The 4th Sunday of Easter
Good morning folks,
Well, that’s another week behind us, another week nearer to being able to go out, free to hug loved ones and friends, visit our favourite places and so on (why do I get the urge to shout Freeedom!?) J. But not quite yet, just a wee while longer.
But this enforced ‘down time’ had given us the time to take stock of many things, such as lifestyle, priorities and much more. For many, this period has allowed us to take time out of a busy life to slow down. Maybe this time has allowed us to see what is really important to us, like family and loved ones we don’t normally give enough time to.
Giving time to those we love, actually telling them that we love them doesn’t always come easy when we are chasing our tails.
But love is something we all need – to feel loved and cared for.
I hope and pray that as you read through today’s service, you will see just how much you really are loved, even if no-one else tells you, I’m telling you here and now. Christ knows you, He knows your name, your strengths and your weaknesses, and He loves you still. That is true for each of us.
So why don’t you make a cup of tea or coffee, find a comfortable seat, take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds and slowly exhale – and then read through today’ service.
But before all that, let us pray ~
Lord, as we sit in our different homes this morning, we unite as your family and we join our hearts to worship you.
You are the God of the universe, so awesome and immense – yet you are the God of our everyday lives – the God who created our world and all that is in it – yet you care enough for us to watch over each of us every moment of our lives.
Lord, when we DO take time to think about these things, we wonder why you should love us so. So often we deny you – so often we put you at the bottom of our daily agenda’s. We rarely praise you and we live lives which must upset and disappoint you…….. yet you remain faithful to us – even when we fail to be faithful to you.
What an amazing God you are !
We pray that you will help us and guide us to live according to your ways – loving you, loving others, loving ourselves – as you instruct us to do – in Jesus’ name.
But we know that you love us, each one, but in our busy lives we so rarely take the time to tell you that we love you too. Forgive us father.
We are often remiss in telling our loved just how much they mean to us, forgive us for that too.
Guide us to make time for those who are important to us, for those we love and for those we ought to love. May this time of compulsory containment help us to change our mindset so that we may put our priorities into order.
Lord, hear our prayers – and hear us now as we sit for a few silent moments – bringing before you all the many things that worry and concern us………. hear us too as we make our personal prayer confession – bringing to you, the things which we have said, done or thought which we know are not nice, not in keeping with one who is a follower of Christ. Help us to be open – help us to be honest – help us to see our failings and ask you for help to change so that all we say and do be to YOUR glory – not our own – so be with us now, listening Lord, in the peace of our silence………………silence……………………..
Lord you bless us beyond all our expectations, beyond anything we can ever deserve – bless us now with your forgiveness and your mercy – we pray – fill us with your love.
Lord hear our prayers – and hear us now as we pray the Lord’s prayer –
Our Father..who art in heaven.. Hallowed be 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.. Lead us not into temptation.. But deliver us from evil .. For thine is the kingdom.. The power and the glory forever…. Amen.
We have 2 Readings this morning, both of which have the same theme – Shepherds and sheep. If you think that is hardly relevant to modern day life in modern day world– then please think again.
Read on as I explain…
Let’s read these texts for ourselves ~
Psalm 23 – A Psalm of David – New International Version
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul
He leads me in right path
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they support and comfort me.
5 You provide me with all I could ever need, and so much more.
And you fill my life with Blessing until I am overflowing with your kindness.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and when you call me to your side
I know I shall live in the house of the Lord
John 10 : 11 – 18 – New International Version (NIV)
Jesus said ~
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
This is the Word of the Lord – Thanks be to God
Both of our readings this morning are well known to us.
The 23rd Psalm – which talks of God the Great Shepherd who provides for us, watches over us and at the last, leads us safely home.
And our reading from John’s Gospel – which tells about Jesus – the ‘Good shepherd’ who laid down his life for his sheep, that’s you and me.
There are many ‘models’ of Jesus…
There is Jesus the Saviour – Jesus the Messiah – Jesus the King of all Kings – the Lord of all Lords.
Isaiah said of Jesus – “for unto us a child is born – and he will be called – “wonderful counsellor, mighty God – everlasting Father – Prince of peace” –
And then there is Jesus the liberator – Jesus the comforter
and so many more……….
‘Jesus the Shepherd’ is another model, one which many of us have been brought up with.
