Graceful Living Week 11

O Lord our God, grant us grace to desire thee with our whole heart, that so desiring , we may seek and find thee; and so finding thee we may love thee; and loving thee we may hate those sins from which thou hast redeemed us; for the sake of Jesus Christ. 

(St. anselm)

Daily Readings
Day 1: Matthew 25:31-46
Day 2: Psalm 95:1-5
Day 3: Psalm 95:6-11
Day 4: Ezekiel 34:11-16
Day 5: Ezekiel 34:20-24
Day 6: Ephesians 1:1-14
Day 7: Ephesians 1:15-23

Weekly Reflection and Questions

Matthew 25:31-46

This text is often referred to as the Last Judgment, describing the end of time when the Son of Man returns.  Jesus uses the phrase “Son of Man” to describe himself sitting on the throne with all the angels at the time of judgment.  All nations gather before him.

The age-old questions about the second coming of Christ – when? and “what sign?” – are answered in a surprising way: Christ comes now, in the “least.”  The poor and the suffering are signs of Christ’s presence.

Jesus uses the image of a shepherd who divides the sheep from the goats.  This would have been a commonly understood image. Sheep and goats mingle and graze together in the pastures during the day; but at night, or when the sheep are to be sheared or the goats milked, they are separated.   The Great Shepherd is the shepherd for both the sheep and goats and knows them all.

Note that neither those identified in the parable as the sheep nor the goats knew who it was that they were serving (or not serving).  They did not act (or fail to act) to earn Jesus’ favor or to gain their salvation.  Rather, the faithful lived out their faith daily in the ordinary actions and service to others in need.   They are called “blessed” – the word Jesus uses in the Beatitudes to describe the faithful disciple (Matthew 5:1-12).  They have an attitude of a servant, reaching out and caring for those in need with the heart of Jesus. They fulfill what Jesus described earlier in Matthew as the great commandment: to love God and to love the neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39).  Followers of Jesus of every time and place are to act with the same attitude of servanthood and compassion.

This parable sheds light on the sins of omission – the things we are called to do that we fail to do.  It is one thing to admit and confess our sins of commission, naming the wrongs we have done.  We can often readily identify and name our sinful actions.  But it is a more difficult task to name and identify those things we failed to do – those needs we did not even recognize.  This passage shakes us to our core.  The world is big; the needs are great.

The parable of the Last Judgment leads directly in Matthew’s Gospel into the account of the passion and death of Jesus. Just as Jesus has identified in the parable with the least and the suffering, so he enters into his own suffering and death.

Small, seemingly insignificant and forgotten deeds done in everyday living are lifted up as service to Jesus himself.  The sheep in the parable today were surprised – unaware of the good things they were doing.  Their ministry had become a natural response to being a part of Christ’s family, a natural outflowing of life, an internalized faith and lifestyle – so much so that they were unaware of the good works they were doing as they shared God’s love. 

Following Jesus means being an every-day disciple, not just one who shows up on Sundays.  Instead, the challenge of being a disciple is to live with eyes open, seeing Christ in each person and extending the love of Christ to each. 

What needs do you see around you?  Look closely, for you just might be surprised at whom you might meet in your neighbor, in the poor in your community, in the imprisoned, the lonely, and the hungry.  It just might be the very face of Christ in your midst.  Close your eyes and imagine driving home from your congregation.  As you imagine driving by buildings, and people, try to identify people who might have special needs. The challenge of the disciple is to extend compassion today, tomorrow and then the next day.

Yet compassion is not the only challenge for disciples. Each day we, as disciples of Jesus, struggle with forgiveness, grace, responsible living, courage, love, stewardship and other issues.  Sin yanks at us to go our own way with no regard for anyone but ourselves. Thankfully, we have other Christians to encourage, support, and challenge us.  We have God’s Word to ground us in the teachings of Jesus. We have the Spirit to nudge and prod us. 

1. How does Christ connect and identify with those in need?

2. What are some sins of omission, those things left undone?

3. How might you get involved in helping others, especially the hungry, thirsty , naked, sick, and those imprisoned?

4. How might your congregation further help those in need?

5. Today, what is the greatest challenge for you as a disciple of Jesus?

6. What might help you face that challenge?

Ephesians 1:15-23

Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday in the church year. It is a day where we celebrate and remember that ultimately, despite evidence seemingly to the contrary, God is in control.

The author of Ephesians expresses the glorious reign of God in cosmic terms. Christ is seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (vs. 21) and is above every name now and in the future (vs. 21b). All things are put “under his feet” (vs. 22) and Christ is head over all things (vs.22).  

All this is done “for the church,” the body of Christ. And it is into that body that we are joined in baptism. The cosmic becomes individualized; God’s reign over the world is made personal as we are joined to Christ in the waters of baptism. The verses we read today are overflowing with baptismal imagery. 

A prayer is offered for “a spirit of wisdom.” (vs. 17) The faithful are urged to know the hope to which they have been called (vs. 18), the riches of God’s glorious inheritance (vs. 18), and the greatness of God’s power. (vs. 19)  It is the same power (the Greek word is dynamis) that raised Christ from the dead. 

That power is given “for us who believe.” For you. For me. In baptism, we are gifted with God’s Spirit, called to a hope-filled future, and energized with the dynamic power of the One who is above all things and all powers. 

The church in Ephesus is reminded that they are tapped into something greater than themselves. They (and we) are claimed by God and joined in a powerful, life-changing way to Christ’s death and resurrection.  

Christ is the King!  Oh, friends, rejoice!

1. What does it mean to speak of Christ as “king?”

2. What images come to mind when you hear “Christ the King” Sunday?

3. We confess in our creeds that Christ is “seated at the right hand of the Father.” What does that mean to you?

Reflections and Questions from McCullough-Bade, “Daily Discipleship,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2005.  McCullough-Bade, “Daily Faith Practices,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2011.
Prayer, “The Oxford Book of Prayer,” Ed. George Appleton, Oxford University Press, 2009, pg 163.