Last Sunday's Sermon
Last Pentecost/Year A/Proper 29/ 2020
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
You may have noticed that we had three readings today instead of two and that we had only one short Psalm. The reason for that is that Bishop Mark pointed out to me that the Sunday lectionary is the appropriate one to use for Morning Prayer when Morning Prayer is the only Sunday service. Something I didn't know. So we are back to the 3-yr Sunday Lectionary, but in a Morning Prayer format. That means that the Psalm still comes first and the first two readings are followed by a canticle. And the good news in all of this is that I am not too old to learn new tricks!
Today is the Last Sunday after Pentecost so it is also the Feast of Christ the King. And every time we hear the story from Ezekiel about God the shepherd paired with the story from Matthew about the sheep and the goats on this particular Sunday - Christ the King Sunday - I am struck by the contrast. On the one hand we have God the shepherd, and Christ the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, stranger and prisoner, and on the other hand we have Christ the King, the king of kings, the victorious ruler over all of creation.
But in this pairing of stories, and perhaps because of Paul's words about being called, I am also able to hear something else. From Ezekiel we heard about God seeking us like a shepherd. It is a beautiful and comforting image. And we heard God say: I will rescue them; I will bring them out; I will gather them; I will feed them; I will seek the lost; I will bring back the strayed; I will bind up the injured; I will strengthen the weak. This is the work of a compassionate God and this was also the mission that Jesus was sent to do. And then in the story from Matthew we heard about our mission, the work that we are to do: feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick and visit the prisoners. In these readings I hear a clear message that our work and God's work are one and the same. Our mission is God's mission.
And just before he gave us the list that comprises our mission, Jesus said: Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you. And I am drawn to ask the age old questions when? and how will we know? And it occurs to me that the signs of the kingdom that the people who followed Jesus were asking for, the signs we continue to look for, are everywhere around us. And the signs are these: a basket in the narthex collecting food for the hungry, and another one collecting gravy packets for the Love, Inc. Thanksgiving Blessing project, and the pilgrim collecting nickels for newborns. We are a small parish but we continue to make a difference: during Advent we will collect diapers for Newborns in Need, and your vestry will again vote on a budget that gives hundreds of dollars to support people in need through agencies like Episcopal Relief and Development and the Eagle River Food Bank. And this year, I hope we will have, for the first time, a distribution from the Endowment Fund - money that will be available to support the wider community. These are some of the signs of the kingdom and they are present whenever and wherever we care for each other.
And so, the fact that our Ingathering Service falls on this particular Sunday is entirely appropriate. Because stewardship is about mission. It is how we grow into and live out our faith, how we enact what we say we believe by caring for one another and for the world around us. Giving gifts in support of this community is, for me, a clear sign of the kingdom. Our pledges say that we are willing to do the work God has given us to do - in this place and to the best of our ability, we will do what we can to fulfill God's mission and inherit the kingdom that was prepared from the foundation of the world. We have been brought together here, at Holy Spirit, under his most gracious rule, for this purpose. And I am truly grateful to be sharing this holy journey with all of you - as Paul told the Ephesians: I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. This morning we have gathered our gifts and placed them on the altar and we will give thanks for them. And Thursday this week is the day set aside for giving thanks. So I offer the following Thanksgiving prayer from the Prayers of Walter Bruggemann. It is called:
The Gratitude We Intend
The witnesses tell of your boundless generosity,
and their telling is compelling to us:
You give your word to call the worlds into being;
You give your sovereign rule to emancipate the slaves
and the oppressed;
You give your commanding fidelity to form your own people;
You give your life for the life of the world…
broken bread that feeds,
poured out wine that binds and heals.
You give…we receive…and are thankful.
We begin this day in gratitude,
thanks that is a match for your self-giving,
gratitude in gifts offered,
gratitude in tales told,
gratitude in lives lived.
Gratitude willed, but not so readily lived,
held back by old wounds turned to powerful resentment,
retarded by early fears become vague anxiety,
restrained by self-sufficiency in a can-do arrogance,
blocked by amnesia unable to recall gifts any longer.
Do this yet. Create innocent space for us this day
for the gratitude we intend.
we will give,
we will tell,
we will live,
your gift through us to gift the world. Amen.
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