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Weekly Worship Resources and Bible Study Notes

Easter 4  -  Shepherd Sunday


Introduction

In the passage from John's Gospel (Chapter 10) today, Jesus calls himself a shepherd. He tries to warn people that there are dangers in the world and some people who will not offer care and protection, but prey on the weak and vulnerable.  When Jesus spoke he was referring to the Pharisees and Jewish leaders who would eventually consider him such a threat that they would have him killed. There have been many others throughout history who have used the church as a way of exploiting others and we do not lack for examples of thieves and bandits in the church today. The church suffers from televangelists who preach and promise wealth to the sheep, but instead they produce wealth for themselves. We have all read stories of clergy who have betrayed the trust placed in them by sexually exploiting children.

These are words of caution which Jesus speaks to us, be careful who you trust. Jesus can be trusted but not everybody who claims to be religious speaks the words of Jesus.

jesus the good shepherd

Opening Verse of Scripture Psalm 23

 
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life: raise us, who trust in him, from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, that we may seek those things which are above, where he reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.  Common Worship

Risen Christ, faithful shepherd of your father's sheep: teach us to hear your voice and to follow your command, that all your people may be gathered into one flock, to the glory of God the Father.  Common Worship Shorter Collect

Good Shepherd of the sheep, by whom the lost are sought and guided into the fold: feed us and we shall be satisfied; heal us and we shall be made whole; and lead us, that we may be with you; for you are alive and reign, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen  Methodist Worship

God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ that great Shepherd of the sheep, with the blood of the eternal covenant: make us perfect in every good work to do your will, and work in us that which is well pleasing


First Bible Reading  Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Second Reading  1 Peter 2: 19-25

For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Gospel Reading John 10:1-10

 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Post Communion Sentence

Merciful Father, you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd, and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again: keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Commentary

Easter 4   … the sheep hear his voice.’  ‘… they know his voice.’

From regular childhood attendance at Morning Prayer (Communion was a bit of a rarity in those days) I have been familiar with the words of the Venite (Psalm 95),

‘For he is the Lord our God : and we are the people of his pasture,

and the sheep of his hand.’ (from the Book of Common Prayer)

They resonate with the opening words of the 23rd Psalm ‘The Lord is my shepherd’, another familiar Psalm from my childhood.  So I have always had a vivid picture of Jesus as our shepherd and us as his sheep. Today’s reading from John’s Gospel reminds me of the importance of the words which follow on from those I’ve quoted,

‘Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts …’ especially, ‘hear his voice’. 

The reason the sheep knew the shepherd in Jesus’ metaphor is that they heard the shepherd’s voice and they recognised it. They didn’t recognise the voice of strangers. We, ‘the sheep of his hand’ need to hear Jesus’ voice and know his voice, be familiar with his voice,  but how are we to do that?  Knowing a voice means that we have heard it often, and more importantly that we have listened to the voice. Hearing and listening are not synonymous, but both are required in knowing a voice. Hearing alerts us to the timbre of someone’s voice, the intonation, the volume, the quality and is a significant part of recognising their voice. Sometimes that’s enough. It will mean, for example, that we know  when a person we love has entered a room. In a relationship we need to do more than hear someone’s voice, we need to listen to their voice, listen to the words they say, the tone of their voice so we can discern the nuances and so fully understand what they’re saying.  That’s reasonably easy when we can hear a voice with our ears but we won’t ‘hear’ Jesus’ voice aloud so we need to learn to recognise and ‘hear’ his voice in different ways.

An obvious starting point for hearing Jesus’ voice is reading the Gospels. It is very easy to read the Gospels rather quickly, not really taking in what they say, because the words are all so familiar.  We need to pause and take time to really listen to what they say. The Venite is helpful here too, ‘O come, let us worship, and fall down : and kneel before the Lord our Maker.’  I am not suggesting that we ‘fall down’ or even ‘kneel’ but those words suggest that we should listen to God, to Jesus our Shepherd, in the context  of worship and prayer.  The writer of  Psalm 46 encourage us to

‘Be still, and know that I am God!’ (v10). 

