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Sermon and Liturgy for Ordinary 34 - Ordinary 29 - The Reign of Christ - Year A
Ezekiel 34:11-17,20-24, Psalm 100; Matthew 25:31-46
"When, Lord, Did We See You? (2)"

READING:  Ezekiel 34:11-17,20-24; Psalm 100; Matthew 25:31-46
SERMON :  "When Lord, Did We See You" (2)

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or34su 858000
               
   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

   Sources: Thanks to Gary Botha (gvb@online.net) for some of the
   wording around "surprise" as it was found in his "Sunday
   Offering Mt 25" sent to the PRCL List in November 1999.
   
   
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.


* 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


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."


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER 
   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 you   in all our brothers and sisters   Amen

And together let us say the prayer that Jesus taught us:

   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 trespasses, as we
   forgive those who trespass against us; 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


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.


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS
- Welcome and Announcements     
- Birthdays and Anniversaries     
- Special Matters      
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


TIME OF SILENCE & AN INTROIT FOR THE WORD (verse 2 - VU 371)
  Open my ears that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear
  and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God they will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!


A READING FROM EZEKIEL 34:11-17,20-24
   (NIV)  "'For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will
   search for my sheep and look after them.  As a shepherd looks
   after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look
   after my sheep.  I will rescue them from all the places where they
   were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.  I will bring them
   out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I
   will bring them into their own land.  I will pasture them on the
   mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in
   the land.  I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain
   heights of Israel will be their grazing land.  There they will lie
   down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich
   pasture on the mountains of Israel.  I myself will tend my sheep
   and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.  I will
   search for the lost and bring back the strays.  I will bind up the
   injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I
   will destroy.  I will shepherd the flock with justice. 

   "'As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I
   will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and
   goats.

   "'Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I
   myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.
   Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak
   sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save
   my flock, and they will no longer be plundered.  I will judge
   between one sheep and another.  I will place over them one
   shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend
   them and be their shepherd.  I the Lord will be their God, and my
   servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken."

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


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 100 (VU 824) & the Gloria Patri (Sung)
           
   Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
   As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  
   World without end.  Amen


A READING FROM MATTHEW 25:31-46
   (NIV) Jesus said:  "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and
   all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly
   glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will
   separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the
   sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the
   goats on his left. 

   "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are
   blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared
   for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you
   gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something
   to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes
   and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in
   prison and you came to visit me.' 

   "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you
   hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
   When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing
   clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and
   go to visit you?' 

   "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for
   one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' 

   "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who
   are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his
   angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was
   thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you
   did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me,
   I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' 

   "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or
   thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and
   did not help you?' 

   "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for
   one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

   "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous
   to 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? (2)"

   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

The story is told that some years ago, an American soldier on a bus in
Sweden told the man sitting next to him, 'America is the most
democratic country in the world. Ordinary citizens may go to the White
House to see the President and discuss things with him'

"The man said, 'That's nothing. In Sweden, the King and the people
travel on the same bus.' "

When the man got off the bus at the next stop, the American was told
by other passengers that he had been sitting next to King Gustav Adolf
VI.

How many times have you heard the parable of the sheep and the goats? 
Once? Twice?  A dozen times?  I think most of us, at least those of us
who have been around the church for a while have heard it several
times and are quite familiar with it.  The parable is certainly a
United Church of Canada favourite, but it is by no means confined in
it's popularity to our small part of the family of God.  It is one of
the key passages that underlies what modern theologians call "The
Social Gospel" and it was foundational to much of the work of the
ancient monastic orders and, indeed of  the newer ones too - like the
"Missionaries of Charity" founded by Mother Theresa.  In fact the
parable of the sheep and the goats is probably one of the most quoted
parables in all of Christendom -right up there with the parable of the
Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Talents which we heard last week.

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.

The judgement is made on the basis of the compassion, the love, or the
lack of it that is shown by those who gathered before the throne of
judgement.

   "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" the son of man
   tells those on his right.  To those on his left  he says the
   exact opposite.   "I was naked" he tells them, "and you did not
   give me clothing, I was sick and in prison and you did not
   visit me." 

Awesome words these.  Words of great clarity.  Words with a powerful
message for those who have ears to hear it.

Yet, in the end, 
despite our knowledge of the story and of its message 
   - the message about the vital importance of our acts of sharing
   and caring, especially with those who are numbered among the least
   of us - the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned,
despite our knowledge of this parable
   there are elements to it that are not often talked about 
or if talked about which are glossed over.

I speak of course, about the surprise expressed by the sheep and the
goats when they hear the Son of Man say - "I was hungry and you fed
me.  I was thirsty and you gave me drink." or "I was naked and you did
not clothe me" and "I was in prison and you did not visit me"

Why is that?

Why are they surprised?

What is it that both the sheep and the goats seem to be missing when
they perform their good works - or when they fail to?  

I think that they are missing a sense of how the sacred penetrates and
is interwoven in the ordinary - indeed in the less than the ordinary - 
in those places - those persons - that we might consider far from holy
- far from being a part of  Christ, much less Christ embodied.

Remember the words that Jesus uses.

He doesn't talk about how blessed are we when we visit our friends who
are sick, or how wonderful it is when we give good things to our
family members and our fellow believers, or how nice it was when we
cloth the folk who are just like us.

No Jesus talks about the least among us - the least within this world, 
those whom conventional wisdom might even regard as accursed,
   - the poor of Calcutta, 
   - the thirsty in the Sudan, 
   - the sick in the wards and on the desert and jungle floors
   reserved for AIDS patients,
Jesus talks and those who are in prison 
   - perhaps sex offenders 
   - perhaps murderers 
   - perhaps only those who have stolen so that their families may
   eat.  We don't know.

But we do know that they are the least amongst us.  
Those persons whom we might think don't count.
Those people whose opinions we might regard as unimportant or invalid,
   because of their age - or their sex.
Those people whose cries we might ignore because of their race or
   their economic position.

And that the Son of Man, that Jesus the Christ, claims to be among
them - indeed in them.

And that is surprising is it not - at least to most of us? 
In fact it might even be considered to be outrageous.

Bear with me a minute or two more as I talk about this.

There is no question raised in this parable of what creed either the
sheep or the goats  had believed; or whether they had sworn allegiance
to one whom the bible calls the Son of Man - the Good Shepherd - the
King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  

There is only the surprise that this exalted one - who is - in fact -
Christ Jesus himself -  has been present in every person they had ever
met, and most especially, in the needy ones and the least important
ones - the ones that Jesus calls "the least" 

And that judgement is based on whether we treat this king, this son of
man, present in these the least, well; or ignore him in his suffering
and his want and his need.

That is - to say the least - a bit disconcerting.  

We sometimes think that religion is about believing stuff,  
and that if we believe the right stuff we are safe.

But it seems not to be so.
Rather our faith seems to be about awareness, 
about having our eyes opened to the real world,
and responding compassionately to it.  

Whether or not we are "aware" that the Christ is there.

The parable is calling to us, however, to see the Christ there,
     to see "the Son of Man" in the squalling child who is getting in
     our way 
         and to hear God in the voice of the beggars who so often
         come and sit with us on Sunday in their dirty and smelly
         clothes - waiting for a chance to get a free lunch.

The parable is alerting us to the importance of compassion
and to the fact that the Son of Man is present in the needy of our
world.

To encounter the least of the brothers and sisters of the Son of Man
however we don't need to go to Calcutta, or the Sudan or to one of the
overcrowded prisons in our land do we??

Aren't there many who are marginalized, 
many whom we are regarded of little significance
of not being equal to those close to us 
right here amongst us - here in Golden 
- perhaps even here in this church 
- or even in our own families?

Remember the first and the greatest commandment -
the one about how we are to love God with all our heart, soul,
strength and mind?

Consider what John the Divine, John the Apostle, the disciple of
Christ says about that love in his First Letter.

