Sunday March 26, 2023 – Lent 5
Throughout these Lenten days and nights we turn to walk the inward way,
Where meeting Christ, our guide and light, we live in hope till Easter Day.
© 1993 Hope Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Used by permission. LicenSingOnline#605486
Acknowledging the Territory
We take a moment to acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to use and share it wisely.
Call to Worship
We gather to worship a God who turns the expectations and ideas of our world upside down,
We gather to worship a God who loves us and challenges us to love others.
We gather to worship a God who welcomes us and challenges us to welcome others.
We gather to worship a God who provides for us and challenges us to help provide for others.
We gather to worship a God who gives us the freedom to decide how we will respond.
And so we gather to worship God.
Service of Lenten Candles
During Advent we light candles each week as we prepare with joy and excitement to welcome the one born to bring God’s light into the world. During Lent we prepare ourselves with quiet contemplation for the day when that light was extinguished. The six purple candles represent the six weeks of Lent, while the white candle, our Christ Candle continues to burn reminding us who it is that we journey with during this season of Lent.
Lent calls us to a time of honesty and humility.
We remember that we must be honest about our motives and our action.
We remember that we must take responsibility for the things we do.
We remember the promise that God will not judge us on what we do wrong but on our best selves.
We remember that Lent call us to humbly accept God’s forgiveness, God’s generosity, and God’s call to obedience and responsibility.
As we extinguish this candle, we offer our Lenten Prayer.
Let us Pray
Forgiving, generous and calling God, you are the source of our purpose, our strength, our direction and our hope. It is through you that find the courage to follow Christ as he walked this Lenten journey before us. Even more than this, you give us the courage to follow Christ throughout our lives. Remind us to trust in you now and always. Amen.
Gift of Music Come, Now, You Blessed #592
The portion of the Gospel According to Matthew that we hear this morning is often referred to as the last judgement. But it seems to me that it should, perhaps, be looked at more as a reminder that how we behave each day and how we live our lives trying to follow the example of Christ is what really matters.
Matthew 25:31-46 Good News Translation“
When the Son of Man comes as King and all the angels with him, he will sit on his royal throne, and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him. Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the righteous people at his right and the others at his left. Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’ The righteous will then answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Away from me, you that are under God’s curse! Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels! I was hungry but you would not feed me, thirsty but you would not give me a drink; I was a stranger but you would not welcome me in your homes, naked but you would not clothe me; I was sick and in prison but you would not take care of me.’ Then they will answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we would not help you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.’ These, then, will be sent off to eternal punishment, but the righteous will go to eternal life.”
Favorite Hymn Request Up from the Depths I Cry to God #852
Sheep and Goats
Today we look at the last of the parables from Matthew’s gospel that we are going to explore during Lent this year. Although this scripture is often called the “Final Judgement” and is sometimes even seen as a prophecy of the end of days, it is, in fact, a parable that uses story to make a point.
All nations find themselves gathered at the Divine throne and the King divides all those gathered into two groups, the sheep and the goats. A very interesting point that was made by one researcher into this passage, is that in the ancient language of the Samarian and Babylonian regions, there is only one word for sheep and goats. Those gathered at the throne are people, people of various nationalities, ethnicities, genders, background, and experiences, but all are simply people. Looking at them no one, except the one sitting on that throne, would be able to tell which ones were sheep and which ones were goats.
But the one sitting on the throne does know and so all of those gathered are sorted into two distinct groups. To the first group the King says, come and enjoy the kingdom that has been prepared for you, because when I was hungry and you fed me, when I was thirsty you gave me a drink, when I was a stranger you welcomed me into your home, when had nothing to wear, you gave me clothing, when I was sick you cared for me and when I was in prison and you visited me. To the second group the King says, you are not welcome here because you did not feed, cloth, welcome, care for or visit me when I was in need.
Both groups respond to the words of the King in exactly the same way. The first group asks, “when did I feed you or cloth you or care for you?” The second group asks, “when did I see you in need and fail to respond?”
It is clear that neither group recognizes themselves in the words that are spoken. Neither group seems to understand why they are being blessed or cursed by the one sitting on the throne. If they had seen and recognized the “King” in a situation where he had needed help, of course they would have helped him. After all the king had the power to reward or punish. But they had not seen him in any of the situations that had been mentioned.
And this tells us something very important about both groups. The first group, the sheep, were the ones that had fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick and visited the imprisoned. But they were not doing these things in the expectation of some kind of reward. They were doing these things because they believed that they were the right thing to do.