A kind, caring man – like a shepherd who watches over his flock – who watches out for his flock – who prepares the way for them – and provides for their every need.
It’s a comforting image – a ‘fluffy sheep’ kind of image – where everything is safe and cumfy-cosy.
For many – it’s a wonderfully reassuring image which gives us the assurance that whatever we go through – our great God goes through it with us.
But for others, that image is a ‘dumbing down’ of an awesome Saviour who broke all the laws of nature as He came down from Heaven – entering the world, to save us and to offer us eternal life.
All this talk of shepherds and sheep gives us a very ‘pastoral’ image of Jesus which nearly all churches emulate today in one way or another – with the Minister – Priest – or Pastor – having a care over his – or her – ‘flock’.
Aye – even the black sheep !!
Indeed – whenever I take a few days away – I arrange ‘pastoral’ cover in my absence. Someone to look after the ‘pastoral’ side of things for me, such as visiting and funerals.
That lovely 23rd Psalm is far from being and old and irrelevant verse.
It has a wonderful message for us in today’s demanding world.
It’s a beautiful and familiar Psalm to us all – and perhaps its enduring quality is that it touches at the very heart of each one of us. And that’s because it touches us all in a deep place – a place where, even in this ‘high-tech’, modern world – we all have that basic human need to feel loved and cared for.
The Psalm tells us that in a busy world – in a world where things don’t always go as we’d planned – where we have our ups and downs, our joys and our sadness – in a world where things can sometimes get dark and scary – this Psalm reminds us that our God is with us through it all. He doesn’t walk away when things get difficult – indeed, that’s the very time he draws even closer !
It’s in those ‘valley of the shadows’ kind of times that He takes us by the hand and leads us through our darkest times.
Doesn’t it say ~ “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.. ?
Its a wonderful message for us – especially at these difficult times of ‘lockdown’ – times when we can feel isolated and down-hearted – anxious and alone.
“You’re not alone !” – it says – your God is with you – carrying you through the “valley of the shadows” times – and out into that sunshine which awaits all who put their trust in Him.
And this is no empty rhetoric – no false claim – but a firm and absolute promise to you – to me – and it’s made to each one of us – in Jesus’ name.
What a wonderful and amazing God we have –
How blessed we are!
In the Old Testament – the Psalms – we hear that God is the Great shepherd – and in the New Testament, we see Jesus as the Shepherd – the Good shepherd – who cares for each one of us – his flock.
Here we see ~
The continuity of the Testaments.
The enduring promise of God’s Love throughout the ages.
Just the other day I was thinking about this time of Lockdown, lives being lost, jobs being eroded. So much difficulty and sadness around us – and I thought – “what has God got to say to us about all this ?”
What words of comfort and re-assurance does His Word – the Bible – have for us in such uncertain times ?
And then – as I was preparing for today’s service – I read the 23rd Psalm.
I read about God being my Shepherd – watching over me, caring for me, guiding me.
I read about God providing a safe and peaceful place for me.
I read about God restoring my soul when I feel drained and empty.
I read about God guiding me in right ways when I wonder which way to go.
I read about God walking with me through my darkest times – and He did.
I read about God Blessing me with his goodness and mercy.
I read about how God will take me home when my journey here is over.
And I read that just when I think it is all over – it’s actually just beginning…
And I read that all this is only possible – through a loving Saviour who laid down his life for me.
My precious Jesus.
If that isn’t good news in dark times – I don’t know what is !!
If that isn’t what people need to hear in these times of uncertainty – then there is nothing that can help them !!
When your future is uncertain – turn to God’s word and hear Him say – “I shall be with you always” – assuring you that he will be with you in whatever lies ahead.
When you are feeling weak and vulnerable – turn to God’s word and hear him say that “I’ll give you my strength – that will be sufficient for you”
When you have financial problems – turn to God’s word and hear Him say “keep your lives free from the love of money – be content with what you have – for God has said – I will never leave you or forsake you”
When life is getting you down – turn to God’s word and read about His wonderful plan for you.
And when you feel lost and afraid – turn to God’s word and read that He came to save the lost – and if you are genuinely seeking,
you will not be turned away.
The Good Shepherd is watching over you – He has a word just for you – for each one of us – as our various needs require.
It’s all in His Holy Word – the Bible – if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
I’d like to finish with the 23rd Psalm – but a different version – perhaps it’ll help us see this lovely Psalm in a different way.
