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Sermon and Liturgy for Ordinary 34 - Proper 29 - The Reign of Christ - Year A
Ezekiel 34:11-17,20-24 and Matthew 25:31-46
"When, Lord, Did We See You?"


READING:  Joshua 24:1-3,14-25; I Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
READING:  Ezekiel 34:11-17,20-24 and Matthew 25:31-46
SERMON :  "When Lord, Did We See You"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or34sm 517000
               

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                  (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP (based on Psalm 100)
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
P  Worship the Lord with gladness; 
   come into his presence with singing.
L  Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us and we are
   his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
P  Enter his gates with thanksgiving, 
   and his courts with praise.  
   Bless his holy name.
L  Give thanks for the Lord is good; his steadfast love
   endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations.


* INTROIT: "What Does The Lord Require of You" (VU 701)


* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Gracious and merciful God, King of Creation and Lord of our lives
-  descend in all your power and all your love upon our hearts
this day.  Give to us new vision and new hope as we worship thee
- lift us up so that we praise you as you deserve, and inspire us
so that we may follow you in the way  you desire of us.   We ask
it in the name of Jesus Christ, he who lives and reigns with you
and the holy Spirit - one God both now and forevermore.  Amen.


HYMN: "Rejoice, The Lord is King"                        - VU 213


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS
- Announcements
- Gathering in of Prayer Joys and Concerns


ADVENT INTROIT (to be learned)                            - VU 10
   Pre-pare the way of the Lord! 
   Pre-pare the way of the Lord!
   Make a straight path for him,
   Make a straight path;
   Pre-pare the way of the Lord.


ADVENT BLESSING (to be learned)                          - VU 962
   May the bless-ing of God go before you.
   May God's grace and peace abound. 
   May God's Spir-it live within you.
   May God's love wrap you 'round.
   May God's bless-ing re-main with you always.
   May you walk on ho-ly ground.


CHILDREN'S TIME:  "Loving and Helping Jesus"
Object:   None
Theme:    Who Gets The Gift
Source:   Based on "Augsburg Sermons For Children - Gospel
          Series A", 1992

Good morning....   Christmas is approaching.  Next Sunday we
begin lighting the Advent Candles and especially preparing for
the coming of Christ.  At Christmas time some very special things
happen.  One of them is the giving and receiving of gifts - much
as the wise men gave Jesus gifts when he was born.

What is the best gift you ever received?....

How did you feel when you received it?

Suppose your father and mother had a friend who you didn't know. 
That friend likes your parents and wants to give them a gift. 
But he can't think of anything to give them - so he gives you a
gift (suggest a few that they mentioned).  Would that make you
happy????  Would it make your parents happy????

Your parents love you.  When people give you a gift, they feel as
though they got the gift too.  It makes them happy to see you
happy.  Who got the gift????  Yes - you did, but your parents did
too....

Parents feel that way about their children - and Jesus feels that
way about everyone - and that is why he said today in the bible
reading - "Truly I tell you, if you did it to the least of one of
these my family, you did it to me."

   Let us Pray --- Dear Lord God -- we want to give you a
   good gift.  -- Help us to give things to our friends and
   neighbours -- and do those things for other people -- that
   bring you joy.  -- Help us to visit the sick and the
   lonely -- to give food and clothing to the hungry and the
   naked -- and to love and care for the needy -- make us
   aware of how  you are to be found   in all our brothers
   and sisters   we ask it in Jesus' name.   Amen


* ADVENT INTROIT: "Prepare The Way of The Lord"

* ADVENT BLESSING: "May The Blessing of God Go Before You"


A READING FROM - EZEKIEL 34:11-17,20-24                 - Gil Cox
   (NRSV)  For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search
   for my sheep, and will seek them out. {12} 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. {13} 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. {14} 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. {15} I myself will be the shepherd of
   my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord
   GOD. {16} 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. {17} As for you,
   my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: I shall judge between
   sheep and sheep, between rams and goats:

   Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will
   judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. {21}
   Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at
   all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered
   them far and wide, {22} I will save my flock, and they
   shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep
   and sheep. {23} I will set up over them one shepherd, my
   servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them
   and be their shepherd. {24} And I, the LORD, will be their
   God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I,
   the LORD, have spoken.

