Weekly Seeds: Care

Sunday, November 26, 2023
Reign of Christ Sunday | Year A

Focus Theme:

Focus Prayer:
Sovereign and Eternal God, help us to see you in the least of these and lead us in the way of your kindom. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Matthew 25:31-46
31 “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.”

All readings for this Sunday:
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Psalm 100 • Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Psalm 95:1-7a • Ephesians 1:15-23 • Matthew 25:31-46

Focus Questions:
What is the reign of God?
How do we participate in God’s reign?
How do you relate to the least of these (hungry, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned)?
How do we see and encounter Jesus in our responses to the least of these?
What is our hope of righteousness in the reign of God for ourselves and our communities?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

If there is a record of Jesus speaking about the end times and his second coming, this is it. After turning his attention from religious leaders to his devoted followers, Jesus focuses on how they are to proceed once he departs. This is the last of that teaching. If the Sermon on the Mount was his introductory sermon, these last words form his valedictory.

It’s not unusual for someone, when they know the end of their earthly life is imminent, to share final thoughts, to reveal confidences they have held closely, and to advise their loved ones of the lessons they have learned. In this case, Jesus shares words of caution as he describes what re-creation of the beloved community will look like. There are similarities with that projected experience and the first narrative of creation. God creates and re-creates through separating.

In the beginning, there is chaos; in the world Jesus entered and humanity inhabits, there is chaos of a different kind. In order to bring order, the Creator goes through a process of separating. Unlike the Genesis account, where the separated entities were all good, Jesus informs his listeners that the separation to come will come with God’s judgment and eternal consequences.

The analogy of a shepherd is also a familiar one from the biblical narrative. References to God as Shepherd can be found in the Prophets, Wisdom literature, and the New Testament canon. In the Gospel according to John, Jesus claims the title and character of the Good Shepherd. The analogy amplifies the caring, providing, and protecting nature of God. In Matthew, that also translates into discerning who is really a sheep and who is a goat.

In categorizing people into one group that is deserving and another that is not is tricky and can be problematic in numerous ways. Artificial divisions and stratification has caused marginalization and oppression. It has justified war, segregation, and dehumanization. There must be something different in the particular approach that Jesus takes in the process of separation. If it is a reversal of sorts of the creation act, then the shepherd is not just separating, he’s deconstructing. Sometimes, in building something new, you don’t employ new materials but make a new thing using existing elements. This is not the story of Noah and the Ark, in which God starts over. Yet, there is also the similarity in that God identified then a righteous group among the depravity and defiant.

The final scene portrays the judgment of the nations to take place at Jesus’ return (25:31–46). Jesus appears as son of man and king in representing God’s rule over the nations (25:34). The key interpretive question concerns the criterion for vindication (25:34–40) and condemnation (25:41–46). The participants themselves do not know (25:37–39, 44). One reading sees the nations judged on the basis of how they have treated those in need. Another reading sees the nations judged on the basis of their response to Christian proclamation of the good news. This latter view highlights the mission of 24:14 to all the nations (gathered in 25:31), and understands positive response to “the least of these” (25:40, 45) as referring not to the needy but specifically to receiving disciples and their Gospel message (so 10:40).
Warren Carter

The second interpretation that Carter shares seemingly dismisses the earthly emphasis of Jesus’ ministry. While this chapter seems to turn his attention toward heavenly consequences, the real destination is the realm of God, which has no end, including on the earth. The specificity in this message is about the here and now, the tangible and material needs of human beings, and the judgment humans will face based on their participation in the kindom. There is not a word about doctrinal belief; this story is about faith that lives, breathes, and has an impact on suffering experienced by real people. It’s a parable, a prediction, and a promise.

It also bookends the Beatitudes in terms of the teaching ministry of Jesus and should be read holding those values and framework in mind. Jesus meant what he said when he affirmed blessing and favor on those seemingly without privilege in the Beatitudes. Now, Jesus emphasizes his prioritization of the “least” of these in his final words preparing his disciples for ministry beyond his physical presence. A reading that suggests Jesus is only concerned about spiritual care ignores not only his teaching but also the demonstrations of his ministry, especially the healings. As Matt Woodley states, “For Jesus mercy isn’t just an abstract theory or an inaccessible ideal, like a dusty old book perched on a shelf. No, for Jesus mercy remains utterly accessible, practical and ‘doable.’” Again, the Christian church would do well to remember that Creator is as concerned about earth as heaven. The message Jesus shares in this text is that if you participate in the kindom, heaven will take care of itself.

[quote] “All the nations will be gathered before him.” The word translated “nations” (Greek ethnē) is sometimes used to designate the Gentiles, but here it is simply “a synonym for ‘the whole inhabited earth.’”31 People from every race and nation, every culture and religion are gathered. All are included in this universal judgment, and the judge asks nothing about whether they are Jews or Gentiles or what they believe about Jesus. The issue at hand is whether they have showed compassion. Do they practice the love of neighbor, which is the heart of the law as Jesus has taught (5:17–48; 7:12; 22:34–40)?
Anna Case-Winters

Life is an opportunity to love…love God, love neighbor, and ourselves. When we fail to love, we reject the reign of God. We do not even love ourselves when we do not love our neighbor. For, if we cannot see Jesus in the homeless person in need of food and shelter, the migrant person seeking asylum and hope for their family, and the child whose voice has never been allowed to develop, we cannot see Jesus in ourselves. And we do not love our neighbor or ourselves, we do not love God. Love is inseparable. Love is abundant. And, at the center of love is care that commits to the redemptive work of justice. Justice happens when wrongs are made right, when brokenness is made well, and when that which was lost is restored. God’s judgment identifies the necessity of repair.

[quote] Perhaps we do well to lay aside notions of judgment that would bifurcate judgment and redemption, but it will not do to simply cease to speak of the judgment. As many have insisted, if there is no judgment, there is no justice. Judgment is finally about setting things right: establishing justice.
Anna Case-Winters

The judgment that Jesus describes is a final judgment, but this text serves as warning and invitation to repentance. Jesus gives the answers well in advance of administering the test. God’s judgment does not condemn but compels us to live fully in the kindom. The dire consequences arise from a refusal to take the test on God’s terms. We chose to abide by the reign of God or our own way. When we choose to care for the most vulnerable and aggrieved in our neighborhoods, community, and world, we embody the love and care of Christ and inherit the kindom, which we help to create.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.

“Praise Song for the Day”
–Elizabeth Alexander

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

For Further Reflection
“Value life in what ever house it dwells. For when it comes time that we are all stripped to bare bones before the divine and facing eternity, we will understand that the only law we were meant to follow, was to love ourselves and each other. Nothing more…nothing less.” ― Carla Jo Masterson
“I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.” ― Jana Stanfield
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at //ucc.org/SermonSeeds.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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