Sunday 8th May 2022

Welcome to our service of worship for this Lord’s Day. This week we begin a four week focus on that most well-known and beloved of Psalms, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’. Over the coming weeks we will look not only at its meaning but at its application for our lives today.

Call to worship (Psalm 146: 1-2, 10)
Praise the Lord!
     Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
     I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

The Lord will reign for ever,
     your God, O Zion, for all generations.
     Praise the Lord!

HYMN 739 The Church’s one foundation

(from the Northern Baptist Association)

Prayer c/w Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray:

Living God,
we come together because You call us.
In the noisy bustle of life
Your still, small, voice cries out,
and somehow we hear,
and we are here.

We come with our doubts
and with our uncertainties.
We come with our hopes
and with our fears.
Yet Your voice speaks to us
and calms our heart

Draw us closer to You.
Meet with us in our worship,
and lead us in praise.

Living God, we worship You.
We bless You for Your love
which does not fail us.
As a good shepherd gathers His flock
so You gather us here today
to feed and refresh us.

Some of us come rejoicing
because our path has led through green pastures;
some come bruised by life
because our path has led through dark valleys.
We need to know Your strength restoring our souls;
healing and renewing our lives.

We rejoice that in Your grace
You seek us out,
You find us,
You aid us,
giving us new joy and hope
and a life fulfilled.

Enable us to show thankfulness
not just in our praise and in our prayers,
but in following You
in the way of self-sacrificing love,
healing our world of hurt,
and bringing others to know Your love.

Let us now come together
in the words of Christ Jesus,
saying together:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

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 10:22-30
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.’

HYMN 14 The Lord’s my Shepherd
This is a modern version of Psalm 23, arranged and performed by Stuart Townend.

(from the Church of St. John the Baptist, Tideswell)

Reflection:

What does it mean to be shepherded? The answer will depend upon where and when you live. In modern western Europe sheep are driven, corralled, from place to place; just think of the old TV show, ‘One man and his dog’ and you’ll get the picture. In the time and place of the Bible, though, it was quite a different approach. There the shepherd led his sheep. Each day the sheep would hear a voice they grew to recognise as it led them to fresh pasture, water, and safety. In other words, the shepherd of the Bible would ‘guide’ the sheep through life.

Culturally, though, we do not often appreciate being led. We prefer to be masters of our own destiny despite the efforts of the world outside. We like to think of it as freedom. Perhaps this is what makes it hard for us to identify God as our shepherd, and to allow him to lead us. Yet, we need guidance; we need leadership, and to be led. But who should do the leading? Clergy? Generals? Politicians? We are not so sure, are we? After all the members of those groups are far from perfect. We need to find our leadership from a source that is perfect. The Psalm points us to where this may be found.

Psalm 23 offers us the answer; it is the Lord. But we also want to know who is this ‘Lord’? If you look closely at our text, as it is usually printed, you will note that we see the word ‘lord’ sometimes printed as small block capitals. This is the translator’s way of telling us something important; it is their way of pointing out that that the word that is there in the original Hebrew text is the divine name of God. In Hebrew it is four letters long and is held to be so sacred that it is never pronounced. Instead, it is replaced by the phrase, ‘The Name’ or, in Hebrew, Ha-Shem. It is the sacred name that we find revealed to Moses at his encounter with the burning bush. It is a name that defies translation. By this scripture tells us that the God whom this name represents also defies definition. In the Ancient Near East it was believed that names had power, being more than just badges of identity. The God of the Hebrews, though, is different from other people and from other gods. He defies categorisation, and the control that may be exerted when someone’s name is known. Rather, the Bible shows us that God is free, spirit, perfect, all-good, yet not constrained by those terms either. The Old Testament shows us a Lord who is compassionate, guiding and healing His people, His flock, even when they rebel to their own injury.

It is this being, this Lord, that the Psalmist invites us to follow. It is the Lord that the writer commends to us to be our leader, our guide, in life. It is this God who is declared to have our utmost good on His heart. It is the Lord, the Creator, the Sustainer, the unconstrained, who is there for the flock.