If we are to discern God speaking to us through scripture we need to still our hearts, still our minds and still our bodies and that takes time and also practice.  Another Psalm encourages us to

‘Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;’ (Psalm 37:7). 

It’s so easy when we meet with God to hurriedly read the passage(s) for the day, say a few quick prayers and rush off to get on with the day, if we even do that. Rather, we are encouraged to be patient and wait in the stillness we have created (yes, we need to consciously make ourselves and our environment still) and listen for God speaking to us through his word. There is a hymn which highlights another important factor in our listening to God:

’Speak, Lord, in the stillness, while I wait on Thee;

Hushed my heart to listen, in expectancy.’   (Emily May Grimes, 1868-1927)

Having stilled ourselves before prayerfully reading scripture, it is good to have a sense of expectancy as we read. That expectancy comes from being aware that Jesus, our Shepherd, knows us by name, calls us by name, wants us to know and hear his voice and so will want to speak to us.

Listening for Jesus’ voice in this way won’t mean the words suddenly seem to leap out of the page at us with startling relevance to the big issues in our lives, though this has been some people’s (rare) experience. It may mean the words we read cause us to pause and ponder and reflect and perhaps lead us into further understanding of their meaning and in particular their meaning for us. As we spend time and more focused, still time in prayerful reading of God’s word, we will become more familiar with ‘the mind of Christ’ and our thinking and behaving will be more Christ-like. This is another way in which we ‘hear’ and know the voice of our Shepherd.  Our behaviour will be a reflection of the internalised voice of God. Jesus, our Shepherd, longs for us to know and hear his voice,  Our part is to give him the opportunity to speak to us. Jennie Cappleman

 

Meditation

There is an ancient practice from Benedictine spirituality with which you may be familiar which
can help us to listen for God’s voice speaking to us through his word, lectio divina ‘divine reading’ or literally ’reading from God’. You might like to use it with today’s reading from John’s Gospel.  This is the basic format:

First find a quiet place and take time to be still

1. Lectio (reading) - read the passage from the Bible slowly and reflectively allowing it to sink in. If you’re alone it helps to read it aloud as was the practice when it was devised - all reading was aloud then. Ideally a short passage should be chosen.

2. Meditation (reflection) - think about the text, ruminate on it, take time to repeat and reflect on a particular phrase or word which stood out. You might like to read the passage again before moving to:

3. Oratio (response) - leave the thinking and allow your heart to speak with God.

4. Contemplatio (rest) - time to let go of your own thoughts, ideas and meditations and rest in the Word of God listening to God in the depths of our being.

 

Hymns

  1. Praise to the holiest in the height

  2. Sing to God new songs of worship

  3. Lead us heavenly father lead us

  4. The King of love my shepherd is

  5. The head that once was crowned with thorns

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

St Peter was appointed missionary to the Jews of the dispersion and we pray for our Jewish brothers and sisters. Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who brought forth from the root of Jesse a Messiah for all tribes of the earth; grant us in faith and humility so to stand in awe of your presence, that in the last all the branches of the tree of life may be grafted in, and all those whom you have chosen may rejoice together in your love. Amen

Heavenly Father, You gave your Son, Jesus Christ to show us the Way of justice, truth and peace. Help us hold his example before our eyes, in the way that leads to a better world on earth and eternal life in the Heaven. Amen

O Lord, whose way is perfect, help us always to trust in your goodness, to walk in the way of faith, and to follow in the path of simplicity. Teach us to cast our cares on your providence, that we may possess a quiet mind and a contented spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

God, our Shepherd, give to the church, a new vision and a new charity, new wisdom and fresh understanding, the revival of her brightness and the renewal of her unity; that the eternal message of thy Son, undefiled by the traditions of men, may be hailed as the good news of the age; through him who maketh all things new. Amen. Percy Dearmer