L  This is the word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God.


CHOIR ANTHEM


A READING FROM MATTHEW 25:31-46                         - Gil Cox
   (NRSV)  "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. {32} 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, {33} and he will put
   the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
   {34} 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;
   {35} 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, {36} 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.' {37} 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?
   {38} And when was it that we saw you a stranger and
   welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? {39} And
   when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited
   you?' {40} 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.' {41} 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; {42} for I was hungry and
   you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing
   to drink, {43} 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.' {44} 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?' {45} 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.' {46} And these
   will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous
   into eternal life."

L  This is the Gospel of our Risen Lord
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ


* HYMN:  "The Lord's My Shepherd"                        - VU 747


SERMON: "Lord, When Did We See You"

   Let us Pray - Creator and maker of us all - bless the
   words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts - grow
   thou in us and show us your ways and inspire us to live by
   your truth.  Amen
                                 
How many times have we heard the parable of the sheep and the
goats - how well we know it.  It is a United Church of Canada
favourite.  It is one of the passages that underlies what
theologians call "The Social Gospel".

All the nations are gathered before the judge, 
before the throne of the Son of Man, before the King, 
and the king separates them,
the right from the left, the sheep from the goats,
and he judges them - and those on the right are saved,
and those on the left are condemned.

We know this parable, and we know therefore the basis upon which
the king makes his final judgement about the nations when they
are gathered before him. 

       "I was hungry - and you gave me food, I was thirsty
       and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you
       took me in..."

How well we know this story and for some - for those who measure
things by how much they have done - it is a warning
   and for others - who also measure themselves by what they
   have done - it is a comfort.

Yet, despite our knowledge of this parable,
our reassurance that we know what it means,
and that we know the God of whom the story speaks,
we may not have grasped the fullness of the story.

I ask you today to think with me about the response of the sheep
and of the goats who stand before the king, 
   and to consider with me the message that is found in the
   surprise that is expressed by both the sheep and the goats.

This parable is full of shocking, unexpected, dumbfounded
surprises:
- surprise at the words and at the judgements of the king.  
- surprise that it is not our beliefs that are considered by the
king, but our actions.
- surprise that is not our religious pedigree that is considered,
but our compassion, our love.

Some say this is because the judgement of the nations is just that,
   a judgement on those peoples who are not joined to Christ,
   a judgement on those who do not profess or follow Jesus,
on those who, as scripture says, are judged by the law that is
written in their hearts.

Others say that the judgement of the king applies to peoples,
believers and unbelievers alike, that Jesus, in telling this
story, makes no distinction between those who follow him and
those who don't, for all people are expected to live by the law
that is written in their hearts - that, as the Apostle James puts
it in the second chapter of his letter to the church, "faith
without works is dead".

Whatever is the truth of the matter there is a judgement:
and in that judgement - there is a great sense surprise in both
those who are "sheep" and those who are "goats".

One, of course, might expect the goats to be dumbfounded at the
words of the King. 
      
They are supposed to be confused, shocked and surprised when they
at last come face to face with God are they not?  Their unbelief
is meant to be confounded is it not?  Their lack of compassion
and of mercy for the least amongst us?

Yet the amazing thing about this story is that the sheep are also
surprised.

The sheep, the righteous, 
   - those who have given the cup of cold water, who have
   visited those in prison and worked in the community food bank
   and given to "Operation Christmas Child" and taken in
   refugees and strangers - 
are just as dumbfounded and shocked by the king's judgements as
the unrighteous.

Both groups, both sheep and goats, ask the very same question of
the King when he renders his judgement.  Both ask:  "Lord, when
did we see you?"

Lord, when did we see you?  Lord, when was it we saw you hungry,
or thirsty, or naked, or in prison, and took care of you?

There was a time in my life when I thought this surprise was a
good thing - a good thing that is for the sheep.

I felt and believed that their surprise fit in with the biblical
injunction to not let your left hand know what your right hand is
doing - especially when doing good.

