Sunday Worship 26 November 2023

Psalm 100:1-5
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
   Serve the Lord with gladness;
  come into his presence with singing.
 Know that the Lord is God.
  It is he who made us, and we are his; 
  we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
  and his courts with praise.
  Give thanks to him; bless his name.
 For the Lord is good;
  his steadfast love endures forever
  and his faithfulness to all generations.
Hymn    Come All You People / Uyai Mose
Alexander Gondo © World Council of Churches Reprinted & Podcast permission under ONE LICENSE # A-734713. All Rights Reserved. Sung by the Westminster Presbyterian Church, Dallas, Chancel Choir and used with their kind permission.
Come all you people,
come and praise your Maker (x3),
Come now and worship the Lord.
Prayers of Approach
Gracious and loving God, 
we are your people, 
we find ourselves loved and free. 
We see the wonder of your love all around us, each and every day. 
We see your love in relationships, in creation, 
in kind acts and in each other. 
We are blessed by you in so many ways. 
We experience your love in our lives, your hope in our hearts 
and your inspiration in people, situations and places around us. 
We come before you and we worship you as parent, 
sibling, confidante, protector, sustainer, enabler and holy, divine love.
We are humbled by all you have been, are and will be in this world and in our lives. 
Yet we still mess up, we still get it wrong, and we still fail, often despite our best attempts and efforts. 
Prayers of Confession
We come with our prayers to give ourselves time to consider where we have got things wrong, where we have abused our positions of power, where we have failed to speak out for those on the margins, where we have fallen short on the way. 
In a moment of quiet, let us all to hold before God the things for which we are sorry. The personal, relational, community and worldwide situations that we have not challenged or questioned or not responded to in a more loving and compassionate way. The things we have done or left undone that would have helped others or made a difference for good. The stuff we have avoided or ignored because it felt too much. 
Gracious God, these words we offer, 
seeking to make amends and to change. 
But knowing that, even if we continue to fall short, we are loved. 
Declaration of Forgiveness
Jesus reassures us that we are forgiven. 
Let us hear his words: 
Come to me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 
We claim that rest and seek to forgive ourselves and forgive others. 
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
We wrap up all these prayers in the words that Jesus gave us, saying: 
Our Father…
Prayer of Inspiration 
Bless these words from Scripture that they may give us glimpses of your kin-dom, words to live with and live by and bring us closer to you. Amen. 
Reading        Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep and will sort them out. As shepherds sort out their flocks when they are among scattered sheep, so I will sort out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them into their own land, and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strays, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged, and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them; he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken. 
In this is the Word of the Lord.
Hymn    The King of Love my Shepherd is
H. W. Baker (1868) Public Domain. Sung and recorded by the Sunday 7pm Choir of St. Francis de Sales Church in Ajax, Ontario, Canada and used with their kind permission. 