Christ the good shepherd, grant to all whom you have called to positions of leadership in this and every land, strength, wisdom and integrity, that they may feed the people committed to their charge, and lead them beside the waters of peace. Amen Adapted from Michael Councell

Almighty and ever-living God, give us new strength from the courage of Christ our shepherd, and lead us to join the saints in heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, with the blood of the eternal covenant: make us perfect in every good work to do your will, and work in us that which is well-pleasing in your sight; and may the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen
 

Additional Material

Commentary

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once-noted the advantage of celebrating Easter from a prison cell. You become entirely aware, he reasoned, that the door is the only way out. More than that, the door of a cell can be opened only from the outside.  When Jesus speaks of saving those who pass through the door, He has salvation in mind.  He’s offering an opportunity to step out into the world of life in its fullness just as we might step through a prison door into freedom and a new life.

It’s a tough call for the sheep.  Staying behind the gate was safe and secure and it’s easy to imaging some of them recommending to the others that they don’t go out at all.  They can remember times when they did go out and not all of them came home.  Other sheep point out that if they don’t go out to find food and pasture they will starve to death, which doesn’t seem like a good idea either.  Fortunately Jesus points out that in entering through Him they have security and salvation and in going out through Him, they have access to all that they need to sustain them.  The picture of Jesus as a gate has with it the imagery of both a closed gate, behind which the sheep are safe and also an open gate which leads to life giving pastures.  The open gate allows the shepherd to come in to call and lead his sheep to where they can graze in safety.  The Psalm which is set for today, Psalm 23, and the rest of John 10 talks about Jesus being our shepherd, someone who protects, guides, leads and cares for us as individuals.  He leads us out into the freedom of a life that is truly fulfilled.  The Latin translation of shepherd, ‘pastor’, has tended to associate the shepherd image with ministry but originally its most common use was as a metaphor for rulers and leaders. It was a way of describing royal responsibilities which included caring for subjects, the flock.  It was the symbolism used when David became the shepherd king and John uses the same imagery for Christ as the Good Shepherd.

The passage links the theme of Jesus as the gate and with the role of a leader shepherd by emphasising that the sheep know the voice of the shepherd and will follow him through the gate.  Jesus says that all who came before Him were no better thieves and robbers, but fortunately, or as a result of this, the sheep did not listen to them.  For the Jewish listeners this was a clear statement that access to the Father was uniquely through Jesus Himself, not through those people and voices who had come before Him, merely expounding the law in an inaccessible manner.  There is an implication in the parable that we are to make sure that we listen to His voice.  But there is more to the parable than just urging a response and explaining why some do not respond to the voices they hear. It is clear warning about rival claims to leadership.  The reading follows immediately after the confrontation with the Pharisees about the curing of the man who had been born blind. Jesus had agreed with them at the very end of the previous chapter that they were blind and had failed to see who he was, to and for them.  John now presents Jesus as the gate. Those who enter through that gate will be shepherds for the flock.  Those who pretended to be the leaders before Jesus, (namely these very same Pharisees from the previous chapter), were self-serving destroyers of the flock.  In the context of this gospel and first century Jerusalem they are doubtless also other Jewish leaders who competed for the loyalty of John’s sheep. The dangers John outlines stem from other rival (Jewish and non Jewish) leaders who were trying to persuade the early believers to follow them rather then the true teaching of Christ.  These false leaders are the people John has Jesus calling thieves and robbers.  Jesus declares himself to be the shepherd and those who follow him will learn his voice, as well as being able to discern the voices of the strangers.  In the resurrection narratives, Jesus came calling people by their names: Mary Magdala in the garden of Resurrection and Thomas who had doubted.  Jesus went out calling to his flock whether they were on the road to Emmaus or out fishing in the dark.  Somehow they came to recognise his voice, not perhaps so much by actual sound, but by how his voice sounded inside them.  But the message that the passage conveys is bigger than any local Jerusalem disputes about Jesus and the tensions of first century Asia Minor and the timbre of Jesus’ earthly voice.  Jesus called to the fist believers and just as clearly He calls to us.  The passage therefore graphically illustrates a way of engaging and being engaged by God and being called out of the sheep pens we each inhabit.  It marks the discernment of God’s calling and invites us to respond to Him when we hear His voice.  Jesus says that He, as the gate, gives access to life in all its abundance; and as the shepherd, knows each of us by name and calls and leads us as individuals to abundant and eternal life.Sam Cappleman

