Revised Common Lectionary:
Reign of Christ Sunday: Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 1:68-79; Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Thanksgiving Sunday: Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Psalm 100; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35
Narrative Lectionary: Swords into Plowshares, Isaiah 36:1-3, 13-20; 37:1-7; then 2:1-4 (Matthew 5:14)
We have come to an end of the season after Pentecost, and both streams of the Hebrew scripture reading in the Revised Common Lectionary for Reign of Christ Sunday begin with Jeremiah 23:1-6. God has had enough of the shepherds who have not cared for the sheep. The shepherds who were supposed to learn from their ancestor David, a shepherd himself before he became king, have driven the people of Israel from God’s ways, and have allowed them to worship other gods. But God themself will gather the remnant of the flock in exile and bring them back. God will raise up shepherds who will actually care for them, and God will raise up a “righteous branch” of David—not those in name only, but someone who leads as David led—who will execute justice and reign wisely and in righteousness over the people of Israel and Judah.
The first selection pairs Luke 1:68-79, the song of Zechariah, who was finally able to speak once his son John was born. The angel Gabriel wouldn’t allow him to speak because he questioned the angel’s message. Once John’s name was known, Zechariah could speak, and he sang a song praising God for raising up a servant in the line of David, the promise of the ancestors fulfilled. Zechariah also sings a blessing for his own son John, who would be called the prophet of the Most High God, for his son would be the one to prepare the way and bring knowledge of the repentance of sins. Like the dawn breaking open, new understanding, new light would guide the people out of the shadow of death and into God’s ways of peace.
The second selection pairs Psalm 46 with the Jeremiah reading. When everything is falling apart, the psalmist praises God, for God is their refuge and strength and present with them in their troubles. God is right there in the midst of destruction, and God is the only one who stops war and violence, for God is above all on earth. The psalmist cries out to “Be still, and know that I am God!” The God of their ancestors is the same God over all nations, all people, and will not abandon the people.
The Epistle reading is a prayer and statement of faith, purporting to be from Paul to the church in Colossae in Colossians 1:11-20. Paul prays that the believers would be strong in faith and give thanks to God, in whom they now have an inheritance in the light. In the metaphor of light and shadow, they have been rescued from the shadows through Jesus Christ, in whose reign they now belong. Paul goes on to declare that Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, “the firstborn of all creation.” Everything on earth and in heaven, visible and invisible, was created through Christ and for Christ, and he is first of everything. Christ is the head of the church, and in whom “God was pleased to dwell,” the one who reconciled all things and made peace through his death on the cross.
On this Reign of Christ Sunday, we read the story of Jesus’s crucifixion in Luke 23:33-43. Only in Luke’s account do others crucified with Jesus speak, and while the soldiers mock him, so does one of the victims of crucifixion at his side. However, another victim of crucifixion rebukes the first, stating that they were condemned justly for their actions, but not Jesus, for he was innocent. That man asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Jesus declared to him that on that day they would be together in paradise. While Jesus was mocked as an earthly king, Jesus’ reign is beyond the border of life and death. Those who know and believe will know that this life and death do not have a hold on them. We know this best when we repent of our wrongdoing and turn back to God and God’s ways, relying on Christ, and believing that Christ will remember us in his reign.
For Thanksgiving Sunday, the Revised Common Lectionary begins with part of Moses’s final discourse to the Israelites, before they enter the promised land without him. In Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Moses instructs the people that when they do finally live on the land, they are to take the first fruits as an offering to God, bringing it to the priest. This is an act of remembrance. A long time ago, they had no home. Their ancestor was a wandering Aramean, and their family made it to Egypt, and grew into a nation that was then oppressed. They cried out to God, and God heard them and witnessed what they had suffered and delivered them out of their enslavement into freedom, and into this land that God had promised them. By offering the first fruits, they were remembering all that God had provided for them.
Psalm 100 is a song of praise, a call to worship as the people enter the courts of the temple. They are to enter with thanksgiving and praise, remembering that God made them, and they are the sheep of God’s pasture. God is faithful in love to all generations.
Paul nears the end of his letter to the church in Philippi with an exhortation to rejoice, and with an attitude of gratitude, make their requests known to God. Paul encourages the church to keep their hearts and minds on all that is good and inspires them to goodness and kindness, and to continue to do what they have learned from him. If they change their mindset, they change their actions.
