Hello and welcome to our service for the fourth Sunday of the Easter season. We are glad you are able to join us. You can watch the whole service run by clicking on the top playlist button. Alternatively, if you would rather follow all the words, scroll down a bit further and click on each section in turn as you come to them. We will start with a short organ piece to help us settle in for the service. You may join in the words or not as you like. Words in bold type are intended for everyone to say. You are also invited to say the Psalm with me, should you wish to, when we reach it in the service.
Call to worship
Let us worship God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Lord be with you,
And also with you.
This is the day that the Lord has made.
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Lord, direct our thoughts and teach us to pray.
Lift up our hearts to worship you in spirit and in truth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hymn – Alleluia, alleluia, hearts to heaven and voices raise
Most merciful God,
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
we confess that we have sinned
in thought, word and deed.
We have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
In your mercy
forgive what we have been,
help us to amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be;
that we may do justly,
and walk humbly with you, our God.
Assurance of Forgiveness
May almighty God,
who sent his Son into the world to save sinners,
bring you his pardon and peace, now and for ever.
Blessed is the Lord,
For he has heard the voice of our prayer;
therefore shall our hearts dance for joy,
and in our song we will praise our God.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
The Lord is my shepherd – I lack nothing.
Yes, there is nothing I lack – my needs as a sheep are quite simple.
Regular food, water, somewhere safe to chew the cud and to sleep, protection from predators would be good – oh, and new lambs every year.
Comparing that with human lifestyles, it makes life as a human look exhaustingly complex and difficult. No wonder so many of us get tense and worried so often.
So, what do sheep need?
Food is simple – grass, not too long.
Water? – any still water is fine. If it is bubbling and splashy it goes up our nostrils and we can’t cope with that and won’t drink it.
Space and time to chew the cud – fine if there are no predators around.
New lambs every year – most necessary – we don’t live for ever!
Protection from predators – that is REALLY useful. Middle eastern sheep have longish legs, but can’t kick or bite effectively. We need shepherds for help with this.
The shepherds need to be good ones, mind. The ones who desert us when mountain lions or bears appear are useless. They couldn’t care less about us, they only care for their wages. A good Shepherd will protect us. He is prepared to risk his own life tackling mountain lions. He will go the extra mile or three to search for missing lambs and the sheep who have got stuck or lost.
Let’s translate that into what the qualities of a good Shepherd would be for humans.
Firstly, we need to remember that, unlike sheep, people don’t only have bodies, they have a non-physical side usually referred to as spirits or souls, too. So good shepherding for humans means looking after our bodies and our spirits or souls.
I expect you remember that, at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis, when God made Adam, He formed Adam’s body out of the physical material of the ‘dust of the earth’. Then, He then breathed His ‘Ruach’, the Hebrew word that means Wind, Breath, or Spirit according to its context. It might be described as something that is invisible, yet moves, often related to life.
Wind will bring clouds with life-giving water.
Breath and breathing are vital for animal life, including human life.
Spirit is vital for humans in various ways including being able to have an active relationship with God.
Jesus was born in the form of a human baby as a result of the Holy Spirit coming upon Mary, and the power of the Most High overshadowing her, as Luke describes it in his gospel account. The church was born as a result of the Spirit of God descending on the disciples at Pentecost. A good Shepherd will help us keep our spiritual life as well as our physical life alive, and will encourage its growth.
Following Jesus and the Holy Spirit means protection from evil.
Just to be clear about the difference between good and evil in Hebrew thinking, let me explain a little. Pronouncing something as ‘Good’ in Hebrew terms means something that promotes life and healthy, positive relationships. Evil, or bad, refers to those things, thoughts or actions which promote anything from mildly damaging to decidedly destructive behaviour and relationships.
So, when we follow Jesus, as you probably all know, we are working towards healthy positive relationships with God, other people, AND, (this is often overlooked) an equally healthy relationship with ourselves, our inner being). In other words, as Jesus summed it up, we are to love our neighbours AS ourselves. In Jesus eyes this is as important as loving God with everything we’ve got.
And part of the Good News Jesus brought is that if we find we have damaged our relationship with our self, our neighbour or God, you will well know that if we repent, apologise, say “sorry “or in some way ask for forgiveness, God will respond. It is always good when our inner self or our neighbour respond too, so leaving us feeling forgiven straight away. It is also fair to say that sometimes our neighbour or our inner self may be slower to respond and we need to be patient.
If we find ourselves in such “dark places”, out of kilter with ourselves, other people or God, it really can feel like a dark place. But while we are aware that our good Shepherd is there, even though we can’t feel his presence as normal, just like the sheep in the Psalm, we need not FEAR the evil but be comfort in knowing that Jesus is with us and around us even when we cannot sense it very well or even at all. Sometimes it helps to ask someone we trust to pray for us or with us.
For sheep, the Shepherd in the Psalm has two tools at his disposal. There is the Staff. This is a long stick with a hook at the end to rescue sheep who have had a misadventure or need a helping lift out of trouble. The second one, commonly translated as ‘Rod’ is more like a sturdy mace with bits of stone and metal embedded into the business end of it, used to discourage or kill any would-be predators – in shepherding terms to see off any marauding mountain lions or bears.
Remembering that Jesus is able to rescue us and protect us when necessary is a comfort to us when we remember this.
Just as the sheep, despite having enemies around it, can appreciate the good Shepherd looking after it with physical food, we too can ‘feast’ on that sense of the good support that Jesus, our good Shepherd, came to give us.
As Peter says, at the end of our reading from Acts, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved”.
So, as the Psalm points out, Jesus our Good Shepherd is willing and able to look after us in the good times and rescue us in the bad times. Sometimes the only thing getting in the way of that is our wrong sort of pride. Challenging our pride so Jesus can help us may feel like a step we would rather not take, but I, and many other people can tell you – it’s worth it.
Then we can come to realise more and more how much goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and ultimately realise the awareness of living in the house of the Lord for ever.
Affirmation of Faith
We believe in God the Father,
From whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.
We believe in God the Son,
who lives in our hearts through faith, and fills us with love.
We believe in God the Holy Spirit,
who strengthens us with power from on high.
We believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Hymn – Father, hear the prayer we offer
Response at the end of each section:
Jesus, Lord of life,
In your mercy, hear us
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus 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.
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 trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
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.
Generous God, we thank you for all you have given us.
We thank you for all the ways that we can give to you in return.
We ask that through our gifts we will see your Kingdom grow
in our hearts and in our homes,
in our neighbourhoods and our nations;
to the glory of your name.
Hymn – In heavenly love abiding
The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus,
that great shepherd of the sheep,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
We are raised to new life with Christ.
Go in his peace. Alleluia, alleluia.
Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia.
Recessional – The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Common Worship, material from which is included in this service, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council.