The Peace of Christ be with you all.
Call to Worship –
Do you need a guide? The Lord is our shepherd.
Do you need a doorway to new life? The Lord is our gate.
Do you need rest? The Lord restores our souls.
Do you need care? The Lord is our shepherd.
Come, let us worship.
Holy God, your love for us is never ending.
Even when we do not deserve it, you come and you call to us. We give thanks for your persistence: for the way you seek us out and yearn to be in relationship with us. We can scarcely comprehend such love for it is too powerful to understand. We long to hear your call afresh in our lives this day. Help us to know your presence and your love. Protect us from the ‘wolves’ of our time by gathering us to you more closely. Open our minds to the Truth of your Scriptures and help us to follow Jesus our great Shepherd, for we ask through his name, Amen.
HYMN- AHB 16 The Lord’s my shepherd (Psalm 23) or AHB 81 The King of love
Psalm 23 (sung above); 1 Peter 2: 19-25; John 10: 1-11
Prayer of Confession-
Christ, our shepherd and gate, we would rather chart our own course, than be shepherded like sheep; we would rather find our own way, than see you as the Way. Sometimes we become confused with so many competing voices shouting directions to us, supposedly messengers from you. Sometimes your way seems shadowed and indistinct, and we become fearful of where you are leading us.
We would rather be shepherds than sheep, who are vulnerable and exposed. Forgive us when we bleat our resistance, as you guide us to higher pastures. Be our gate, our way to safe havens, where we can dwell with you securely, for we ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Words of Assurance-
The One who anoints our heads with oil, the One who feeds us while our enemies look on, the One who delivers us from evil, invites us to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In Christ’s name I remind you: your sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God!
Sermon – The Shepherd and the Gate
As a Christian Educator, I know the value of visual aids and concrete images so I appreciate Jesus’ (and the Gospel writer’s) use of these visual images to help the people listening to, or reading, the gospel to understand the intention of Jesus’ teaching. Those of us who grew up in the church years ago are quite familiar with these verbal images and even with some of the artwork in the pictures I have attached. For urban twenty-first century readers, however, the images seem ancient and even disconnected.
Jesus’ use of the idealised shepherd figure may also have been a-historical, for by his day, shepherds often were despised because they could not attend the temple or synagogues regularly. We are so familiar with the great Psalm 23 and the caring of the Lord as a good shepherd – ensuring green pastures to eat, still waters at which to drink, revival of spirits, protection from evil and predators especially in dangerous places. We hear Psalm 23 as we read John 10, but the context for this teaching comes from John 9 where Jesus had a confrontation with the Pharisees who excluded a blind man and his parents from the Temple because Jesus healed the man and gained more followers at the expense of the Pharisees. They considered they were upholding the truth of tradition and Jesus’ ideas were a threat to their power and authority.
Jesus likened their attitudes to those of their forebears in Israel especially as recorded in prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Ezekiel chapter 34 contrasts the bad shepherds or leaders of Israel with God, the Good Shepherd who will care for the sheep who have been scattered and abused, deserted and attacked by wild animals. Please read the chapter if you want to understand John 10.
Australians and New Zealanders care for their flocks of sheep very differently from those in the Middle East, even today. In the mid 1970’s, I visited sheep properties out of Winton and Longreach during a bad drought, and again in the early 2000’s in western Victoria, my ministry in Warrnambool connected me with a family on a sheep property north of Glen Thompson. Providing water and feed for the sheep and keeping them clear of blowflies were major responsibilities, let alone shearing them so their coats were not too heavy to bear. Our predators and conditions are different, and so are the methods and scale of operations, but the ‘good shepherd’ and ‘gate’ for the sheep may not seem relevant images for God’s care of us at this time in 2020.
Numerous books and poems have translated the image of the “Good Shepherd” of Psalm 23 into other roles such as Teacher or Pace-maker, Supervisor or Academic Advisor, but today I think ‘doctor’ or ‘medical practitioner’ may be more meaningful for us.
In this time of COVID 19, the sacrifice and expertise of the medical professionals are truly essential for our future. My doctors over the years have guided my diet and exercise regimes; they have advised on mental health issues connected with my careers; they organised for vaccinations and medical tests to ensure my health in dangerous situations; they referred me to specialists for particular needs. They have not exploited the Medicare system by requiring frequent visits or unusual tests. They have not been ‘robbers’ or ‘thieves’ charging excessive fees. They have been diligent in following me up if they were concerned about my health.