Jesus, after feeding the five thousand men (plus women and children), addresses the crowd that has continued to pursue him in John 6:25-35. Jesus perceives they have come to find him not because they are coming to believe in him, but because they were not satisfied with the bread they received. Jesus instructs the people not to work for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life, which he, as God’s Child, would give them. But the people continued to ask for signs to believe and spoke about the manna that Moses gave the people. Jesus reminds them that it wasn’t Moses, but God, who provided the daily bread. The true bread comes down from heaven and “gives life to the world.” The people then ask Jesus for that bread always, and Jesus declares that he is the bread of life. Whoever is looking for God will be satisfied with Jesus Christ, they will never hunger or thirst for God again.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Isaiah’s vision of swords into plowshares. In these selections from Isaiah 36 and 37, Jerusalem is attacked by Assyria, which conquered Israel to the north twenty years before. King Hezekiah shows public repentance and mourning by tearing his clothes and putting on sackcloth. But the prophet Isaiah tells Hezekiah not to lose heart, that the Assyrian king will withdraw, and the city will be saved. Isaiah, back in chapter two, has a vision of a time when war shall be learned no more, when they shall go back to farming, and there will be peace.
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus declares to the disciples and those who have gathered to hear his sermon that they are the light of the world, just as a city built on a hill cannot be hidden.
While Christ declared that his reign was not of this world, we know that we participate in the reign of God here and now in our love and care for one another. The work for justice in this world is kin-dom building work. When we minister to one another out of an attitude of gratitude, we are living into God’s ways. This world that we have made, a world where empire reigns, a world where pursuit of power—politics, wealth, notoriety, even religious power—is a world with its own set of measures for success. These ways are not God’s ways. In the reign of God, whoever wishes to be first must become last of all and servant of all. Whoever thinks they are first are actually last. Whoever wishes to enter the reign of God must do so like a child, and must welcome the ones the reign of God belongs—the children, the ones ignored and marginalized, the most vulnerable in our society. Gratitude is a way of participating here and now in Christ’s reign, as we pray for it to come and for Christ’s will to be done.
Call to Worship (Psalm 100)
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing.
Know that the LORD is God. It is God that made us, and we belong to God;
We are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture.
Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving, and the courts with praise.
Give thanks to God, bless God’s name.
For the LORD is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever,
And God’s faithfulness to all generations.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Heavenly Parent of us all, we confess that we are bitter and selfish, sometimes spoiled. We have all Your abundance before us, but we have hoarded everything You provided, complained we did not have enough when we had much more than others, and still we demanded more. We have looked to the ways of the world we created and the measures of success we have made, and we never have enough. Forgive us, O Loving One. Remind us that we are all Your children, that You hold us in the palm of Your hand. Remind us that we are siblings of one another, and that we must love each other. In loving one another, we come to know the needs of the community, and when we meet the needs of our neighbors, we find our own needs are met. This is the Beloved Community Your prophets prophesied, the community of faith Your Son began with his disciples, and that we long to live into. Guide us into Your ways, Your truth, and Your life. Amen.
There is no greater love, Jesus said, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Out of humility we lay down our lives for each other. Out of humility we lay down our pride and admit our wrongdoings. Out of humility we work to repair what we have broken and restore what we can mend. Out of God’s great love for us, Jesus laid down his life, and so out of our love for one another, we lay down our pride. We forgive one another, love one another, care for one another, and lift up one another. Go, share the Good News: live out the Gospel. Lay down your ego and your pride and live into God’s love, and it shall go well with you. Amen.
Gracious and Holy One, we give You thanks as we near the end of our liturgical year, our seasons in the church, and prepare to begin again. We do this so we might remember, year after year, what You have done for us, for our ancestors, and what You have promised to do. We do this out of gratitude for all we have, looking forward as we prepare to watch and wait for signs that You are entering our world and our lives in a new way. Expectant One, as we wait for the birth of the Christ-Child, You are midwifing something new in us. May Christ be born anew in us, so we might seek to live more deeply into Your ways and seek to love the world You made, and the people created in Your image as our siblings, as part of the beloved family of God. In gratitude and praise, we come before You. Amen.