Getting Ready for Sunday by Paige Hanks

Editor's Note: This post was written for Nov. 26th. 

Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek 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 will 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 strayed, 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.  Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 

The brain is one of the greatest parts of the created self.  Its complex design, its capacity to take in information and attempt to make sense of it, and its role as the driver of our thoughts and actions are fascinating and mysterious. One of those very unique aspects of our brain function is our spatial awareness.  Spatial awareness is the ability to make sense out of what we encounter.  Our spatial awareness helps us connect data points as we create mental images and maps of the world around us.  When it is functioning appropriately, we can find our way around town, pick the right entrance at the mall, and choose the most direct route to our destination. When something is off, or we are missing a significant data point, our spatial awareness can lead us in the wrong direction or down unsafe paths.  And feeling lost is one of the worst feelings in the world.

This Sunday is the celebration of Christ the King. It is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the grand finale if you will, before we start the new liturgical year with Advent I next Sunday. A brilliant way to understand the authority and intent of the kingship of Christ is in the reading this week from Ezekiel, even though the incarnate Christ had not yet been revealed.  Through the words of the prophet, God is revealed as the shepherd of God’s people.  And we Christians know that the great shepherd of the flock is revealed to us in the life and ministry of Jesus.  The prophet Ezekiel is living amongst the exiled Israelites, a people who have been rescued from slavery but have wandered and felt lost in the desert for what surely must have seemed like a lifetime.  His prophecy is a message of hope to a lost people.

We may not physically live in a geographical desert today, but we are often a lost people ourselves.  We rely on our spatial awareness to do something for us that the created self simply cannot do. Although we are created by God, we are lost without Jesus, who is both our great shepherd and our king.  Jesus will search for us, rescue us from ourselves, and lead us to the kingdom when we cannot find our way.  For it is in God’s kingdom that we are redeemed through the death and resurrection of Christ.  When we are safely under the kingship of Christ, we sit at God’s right hand.  And we never find ourselves lost again.

God created humanity and calls us through our baptism into covenant.  It is within that covenantal context that we are “fed with justice” as Ezekiel says.  This justice is like no human justice at all, but rather is a justice that forgives us our sins and reconciles us with God though we cannot ever deserve such gifts.  And a reconciled people are then called to go out into the world and extend that justice to others through love.  Today’s Gospel writer conveys what that is to look like, as we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned.  For we are all members of the body of Christ, found and claimed by Christ our King.

Posted by Paige Hanks with

Getting Ready for Sunday

It's fitting to encounter this reading as we are moving into the time of year when many churches are considering the coming year’s budget, and turning attentions toward pledge campaigns and related matters. Most churches with which I am familiar don’t spend money extravagantly, but the need for money is fundamentally no different for churches than it is for any family. I would like to offer four observations about these things. 

1) What to do with your money is a matter for prayer.

We sometimes have a propensity to go off, as it were, half-cocked; to make decisions in an unconsidered or unadvised way. This, of course, is imprudent and wrong. And the more important or substantial a decision is, the more considered and advised it should be. And the greatest advisor, or Counselor, in our lives is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me,” (John 15.26). So we should pray to Jesus to send us the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, and to enable us to give of ourselves in a Christian way – that is, with reference to Jesus, to whom the Holy Spirit bears witness. If, when we are trying to discern the right decision to make, we sometimes feel perplexed, we should pray. The epistle of St. James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask,” (James 4.2). If we would like clarity, we should ask God for it, with simple faith. So before you decide what to do with your money, pray about it. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you.

2) You should make a will, and make sure it is up to date.

A little-regarded passage in the Book of Common Prayer (page 445) says that priests are “to instruct [their] people, from time to time, about the duty… of all persons to make wills, while they are in health, arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, not neglecting, if they are able, to leave bequests for religious and charitable uses.” This is a duty that we owe to God, who has entrusted us with every temporal good we enjoy. As stewards of these things under God’s authority, therefore, we have a duty not to treat them with prodigality in life or in death, but to ensure that they are directed toward the glory of God. This likewise is a duty that we owe to our near relations – i.e. not to saddle them with the enormous burden of disposing of an estate in chaos when we die. After providing for our surviving dependents, leaving bequests to the Church is a sure way of orienting the fruit of our labor, and the residue of our lives in this world, toward the glory of God.

3) Giving money to divine purposes is a good-faith effort to discharge our debt.

The epistle of James says “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change,” (James 1:17). Similarly, Paul asks, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). All that we have and all that we are comes from God. In the grand scheme, we are all beggars, all living off of divine charity. If you are tempted to think that you have much because you are smart or talented, you might ask yourself: where did your intelligence and your talent come from?

4) Giving money to God’s purposes is Eucharistic, a way to participate in the mystery of the cross.

We owe God everything that we have. The old Prayer Book Eucharistic canon speaks this way explicitly: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee…” God has given us everything, and we so we owe him everything. Most of us spend the majority of our time transmuting the substance of our lives and our energies into money, but that transmutation is not like a divine tax loophole, an end-run around God’s just claim over the whole of my being. The income tax rate of the Kingdom of God is 100%, and there will be nowhere to hide our assets when Christ at last fills all things, searching even the recesses of our hearts. Everything we have and everything that we are must be devoted to God, in union with Jesus Christ, who offered the entirety of his being to his Father acceptably on the cross. THAT must be the shape of our giving. 

Thinking this way will require that we cease thinking the way that America has habituated us to think – namely that Sunday is the day on which we devote our time and energies to God. The truth is that God wants all of us. All of our time, all of our money, all of our being, “our selves, our souls and bodies,” all day, every day. While this may demand a rejiggering of our assumptions (what the New Testament calls “metanoia” or “repentance”), there’s a powerful incentive to get it done – i.e. that we might one day have spoken to us the words of the Savior, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.”

Posted by The Rev. Will Brown with

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.