A Promise, A Prompt and a Prayer of Praise
A Promise, A Prompt and a Prayer of Praise by Rev. L. John Gable
November 26, 2017
Have you ever been to a restaurant where you found yourself overwhelmed by the number of menu options? That is kind of how I felt when Eric asked me to preach at his ordination service, adding that I could preach on anything I want. Having the whole Bible as the menu offers a lot of different options.
Adding to the mix, today we celebrate not only Eric’s ordination but it is also Christ the King Sunday. Next week we enter in to the season of Advent in preparation for Christmas and the beginning of a new year on the Church calendar. So immediately I got to thinking maybe I could tie those two themes together: Christ the King and ordination, Jesus and Eric. But then I began to wonder what other menu items I might consider.
I am not typically a lectionary preacher but I thought the lectionary texts for today might be worthy of consideration. The lectionary is a three year cycle of texts which offers an Old Testament lesson, a Psalm, a New Testament lesson and a Gospel reading for each Sunday. It is kind of like a restaurant that offers really good food, but a limited menu: Do you want the beef, the chicken, the pasta or the tofu? Those are your choices.
So I started with the Old Testament lesson, a teaching from the prophecy of Ezekiel, in which the Lord is chastising the rulers of the day, the kings and the priests, for their abuse of the people given to their charge and he uses the imagery of a shepherd and his sheep. Using language remarkably similar to the familiar 23rd Psalm, the Lord says, “I myself will search for My sheep…I will seek them…and rescue them…I will bring them in to their own land and feed them…I myself will be the shepherd of My sheep (remember this is the Lord Himself who is talking here) and I will make them lie down. I will seek the lost and bring back the strayed. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…I will feed them with justice.”
This is the promise God gives to His people, to us, to those of us who are broken and have been injured, even those of us who have wandered far from the fold. God Himself will seek us and find us, redeem and restore us, and in every age He will raise up new and faithful shepherds who will carry out this mission and ministry. Now that will preach! So, I now had three good items on the menu to choose from: Christ the King, an ordination and the promise that God Himself is our Good Shepherd, but still I thought I’d better look at the other lectionary texts as well.
Now I’m not much on coincidences, holy coincidences maybe, but I was startled when I read the Gospel lesson. It is Jesus’ judgement teaching from Matthew 25 in which the Lord gathers the nations and separates them, sheep from goats. The take-away from this teaching is a text “writ large” for us here at Tab. It is a text we see every week in worship, a text which Eric would have seen every Sunday of his childhood because it is carved in to chancel rail right behind me, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters you did it to Me.” This is the passage, the prompt, that best identifies the DNA of Tab, the ministry to which we believe God has called us, the essence of the Gospel that Eric heard and saw lived out during his spiritually formative years, the text which perhaps compelled him to serve in Sierra Leone after college, work at the Goodwill, perhaps even prompted in him a call to seminary and ordination and now a call to serve with Anne at Fort Street Presbyterian Church in Detroit, a church very similar to Tab. This teaching, perhaps better than any other ties together Jesus’ two great commandments (Love God and love one another with all that you are and in all that you do), and this teaching, perhaps better than any other, describes what we do and have done here for 166 years in this community. This teaching is a prompt to each of us to do the ministry Jesus has called us to do.
So, now I’ve got Christ the King and ordination, a promise and a prompt to work with, which of course meant I had to find out what else the lectionary was offering, so I turned to the New Testament epistle reading from Ephesians chapter 1, and here we are given a prayer. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” Now that is a good word of encouragement and a commitment we can make to Eric and to one another as we seek to love God and serve our neighbors, but now listen to the prayer Paul offers.
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know Him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power for us who believe.” Paul prays that the same power God used to raise Jesus from the dead will also be given to us. Isn’t this precisely our prayer for ourselves, individually and collectively, as the Church, in the ministry we are called to, and more specifically, isn’t this our prayer for Eric, our brother and friend, both now and throughout his ministry? I believe it is.
And then finally, just for good measure, I decided to look at the Psalm for the day and it is the familiar Psalm 100, the very first extended passage of Scripture I memorized as a child, which invites us to enter into God’s presence with shouts and songs of praise and thanksgiving, which is exactly what we are doing here today.
So, which of these should I preach on today?
The promise of God to be our Good Shepherd who seeks and saves us.
The prompt of our Lord as pastors and people to love both God and neighbor in all acts of service and kindness.
The prayer for God’s people to know His glorious hope and riches and power.
Or the praise of God which each of these call out from us?
On this Christ the King Sunday, on this day when we celebrate the ordination of Eric Lange, a child of God and son of this church family, we are given a promise, a prompt and a prayer of praise; all of which sound really good to me. Amen.