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Worship Prayer and Bible Study Resources Fourth Sunday of Easter

Year C, Colour = White or Gold


Jesus is the good shepherd

Introduction

The reading from John this week is a lovely one, in it Jesus refers to himself using the illustration of caring for the sheep. Great, Jesus cares for us, but be careful! At the end of this teaching we are told that the Jews wanted to stone Jesus and they would have done if he had not escaped. So why did they want to kill him? It is quite understandable really, Jesus claimed to be God. It was Hannukah 'dedication,' and Jesus was in the Temple area, walking in Solomon's Colonnade. At Hannukah on the 25th day of the Jewish month Chislev, the Jews remembered how in 167 BC Judas Maccabaeus led a revolt to liberate Jerusalem from Antiochus Epiphanes. As a result Judas and his family became kings in a dynasty which lasted one hundred years. When Herod the Great was made king by the Romans, he married a princess from the family of Judas Maccabaeus to continue the line. So at Hannukah the Jews celebrated kingship and liberation and thanked God that they had taken the Temple back and restored it. It was at this time that Jesus choose wander in the Temple claiming to be God. The timing was perfect - for a riot!


Jesus could not help but speak out, he knew that his gift was nothing less than eternal life. Jesus could guarantee a future beyond the grave, and there was no way he would be silent.

Opening Verse of Scripture    Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in 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. 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.

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 in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.  Methodist Worship

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

First Bible Reading Acts 9:36-43

In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas ), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, "Please come at once!" Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, "Tabitha, get up." She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

Second Reading  Revelation Chapter 7:9-17

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!" Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?" I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
 

Gospel Reading  John 10:22-30

Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all ; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
 

Post Communion Prayer

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

Reality or fantasy?

The book of Revelation is a book which has seen a wide variety of interpretations over the years.  Many of them seem to try to fit the symbolism and images with the events of the age, and construe them in a way which tries to bring a currency and relevance to the book which seems to speak of future things which might just be happening now.  Some of these explanations seem closer to science fiction rather than scriptural interpretation.   The book of Revelation exemplifies a style and type writing which uses many symbols, images and numbers to deliver its message and is known as apocalyptic writing, a style of writing which has become associated with God’s final judgement and the end of the world. 

The book of Daniel on the Old Testament is another example of a book which uses many signs and symbols to deliver its message.  More prosaically Revelation is probably better to understand as a revelation of things known only to the Father and is prophetic only in that it speaks out the word of God, rather than being a book which is trying to predict future world events several millennia later.  Throughout history apocalyptic writings are often associated with times of persecution, which the early church was certainly suffering at the time the book of Revelation was written.  During times of persecution it was often difficult to speak and write about things openly for fear of retribution and hence some of the signs and symbols from the time when the book of revelation was written are seen as representing the Roman Emperor himself and the Roman empire more generally.

Babylon was sometimes used as an image for Rome.  Babylon was understood as a place of wickedness and a county which had captured Jerusalem and taken many Jews captive.  It was deeply significant therefore for the Jews.  Sometime before the book of Revelation was written, Jerusalem was attacked by the Roman army and the temple and much of the city destroyed.  The parallels would not go un-noticed.  John’s vision as detailed in Revelation therefore gives the Christians in the seven churches to which it was written encouragement and comforts them with the unchangeable truth that God was and is in control.  Evil forces, however strong they may appear, will ultimately fall.  This will be in God’s time and according to His will.  Any persecution and suffering were not futile when seen against this greater story.  In reading the book of Revelation we should do so against this historical context whilst understanding that the precepts it conveys are no less important in our world and society as we live in our own contemporary context.  Some perhaps would see facets of this having much in common with a world which seems to be caught up in evil and unbelief. 

The book of revelation shows how God can turn things on their head.  Our reading today speaks of the lamb at the centre of the throne who has become the shepherd who leads His people into the pastures where there are springs of living water.  Whist we should not get caught up and transfixed by the signs, images and symbols of Revelation and trying to understand what they might or might not mean in our modern society we should get caught up in its message and sense of urgency and imperative.  It is a book which speaks out God’s word and desire for the world and the hop that we all have in God.  It encourages to speak out to others so that they too may know the hope which faith in God brings.  Hope with comes from hearing and listening the voice of the good shepherd, who becomes the lamb on the throne, only to become the good shepherd once again when the time is determined by His Father.  Whilst we may not be facing the persecutions inflicted by the Roman Empire or the difficulties of living under occupation, it’s important that we speak out about our faith with clarity and conviction.  It’s important too that as we speak out with confidence today’s hearers understand the message of the gospel as the reality which it is, not the fantasy or fairy story that many believe it to be.  The message of the cross and resurrection, and the freedom and new life that it brings may seem unbelievable to many but that does not make it any less true.  It may seem like a flight of fantasy and a clutching at straws by idealistic believers, but it is not.  It is life itself to all who hear and believe and live it out in their daily lives.  The gospel spread in the times of the early church because of their belief in the gospel, the cross and resurrection, and because of the way in which this teaching visibly impacted their daily lives.  It was not the doctrine or theology of the cross and resurrection which alone persuaded others to join their cause, but the way they lived their lives.  But central to this way of living was the irrepressible desire to speak to others about the new life they had found in Christ.  Are we the same?