I felt that the surprise of the sheep was good because it
indicated that they weren't simply doing nice things to those
around them as a way of winning brownie points from God;
      - that it meant that their love and their compassion for
   others was unstained by selfish thoughts, - unstained by the
   idea that they were somehow winning their salvation.

Their words of surprise seemed sweet to me:  

   Lord, when did we see you?  When was it we saw you hungry,
   or thirsty, or naked, or in prison, and took care of you?

And so I let the more hidden message go by.

After reading and studying this passage once again I have come to
realize that the surprise of the sheep can be seen in a different
light, and I don't really know how to characterize what that
light reveals, but I know that it makes me feel a little bit sad.
.
Why is it that the sheep, the righteous, were surprised?  Why is
it that they did not see their Lord as they reached out in acts
of love and compassion?  What did they miss?

What do we miss?

I think of the great joy I have had when I have been the
recipient of other people's kindness, other's people's love.

As a young man, a college student, I belonged to a church - to
Trinity United - in Nanaimo BC.

I wasn't that well known to the people there, I had just joined
the congregation.  I wasn't involved in much more than Sunday
worship and Tuesday evening prayer group. but during my first
Christmas there my family and I, and the family who lived in the
other half of the house we shared, were showered with boxes and
boxes of food, clothing, and money.

It was an incredible feeling to be so richly and unexpectedly
blessed. I felt cared for and understood, and I praised God for
those who had reached out.  

Their act of kindness and others done by that congregation
changed my life and helped to bring me here today.

Alex Haley, the author of Roots tells the story of how his father
had his life changed by a similar act of kindness.

   He was the youngest of eight children, living as a
   sharecropping family.  Everyone in the family was needed
   to help with the crops.  After several years of schooling
   the family pressed each child into service on the farm. 
   Fortunately the boy's mother intervened on behalf of her
   child and was allowed to stay in school.

   When he was ready for college he chose the Lane Institute,
   working as many as four jobs in addition to full-time
   studies.  It was all physically and emotionally wearing.

   He worked for a summer as a porter on a train and
   happened to meet a man early in the morning who couldn't
   sleep and wanted to talk.  This man was impressed by a
   black porter working to earn money for college and tipped
   him the unimaginable sum of five dollars.

   By the end of the summer Mr. Haley had to decide whether
   to convert his summer earnings into a mule and begin to
   sharecrop, or to stretch to complete his last year at
   school.  He took the risk of competing college.  

   Alex Haley tells us what happened next: "When Dad arrived
   on campus, the president called him into his office and
   showed him a letter he had just received.  The letter was
   from the elderly man whom my father had met on the train,
   and it contained a check for $518 to cover Dad's tuition
   and living expenses for one full year."

The kindness of an unknown friend made all the difference in the
life of Alex Haley's father, Alex Haley himself, and every
succeeding generation of that family.

As a person who has been in just a minor degree of need, I know
what the acts of love and care performed by virtual strangers can
mean.

Each of you, I am sure, also knows what it can mean.

Each of you, I am sure, has a story like mine, or like that of
Alex Haley's father, tucked away in your personal history or in
your family's history.

So - what are we missing when, as performers of these deeds of
kindness, we are surprised when the Son of Man says:     

   "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you
   gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me?"

What are we missing when we feel burned out
tired from giving to one more worthy organization
worn down from working for one more worthy cause?

What are we missing when we do good and yet feel that we have not
yet met God?

I think that the answer is simple.
We are missing the sense of the holy in the ordinary.
We are missing the sense of the imminence of God.

It may be stretching the point of the parable of the sheep and
the goats, but I can't escape the feeling that we all too often
lead our lives as if Christ did not exist, 
   - our moments and our days, even when filled with doing good,
   often are not sanctified, blessed, made fully alive, by the
   sense of his living presence.

My best moments as a human being, are not just the moments when I
show care to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, they
are when I do so in the awareness that I am ministering to my Lord:
   when I am aware that Christ inhabits the least of my brothers
   and sisters - whether these brothers and sisters are the less
   fortunate  of those who are joined to Christ - or the pagans
   and gentiles among us - the ones in whom no form of blessed
   can be detected - those whom, we do not consider to be our
   brothers and sisters because of who they are or what they
   have done.