The second group, the goats, were not doing these things because they saw no reason why they should. It was not their fault if someone was hungry or thirsty or lonely or sick so why should they help? And if someone was imprisoned, that was not their concern. There was noting in it for them if they did help. After all people who were so desperately in need could certainly not help them out in any way, so why would they bother? After all, it’s the governments responsibility to look after those things and there are plenty of charities out there if someone really needs help that badly.
But the words of the King echo throughout all of this. “Whenever you did this” or did not do this “for one of the least important” or most vulnerable of all people “you did it for me!’
At the heart of it, this is the message of this parable. It is about seeing and recognizing the image of the Divine in all of humanity. It is about looking beyond the need, beyond the hunger, the disease, the ragged clothing, or the prison bars and seeing instead the person who is a refection of Divine creation. When we can do that, it changes everything.
There is a wonderful story of an interviewer who, shortly after the death of Mother Theresa, spoke with one of sisters who worked with the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Theresa in 1950. He asked what it was that had made Mother Theresa so successful and so influential in her mission work.
The sister being interviewed thought for a moment and then responded, “Well, I guess it was the fact that she really believed Matthew 25 verse 40.”
The interviewer looked confused, so the sister elaborated. “She was truly able to see the image of Christ in every single person she met. She treated every single person like they were the very embodiment of Christ.”
The interviewer looked even more confused. “Yes, but what made her successful? Was she a good organizer? Was she a powerful motivational speaker? Was she a great strategist? Did she know how to influence the political and religious leaders of her time?”
The sister just smiled. “She was successful because she treated everyone exactly the same way she would have treated Christ himself.”
Now I know I will never be a Mother Theresa. I know there are times when I am probably much more of a goat then a sheep, times when I really am oblivious of the needs of the people around me. But there are other times when I see someone in need or in pain and I feel a deep compassion and love and a deep desire to help.
I think that perhaps, there is a little bit of goat and a little bit of sheep in each of us. But what this parable reminds us is that when we do act out of compassion and love we are not just serving one single individual. We are serving the Divine. And so, perhaps the challenge is to open ourselves to look more deeply into those around us, especially those we normally overlook and see if we just might be able to recognize the image of God within them. If we can begin to see the image of God in all humanity, then we just might become, if not pure sheep, at least more sheep than goat.
Gift of Music When I Needed a Neighbour #600
We Offer Our Gifts
One of the ways in which we reach out to help others is through our financial support of this church and its mission. When we place our offering on the plates in the entryway, we are not only supporting this physical building but we are supporting the work of Beacon in the community and beyond. We are also supporting the work of our national church through our Mission and Service. And so as we bring forward those donation, let us sing our offertory response.
Offertory Response # 542
We give you but your own, what-e’er the gift may be;
All that we have is yours alone, we give it gratefully.
©William Walsham How 1858. Used with permission. OneLicense.net#A-723756
We Offer Our Prayers
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Divine Grace, you offer us a vision of a time when the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given something to drink, the homeless are housed, those without adequate clothing are clothed, the sick are visited, and those in prison are offered hope and comfort. But we wonder how such a thing can ever be achieved. What will it take from us and what must we do? Will you require more from us than what we are already doing? Will we have the faith and courage to do what is needed? Will you judge us not only for what we have done, but also for what we have left undone? Will what we have done and what we continue to do be enough?
In your great love and mercy, move us beyond fear; move us beyond guilt; move us beyond our anxious worry. Open our eyes to see as you see and weep as you weep. Open our hearts to love the broken and care for those without hope. Open our mouths to speak for the voiceless and to cry out for your justice and mercy. Open our ears to hear the gentle whispers of your Spirit calling to us. Open our hands to share gratefully what we have. And open our lives to respond. Move us deeper into your surprising grace and help us to overcome the blindness that does not recognize you when you come to us in the lowliest and the least. Guide us through the example of the one who was sent to show us your way as we offer together the words we have been taught to share, Our Father …
Gift of Music When a Poor One #702
Today, we go out from here not to return to our own individual lives, but to carry on the work of this church as we join in our Annual meeting to review the past year and to look toward the year to come. And so, as we move from our worship into the work of our church, we know that God continues to lead us, Christ’s example continues to challenges us and the Spirit continues not only with us but within us, and we continue to go with God.
Choral Blessing #298
When you walk from here, when you walk from here,
Walk with justice, walk with mercy, and with God’s humble care.
© 1991 Borealis music. All rights reserved. Used with Permission. OneLicense.net#A-723756