Meditation

Psalm 23, which is the psalm set for today, has been a source of great comfort and hope to many people over the years, and is one of the best known and best loved passages of scripture in the bible.  The psalmist speaks of God’s oversight, care and limitless protection at both the beginning and the end of the psalm, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing’, and ‘Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life’.  He speaks of abundant physical and spiritual refreshment as he says, ‘He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters’, and later in the psalm of ‘a table prepared for me… …you anoint my head with oil’.  And in the centre verses of the psalm the writer reminds us of God’s comfort, protection and guidance at all times as our souls are restored, and we need fear no evil, even if we should walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  It’s a psalm that speaks of the Lord’s shepherd like provision, refreshment, protection and guidance.  In today’s gospel reading from John the image of the shepherd is taken further by Jesus.  He speaks of a shepherd who not only cares and protects, but one who can give eternal life, and speaks of a new kind of life where people never perish.  And all that they have to do to be recipients of this offer is acknowledge His voice.  How strange then that so many people found this difficult to do, both when the gospel was written and up to the present day.  All that Jesus was and is speak of His true nature, that of the good shepherd who has come into the world, both then and now, so that people may hear His voice, respond and accept His invitation to a life which has so much more to offer.

Hymns

  1. Fill your hearts Tune Regent Square
  2. As the deer
  3. Father I place
  4. The King of love Tune Dominus Regit Me
  5. In heavenly love abiding Tune Penlan
  6. I heard the voice of Jesus say

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

representation of prayer as seed growing

"Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian.
If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

 

Father of all,
to hands and minds
prepared and ready,
send your Holy Spirit,
that by the Scriptures
our faith may be increased
and our hope strengthened;
and this we ask through your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Earliest known collect preceding
the reading of the Scriptures (c.340)

God of glory, by the raising of your Son you have broken the chains of death and hell: fill your Church with faith and hope; for a new day has dawned and the way to life stands open in our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen

Father God, help us to know your care and protection, experience the physical and spiritual refreshment you offer, and be living examples of your comfort and guidance in every aspect of our lives, that we may be witnesses to the hope and truth you bring to a world which seems dark and hopeless to so many.  Amen

Jesus, you bring us to new life, help us share that life with others that all may come to know you as their shepherd and king  Amen

Living God, you have given us a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: grant that we, being risen with Him, may fix our hearts on heavenly things and share eternal life.  Amen

The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His 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 Resourecs

 

Commentary

Today's Gospel takes us back to a time before the Crucifixion, as Jesus is walking in the temple. The Jews gather around him questioning, perhaps taunting him. "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." The question they ask lack sincerity. We know that they do not believe Jesus is the Messiah, in fact quite the opposite, they believe him to be nothing less than an heretic and trouble maker. Their hope is that he will confirm this by telling them plainly that he is the Messiah. And with this declaration he will give them permission to prosecute him and rid themselves of his annoying threat to their power and authority.

Once again, however, Jesus refuses to be drawn. Instead, as he often did, he turned the question back to them, saying, "I have told you and you do not believe." How has he told them? His works, he says, testify to who he is. There is plenty of evidence, he assures them. The real issue, he tells them, is their own belief.

Belief is what the Gospel challenges us about this morning. Of course we do believe, don't we? Here we are in the midst of the season of joyous belief. Easter is the celebration of victory over death, the awareness of our lives redeemed forever from the power of sin, fifty days of gratitude for penance paid and absolution guaranteed for all eternity.

But the question continues to tug at the back corners of our minds. Do we believe—and how?

Our Western mind has been formed by the notion that belief is based on evidence. The scientific method depends on the formulation of an hypothesis, which we then test by experimentation. If the data from the experiment confirms the hypothesis, we may be reasonably certain it is . If the evidence fails to confirm the hypothesis, we must revise it or create a whole new theory. A belief is firmly rooted in observation and evidence collected in support of it. However these Jews had seen and observed Jesus for some time, but the testimony of his works is not enough for this group.

So how does one get to be one of those sheep who knows the Master's voice, a member of the flock that cannot be snatched from his hand? The time comes when evaluating the evidence must end. Eventually all the questions we have to ask become evidence only of our own procrastination. The deep chasm of uncertainty that stands between the known and the possible has no bridge except our own choice to believe.