Such an awareness serves to keep me humble
such an awareness serves to keep me alert.

IT is an awareness that we should all cultivate,
this awareness that Christ may be found 
and found especially, among the poor and the lonely and the sick,
among those in prison and those who simply need a drink of water.

Think of it - think of it 2000 years ago,
   when the Son of Man - the one who is King of King and Lord
   of Lords wandered as a poor preacher in a poor land, having
   no home to call his own, much less a throne of righteousness.
Think if when the Son of God was tried for blasphemy 
   and flogged 39 times as a common criminal
   and then was hung on a cross as one who was accursed.

Lord, when did we see you?  When was it we saw you hungry, or
thirsty, or naked, or in prison, and took care of you?

And think of it today, 2000 years later.

Where is Christ to be found?

Is it not among us - as it was so long ago?
Is he not, according to his own words,
to be found in the least of our brothers and sisters,
in those whom most neglect, scorn, or despise?

Thinking about where Christ is to be found transforms what I do
and helps to transform who I am.

It gives a rich meaning to my actions,
it lifts up my spirit in hope and in worship,
it makes me want to praise God 
   - even when I am feeling tired and worn done,
it gives me new strength.

What a privilege we have - each one of us - 
when we reach out and touch someone,
for in doing so we may be - nay we are 
- reaching out to touch God,
- reaching out to touch Christ.

I understand the surprise of those on the right of the Son of Man,
I understand the dumbfoundedness of the sheep.

I understand because it is so easy for me to forget the privilege
I have, 
   so easy for me to start living as if Christ was not actually
   here in this building, this town, this nation, 
       so easy for me to do what I do as if it were a burden
       rather than as a glorious service to my God...

I understand - but I do find it a little sad.
Sad, not because doing good has no effect,
but sad because seeing Christ in those around us is so enriching,
so helpful - as we walk the walk that he calls us to walk.

   Lord, when did we see you?  When was it we saw you hungry,
   or thirsty, or naked, or in prison, and took care of 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.


LET US PRAY
We think O God of all the places where we can find your Son Jesus
and hear him calling to us -
- we think of how he is present in the lives of those who are
sick, and of how we can see him in the face of the strangers who
come to our land.
- we think of how he longs for us to visit him in prison and
cries out to be fed, and clothed, and given shelter from his
place in the deserts and jungles of our world.
Help us be more aware....  Lord, hear our prayer.....

Father, you have given us strength and ability.  Help us use what
you have given as you wish us to use it  Help us to minister to
you in one another.  Sanctify O God, all your people, make us
more holy, more loving, more caring, more joyful in our
service... Lord hear our prayer....

Father, we pray for those named in this place this day:  We pray
for your healing touch and assurance and peace for:
   -
Lord, hear our prayer

Lord we give thanks too for those who give thanks today:
   - 
Lord, hear our prayer 

All these things we pray to you through our Lord Jesus Christ -
he who taught us to pray together as one family, saying: OUR
FATHER...


* MINUTE FOR MISSION: Our Life Together and In The World


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand
for the Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU
541) and Prayer of Dedication

   Lord Jesus - we offer these gifts to you.  Bless them and
   all that your church does, all that we do, so that the
   least among us may be ministered unto as if it were you we
   were ministering unto.   Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "We Are Pilgrims"                     - VU 595


* COMMISSIONING (Unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit we now
   go forth into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people
   of God, the body of Christ.
 

* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace; love and care for one another in Christ's name,
- and may our Lord and King watch over you, 
- may our shepherd and our shield defend you, 
- and may our rock and our fortress, our judge and our hope keep
you safe and strong within his life-giving word
now and forevermore.  Amen


* CHORAL BLESSING:  "May The Blessing of God"            - VU 962
   May the blessing of God go before you.  May God's grace and
   peace abound. May God's Spirit live within you.  May God's
   love wrap you 'round.  May God's blessing remain with you
   always.  May you walk on holy ground.


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1999 - 2005
             please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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