Fourth Sunday of Easter - Good Shepherd Sunday
Introduction and Call to Worship
Today we remember that Jesus is our Good Shepherd and that his love for us is so great that he was prepared to lay down his life for us. So let us come together and celebrate this astonishing love.
First Reading Acts 4:5-12
Peter and John had been arrested by the Sadducees for preaching about the resurrection of the dead. They were thrown into prison overnight, awaiting questioning the next day by the court of the Sanhedrin.
Second Reading 1 John 3:16-24
The author has been admonishing Christians to love one another and goes on to expand upon this teaching by talking about the incredible love Jesus has shown them.
Gospel John 10:11-18
Jesus continues his teaching in which he compares himself to a good shepherd and emphasises how much he cares for his flock.
HOMILY I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also and they will listen to my voice.
Our worship rota often has a footnote in the margins to help David and the Cantor select an appropriate anthem which will glorify God. It offers suitable suggestions for people leading our intercessions and provides a building block for those of us charged with the honour and challenge of opening scripture and making it relevant to God’s Kingdom: all of us who have been called to be this Eucharist community here at St Mary’s.
Today’s theme is the Good Shepherd and, although there are numerous references relating to sheep and shepherds in scripture, when I prayed for some practical guidance to share with you this morning, three characters sprang to mind.
The popular and much loved Old Testament figure of Moses, we are told, spent 40 years learning patience, courage and reliance by looking after his father-in-law’s sheep. Then, perhaps when he thought it was time to wind down, God had other plans, and so, at the ripe age of 80, Moses hears and listens to God’s voice calling him to use these transferrable skills to shepherd the Hebrews out of Egypt and towards the Promised Land. As those of you who attended last month’s APCM will know, we are currently praying for somebody to step up like Moses and use their gifts and skills in order to be our next Churchwarden. Maybe God is inviting one of us to be a Good Shepherd by leading us towards a new and adventurous promised land?
Another well-known Biblical Good Shepherd, who prayerfully listened to God’s calling, was the author of our psalm, King David. So what attributes did this Good Shepherd have that would also be extremely useful for our next Churchwarden – or in fact not just for potential Churchwardens but for all of us called to be Christians? He knew and acknowledged that he wasn’t perfect, but still, he remained firm and trusted in God, not his own power or strength when he had to face difficult situations.
And finally, the ultimate Good Shepherd, whom we encounter at the altar, our Lord and Saviour: Jesus Christ. Jesus, as scripture constantly reminds us, came so that everybody could hear his father’s voice and not just those who were already safely gathered in the fold. So, regardless of which particular role God is calling us to serve him in, how do we, like Moses, King David and Jesus, help others to hear God’s voice in their lives?
Firstly, it’s comforting to bear in mind that, while God’s calling will sometimes lead us to unfamiliar places, He – just like any loving parent – will never take us into a situation where we can’t cope. It’s also reassuring to remember God recognises and welcomes the fact that we are not all the same. For instance, in the Middle East a shepherd will boldly stand at the front of the flock and, as Jesus explains, the sheep automatically recognise the authority in his voice and follow. Over here on the other hand, the practice is that the shepherd remains at the back in order to encourage movement. Therefore, if standing at the front is not your preferred style of leadership, this shouldn’t bar you from serving a Church community – it’s normally possible to achieve the same result in many ways if you’re willing and open to exploring different approaches to mission. The third characteristic that Moses, King David and Jesus had in abundance was the ability to act as a prism. Rather than keeping God’s love to themselves, they had the humility to channel God’s warmth and light in the direction of others.
And so it seems fitting to bring this reflection to a close by highlighting the value of mutual love, for a shepherd without sheep to protect and love is pointless, and likewise there’s little sense in us wandering around aimlessly through life like lost sheep. The reality is that both sides bring out the best of each other, which is why being part of the loving, spiritual Eucharist fold here at St Mary’s is much better than trying to be a Christian on your own. We all need each other to help us flourish and grow into good shepherds for Christ.
The shepherds of biblical times had a much closer relationship with their sheep than we might imagine today.
They guarded them day and night and were prepared to risk their lives to defend them from wild animals.
They also knew each sheep in their flock their sheep would listen for their voice and know it, and therefore follow them to fresh pasture.
It is to this type of shepherd that Jesus compares himself: one who cares so deeply for his flock that he is prepared to die for them – and he leads us today.
We need to cling onto this picture of how much Jesus values, knows and loves each one of us, especially when difficulties tempt us to question this love.