Just as we need to heed the medical advice given to us at present – much more than the strange, self-serving commentary by some politicians concerned more for the economy than people’s health – so we need to heed more carefully at present the guidance of Jesus, our risen Saviour and Lord. Amongst the cacophony of spiritual advice and rituals, listening for the inner voice of Jesus and God’s Holy Spirit, I believe, is crucial for our future globally.
This pandemic has provided for us an enforced time of retreat into our homes and reduced our physical outings. While many of us have been more active electronically and also more anxious about our future, now that the immediate crisis has eased, perhaps we can take some time to reflect more deeply on our Easter faith in the salvation (new Life) given to us by Christ Jesus through his death and resurrection. 1 Peter 2: 19-25 reinterprets Isaiah 53 as applying to what Jesus has done. He is the suffering shepherd and healer of the nations, offering forgiveness and reconciliation for new life for all people.
Our medical professionals have acted to guide and protect us from the physical evil, as well as care for us when we succumb to illness. They are concerned for our physical and mental health not just as individuals, but also as a nation so that we may have as good a life as possible. They try to be good shepherds for us. Jesus is our guide and protector not just spiritually, but also holistically because his teaching and revealing of God’s way for humanity to care for one another and to trust in God, honouring God as supreme authority for all Life, and ultimate Truth and wisdom for all ages – that is the way for us to enjoy Life abundantly – Life in all its fullness – Life beyond what we expected – Eternal Life with God now and forever. Jesus is the gate through which we are invited to walk to enjoy this LIFE with God. As we’ll discover again next Sunday, Jesus shows us the way and IS the Way, the Truth and the Life. Gates protect us from danger but also offer us new opportunities when we walk through them into a new and better future. May God bless and keep you walking forward in faith, shorn of all that may weigh you down, ready for a new year and new opportunities in your community. Jesus, your unseen shepherd, walks beside you to guide and protect. Amen.
HYMN- AHB 158 How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
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The early disciples devoted themselves to prayer, the teaching of the apostles, and sharing the bread of life. They were a people of prayer, who shared their joys and concerns, their passions and sorrows, with one another and with the Lord.
For burdens shared and burdens lessened, and joys shared are joys enriched. Come, let us follow their example and lift up our prayers to God.
Prayer of Intercession-
As we pray our prayers of intercession today, we will use the ancient response of the church:
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gracious God, today we pray for our world. It is groaning under the weight of our living. For far too long we have used its resources without thought of consequences. Help us to care for the earth and to do what we can to repair the damage done. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Today we pray for people: for those living under the heavy burden of poverty, for those running for safety from the tyranny of violence, for those who are mourning and those who have died. Help us to care for one another, especially when we are at our most vulnerable. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Today once more we pray for those working to overcome the COVID 19 virus infecting and affecting the whole world. We pray for safety, strength and wisdom for the researchers and medical professionals. We pray for hopefulness for all who are ill. Comfort them and grant your peace to their relatives and friends. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Today we pray for ourselves. Give us courage to face all the ups and downs of life. Grant us hope when we feel lost and generosity of heart when we feel loved. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We lift all of these prayers, both spoken and those that lie silently on our hearts to you, merciful God. We trust in your mercy. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer-
Pray the Lord’s Prayer.
AHB 514 O Jesus I have promised
Go out and listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd.
Know that when he calls, you will recognise him; for Christ always calls us to the place of hope, even in the midst of darkness.
Go in God’s grace and with God’s blessings.
In the name of the One who calls us. Amen.
Resources used in this service include Words for Worship Easter 4 year A 3rd May 2020 by MediaCom (subscription of Rev Dr Elizabeth Nolan) and The Abingdon Worship Annual 2020 edited by Mary Scifres and B.J. Beu, Abingdon Press, Nashville USA (owned by EN); gathering Lent- Easter Year A 2020, United Church of Canada (EN subscription); and Uniting in Worship People’s Book by Uniting Church Press (JBCE) 1988 Melbourne and The Australian Hymn Book multiple copies owned by the St Lucia Uniting Church congregation. Copyright license 217268.