Revised Common Lectionary: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Psalm 100 or Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46
Narrative Lectionary: Josiah’s Reform, 2 Kings 22:1-10 (11-20); 23:1-3 (Luke 24:30-32)
We have come to the end of the season after Pentecost, the pinnacle of the year as we observe Reign of Christ Sunday. Advent will lead us into a time of active watching and waiting for Christ to enter our world and lives in a new way. This Sunday is a reminder that we are always at the moment of living into Christ’s reign now, as we wait for it to manifest.
The prophet Ezekiel speaks on behalf of God to a people who have been led astray by their kings and officials and have gone into exile. God Themself will become the shepherd of the people, coming to rescue them from the places they have been taken to. God will provide for them, especially the marginalized, including those in poverty and those with disabilities, but the “fat and the strong”—the people who have taken the power and wealth—will be destroyed, because all will be fed with justice. God is the one who will judge, like a shepherd determining between sheep, and will set up a shepherd over them like David, the shepherd king.
Psalm 100 is a call to worship and song of praise, reminding the people that God is their shepherd, and they are the sheep of God’s pasture. The psalmist calls upon the whole earth to worship God. For the faithful, they are to enter the courts of the temple with thanksgiving and praise, and God’s steadfast love endures for all generations.
The second psalm selection is Psalm 95:1-7a. This first half of this psalm is a call to worship for the people to enter the temple with thanksgiving and singing. God is above all other gods and kings. God has made all of creation, including the sea and the dry land. The people are the sheep of God, whom God loves, and the psalmist calls for the people to worship and bow down.
The Epistle lesson is Ephesians 1:15-23. The writer, probably not Paul but a disciple of Paul, writes of the faithfulness of the people of Ephesus and prays that they will have a spirit of wisdom and revelation as they come to know Jesus Christ. God’s immeasurable power and greatness has been put to work in Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead, who has authority over all things, and is the head of the body—the church—and the church is the fullness of Christ on earth.
The Gospel lesson culminates the season after Pentecost and the series of Jesus’s last parables and discourse with Matthew 25:31-46, in a vision of when the Son of Man comes in his glory. The Son of Man will judge between all the peoples of all the nations, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The faithful are the ones who have lived out all Christ has taught of loving one’s neighbor as themselves: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, giving clothing to those in need, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison. Those who refused to do these things are the ones who will be sent into eternal punishment. The judgment is harsh, but as a final parable, it summarizes everything Jesus had taught the disciples and all his followers: if you want to love God, you must love one another, especially the most vulnerable of our community, as you love yourself.
The Narrative Lectionary turns to King Josiah and his reforms in 2 Kings 22:1-20 and 23:1-3. Josiah, unlike his predecessors, followed the ways of his ancestor David, who turned to God instead of others. During his reign, a copy of the book of the Law was rediscovered, and it was read aloud to the king. In verses 11-20, the king reacts by grieving, for the people and leadership had gone so far astray from what God intended for them. Josiah sought to find what the meaning was behind the law and what God would do to them, and the prophetess Huldah was consulted. It was too late to turn the tide of events caused by the kings of the past, but for Josiah’s time, there was still hope. Because he turned back to God and repented, God would not bring about disaster during his reign; there would be peace for a time. King Josiah then directed all the people, including the prophets and priests, but all citizens of Jerusalem and Judah, to hear the words of the book of the covenant, and to make a covenant again with God.
The supplementary verses are Luke 24:30-32, which contains Jesus’s resurrection appearance on the way to Ephesus. Jesus explained the scriptures to two travelers on the way, but the travelers did not recognize him until he broke bread before them. Then they recognized their hearts had burned within them as he explained the scriptures to them.
On this Sunday, we recall that Christ is the one who reigns over us for eternity, not any worldly king or president or leadership. As we prepare to enter an election year in 2024 (in the US), perhaps this is a reminder to take a breather and remember who has eternity. Who is always rooting for us, pushing us to be better citizens of the reign of God? Jesus is calling us to love our neighbor as ourselves, especially the most vulnerable. We begin to live into God’s reign on earth when we live out those promises to the marginalized and oppressed, those living in poverty, those with disabilities, those who are immigrants and strangers, those who do not have the same privileges we do. When we see them as the presence of God among us and care for them as we care for ourselves, then we are living into Christ’s reign on earth. We pray for the day when that dividing line of death is no more, when we all recognize that eternal life has already begun here on earth. Until that day is complete, we live into Christ’s way, truth, and life as best we can.
Note: this Call to Worship was also included in last week’s resources.
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 the Lord;
We are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture.
Enter the Lord’s gates with thanksgiving, and God’s 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.
Call to Worship (Psalm 95:1-3, 6-7a)
O come, let us sing to the LORD;
Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving;
Let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
And a great Ruler above all gods.
O come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For the LORD is our God,
And we are the people of God’s pasture, and the sheep of God’s hand.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty and Wondrous God, we confess that at times we feel powerless to do anything. There is so much war and hate right now. Though voices in media tell us there’s one side or another, we know that the true evil is those who believe that violence is the only way. We know that so well, O God, for it is the story You lived through. On the night You were betrayed, You were given over from one group to another, people clamoring for power who hated the other, and in the end, it was violence that won for a brief moment. But Your Love was victorious over violence and death, and we must hold on to that, O God. Remind us to hold on to You as our Living Hope, the One who slips through the grasp of violence and death and shows us that we all can choose another way—the way of love, compassion, justice, and peace. Help us to live into Your ways, and not the violent pull of this world. Call us to resist, O God, and in our own powerlessness and helplessness, may we rely on You as the source of our strength and courage to live into Your ways. Amen.
Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. We know this ancient confession in our hearts. As the seasons change, we know that life will come again out of death, that every grain that falls becomes a seed of something new. We trust this, that when daylight is fading, dawn will still come. We trust this, that when hope is failing, the living hope in Christ will bring us through. We trust in God’s undying love for us through Jesus Christ. Know that you are God’s beloved child. You are forgiven, loved, and restored, and in Christ, you are made whole and new. Amen.
Eternal Savior, there is nothing that will ever separate us from You. Even in these despairing, hopeless times, we trust in You that somehow, this will turn, this will change, this pain and suffering we are experiencing will come to an end and that You will lead us through. We hold on to the hope of new life now, that we can be Your disciples on earth and live by example for others. We pray that we can find peace in our own lives, so we can live by that peace to one another. Help us to remember that You are an eternal God, not a temporary one. What we experience and know now is temporary, but what You have shown us—Your way, Your truth, and Your life—is eternal. We cling to that hope, O Sovereign of all. Amen.