Proper 29A (OT 34)

"Sheep + Goat" by Clevergrrl


Voice in the Wilderness: Max Hazell

Featured Musician:Amy Cox


 Tasty Wafer: 

Featured Musician:Jennifer Knapp

  • Thursday Night Special with Jennifer Knapp:

Tasty Wafer: 

  • Rethink Church’s Advent resources.  Checking, Decking, and Dashing to Christmas. Includes worship notes, visuals, videos, sermon starters, and outreach materials.  There even time to order a customized video that can include your church’s name and service information.

  • 11 Ways to #BeChristInChristmas As “War on Christmas” and “Keep Christ in Christmas” rhetoric flares up, this idea to “Be Christ in Christmas” could be a salve.  There are several practical ways that people can put their faith into action during the holiday season.  Spoiler Alert: Getting upset that Target has a “Happy Holidays” sign is not one of them.

Exegetical Notes

Matthew 25:31-46

Initial Thoughts

  • “Calling all sheep! All sheep, head this way to heaven! Thanks for feeding and clothing the poor. PS Sorry, goats, you’re on your own.” Matthew 25 from Twible by Jana Riess

  • King is a political term. We are still dealing with effects of an election. What does it mean to declare that Christ is the political head and sovereign? How does that compare or contrast to being a shepherd?

Bible Study

  • Literary Context

    • After a series of parables about the coming, or the delay, this one has the returned King in place.

    • “Critical to the interpretation of this passage from the vantage point of the reader is the threefold rendering of the presence of Christ. Most obviously, Christ is anticipated as the exalted Son of Man, who comes in glory… Second, Christ is present in ‘the least of these,’ the needy with whom he has identified himself and who become the locus of his presence. Third, Christ is present as the Son of Man, who suffers and is crucified… The all-embracing authority of Christ the King makes sense only in light of this three-fold rendering of Christ’s presence.” (Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year A,  p. 576)

  • Who is Jesus talking to? (for more on this see Greg Cary at

    • v. 32- “Nations” (ethne) can be translated at nations or Gentiles

    • Focused at Christians - commanding them to be faithful

      • Seem to make sense that this entire discourse, the “second sermon on the mount” is directed at the disciples

      • However also leads to a justification by works (not an issue for Matthew, but will be for later Christians)

    • Focused on “Gentiles” meaning non-Christians dictates a justification by faith. Those who believe (and whose believe is shown in their faithful works) will be saved

    • “The least of these” could be his missionaries, sent out into the world, and the Gentiles are in the Kingdom if they received them. “The passage is intended by Matthew to encourage these vulnerable missionaries by announcing that pagans will be judged on the basis of how they treat these “least” of Jesus’ followers.” (Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew, p. 290)

  • A description or a command? Is Jesus telling us to care for the least of these or simply saying there are those that care for the least of these and those that do not: there are good trees that bear good fruit and bad trees that bear bad fruit.

    • Where then is grace?

    • Comes down to doing good because it is good, bearing good fruit and being faithful for their own sake, not for the hope for reward or fear for punishment.

      • Francis Clark said, "To feel sorry for the needy is not the mark of a Christian—to help them is."

      • Thomas Long: "not the power elite or the moral majority, forcing their will on the nations: they are identified with the weak of the earth and are more likely to be found in hospitals and prisons than in palaces" (Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion)

    • From Kathryn Matthews (Huey) Sermon Seeds: “David Mosser sums up the thoughts of many writers when he notes that in this parable, Jesus "never asks either group what they think about him." On this Judgment Day, "salvation belongs not automatically to those who have faith, but rather to those who do faith." Still, as much as Judgment Day strikes a measure of fear in our hearts, "God does not see the story of our lives as we see the story of our lives. God sees as God sees. This becomes our saving grace" (The Stewardship Companion: Lectionary Resources for Preaching).”

  • Judgement

    • v. 34b “inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you” - Now but not yet Kingdom of God

    • Perhaps the Kingdom of God like eternal life is not something that is coming but something that is- when we care for the least we are living in God’s kingdom

    • When we are not- we are living in eternal punishment because we refuse to see others as our brothers and sisters and to love them as ourselves.

Preaching Thoughts

  • Why do we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the prisoner? To assuage our own guilt? To make us feel better about us or simply because the hungry, naked, and imprisoned are our brothers and sisters?

  • Is the dichotomy between justification by faith or justification by works imposed by Jesus or by the church? Is it a fruitful or fruitless conversation? Can we truly “believe” our way into salvation without taking action? What about those who “bear good fruit” but don’t believe?

  • What does it mean to declare Christ as King or the Reign of Christ when all seems to the contrary?

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Initial Thoughts

  • A part of the New Interpreter’s Bible, volume VI, which at 1612 pages is the biggest book in my office.

  • Connections between this and the New Testament readings are clear.

  • Cut out of a longer piece concerning shepherds.  The beginning of chapter 34 sets the tone to “Prophesy against Israel’s shepherds.”

  • King as Shepherd is a common metaphor, one appropriate for Christ the King Sunday.

Bible Study

  • Historical Context

    • Ezekiel was a priest in the Temple of Jerusalem.  A part of educated, privileged society.

    • Exiled to Babylonia in 597 BCE

    • Commissioned prophet in 593 BCE.  A harsh critic of Yahwism of his day that had two main branches:

      1. Emphasized that God’s promises were coming, thought that Jerusalem and Temple were untouchable, and people just had to wait it out.  