The King of love my shepherd is,
whose goodness fails me never;
I nothing lack if I am His,
and He is mine for ever.
Where streams 
of living water flow,
with gentle care He leads me,
and where the 
verdant pastures grow,
with heav’nly food he feeds me.
Perverse and foolish 
I have strayed,
but yet in love He sought me,
and on His shoulder gently laid,
and home rejoicing brought me.
In death’s dark vale I fear no ill,
with you, dear Lord, beside me;
Your rod and staff my comfort still,
Your cross before to guide me.
You spread a table in my sight;
Your saving grace bestowing,
and O what joy and true delight,
from your pure chalice flowing.
And so through all 
the length of days,
Your goodness fails me never,
Good Shepherd, 
may I sing your praise,
within your house for ever.
Reading        St Matthew 25:31-46
“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. 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, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, 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, 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.’ 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? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 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.’ 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?’ 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.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life.”
In this is the Word of the Lord.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. AMEN. 
At first sight the Matthew reading looks like a text that would give us freedom to judge, condemn and divide. So much of the Christian faith has been used to do such things to so many people and still does today. Part of my struggle with this Sunday being named Christ the King is that it speaks of power. And power is the root of a lot of our struggles in society, community and relationships. The question posed earlier about which image of God sits best with you reveals my own bias and discomfort with such words. I ask myself why? 
In recent years I have become so much more aware of the power dynamics in society, the privilege many of us have, the divisions that exist often beyond my eyesight and the inequality that exists particularly for those who find themselves ‘on the edges’ for a variety of reasons. And I understand that the chance of birth has led me to be one of the privileged- I am university educated, I have access to medical care, I have money and access to food and shelter, I am physically well much of the time, and I am in equal relationships that feature respect. 
So, with the background of privilege and concern for the dynamics of power in this Sunday’s title, I focused on the two texts- that interestingly put forward images of shepherding (with a bit of king added in there). 
Our text from Matthew comes at a vital point in Jesus’ ministry, a time when he has spoken to power and condemned the Pharisees, has spoken of the end time, the coming of change and the need to be watchful and careful. This reading is placed after two parables: the Parable of the 10 bridesmaids and the Parable of the Talents, neither easy, and both quite divisive. For me these texts, and the one we read from the Gospel according to Matthew, contain an urgency. A message about getting your life in order because of the imminence of Jesus’ return. So, the urgency, the extremes and the dualistic nature of the stories all combine to raise both our awareness, and that of the early listeners, of how we should live. (What we also have to keep in mind is that the author knew the end of the story, knew what had happened to Jesus and was framing the story to speak to the specific audience he was writing to).
Each of these stories is framed in a community setting, not addressed to individuals. The bridesmaids are in community, the slaves live in community and then Matthew’s text gathers the nations- one of the biggest forms of community.
Let us look again at the Ezekiel story- this is also no individualistic text. This is not a God who picks out individuals to be saved but seeks God’s people who have been scattered and seeks to bring them back into relationship, away from the things that distract, divert and divide, encouraging them back into community.
God is speaking to groups of people, to nations, not to individuals. It is not an individualized faith God calls us to, but one where we rely on and look out for each other. It is not a consumer faith of ‘what can I get out of this’ that God calls us to, but a faith that asks: ‘what can I give’? God does not invite us to explore a faith that ensures we focus on self and personal gain and success, but a faith that asks us ‘are you ready’ and tells us that ‘you are never alone, I will not desert you’. 
In the reading from Ezekiel, we hear of a God who wants to bring unity, who wants to show love, who actively reaches out- even when the people have chosen to turn away. The God we see in this Old Testament text is a God who is not distant. What we see is a God who is close enough and involved enough to care for people, to look out for them, who actively seeks to rescue them, and whose desire is that they have all they need. God does this from a pastoral position, a shepherding place, is a caring and loving Divine presence who offers salvation to the whole of God’s people. And in this text there is the fact that the word shepherd can be interpreted as ruler or king, as the person who oversees. God’s desire is for those in power to care and to nurture, the complete opposite of how some in power behave!
The image of an overseer of flocks continues into the Matthew text. This time, however, we hear the words of Jesus looking forward to the end time when we believe that God will offer judgement on humanity. This stark, uncomfortable text reminds us that Jesus came to show us how to live. He came to tell and show the world that, by his life, ministry, death and resurrection, we are to learn about how we are to live in community. In this New Testament text there is a shift in responsibility- God makes it clear that, as Christ has shown us, we are to be the ones who look out for, rescue and care for, others. We are called to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world. And again the reading is clear (the hint is in the title- ‘the judgement of the nations’) that this is not about any of us just being self-absorbed and self-righteous in how we love and live. It is about working together to bring equity, fairness, justice, and hope for all. In community. Together. 
Jesus showed us that, to live God’s way, it is not just about ourselves. But ourselves together. Each of our words, actions and ways of being have a wider impact. We are not just us, we are we. Faith in God, as revealed in Jesus and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit is not about power and authority and self-gain. It is about togetherness, collaboration and community. 
So where does that get us in relation to the struggles of God as King or Shepherd? 
I think we can learn from the Matthew texts. There is a real risk, as followers of Jesus, that we do judge, criticize and condemn. The stories of Jesus that shock, unsettle and concern us are meant to do just that. They are often caricatures that contain duality- an either/or offering. When given clear choices it is often easier to make a decision. In the texts we have shared, we want to be the ones who are looked after, we want to be the ones who can say ‘I helped’ or ‘I offered’. By the very nature of the writing we almost have no choice- who wants to be the one that denies the humanity of others? 
Maybe the question I should be asking is not ‘Is Jesus King or Shepherd’ in a binary way. Maybe I should be asking- how is God revealed to us through the words of Scripture? What can I learn about the nature and way of God through the stories and journeys and experiences of God’s people? I see God as shepherd, God as King, God as Mother Hen, God as Healer, God as Eagle, God as broken man by the side of the road. We often like the duality of being ‘in’ or ‘out’. And yet we all know that separation only causes division. What about both/and? This is the question I leave you with. This was the best piece of advice I have gained from my supervisor- it applies to so much in my life and in my faith: What if it isn’t either/or but both/and? 
Hymn    When I Needed a Neighbour
Sydney Carter © 1965 Stainer and Bell Reprinted & Podcast permission under ONE LICENSE # A-734713. All Rights Reserved. Sung by the Frodsham Methodist Church Cloud Choir accompanied by Andrew Ellams and used with their kind permission.