 

Commentary

Hill Street Blues logoOn January 15, 1981, "Hill Street Blues" premiered on NBC and changed the face of television forever. The irreverent, fast-paced series revolved around the dramatic turns in the lives of the officers of Hill Street Station. During its seven-year run, the consistently top-rated program collected 26 Emmy Awards, including "Best Series" four years in a row. The theme song, by Mike Post, likewise was a smash hit and ranked #10 in Billboard Magazine's Top TV Theme Songs of 1985. Sadly "Hill Street Blues" concluded its original run on May 19, 1987.

On of my favourite scenes in this American police drama, involved Michael Conrad who played Head Sergeant Sgt. Philip Freemason Esterhaus, a kindly man provided a refuge of sanity in an otherwise insane world. He displays a deep caring attitude towards the men and women in the squad, in a way a sort of ‘Good Shepherd’ character. This is represented most forcibly by the admonition which he uses as he disperses the officers each day to go about their duty. As they leave suddenly he breaks their movement by shouting the words, ‘Hey! Let’s be careful out there.’ He knows that the streets around Hill Street are violent and dangerous places and he wishes no harm to come to the officers he cares about. Jesus as the Shepherd in our bible passage today from John, does exactly the same thing. He warns the sheep to be careful. Jesus uses words such as , ‘thief’, ‘robber’, ‘steal’, ‘kill’, and ‘destroy’. The message for the sheep is simple, ‘Be careful out there!’

So what do we have to be careful of? Jesus was warning about rival claims of leadership, he knew that others would call out to be followed down other paths, away from the true Shepherd. Subsequently the early church did become threatened by false teachers. This was not a threat from other religions, it was supposedly Christian leaders who taught bad things and split the church, leading many astray. So we are encouraged to look out for dangers in our own times and to recognise that dangers will sometimes present themselves from those who are religiously plausible. Our task is to think critically about what we believe. Accordingly we will be able to discern the voice of the shepherd. The Shepherd is the one who cares, but there are those who would seek to lead the sheep who do not have the same concern for them. The sheep must listen only to the voice of the Shepherd for the world is a dangerous place for the soul.

We can learn many things about the relationship of God to his people by thinking through the messages conveyed in this passage. It is helpful to remember that Jesus thinks of us as sheep, it may not be immediately apparent but this is a good thing! Sheep are valuable, they are worth a lot to the Shepherd, so much so that not even one of them should be allowed to be lost (Luke 15:3-7). Charles Royden

Meditation

When we read John 10 it’s easy to skip over the first verses of the chapter and focus on the better known section which follows where Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd.  I am the Good Shepherd is one of the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus which occur in this gospel.  But to do that misses out the significance of what is being said in these verses.  Here Jesus states very clearly that He is the gate (or door) for the sheep.  Gates or doors have 2 sides, an inside and an outside.  On one side of our own front doors is our home, on the other the street.  Jesus is a door with two sides, on one side is humanity on earth and on the other, God who is in heaven.  Through the door of Christ the love of the human race ascends to God and the love of God comes down to the human race.  As we enter into God’s presence through the door of Christ so we find salvation and enter into life itself in all its fullness.