Throughout these fifty days of Easter, we are moving inevitably to the day of Ascension. The memory of these Easter days must sustain us for the rest of the year. These are the days when we stand close to the flame of the Paschal candle so that we may look closely at the world lit by its brilliance. We should hold these memories of the world lit by the promise of eternal life as in the dark days that come.

Today, in the midst of the stories of Christ's appearances, we are called to remember that these miracles, wrought by God's great gift, Jesus Christ, are not ours by evidence, not by hypotheses proven by experiments. They are ours by choice. We believe.

The choice is freely offered as a gift to every person who has, or does, or will ever live. It is a choice which allows us to experience inward and spiritual grace. It is also a choice that calls us to lives that produce signs, distinctive behaviours, that will be noticed by those around us. It is a choice that sets us apart from the rest of the world, and yet urges us to invite the rest of the world to join us. It is a choice that calls us to make Easter, and a sense of the presence of Christ, alive not just for fifty days but every day. This is the choice each of us will carry with us as we leave this place today, the choice to live each day spreading the joy and vitality of this love of God to all people for all time. Alleluia!

 

 

 

Commentary on John 10.22-30 by The Reverend Karen Murphy


John’s gospel comes together around 90AD, after the expulsion of Christians from the synagogue, but persecution continues, reflecting the distress caused by Christian insistence on Christ’s divinity. To say that Jesus raised people from the dead gives him divine status. A Jewish prayer calls God ‘you who support the living and… bring the dead back to life’. Today he makes this claim for himself.

Jesus also insists that his works make this claim. Those he does in his Father’s name witness to his authenticity. Jesus’ words have integrity and truthfulness and are confirmed by his works. How do our words and works match up?

Jesus shows his confidence in the intelligence of his sheep. They recognise the voice of the true shepherd and follow him freely. No matter what happens, they remain his by virtue of their recognition. They are beyond the power of this world to harm.

Is it significant that this takes place on the Feast of Dedication and in the temple?
Jesus left the temple earlier (8.59) after his hearers attempted to stone him. He cures a man born blind, and speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd. Back in the temple, he is again in confrontation. In John’s gospel the cleansing of the temple occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and is linked to the description of his body as the Temple – which will be destroyed, but raised up in three days. Through these Temple-based confrontations, John calls us to recognise that in the temple of Christ’s body, in which we are all living stones, we find fullness of life and God’s presence. Karen Murphy

Commentary By Mrs Claire Peck


The overall theme of the readings from the Gospel of John, which are currently part of the Lectionary, is that of ‘indwelling’. Jesus dwells in the Father, and the Father dwells in him.
The feast of the dedication was annually observed, in remembrance of the dedication of a new altar and the purging of the Temple by Judas Maccabaeus. The celebrating of the feast was not confined to Jerusalem, everyone observed it in his own place. Jesus was walking in the Temple, in Soloman’s porch, when the Jews gathered round him. It is likely that Jesus was walking round to offer his help and advice to anybody who needed him.
The request of the Jews ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly’ is difficult to determine whether it was sincerely posed or whether it was a means to entrap Jesus. If it was a means to entrap him they were certainly looking for further grounds on which to accuse him. However, whether the questioners are genuine or otherwise Jesus refuses to make the claim, in public, that he is the Messiah.
Jesus condemns the Jews for their unbelief stating that they don’t believe because they are not his sheep. He then takes the opportunity to outline the privileges of those who believe in him.
· They are a summoned group because they listen to Jesus’ voice. Christ’s call into a new relationship with him leads to a new lifestyle.
· They are a gifted group for they will receive eternal life.
· They are a secured group because no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand. Christ’s commitment to them will keep them safe.
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is a deeply reassuring one. Just as a shepherd cares for and looks after his sheep so Jesus, in God, through the power of the Holy Spirit looks after us too. Picture a hand with a sheep in it. The hand represents the shepherd’s hand offering protection and security. Our lives can be in God’s hands too if we take the leap of faith to believe and trust in Him. No matter where we are, where we go and what happens to us we can be secure in the knowledge that God is there with us too. Claire Peck

Good Shepherd
As I am known to you
Be known to me in goodness and mercy
Through all the days of my life.