He writes in chapter three, verse seventeen:

       If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in
       need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in
       him?

and again in the 4th chapter, at verse 20 and 21

       Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen,
       cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us
       this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 

The sheep - those on the right - have shown love for their brothers
and sisters, and in doing so they have shown love to God, and so they
enter the kingdom prepared for them.

Their faith is alive - even if they have not grasped the fullness of
it.  Even if they have not recognized how the Son of Man is everywhere
about them.  One might say the law has been written on their hearts
and guided their actions, if not their thoughts and words.

But think of it.  Think of the fullness of it.  If our eyes were
opened to the depth of the real world and not the shallow world of
conventional wisdom, then we would see God present in everyone and
everything, especially in the needy and the least important ones. 

And that would be even more transforming, 
- not only for the sheep, for those who are doing good, 
and for those to whom they are showing the compassion of God,
- but also for the goats, for those who may have the right creed and
doctrine but who may have judged the least among us as not being
deserving of their love and care, as not being people in whom the holy
one dwells.

What a priceless thing if the sheep are not surprised - by the
presence of the Son of Man in everyone - and in joy remind those who
may risk being judged as goats that all people are wonderfully made
and all need to be treated as we would treat the Son of Man.

Provocative isn't it?
It raises a thousand questions in your minds I am sure.

How far should we go in our caring?

Who should we care for - and who, if any, should we not care for?

How can we prioritize our caring so that the truly needy get what they
need while those who would suck us dry do not.  Or should we even
worry about that?  

I can't answer these questions for you.

It is something that each of us needs to struggle with on a case by
case, day by day basis.

But I can tell you that Christ is all around us.  
That Christ is in the least among us.
In the single welfare mothers -
and the homosexual persons with AIDS 
and in the prisoners in our jails 
and in the homeless upon our streets.

Think about this one last time today with me 

Think of it some 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 of when the Son of Man was tried for blasphemy and flogged 39
times as a common criminal and then was hung on a cross to die as one
who was accursed.

Think about how the Son of Man came among us - that first time -
about the circumstances of his life and his death.

The prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before the birth of Christ puts it
this way:

       He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
       nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was
       despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and
       acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide
       their faces he was despised - and we held him of no account.

Where is Christ to be found today?  Where is the Son of Man?

He is most certainly here - in this holy place.  In you my brothers
and sisters.

But he is also here in ways we do not so easily grasp.

I understand the surprise of those sheep on the right of the Son of
Man - and of the goats on the left.

I understand because it is so easy to not see him in those who are
reckoned to be the least among us.

I understand - but I do find it a little sad.

Sad, not because doing good to the least among us has no effect when
we are unaware, clearly it does has an effect,
       an effect for those who receive our acts of kindness,
       and an effect for us who perform those acts.
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
Sad because seeing the sacred in everything is so transforming for us
and for our world.

May we all have eyes to see, and hears to hear.  



PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE:    (Rx - And In Your Love Answer) Singing #400 
                          at the start and the end of prayer time

            Lord, listen to your children praying,
            Lord, send your Spirit in this place;
            Lord, listen to your children praying,
            send us love, send us power, send us grace!

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 town and our nation...  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 cities of our nation
and in the deserts and jungles of our world...  Help us be more aware
- more loving - more compassionate...  Lord, hear our prayer.....

Father, make us more aware of how Christ Jesus is to be found within
the least of brothers and sisters - of how he speaks to us in those we
consider unimportant or less righteous or less deserving than we or
those whom we favour are.  Keep from us the sin of blindness - but
failing that, O God, grant to us at the very least a compassionate
heart... Lord hear our prayer....   

Father, we pray for those named in this place this day:
Lord, hear our prayer

We pray for your healing touch and assurance and peace for:
Lord, hear our prayer

Lord we rejoice too today with those who rejoice
Lord, hear our prayer

All these things we pray to you through Christ Jesus, our Lord, and
our brother, the one we serve with our love.  Amen


MINUTE FOR MISSION:


* 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, and 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.


* CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                         - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2002 - 2005
             please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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