When I needed a neighbour
were you there, were you there?
When I needed a neighbour, 
were you there?
And the creed and the colour
and the name won’t matter.
Were you there?
I was hungry and thirsty
were you there, were you there?
I was hungry and thirsty, 
were you there?
And the creed and the colour
And the name won’t matter.
Were you there?
I was cold, I was naked
were you there, were you there?
I was cold, I was naked, 
were you there?
And the creed and the colour
and the name won’t matter.
Were you there?

When I needed a shelter
were you there, were you there?
When I needed a shelter
were you there?
And the creed and the colour
and the name won’t matter.
were you there?
When I needed a healer
were you there, were you there?
When I needed a healer,
were you there?
And the creed and the colour
and the name won’t matter.
Were you there?
Wherever you travel
I’ll be there, I’ll be there.
Wherever you travel, 
I’ll be there.
And the creed and the colour
and the name won’t matter.
I’ll be there.


Affirmation of Faith 
We believe in God, 
divine Creator, overseer of all, enabler of life and love. 
We believe in Jesus, 
Son and Saviour, role model, trouble-maker, and shaker-upper. 
We believe in the Holy Spirit, 
source of grace and peace, inspirer and enthuser, 
accessible and welcoming. 
We believe in the Godhead, 
three in one, confuser, bewilderer and assurer 
who invites us into the eternal dance of creation, 
alongside the whole of humanity,
free from division and discrimination.
We believe in God – here, now, forever and for all. Amen. 
Prayers of Intercession
This prayer by Pope Francis appeared at the end of his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’”. 
All powerful God, you are present in the universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with your peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle,
for justice, love and peace. 
Loving God, we know our responsibility to your world 
and those alongside whom we live. 
We pray for those we do not and may never know. 
Now in a time of quiet,
we offer our prayers for those people, places and situations known to us. We pray that you will hear and hold these words 
and may we never forget that our prayers change us 
as well as changing your world. 
All these we pray in the name of Jesus: King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Shepherd, Compassionate healer and divine Son. Amen. 
Gracious God,
thank you for your love in our lives, 
for who we are, who we can be and all we have. 
Because we are so blessed 
we come with our freewill offerings of money, time and talents. 
Take these and use them for your glory, 
to bless and encourage and love. 
In Jesus’ name. Amen. 
Hymn    Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim
Charles Wesley (1744) Public Domain. BBC Songs of Praise

You servants of God, 
your Master proclaim,
and publish abroad 
his wonderful name;
the name all-victorious
of Jesus extol;
his kingdom is glorious
and rules over all.
“Salvation to God, 
who sits on the throne!”
let all cry aloud, 
and honour the Son;
the praises of Jesus 
the angels proclaim,
fall down on their faces 
and worship the Lamb.

Then let us adore and give him his right:
all glory and power, all wisdom and might,
all honour and blessing with angels above
and thanks never ceasing for infinite love.
Let us go out as Christ’s hands and feet,
sowing seeds of harmony and community,
challenging injustice and promoting peace,
dancing together in the eternal dance of humanity, 
united by the love of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit. 
And may the love of God
Creator, Sustainer and Son 
uphold, enable and bless us, 
along with those we love and those we struggle to love. 
Now and forever, Amen. 
All liturgical material by Jenny Mills.
Opening Music: Communion by Cesar Franck (1822 – 1890), Man IV, Jenny Gill Crawley URC
Closing Music: Trumpet by Alcock (1715-1806), Man IV, Jenny Gill Crawley URC – 2021
Thanks to Graham Handscomb, Shree Morrissey, Anne Hewling, Sarah Wilmott, Kathleen Haynes, Diana Cullum-Hall, Alison Jiggins, Liane Todd, and Lorraine Webb for recording various spoken parts of the service.
Copyright: Where copyright material has been reprinted & podcast under ONE LICENSE # A-734713. All Rights Reserved

This material is only for use in local churches not for posting to websites or any other use.  Local churches must have copyright licences to allow the printing and projection of words for hymns.

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