 

Meditation

by Mrs Claire Peck
So often I find myself being asked to fill in questionnaires or evaluation sheets for courses that I have been on as a teacher. The questions asked are wide. How do you rate the chairs in the waiting room? Was the welcome you received of a pleasant nature? Did you think the presentation of the material was interesting? The completed form has a designated place to be put and off I go hoping that it will be of some use to the person/people who read it.
Of course the whole exercise is anonymous – which means that you won’t be chased up later with regard to what you wrote! It strikes me, however, that whoever writes these forms is not interested in me as a person, not even as a name. I’m just another filled in form to be fed into a computer with all the other filled in forms and then analysed and thrown away.
This is not the case with Jesus who described himself as the shepherd who knows his sheep so well that he calls each of them by name. So too does he know us. Each one of us are respected as individuals who are loved so much for who we are by an infinite God that even every hair on our head is counted!

 

Prayer

Loving Shepherd of your sheep, keep your lamb in safety, keep; Nothing can your power withstand, none can pluck me from your hand. Jane Eliza Leeson

Dear Father, whom I cannot see, I know that you are near to me. Quite quietly I speak to you, please show me what you’d have me do. Please help me plan kind things to do, for other people and for you. Thank you for always helping me, dear Father, whom I cannot see. Lilian Cox

My dearest Lord, be thou a bright flame before me, be thou a guiding star above me, be thou a smooth path beneath me, be thou a kindly shepherd behind me, today and evermore St Columba

Lord, lift me up, put me in the palm of your hand, and unlock the sealed chamber of my heart. Let love come in. Lord I have been walking, Lord, hold my hand. I’m tired of stumbling in dark alleys, put me in the palm of your hand. Lord, lift me up. Show me that love is still around. Lord, lift me up. Show me that love is still around. James Matthews

God, our loving Father, thank you that you never change. You are as strong and wise and loving as the day you made the world. Thank you that nothing can ever happen that will make you alter. You are the one true God and Maker of all. Amen

Glory be to you, O Father, our true and only hope. Glory be to you, O Son of God, our true and only refuge. Glory be to you, O Holy Spirit, our true and only protection. Glory be to you, O Holy Trinity, our true and only light; now and to the ages of ages. Amen A Prayer of the Eastern Church

I thank you, O God, for the relief and satisfaction of mind that come with the firm assurance that you govern the world; for the patience and resignation to your providence that are afforded as I reflect that even the tumultuous and irregular actions of the sinful are, nevertheless, under your direction, who are wise, good and omnipotent, and have promised to make all things work together for good to those who love you. Susanna Wesley (1669-1742)

Dear Lord God - I thank you for seeking me out as a shepherd seeks for his sheep. I thank you for keeping me safe, for standing with me in adversity and for blessing me with all that I have. Help me to listen more to you than I do right now and give me the faith to follow you more perfectly. I ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

Lord Jesus we hold before you the special concerns that are upon our hearts this day the seriously ill, those who have no faith to help them in their time of trouble, the couple who have been separated by age and disease. Great shepherd of the sheep, may we all know your presence with us may we listen and follow. Amen

Wonderful God - stretch our understanding of your love - expand the size of our hearts - help us embrace your purpose for us - grant that we may grow beyond ourselves - and enter the fullness of your grace. We ask it in Jesus' name. - Amen

Lord, remind us that we must "be" the church if we are to "be the church" in mission. Help us to continue to grow in the likeness of Christ by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Only by continued growth in him can we be released for mission to the lost, the poor, the broken. We would be instruments, O God, of extending the ministry of Jesus and his kingdom for your good pleasure. To serve you all our days is our hearts' fervent desire. Amen.

Meditation

One of the world's greatest musicians, Ludwig van Beethoven, began to lose his hearing when he was only 26. This was particularly tragic for someone so gifted in using sound as music. When he realised he could not be cured of his deafness, he wrote the following prayer. As we hear his words, we can pray for those who are going through difficulties at this time:

O God, give me strength to be victorious over myself. O guide my spirit and raise me up from these dark depths, so that I may fearlessly struggle upward in fiery flight. For it is you alone, Lord, who understand me and can inspire me. Amen.

Part of Beethoven's 9th Symphony (which is called "The Choral") has become the Anthem of the European Union. When this symphony was first performed in Vienna in 1824, Beethoven was completely deaf. During the performance he faced the orchestra and, before each of the four parts (or "movements") of the music, he beat the speed (or "tempo") to let the conductor know how fast the music should be played. In his last years, his only experience of his own music was not through hearing, but through watching the musicians, imagining what they were playing. At the end of this symphony, the audience stood and applauded enthusiastically, but Beethoven could not hear them; someone turned him round to face the audience so that he could see their appreciation of his music. Beethoven's last words before dying are said to have been: "I will hear in heaven."

Hymns

  1. Praise to the Lord
  2. The Spirit Lives
  3. The King of Love
  4. To him we come
  5. Our eyes have seen the glory
  6. God is here as we his people   (Tune Bethany)
  7. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God  
  8. God is love. let heaven adore him (Tune Abbotts Leigh)