What's happened to the Old Testament Reading?
Like other Christians in church all around the world each Sunday we use the Bible readings set out in the Revised Common Lectionary. It arranges for us to hear most of chapters 1 and 2 of Acts during the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost.
It is a long standing tradition for the church to substitute a reading from Acts for the Old Testament lesson during the Easter season. This is not done because the Hebrew scripture has become less important or even unimportant to Christians, in fact, the book of Acts is uniquely placed between the gospels about the Jewish Jesus and the letters of Paul, the "apostle to the Gentiles," in part to show the continuing significance of Israel's history for the community of Jesus.
The prologue of Acts (1:5) tells us that the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples for 40 days after his passion and resurrection. They are to re-enact symbolically the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert (Luke 4:1-2,14) before he began his mission in Galilee, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. A replacement for Judas is chosen, bringing the number of the apostles back to 12, another hint of the hoped-for restoration of Israel.
Fittingly, the ascension of Jesus takes place from the Mount of Olives, where Zechariah had predicted that God would come as king and judge over all the earth (Zechariah 14:4-21).
God's dramatic reversal of the confusion of tongues and the scattering of the nations at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) is witnessed to by the nations represented in the crowd gathered at Jerusalem, in a prophetic sign that "God's deeds of power" will be proclaimed to the ends of the earth.

 

Meditation

"Let us never suppose that the power of the love of Christ to turn the world upside down depends upon our capacity to calculate the physics of the manoeuvre. God works through the word we have been called to proclaim, but God is free to flip the world over his shoulder in ways that confound our calculations." Ronald Goetz

An Episcopalian bishop who served for many years in the upper Midwest tells stories he learned from the Native Americans of the area:
A wise man among the Indians—many Native Americans in the Midwest still prefer to be called Indians—was asked by his grandson about the conflict and discord in the world today. The elder reflected for a moment and then replied, “My child, there are two dogs battling within my heart. One is full of anger, hatred, and rage. The other is full of love, forgiveness, and peace.” The old man paused, and he and his grandson sat for a moment in silence. Finally the boy spoke, “Grandfather, which dog will win the battle in your heart? The one filled with hatred or the one filled with love?” The old man looked at his grandson and replied, “The one I feed will win.”
 

Hymns

  1. Revive thy Church O Lord
  2. The Lord’s my shepherd
  3. The King of Love
  4. Sing to God new songs of worship
  5. When we break bread together
  6. Dear Lord and father of mankind
  7. Begin my tongue

Prayers

Lord, this is thy feast, prepared by thy longing, spread at thy command, attended at thine invitation, blessed by thine own Word, distributed by thine own hand, the undying memorial of thy sacrifice upon the cross, the full gift of thine everlasting love, and its perpetuation till time shall end. Lord, this is Bread of heaven, Bread of life, that, those who eat it never shall hunger more. And this is the cup of pardon, healing, gladness, strength, that those who drink it, never thirst again. (Eric Milner-White 1884-1964)

God, our Shepherd, give to the church, a new vision and a new charity, new wisdom and fresh understanding, the revival of her brightness and the renewal of her unity; that the eternal message of thy Son, undefiled by the traditions of men, may be hailed as the good news of the age; through him who maketh all things new. Amen. (Percy Dearmer)

God of new beginnings, our love to us knows neither measure nor end. Reveal yourself to us in the ordinary things of life, so that each day's tasks may be done for love of you and each day's living may bring us nearer you; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Saviour. (Orthodox prayer)

Almighty and ever-living God, give us new strength from the courage of Christ our shepherd, and lead us to join the saints in heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer must mean putting one’s very soul upon our hands and offering it to God.
From the Babylonian Talmud (6th century Persia)

Help me O Lord, to descend into the depths of my being, below my conscious and sub-conscious life until I discover my real self, that which is given me from you, the divine likeness in which I am made and into which I am to grow, the place where your Spirit communes with mine, the spring from which all my life rises. (George Appleton 1902-93)