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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.

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Getting Ready For Sunday by Paige Hanks

May 15, 2016


John 14:16 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever."

On the first day of school in kindergarten classes all around the country, teachers read the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. This picture book tells of a young raccoon who is apprehensive about leaving his mother for the first day of school. He would rather stay in the comfort of his mother’s presence forever. She kisses his hand and explains she will always be with him, and that kiss acts to remind the raccoon of the gift of his mother, helping him feel her presence even when he is physically away from her. This book is read by teachers to their students on the first day of school to help encourage and give them strength as they go out in the world to begin their formal learning journey.

The readings for Pentecost remind all Christians that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit with us forever. In the Gospel reading from John, the disciple named Philip tells Jesus that he wants to see the Father because he doesn’t fully grasp the divinity of Christ himself. Jesus goes on to explain that he will be leaving to be with the Father, and that God will provide an Advocate to be with us forever. Jesus reminds them to keep the commandments and do even greater works for the glorification of God and with the Holy Spirit abiding within them and therefore in us all.

What does it mean to have an advocate in the Holy Spirit? Another way to translate the word advocate is as a companion or helper, making the Holy Spirit an ever present guide in our lives. As followers of Christ, this means that we are not alone as we go about our daily lives. Philip didn’t really understand God when he asked Jesus to show him the Father, and the same is true for us today. How can we fully comprehend that which is divine when we are only humans? Although our revelation may be limited by our humanity, we can see the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. As we face the challenges that come our way, our faith in God can give us strength that can only be understood as divine, since we would never be able to overcome those challenges on our own. That evidence points to God’s promise to be with us as Jesus said to the disciples that day.

This text also speaks of the great works we will do, with Jesus using his own works as a model for us and as a way to show his divinity with God. Imagine if our own works showed our creaturely relationship with God as well! With the companionship and help from the indwelling Holy Spirit, our helping actions toward our neighbors, the poor, the marginalized, the neediest among us, will point directly to our God. The restoration of the Kingdom of God demands these works from us, and the Holy Spirit is in our midst to make it happen. We just have to seize the opportunity.

The words of the first verse of Hymn 516 in our Hymnal say it best:

Come down, O love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

May we know God’s presence in our lives as more than just a kiss on the hand, and may we call upon the Holy Spirit to work in us to serve God in the world. Kindle in us the fire of your love!

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