house,
which let’s be honest,
wouldn’t be all that bad in the grand scheme of things.
We have lost our sense of urgency over Jesus’ coming,
to be fair it has been over two thousand years,
we are far removed from Paul and the early Christians
who expected Jesus to come before the end of their lives.
In our reading from 1 Thessalonians
we hear Paul counseling the community
over their anxiety that Jesus has not yet returned
and believers have begun to die,
the Thessalonians are worried
that their loved ones will miss out on life everlasting with Jesus
because they died before Jesus’ coming.
Paul assures them
that for the one who died and rose
death is not a problem
and that when Jesus comes
all believers both living and dead will be with the Lord forever.
This is the hope to which we cling,
especially at the death of loved ones.
That God is coming
and will reunite us with all the Saints
like those we remembered last week.
But in the meantime, we wait.
Perhaps the bumper sticker should read:
“Jesus is coming, how are you waiting?”
because how we wait matters.
We often think of waiting as a passive time
and in some cases
like when we are waiting for a doctor
or in line at the post office
the outcome of our waiting
will be the same whether we are impatient or resigned during that time.
Then there is active waiting,
the kind of waiting the accompanies an expected event
like the birth of a baby.
There are things to do during this kind of waiting,
a nursery to get ready, purchasing a car seat and little clothes,
stocking up on diapers, packing the hospital bag,
so that when the time comes,
everything is ready,
or as ready as it can be for the expected baby.
This is the kind of waiting which God expects of us
as we anticipate God’s coming,
waiting that includes preparation
so that when the time comes,
everything is ready,
or as ready as it can be for our expected God.
But what if we’re not preparing?
Or we’ve decided to let the dust build up
because mom will take care of it when she comes?
The prophet Amos points out to the people of his day,
that the way they are acting,
the day of the Lord will not be pleasant for them
because with the coming of God
is the coming of a new order,
of justice and mercy,
and those who have ignored justice and mercy
will have a hard time adjusting
even if they have longed for the day of the Lord.
Through the prophet God says to the people
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
God is tired of thoughts and prayers without accompanying action.
God is tired of being treated like a cosmic vending machine,
you put the right amount of prayers and festivals in
and your desired godly treat will come out.
That’s not the point says God,
the point all along has been to build a relationship between me the God of the Universe
and you the people,
a relationship built on mercy and justice
so that relationships among the people
will be built on mercy and justice.
God is coming. How are you waiting?
Are you sitting back like there’s nothing you can do?
Are you preparing? Working for mercy and justice?
Perhaps you’re getting tired and need some rest
because it has already been a long wait.
In Matthew Jesus tells the parable of the ten bridesmaids
waiting to greet the groom.
The groom is delayed and all the bridesmaids fall asleep.
There is no judgment over this,
they are tired and the wait is long,
the key to the parable comes when the groom finally arrives,
half the bridesmaids prepared for a delay and brought extra oil,
the other half did not
and are unable to fulfill their duties.
It seems that Jesus is telling us to be prepared for a delay,
and being prepared for a delay
means being prepared to keep God’s vision alive,
the lamp lit as it were,
shining light on the acts of justice, righteousness and peace that keep hope alive,
hope in the promise that what we are doing in the way of preparation
is only a fraction of what God will do in the way of justice, righteousness and peace
when God comes.
I think our prayer of the day sums all this up best, so let us pray it again.
O God of justice and love, you illumine our way through life with the words of your Son. Give us the light we need and awaken us to the needs of others, through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen
All Saints' Sunday
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who names us children of God. Amen
Our readings for today,
this All Saint’s Sunday,
make it abundantly clear
that life as a saint,
that is a baptized child of God
is not easy.
John of Patmos, in his vision,
sees a great multitude gathered around the throne of the lamb,
and what seems to qualify them to be there
is that they had passed through some great ordeal,
persecution and martyrdom perhaps
and now finally, having washed their robes in the blood of the lamb,
a rather ironic image symbolizing forgiveness from Jesus
they are free to worship God day and night,
no longer afflicted by hunger, thirst, heat or sorrow.
In the beatitudes from Matthew
Jesus names those blessed by God
whose earthly life indicate that no such blessing is present,
those who mourn,
are poor in spirit,
who seek righteousness
and especially those who are persecuted for the sake of Jesus.
And Jesus makes clear
that his followers can expect to be persecuted,
‘those who want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me’ Jesus tells the disciples.
