Sunday 3rd May
We continue our journey through the Easter season towards Pentecost, and today there is perhaps an opportunity to consider how we might hear the resurrection message in a fresh way – try and listen for the voice of the Shepherd reminding us of where He is, and where He wants us to go.
Call to worship
Come and worship our Risen Lord,
Our Saviour and King,
Our Master and friend,
Our Shepherd and guide,
The one who loves us and cares for us.
You are our Saviour and king
our Master and friend
our Shepherd and guide.
Wherever we go, You are with us.
Wherever we stray, You seek us out.
Whenever we call, You hear us.
You are our promise and our hope
our place of rest and peace,
our security and our sureness.
Whoever we are, You accept us.
Whatever we do, You love us.
Whenever we fall, You lift us up.
we come to worship
from different places,
different lives, different situations,
with different concerns
and different dreams.
Yet we come as one,
a people of shared faith
in a God who shared all.
And so we praise You, Lord God,
that You have risen from the dead
to fulfil Your promise to all creation;
we praise You that you have
gifted us Your spirit
as a companion and guide.
We praise You that you have
chosen us as Your people
to build Your kingdom here on earth.
We continue our prayer as we pray the words of the Lord’s Prayer…
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed by thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the Kingdom,
The power and the glory, for ever and ever,
Readings Psalm 23
John 10: 1 – 10
This must undoubtedly be the best known of the psalms. The words of Psalm 23 are spoken and sung at some of the most significant milestones in our lives, including funerals, weddings and times of change. They comfort, console and affirm God’s presence throughout every age and stage of life, and are perhaps particularly meaningful for us in our present situation.
But let’s take a few moments to really look at the psalm because it is so easy just to read or recite the words that we know so well, without really allowing time for them to infuse into our thoughts and minds.
The psalm is constructed in a threefold manner that reflects for us the Trinitarian concept of God of - Father (Shepherd), Son (Companion) and Spirit (Host). It is a powerful personal testimony written by King David and yet resonates widely with the story of the people of Israel. The image of shepherding plays an important role in Israel’s history and sense of identity. The patriarchs – Abraham etc - were shepherds, Israel was led like a flock through the wilderness in the Exodus, and King David himself was called from looking after sheep to become the leader of God’s people.
We are probably most familiar with this psalm being used at funeral services, but its language and imagery are very relevant to this Easter season as we consider how we live in
relationship with God, in the light of the resurrection. The psalm is also a foretaste of Jesus’
words in John 10, our second reading today. It embodies a message of hope that
we are reconciled and restored to the God who has lived and died with us – as shepherd
and sheep. It speaks of trust in the days of our lives and not simply through the passage of
death, and is therefore in many ways a call to discipleship safe in the knowledge that,
despite the fears and challenges which surround us, we can rely on the everlasting presence
and guidance of God.
So, let us look at the passage from John.
Francis Barraud painted a famous picture in 1898 titled His Master’s Voice depicting Nipper
(his terrier who had died three years earlier) listening intently to an old Edison Bell
phonograph, the fore runner of the gramophone. This painting became extremely famous
as various companies including HMV, RCA, EMI, Victor, and Deutsche Grammophon used
the imagery in their own company logos. The beautiful simplicity of the picture is in part
because of the emotional connection between the dog and the sound of his master’s voice
emanating from the horn, amplifying the recording. Nipper recognises and is drawn to the
In John 10, Jesus describes the shepherd of the sheep by saying, “the sheep recognise his
voice and come to him.” There is a relationship between shepherd and sheep, a knowledge
of each other, a trust and security between the sheep and the shepherd. The shepherd is
the gatekeeper. It is interesting to note that ancient sheepfolds - in Scotland you would find
these as semi-circles of dry-stone wall - do not generally have a physical gate.
There is no wooden gate drawn across the opening to the stone circle, instead the shepherd
acts as the gatekeeper, the bouncer on the sheepfold gateway protecting the sheep within
from predators without.
Within the Kirk there is sometimes talk of gatekeepers, often seen in a negative light. There may also be overtones in John’s gospel of an exclusiveness over which the shepherd, Jesus, controls those who are in and those who are out. One cannot help but wonder how much of this gateway building to differentiate others is sourced in our own thoughts and theories, and how much is led by the Spirit of God.
In verse 7 we come to the first of what are known as the “I am...” sayings, more come in the following verses. A sense of right faith is important throughout John’s gospel, and that is the case here, where those who are safely ensconced within the sheepfold, protected by the gatekeeper or shepherd are those within the Johannine community who have the true faith.
It is an easy temptation for pastors and preachers today to misuse this language in order to declare that the truth they believe is the one and only truth. We should avoid that abusive handling of the text, but can we do so without rejecting the parable-like imagery of this passage and the idea that Jesus acts as the gateway to true life, full life? And furthermore, that when we are serving Christ in our lives, we too act as those who draw others into the sheepfold, for they trust us as a sheep trusts the shepherd. There is great responsibility in this gatekeeper role, and it requires a humility that, sadly, is often missing from those who proclaim themselves in that role. The thieves, rustlers and gatekeepers become all mixed up and confused.
How can we know what and who we are dealing with? The clue must be in the results: what
manner of life and faith lies within the sheepfold? The benefits are summed up for us in verse 10 – “The thief comes only in order to steal, kill and destroy. I (Jesus) have come that you might have life – life in all its fullness.” Jesus brings life; the false shepherds bring death. The abundance of life that Jesus brings is a characteristic theme of John’s gospel.
You have given us so much of Yourself
in Your abundant love and grace.
And so we lay before You
our offerings of ourselves.
With Your blessing may we help to open the gate
to visions of a better world for all –
we continue to pray for your world
in this strange and worrying time of lockdown -
For there are many who hunger;
many who are left out in the cold
while others reap the benefits
of a society based on greed.
We think of those who are homeless or displaced,
Those who are exploited, those who are poor.
There are many who cannot enjoy
the beauty and mystery of creation.
We think of prisoners of conscience,
of those living in war-ravaged lands,
of those confined through illness.
There are many who yearn for rest
in lives which are restless and hard.
We think of those who work long hours
for little reward;
those who are discontent and disillusioned.
There are many who struggle to find
the right path because life has taken them
a different, difficult route.
We think of those with addiction problems,
those who turn to crime through desperation,
of children whose home life is chaotic.
There are many who are fearful
for themselves and for others.
We think of those in broken relationships,
those who live with sickness,
those who are afraid of the future and of being themselves.
There are many who have lost hope that light
will ever penetrate their darkness –
we think of those who live with loneliness, grief,
bereavement and rejection.
There are many who we walk alongside
in their pain and suffering, their joy and hope.
We think of them now in a time of silence…
Lord God, shepherd all Your people
on their different journeys
with their different joys and struggles.
Remind them that all are honoured guests at Your table,
and that all may find a home in You.
Lavish them with Your goodness and love
so that they might know that in You they have everything they need.
In Jesus’ name we pray.
You are sought, seek peace.
You are loved, love justice.
You are protected, protect the weak.
You are safe, save the lost.
You are chosen, choose life.
And may the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son and hoy Spirit,
Be with us today and always,