But what is it that this Lord offers us, gives, us, as His flock? It is an absence of ‘want’. This seems simple enough to understand yet it, too, needs some explanation. We are all familiar with the scene of the child in the supermarket queue who screams at his mother, “I want … I want … I want.” Actually, adults are no different; it is just that children have not yet learned the arts of discretion and deception.

We seem to spend much of our lives in a state of want. Our wants range from the essentials of life through to the frivolous and unnecessary. They swing from food to foreign holidays. It is as if we have forgotten to tell the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’. For the record, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting a nice house, a good car, fashionable clothes, fine food, or a relaxing holiday in the sun and heat. What matters is the place that the desire for these things has in our lives. To take it further, we need to consider what it is that truly motivates our life and our living. If what we really want is bound up in collecting things or experiences then there is but one outcome … frustration. We will never always get what we want whether it is a possession or excitement. Again, it is not because these things are wrong but because of the undue import that we lay upon them.

In our Psalm, its writer invites us to re-evaluate our priorities. He goes further, suggesting that all our wants and desires may only be fulfilled in the Lord, the shepherd of the people. This fulfilment is not about having all our dreams come true. It is about having our life, and perspectives, in balance. We are invited to consider what life would be like if we made living in the presence of God our priority. What would it mean to make God, the Lord, our goal rather than all the material and experiential wealth that our world has to offer? That is what the remainder of the Psalm sets out to elaborate and illustrate.

We live in a world that lacks fulfilment of heart, body, and mind. Our world is hurting yet there is Good News: it does not have to be that way. Poverty, disease, hunger, and injustice must be tackled. However, they will not be solved by governments, churches, or charities, at least while the world’s priorities are off-balance. Instead, the world will know healing only when the people strive to know the Lord, strive to make Him the centre and focus of life. It will happen only when we allow Him to be our Shepherd.

One mediaeval scholar described God as “that than which nothing greater can be thought”. It is the same God who is the Shepherd of our Psalm. It is the same Shepherd of whom Jesus, describing himself, says “my sheep hear my voice”. So let us listen for His voice. Let us allow Him to Shepherd us, guide us, lead us. In so doing let us be transformed that our lives are no longer in want. Let us strive for that day when we may, in all truth, proclaim:

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

Amen.

HYMN 745 How bright these glorious spirits shine!

(from Old Saint Paul’s Virtual Choir)

Prayers:

Let us pray:

God, our Lord,
we praise You for Christ Jesus
the great Shepherd
who knows His sheep.
We give thanks that we
may hear His voice,
that we may know His presence
and that we may follow at Hs call.

God, our Lord,
we pray for all who suffer,
the old who die alone,
the young who are neglected,
those whose weaknesses are exploited
and sensitivities abused.
We pray for those led astray,
all who are exploited,
and have no-one to stand by their side


God, our Lord,
we pray for those grown hopeless
in their hunger and homelessness;–
refugees from war and violence
trapped at borders or in makeshift camps;
those whose lives have been wrecked by conflicts
they cannot affect or change;
victims of military aggression
ethnic cleansing
or political ideology.


God, our Lord,
In a world of hurt and pain
we pray for the affluent and comfortable,
those cared for and have no worries.
May we remember our blessings;
may we care where we have previously not bothered;
may we open our eyes where they have been fast shut;
may we get involved where we have shied away;
may our lips fight for justice where we have only known silence.

Good Shepherd,
as we pray,
increase the depth of love in us
that we might give ourselves to others,
as You give Yourself to us.
Give us such joy
that the sheep may be found;
given health, strength, food
and hope for the future
and shown the way home.

Give us grace to follow You
wherever You lead
in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

HYMN 738 Glorious things of thee are spoken

(from St. Andrew’s Church, Chennai, India)

Benediction:

Go from here
in the Name of the Good Shepherd
letting Him lead you,
inspire you, and keep you.
And as you go,
may the blessings of God,
Father, Son, and Spirit Holy,
go with you
now and always.
Amen.

Sung Amen

Acknowledgements:
Bible Quotations taken from: 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.

English translations of The Lord’s Prayer, © 1998, English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), and used by permission. www.englishtexts.org

Prayers adapted from Church of Scotland Weekly Worship.

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