Contrary to the false gods of society
who promise to make life immediately better,
given the right incentive of course,
our God names the reality
that it is often darkest before the dawn,
that things will get harder before they get easier
and God promises that it will be worth it,
it will be worth it to participate in the struggle
to live on earth the ways of heaven.
Because in the words of the great multitude
standing before the throne and the lamb
“Salvation belongs to our God”
that is the simple truth of it,
salvation belongs to our God,
and what is interesting about this great multitude
proclaiming this great truth
is that it is an all inclusive crowd,
people from every nation and tribe,
proclaiming in all the languages of the earth
that salvation belongs to our God.
I think we’re suspicious of labeling something as true,
especially when it seems like many of the things
we have trusted as true
have proven themselves false
but truth transcends nationality and language
and here all nationalities and languages
are proclaiming the truth.
truth transcends time as well,
it was this truth that our ancestors knew,
the saints whom we remember today
and it is the truth that we intend on passing to the next generation,
and in all honesty,
that is a struggle,
we wonder how do we pass along this message of salvation from our God
to people who are suspicious of truth claims
and who are skeptical of the need for salvation
Well, we build on the work of the saints who have gone before us.
We remember their faithfulness and perseverance
as they faced the struggles of their time,
we are inspired by how their legacy continues
and we are thankful for the faith
that they passed on to us,
entrusting us with the present and the future.
This past week I attended the fall theological conference
for the Nebraska synod pastors.
The topic was reformation,
particularly looking to the future
now that the commemoration of the 500th anniversary is past.
The gospel and our tradition call us to continue to reform,
to live on earth as in heaven.
One speaker, former presiding Bishop Mark Hansen
made an important distinction,
in his discussion of the future of the church,
the distinction between nostalgia and living memory.
Nostalgia, he named as a virus,
a virus that gets in the way of living in the present.
Nostalgia, is remembering the good old days,
naming them as a better time
and longing to go back so badly
that churches infected with the virus
attempt to replicate the good old days
using the same techniques, with the same expectations.
Nostalgia provides a buffer against cultural change,
which is another way of saying that it prevents churches from being culturally relevant.
It is okay for us to remember when Sunday school was filled to the brim,
it’s okay for us to lament that for very practical reasons
we don’t have that kind of attendance anymore.
What is not okay
is to throw up our hands and say it’s hopeless,
and it’s a shame that people just don’t come anymore
and then continue doing things the way they were done
in the good old days.
What the gospel calls for,
what God calls for is living memory,
which Bishop Hansen defined as
being oriented in the narrative of the people of God
and through it being turned toward God’s promised future.
In other words
If you don’t take time to remember where you’ve come from
you’ll have a hard time knowing where to go in the future.
We see God calling for living memory again and again in the scriptures,
the Israelites are told to tell the story of their ancestors,
before they enter the promised land,
to remember how they were a wandering people
so that when they take possession of the promised land,
they will remember what it was like to be wanderers
and they will treat other wanderers with hospitality.
Jesus started his ministry
by going into the synagogue,
reading from a scroll of the prophets
and telling the people that the scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing,
he was locating himself within the memory and the mission of his people,
to provide a way to understand why he was going to do the things he did,
heal the sick, preach good news to the poor
and ultimately give his life for the sake of the world.
Jesus calls us to this living memory as well,
each time we gather around the table
we hear the story of Jesus’ last night with the disciples
and his command to remember,
to break the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of him,
a remembering the recalls us to the gift of forgiveness
that Jesus has given us,
a gift he has called us to share with others.
In this command to remember
Jesus calls us even deeper
toward the promised future of God,
where there will be enough for all to eat,
as people from all nations, tribes and languages
gather together to worship God and the lamb.
We remember the saints today, and each year
because we love them and miss them yes,
but also because remembering them
locates us in our story,
a story of a people who came as immigrants and refugees,
who worked hard to form a community
where they could worship in their own language
and serve the God of salvation,
and when the younger generations spoke a different language
the worship changed with the community
so that the message could continue to be shared,
we are a community that supported missionaries both near and far,
a community who took seriously the job of instructing children in the faith,
this is a community that has been present for over 125 years
one that still holds the values of our ancestors
even as we find new ways to achieve the same goals of worship, service and learning.
And yes, this is not always easy,
we struggle with change
but there is one thing that will never change,
who we are and whose we are.
Baptized children of God.
Hear again the words from 1 John
“Beloved we are God’s children now, what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
Amen Thanks be to God
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.