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Christ the King (Proper 29) / Pentecost 24 / Ordinary Time 34, Cycle A

The good news of the reign of Christ. This last Sunday of the church year is clearly a day to take stock, to contemplate the power and authority of Christ, not just in our lives but throughout the created order to the end (Creation, Providence, Christology, Eschatology).

Psalm 100
This is a Psalm of Thanksgiving, probably a doxology for a collection. While the song does not refer specifically to God as king, its mood is similar to the alternative kingship psalm that follows. We are exhorted to make a joyful noise [rua, meaning "to shout"] to the Lord and to worship with gladness [simchah] and singing [shir] (vv. 1-2). Reminders are given that Yahweh is God who made us and that we are his people (v. 3). Exhortations are then given to enter his presence [shaar, literally "gates"] with thanksgiving and praise (v. 4). We confess that Yahweh is good [tob] and that his steadfast love [chesed, or "mercy"] and faithfulness [emunah] endure forever (v. 5).

Application: A sermon on this psalm needs to involve praise of God for his majesty that is filled with love (God, Providence, Justification by Grace). Another possibility for the sermon is to focus on the nature of worship as joyful praise.


Psalm 95:1-7a
This text is part of a liturgy of God’s kingship. These verses are part of a brief outline of a worship service, opening with a hymn and perhaps a processional. The congregation is exhorted to come to Yahweh, singing with a joyful noise to the rock [tsur, referring to a sharp rock] of our salvation [yesha, meaning "safety" or "ease"] (v. 1). They are urged to come into his presence [panim, literally "face"] with thanksgiving and with a joyful noise of hymns and praise (v. 2). Yahweh is said to be a great God, a great king above all gods. The depths of the earth, the mountain’s heights, the sea, and the dry land are his, for he made them (vv. 3-5). More exhortation is given to worship and kneel before Yahweh the Creator, for he is said to be our God and we his sheep (vv. 6-7).

Application: This psalm would also inspire sermons devoted to praising God for his majesty and the way he gives us safety and ease in life (God and Providence). In this case as well, another possibility would be to focus on the nature of worship as joyful praise. But focusing on the majesty of the created order and helping the flock recognize that God’s rule is related to the fact that he made the cosmos (Creation) is another alternative.

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Ezekiel was a prophet from a priestly family whose ministry to his fellow exiles during the Babylonian captivity extended from 593 BC to 563 BC. Some oracles pre-date Jerusalem’s fall. The original collection of prophecies was rewritten and expanded by an editor. This lesson is a prophecy on the shepherds of Israel. Yahweh Elohim declares that he will himself search for his scattered sheep (vv. 11-12). He promises to bring them back to their own land where they will be fed (vv. 13-14). The Lord promises to be their shepherd [raah]. He will seek the lost, bring back the stray, and strengthen the weak (vv. 15-16). Yahweh Elohim proceeds to claim that he will judge [shaphat] between fat sheep and lean sheep, saving those who will no longer be ravaged (vv. 20-22). He will set over them one shepherd, his servant David, who will feed them and be their shepherd (v. 23). It is promised that the Lord will be the God of the people and David their prince (v. 24).

Application: A sermon on this text could provide occasion to proclaim God’s care for the poor despite our sinful resistance, and the forgiving, empowering grace we need in order to do this (Social Ethics, Sanctification, and Justification by Grace). Or more focus could be placed on God and Christ as our shepherd (Justification by Grace).

Ephesians 1:15-23
This book is a circular letter, written either by Paul from prison late in his career or by a follower of Paul who had had a hand in gathering the collection of his epistles. These conclusions follow from the fact that the letter includes vocabulary and stylistic characteristics which are markedly different from the Pauline corpus. Either way, the epistle seems to have been written to a younger, later generation of Christians (1:15). This is a lesson offering thanksgiving reflections and prayer. It begins with the author claiming to have heard of the Ephesians’ faith and love toward all the saints. Thus he gives thanks for them, remembering them in his prayers (vv. 15-16). He proceeds to pray that the God of Jesus Christ may give the Ephesians a spirit of wisdom and revelation enlightening their hearts [dianoia, which properly translates "mind"], so that they may know the hope [epis] to which he has called them and the riches of this inheritance among the saints (vv. 17-18). The author then speaks of the immeasurable greatness of God’s power [kratos] for all who believe (v. 19). God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him and seated him at his right hand, far above all earthly powers (vv. 20-21; cf. Psalms 110:1). God is said to have put all things under Christ’s feet, making him the head over all things for the church. It is said to be his body [soma] and fullness of him who fills all in all (vv. 22-23).

Application: This lesson invites sermons on the cosmic Christ (how the Logos permeates all the structures of creation and subdues them, most especially in the church). The implications of this insight about Christology and Creation for everyday life (a sense of Christ’s presence in everything) may be explored.

Matthew 25:31-46
We have previously noted that this gospel is an anonymous work based on oral traditions about Jesus (though traditionally attributed to Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples [9:9]), a book perhaps written in the last third of the first century in Antioch, for its Bishop Ignatius seems to quote it as early as 110 AD. That it is written in Greek seems to rule out the disciple as its author. This lesson reports Jesus’ proclamation of the great judgment.

Jesus begins by claiming that when the Son of Man [huios tou anthropou] comes with all the angels he will sit on the throne of glory (v. 31). All the nations will be gathered before the Son, it is noted, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats (v. 32). Then the king will tell those he puts on his right that they are blessed and may inherit the kingdom prepared for them before the foundation of the world (v. 34). This idea underlines the certainty of promise, endorsing the Hebrew idea that something we expect in the future is already present in God. Jesus then proceeds to comment that the reason for this separation was because those placed on his right fed him when he was hungry, welcomed him as a stranger, clothed and cared from him when he was naked and sick (vv. 35-36). The righteous will answer with surprise that they served him, Jesus notes (vv. 37-39). The king will answer that they have served him when they served the least of those who are members of his family, for then these deeds were done to him (v. 40). Next those placed by Jesus on his left hand will be told by him that they are cursed and must go to the eternal fire prepared for the devil (v. 41). For they have not served him when he came in the form of a stranger, or as one who is naked, sick, and in prison (vv. 42-43). The cursed will answer that they did not see Jesus come to them as hungry, thirsty, as a stranger, as naked, and the like (v. 44). Then Jesus, it is prophesied, will answer that as they did not do it to the least of these they have not done it to him (v. 45). And then they will go away to eternal punishment, while the righteous [dikaios] go to eternal life (v. 46). Scholars have argued that this lesson’s emphasis on works must be held in tension with Matthew’s stress on grace in 20:1-6 (Eduard Schweizer, Good News According to Matthew, p. 480).

Application: This lesson affords opportunity to proclaim how and why the last judgment is good news. Justification by Grace and Eschatology should be emphasized, with attention to Social Ethics and Sanctification. Another approach might be to focus on what it is like to find Christ in our poor neighbor.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen