Sunday 3rd May 2020

Call to Worship (from Psalm 96)
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvellous works among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.

HYMN  63    All people that on earth do dwell

Prayer
God of love and wisdom
we gather this day to give you thanks and praise;
we come before you to lift high Your holy name.
As this new day dawns
we once more experience your love
and mercy toward us.
You are our Good Shepherd,
calling us to be Your flock,
and leading us to times of refreshing.

Offering us your wisdom,
you seek only our trust and devotion.
God of love and wisdom,
Your holy name be praised.

Merciful Lord,
at times our lives lead us into places of shadow.
Although You are by our side we turn away;
although your love surrounds us we fear;
although you refresh and renew us
we turn and seek life elsewhere.
Forgive us; restore us; renew us.
Lead us in paths of Your choosing,
giving us hearts that will follow.

silence

Generous God,
we give thanks that You give of yourself for us.

ife-giving God,
we give thanks that you restore us each new day.Embracing God,
we give thanks that you surround us in Your love.
May we turn this day over to Your service;
may we love You and love our neighbour;
may we do this in the name of the Risen Jesus.
Amen

As our Risen Saviour taught us, so we pray:
Lord’s Prayer.

Scriptures:

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
    he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
    for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
    you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
    and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

John 10:1-10
‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’  Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

HYMN 462    The King of love my shepherd is

Reflection

There’s an old saying that, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.  This refers to our relationships but it could be applied to Bible texts with which we are very familiar.  Today’s readings are examples of this.  For many of us the 23rd Psalm is something that we often associate with funerals, especially when sung to the tune ‘Crimmond’; it’s not something that we immediately associate with living.  In our urban environment we are somewhat estranged from traditional pastoral practices such as shepherding.  Yet in our texts the imagery of sheep and shepherd have something to say to us.

In the times of both the author of the Psalm, and later in the time of Jesus, the role of shepherd was an important one even though it was often cast near the bottom of the social scale.  As well as guiding sheep to safe pasture, he would also have to face up to predators and thieves; any losses would be deducted from the shepherd’s pay.  Sheepfolds were enclosures without a gate, where the shepherd would block the entrance with his own body.  This prevented the sheep escaping under cover of darkness.  The shepherd had to be both strong and resourceful.  It was in this way that Israel also viewed its kings and leaders.  They had to be strong enough to command the respect of both the people and their neighbouring states, and resourceful enough to guide the people through times of both feast and famine.

Sheep have not fared so well in terms of reputation.  Today, as in ancient times, they are viewed as not being the most intelligent of animals.  A minister I know had formerly been a sheep farmer and he would share stories of the exploits of the flock.  From his perspective sheep were not even as intelligent as the stories would credit them!  Yet we are expected, in the imagery of the Bible, to become like sheep.  We are expected to faithfully follow our Shepherd, trusting in his good intentions towards us.

As followers of Jesus, we are expected to fulfil not only the role of sheep but that of shepherd too.  We are called to follow faithfully showing both trust and allegiance to our Shepherd, Jesus.  Yet we are also called to set an example leading in the ways of Jesus; we are called to be shepherds.  So how do we live as both follower and leader?  We follow by seeking after our Lord in prayer; seeking him in the scriptures of the Bible; sharing in fellowship with others who follow Him; finally, we are to live our lives following his example.  We are to lead, too, in a similar manner.  We are to let His life live in us to the extent that we become examples that others would want to emulate; this isn’t to seek praise for ourselves but for Him.

In this, the second month of lockdown in our country, we need to learn to be both sheep and shepherd.  We need to learn to follow God’s wisdom that will guide us as we live for the good of all, both near and far.  We need to learn to lead, setting an example of what it means to love our neighbour as ourselves.  During the First World War there was the famous poster with the proclamation, ‘Your Country Needs you’.  Today our world needs you, not to fight in the trenches but to be both sheep and shepherd.

Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession

Lord, our Shepherd, we come to You in need;
our world, our communities, and ourselves stand before You.

We pray for our world.
In a time of disease, wars and conflicts continue;
in a time of fear, hunger touches millions.
You call your people to be both sheep and shepherd;
guide and inspire us that we may reach out,
that we may reach out in mercy;
that we may reach out in love;
that we may reach out in grace,
that our world may know healing,
healing that comes only from You.

silence

We pray for our communities.
In a time of lockdown, many are lonely;
In a time of challenge, many struggle.You call your people to be both sheep and shepherd;
guide and inspire us that we may reach out,
that we may reach out in compassion,
that we may reach out in peace,
that we may reach out in hope,
that our communities may know unity,
unity that comes only from You.

silence

We pray for ourselves.
In a time of change, we feel overwhelmed;
in a time of uncertainty, we feel frightened.
You call each of us to be both sheep and shepherd;
guide us and inspire us we pray.
Guide each of us that we may follow You more closely;
guide each of us that we may love You more dearly;
guide each of us that we may see You more clearly,
that we may feel Your loving presence,
and walk in Your ways all of our days.
Amen.

HYMN  644    O Jesus, I have promised!

Benediction

May we know the power of the Christ,
risen victorious over all evil.May we know the love of the Christ,
driving out all fear.
May we know the life of the Christ,
bringing eternity to each day.
Amen.

Acknowledgements/Copyright Information
Scripture readings courtesy of:
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.