Welcome to the church
Call to worship and welcome
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come […] and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
Prayers of adoration and confession
Let us pray a prayer of adoration based on Psalm 97:
Come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
Come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Come let us listen to his voice!
As we recognise the kingship of God, we recognise too the times that we have failed to live under his rule, and we continue in prayer:
You, God, are our one and only King.
We beg Your forgiveness for the other “kings” that we kneel before, often without realising it:
Money, power, privilege, gossip, self-righteousness.
And so merciful Father,
we turn to you in faith,
asking your forgiveness,
trusting in your grace,
and opening our hearts to you.
In Jesus’ name,
Assurance of Forgiveness
God is light, in him is no darkness at all.
If we walk in the light, as God is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5, 7)
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
hear Christ’s word of grace to us: “Your sins are forgiven”
Thanks be to God
Hymn: Sing unto the Lord a new song
Reflection: The last Sunday of the year
Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. The day we complete Year A (where we have focused on Matthew’s Gospel), the last day before we move to year B (when will be focusing on Mark’s Gospel).
The ‘collect’ or traditional prayer for the day from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer is “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Now, we’re not really big on the Book of Common Prayer in the Uniting Church, but that is the collect – the prescribed prayer for the Sunday – which Thomas Cranmer translated from the Latin as part of the English reformation. It’s a good prayer, stir up (encourage) your people, so that they will do good things and bring glory to God.
But the story goes that this collect would be read out in church on the last Sunday before advent, and the words ‘stir- up’ would remind the congregation that they needed to go home and stir up their Christmas puddings. And so this Sunday is often called Stir Up Sunday.
That’s ‘stir up Sunday’, but you won’t find that mentioned by name in our lectionary.
But the second thing I want to share, you will find there.
The last Sunday before advent is Christ the King Sunday. And it’s particularly when we remember how Jesus Christ (with Christ or Messiah meaning anointed one) became King. It reminds us of the fulfilment of prophecy, and of the sovereignty of God in all things.
I mentioned that stir up Sunday began in 1549 – but Christ the King is not nearly so old.
It was started by Pope Pious XI in 1925, so it’s not ancient at all, and he instituted it in an encyclical in response to growing secularism at the time. He wanted to bring people back to the kingdom of God, when so many people were drifting away. He said “[Christ] must reign in our minds, … He must reign in our wills [and]… He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and [cleave to trust in] him alone. “
Looking at the world today, I’m not so sure that it worked. But it has been adopted by just about all the protestant churches including ours, and serves as a reminder of the centrality of Christ in our church and our lives.
Let us keep that in mind as we hear today’s bible readings.
Hymn: King of kings and Lord of lords
The Sheep and the Goats
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Thanksgiving and Prayer
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Sermon: For what should we pray?
As I said, today is the last Sunday before the new church year. And it’s a been a big year … There’ve a few changes around the place.
A year ago, bushfires were raging. We’d just got through some big storms – but there were more to come – and Covid-19 had just been found in Wuhan. And things seem to have gone downhill from there.
But there have been good things in that time, too. I think the way the congregation has stayed together, in worshipping on-line and by phone and email, Mainly Music has continued on Zoom, and it has been great to get back together in person over the last two months.
Much of what we would have done in a normal year hasn’t happened. But that’s been the case everywhere. At the moment, of course, we’re wondering what a Covid Christmas will be like. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to sing, but it’s not looking particularly likely at the moment.
The focus at Christmas shouldn’t be on singing the Christmas carols we know and love… although it is traditionally a great way to worship and to share. There are many people who’s only contact with the church will be through a Christmas carol service.
It will be an interesting time. And a challenging time – for us as individuals and as a congregation.
It’s the same with 2021… I know many people are thinking - or at least hoping – that 2021 will be a ‘better’ year that 2020.
We in the church get a head start on the new year: for us, the new year is about to start.
As we look to a new church year… and as we look to 2021, I wonder what your prayer for our church is.
Maybe it’s that we will find a new minister of the word with faith and passion and vision to lead and support and encourage this church.