      2. Resignation capitulation to Babylonian deities and culture.

    • Ezekiel warned that a total destruction was coming.  That Yahweh was indeed orchestrating a total collapse as a result of the unfaithfulness of Israel.

    • Second exile in 586 with destruction of the Temple

    • Ezekiel was not around for the post-exilic period.  

  • Literary Context (from Common English Study Bible notes on Ezekiel, p. 1315-16)

    • Three parts of Ezekiel reflect movement over time.

    • 1-24: Judging the house of Israel

    • 25-32: Against foreign nations and gods.

    • 33-48: Promise of restoration

    • This three part organization is the result of editing.  His oracles reached a 20 year span, from 593-571

  • Beginning of the “Restoration” section of Ezekiel.  Still starts with judgment of the shepherds of Israel.  End with promise that God will restore things, and make a new covenant of peace.

    • Reason behind judgment is not within lectionary passage.  34:2b-5a “Doom to Israel’s shepherds who tended themselves! Shouldn’t shepherd tend the flock? You drink the milk, you wear the wool, and you slaughter the fat animals, but you don’t tend the flock. You don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost; but instead you use force to rule them with injustice.  Without a shepherd, my flock was scattered.

      • Matthew 9:36 “ When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

  • Good news for some, not really for all

    • “I will seek out the lost, bring back the strays, bind up the wounded, and strengthen the weak.  But the fat and the strong I will destroy, because I will tend my sheep with justice.” (34:16)

    • Good news for the least and lost.  Not such good news for the fat and strong.  

    • Again, lectionary cuts off an important line. “I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be their prince.  I, the Lord have spoken.  [end of lection] I will make a covenant of peace for them, and I will banish the wild animals from the land.  Then they will safely live in the desert and sleep in the forest.”  (34:24-25).  

Preaching Thoughts

  • Is this good news?  Perhaps lingering on this question is the most important thing we can do.  Every context is different, but in most mainline Protestant, middle class congregations, is this good news?  This is good news for the prey, what about the wild beasts?  Giving honest thought to how we receive this oracle is important.  How do you explain privilege to someone who works hard and makes an honest living?  Is it possible to be fat and strong and not a part of the problem that Ezekiel describes?

  • This passage can be deeply political.  When we talk about shepherds and kings, it is hard not to hear a call to our current leadership.  Is the government the good shepherd?  Given the remarkably low approval ratings, it is hard to imagine that anyone thinks of government as a good shepherd.  Many feel that government leaders are more interested in “tending themselves then their flock.”  What would it look like for a government that cared more for people than itself.

Ephesians 1:15-23

Initial Thoughts

  • Clearly chosen for Christ the King Sunday

    • The original lectionary reading was 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, but was changed to Ephesians to “emphasize the exaltation of Christ” (RCL).

  • Ephesians - deutero-Pauline (Paul most likely didn’t write Ephesians), most likely written between 75 and 100 CE after the teaching of the first apostles was well established (see Eph. 2:20)

    • Written to Gentile audience to tell or remind them of their adoption into the family of God and the implications of Christ’s life, death and resurrection for the Gentiles. (cf. Eph 1:5)

    • Also encourages followers of Christ to love one another as Christ did in all manners.

Bible Study

  • Because of this

    • Literally how v. 15 begins and should prompt us to ask- “because of what”

    • Because of God’s gift of faith among the Ephesians who have heard the Good news, believed, and received the Holy Spirit (v.13)

  • King of Kings

    • Christ is raised above all others

    • Christ is not one among others who have been exalted, but is THE exalted one. (see v.21 - above kings, authorities, and deities that currently exist and all that will be named in the “age to come”)

  • Christ as Lord

    • Foundational text for the belief that Christ being seen and heralded as Lord is a precursor to the eschatological kingdom of God (see 1 Thess. 4:13-18 from a couple weeks ago)

    • V.20 is later paraphrased within the Nicene Creed

  • Inclusive or Exclusive

    • Message of comfort to the community called to proclaim Christ as Lord- especially to the Gentiles that they TOO are part of the family of Christ

      • Word of comfort and guidance to that community - not to judge, not to use the Lordship of Christ as a weapon, but to root our hope in the love of Christ under which everything is and which fills all in all.

    • All of creation is subject to the radical love of God in Jesus Christ- is this good news or bad news?

  • Message of Grace

    • This is a prayer for the church - not for a solitary individual, but a community

    • Not a prayer of triumphalism, but a call to faithful hope (see v. 18)

    • “The prayer is not a victory dance for those who have arrived but a clarion call to live a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called, to exhibit the body of Christ as God's called-out people for the world. For the writer of Ephesians, Christ and the church are inseparable, with the church complementing the work of its head. In other words, because God's saving work is not finished, neither is the task to which believers—old and new—have been called as Christ's body.” John Cole, Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

    • The message the Ephesians are being called to is a reconciled community of Jews and Gentiles- an inclusive congregation with Christ at its head.

Preaching Thoughts

  • If Christ is not King, then who or what is?

  • What implications does the Lordship of Christ over all the universe and earth have to interfaith dialogue? Can one be inclusive of other faiths without surrendering the Christian Confession of Christ as Lord and Savior?

    • Can we proclaim Christ as our Lord - or must we declare Christ as the Lord? (if the latter is true- what do we mean by this?)

    • “Although the first chapter of Ephesians does not offer a conclusive answer, it does suggest that Christ's exclusive reign leads to inclusive hope—to truly good news that envelops the whole cosmos and all of humanity.”- Jennifer McBride, Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

  • What does it mean to be subject to the total authority of love?


Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).