And as you read it, imagine that someone who knows you really well wrote these words just for – and then I hope you will realize, that actually, He did.
23rd PSALM – The Lord is MY Shepherd
Why not read it aloud..
This is God’s word, to you ~
“The Lord is my Shepherd
And I am one of his flock..
He watches over and cares for me like a good shepherd.
He feeds me and gives me cool water when I am thirsty.
And when things get too much –
He gives me the extra strength I need to help me through my troubled times and out in to that place of peace and tranquillity which He has set aside, just for me.
He keeps me on the straight and narrow path of what is right and proper – just as He promised me He would.
And even when things are at their very worst
I know I need not be afraid
Because God is always with me,
Comforting me and keeping me safe.
He makes me feel special
And gives me all I need to live a good and wholesome life,
Providing me with everything I could ever want –
Aye, and much more beside.
With God looking after me this way –
I just know that He loves me.
And so – when the end of my days shall come –
As come they surely will –
I have the joy and comfort of knowing that He will not forsake me even then – but take me to his home,
To a room that He has prepared just for me –
And there I shall live with Him, my Saviour,
In peace, at his side,
For ever more.”
It really doesn’t get more comforting than that!
Written centuries ago – for times such as these and a people such as us.
Written for you to take comfort in.
And all this God does for each one of us – and in the name of our precious Saviour – Jesus Christ.
We really are – so blessed.
Let us pray ~
Heavenly Father, we bring you our thanks for all your goodness to us. For family, friends and so much more, how blessed we are.
You provide us with all we could ever need and so much beside. You bless us with family and friends, homes and food on our table – even these difficult times. We really are, so blessed.
But we know that there are many, aye too many, who do not have the many things that we take for granted, bless them Lord, bless their families too.
Bless the hungry and the homeless, the sad and the grieving, put your loving arms around them and keep them safe. Remind us too Lord, of our responsibility to care for the hungry and the needy in our communities.
We pray for all those affected by the CV19 virus, those who have succumbed and passed on. Bless their families, caring Father.
We pray and give you thanks, for the ‘frontline’ workforce who are working so hard and sacrificing so much to keep the rest of us safe from harm – bless them with good health and keep them safe until this dark time is over.
We pray for our families and for those we love, watch over them and bring them safely through this most difficult time, we pray.
Here us now as we bring to you our own personal prayers of confession, as we bring to you the many things of which we may have said, done and thought which are not in accordance with our claim to be a faith follower of Christ.
Here now our silent prayers…………………………..
Forgive us Listening Lord, bless us with your mercy and your Grace – and all this we pray in the name of your only Son, our only Hope – Jesus Christ.
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK’
There was a party in full swing – one of the guest was a well know actor with a lovely deep, rich voice.
As the evening wore on the other guests prevailed upon him to recite something for them – and after very little persuasion – he cleared his throat and in his best ‘actorial’ voice he began to recite the 23rd Psalm.
His pronunciation was perfect and his presentation of the subject was superb. The group sat enthralled – and when he finished- he took a long, flourishing bow – and was warmly applauded by all present.
The guests then asked if anyone else would like to do their ‘party piece’.
And a young, rather nervous young woman stood up and asked if anyone minded if she sung the 23rd Psalm as it had been one of her favourites in church.
Some of the guests looked at each other – not sure if they really wanted another ‘holy bit’ in the proceeding – but eventually agreed thinking – oh well – it’s soon be over and it’ll keep her happy.
So the young girl – who was a student and far from home – began to sing….. “the Lord’s my Shepherd – I’ll not want – he makes me – down to lie…” and so on – and as she sang – tears came down her face – and you could hear a pin drop……….. Lumps started appearing in throats and soon tears flowed around the room..
When she finished there was complete silence……
Eventually one lady broke the silence and said – “that was absolutely beautiful – how did you mange to put so much feeling into your voice ?” – “that was far more moving than the actors’ recital?” – said another.“Well” – the young girl said – “you see – he knew the words –
but – I know the Shepherd…”
How well do YOU know the Shepherd?…………….
Food for thought for each of us !!
Go now – and may the Good Shepherd
Enfold you with his love – fill you with his peace – and lead you in hope,
And may the blessing of Almighty God – Father- Son – and Holy Spirit – be with you all – may He be with your families and friends and all who you love – and ought to love – this day and everyday.
Take care, God Bless you and your loved ones.