Maybe it’s that the congregation will grow in numbers.
Or that we will see the Mainly Music group grow.
Or that we will see a return of children as a regular part of Sundays here.
Or that our offertory will increase, and the budget will be balanced or even in surplus.
Or that we will engage with the people who live or will live in the units which continue to spring up around us.
Or maybe it’s to forge bonds with other local churches to achieve some of those things.
Or maybe that we will all be healthy and able to participate in the life of the church here.
And so on.
There are just so many things we might pray for. So many things that we hope for.
But what is the most important thing to hope and pray for?
The apostle Paul tells us what it is in today’s reading from his letter to the Ephesians. Verse 17:
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,
Or to use a different translation:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better.
The most important thing, says Paul, is that we know God better.
And that’s not knowing about God, but actually knowing him. Understanding him. Believing in him. Trusting in him.
There is a difference, isn’t there, between knowing about someone and knowing them?
Knowing about someone involves knowing facts about them. How tall they are. Where they went to school. What work they do or did. Where they live. And so on.
But to actually know someone involves more than simply listing facts about them. You’ll understand them. You’ll know what motivates them. You’ll know what they’re worried about. If you really know someone, you’ll know how they react to bad news – or to good. You’ll know what they’re passionate about – and who they’re passionate about and so on. You’ll understand them.
For us to properly know someone, we need to spend time with them: Talking with them. Listening to them. Doing things with them and for them.
There are so many people that we will never have the chance to know – we can know plenty of things about historical figures for instance, but we’ll never get to know them in the same way we’ll get to know our parents, our children, our friends and so on.
Many people regard Jesus as an historical figure, and know stuff about Jesus.
But Jesus is not JUST a person who lived in history. Through his Spirit, Jesus is with us here and now. Remember Jesus’ assurance right at the end of Matthew’s gospel? “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
And if we put our faith in him, if we put our trust in him, if we believe in him, then we can have a relationship with him.
And just like we can know facts about people, we can believe facts about Jesus. But when we talk about believing in Jesus, we’re not just talking about believing facts about him. It is about believing in him. Putting our faith and trust and hope and our future in him.
Believing in is different to believing about.
To illustrate: I don’t think capital punishment is a good idea. I’ve heard lots of arguments for putting people to death in certain circumstances, but I’m not convinced by them. So I say “I don’t believe in capital punishment”.
But I don’t think for moment that capital punishment doesn’t exist.
I can believe facts about it. But I don’t put my trust in it.
So when Paul prayed for the Ephesians to know Christ better, he wasn’t talking about them learning more facts about Jesus, he was talking about building up their understanding, their very personal relationship with him. Growing in knowledge and love.
Of course, his prayer wasn’t just for the church in Ephesus, but for the whole church, including us today.
So… How well do you know Jesus? How well do you need to know him? How well would you like to know him? The fact is that the more you know God, the more you’ll feel the need to know him better.
There’s a a famous prayer by Richard of Chichester who lived in the 13th century that you’ve probably heard: "O most merciful Friend, Brother, and Redeemer; may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly."
What more, as followers of Christ do we need, than to know him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly?
So that should be our prayer today and into the future, too. God answers prayers, and is generous to us beyond measure. Of course the greatest gift from God to us has already been given: in the gift of his only son. That little child born in a stable in Bethlehem, who lived a life like ours, who walked and taught and wept and healed and worked miracles – and who gave himself up to die for our sake.
As Paul says in Romans 8, if God has already given us his only Son will he not, give us everything else we need?
Notice how Paul addresses his prayer in our reading from Ephesians…"the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory." (5:17) His confidence in praying is based on God’s gift of Jesus Christ, and on his glory that he has revealed throughout history, but especially in the coming of Jesus to live among us.
And that glory has continued to be revealed for more than 2000 years in the way people are changed when they come to know Jesus.
In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul describes it like this: "…all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit." (2 Cor 3:18)
But how does that happen? How are we transformed? How do we grow in our knowledge of God? By God giving us his Spirit, the spirit of wisdom and revelation.
Paul prays that God “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…” (1:17-18)
How wise are you today? Would you like to be wiser? Would like to be able to make better decisions about your life? Would you like to understand better how God’s world works, how best to work within that world?
So what better a prayer to pray than this, both for yourself and for your fellow Christians? In Paul’s words: that God may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.
But then Paul goes on to pray that they might be able to grasp certain truths.
He prays 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, according to the working of his great power.” (1:18-19)
If God is to give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation, here are the things he prays God will reveal to them:
The first thing is the hope to which God as called the Ephesian church – and us.
He’s not talking here about some vague hope. "I hope this week I’ll win the lottery." "I hope the petrol prices have started to come down again” or “I hope we’ll be able to sing Christmas carols together this year”.
That’s not the sort of hope that Paul is talking about. It’s not some probability or possibility, but rather it’s the sure and certain hope of a place in God’s kingdom. He wants them to understand that their faith is built on something sure and solid. That won’t fail them. That will never fail us.
It’s a faith that can be relied upon even when things are tough, even when all the health and wealth and security we enjoy is taken away. It’s a faith that leads ultimately and inevitably to new life in the presence of God.
That sure and certain hope is the anticipation – not just the chance – of being presented to God, as he says in 5:27, “…without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
So that then leads to the second thing he wants them to grasp - the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.
He wants them and us to understand just how valuable we are to him. He wants us to grasp our new status as his children, his heirs. Or as the apostle Peter puts it “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
If you begin to think of yourself as Christ’s inheritance, as part of a royal priesthood and a holy nation, what effect will that have on how you live your life?
Are you living sufficiently like God’s child? Are you fit to be considered his inheritance yet? Or do you have a little way to go yet in your growth in Christ-likeness?
But it’s not enough to ask whether we know God enough, or whether we’re wise enough or whether we’re fit to be Christ’s inheritance – because we will all just end up with us feeling more and more guilty. As Paul wrote to the Romans “There is no one who is righteous, not even one;” (Romans 3:10) So we need to understand that we’re not alone in our pursuit of Godliness. We can’t know him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly, simply through our own efforts.
We need to understand that God’s power is available to us.
We didn’t make Jesus King, God did.
We didn’t choose God, God chose us. Each one of us and all of us. Wherever we were. Whoever we were.
It’s God, who, through Christ, gives us life, who adopts us as his children, who paid the price for our sin.
And that should encourage us, because it makes us realise that God will be there helping us on the rest of the pathway to his kingdom – again, remember Jesus’ assurance “I will be with you until the end of the age”.
If we are to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, then God is ready to supply all the power we need to do it. In fact, he’s ready to supply "the immeasurable greatness of his power" as Paul says.
If you’re in any doubt as to how great that power is then read the last few verses of this morning’s reading from Ephesians. The power that God used to raise Christ from the dead and to seat him at his right hand in heaven is the same power that he promises to those who believe in him. Power to raise us from spiritual death. Power to transform us, to sanctify us, to unite us as the very body of Christ. Power to help us know him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly.
And as we are transformed and grow in the knowledge and love of God, we should continue to pray, just as Paul did for the Ephesians, because God delights to give good things to his children. But most of all, because our prayers then resonate with God’s own desires for the world and for his church.
So let’s all pray to our sovereign God, with confidence, knowing that his power is sufficient to do anything we ask, and that his will is that we might grow in love into a people united under the Kingship of Jesus Christ. May that be our prayer for the new year.
Hymn: Crown him with many crowns
Prayer for others (Will be updated on 22 Nov 2020 5PM)
All the riches of the earth are yours, all the riches of our lives are yours.
Accept the riches that we offer gladly to you, and we ask you to guide us in their wise and faithful use. May these gifts that we offer enable ministries that share the hope of your son with all people.
In the name of Jesus, our King and saviour.
Go in peace to know him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly.
And let Christ the King reign in your hearts, now and always.
Hymn: I cannot tell
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Theme “Praise and thanksgiving”