Good morning, Cheviot Churches! This is Colin, and I hope everyone is well and safe. Incredibly another month has passed, and we are now into May. We have our service for the 4th Sunday of Easter and today focus on Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Call to Worship
Let us worship God in the name of Jesus Christ, the good shepherd,
who offers us abundant life.
Let us worship God in the name of the One who leads us by still waters,
and restores our souls.
Let us worship God in the name of the One who prepares a banquet for us,
and fills our cups to overflowing.
Hymn 15 (vv 1,2,5) – The Lord’s my shepherd
(Tune Brother James’ Air)
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Lord God You are our Saviour and king, our Master and friend, our Shepherd and guide.
Wherever we go, You are with us. Wherever we stray, You seek us out. Whenever we call, You hear us.
You are our promise and our hope, our place of rest and peace, our security and our sureness.
Whoever we are, You accept us. Whatever we do, You love us. Whenever we fall, You lift us up.
We praise you.
We gather in our various homes
We are physically apart,
but spiritually we are together,
offering our love,
and our prayers,
in service to one another and this world
as we face this new day.
Lord, you are our Shepherd. You seek us when we are lost and guide us in life-giving ways. Yet, we turn from you and heed the voices of thieves and bandits. You know us by name, but we refuse to hear your call and instead go our own way. Forgive us for failing to follow you. Quieten the noise around and within us, so that we might better recognize your voice and do your will. Come close, calm our fears, so that we might see you clearly, enter by the gate and know your presence and love.
Even though we walk through the darkest valley, we need not fear evil. God is with us. God’s rod and staff comforts us. God forgives and transforms us. Friends, believe the good news, through Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.
Be at peace with God, with yourself and with one another.
Readings: Acts 2: 42-47
John 10: 1-10
Here is our weekly prayer from Arthur and Kathleen:
Heavenly Father we know that Jesus is The Way into your presence and He is The Truth, The Life and also our Shepherd. We pray that you will watch over and protect us from all danger, especially in this time of lockdown. Guide us into green pastures where we can be nourished by your word and lead us by pure still waters where we can be refreshed by your love. Amen
The last several weeks have been difficult ones, and we have had to adjust our whole way of living. Life will probably not be quite the same again. One article I read asserted that we will talk about how things were BEFORE Covid and AFTER Covid. However, some things remain the same. I must admit I have enjoyed my daily exercise during this time and have so valued the opportunity to walk in the peace of the countryside, with new life bursting all around quite regardless of Covid-19. The blackthorn has blossomed, primroses are out at Linton – AND of course there are lambs in the field. Calves too, but today I want to concentrate on the lambs, for today is Good Shepherd Sunday.
In this area we are very used to shepherds, and a number of our members have connections with shepherding. In Palestine, shepherding has not changed that much since biblical times, and when I lived there, I would drive through the West Bank and often see shepherd boys with a flock of sheep, looking for pasture, and green pasture was not as common there as in our Cheviot hills.
In John chapter 10, Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd and a flock to illustrate our relationship with him. He will say, ‘I am the Good Shepherd’, but that is not in our passage today – it comes in verse 11. But what he does say in our passage is ‘I am the gate’. At night sheep were kept in circular stone enclosures, with a narrow gap for the sheep to enter and exit, and the shepherd would literally be the gate, stretched out across the gap to keep the sheep safe. Why? Because there were dangers. There were predators around – wolves, even big cats. But also there were thieves and robbers, trying to steal the sheep – and that is still a problem in UK today. The shepherd’s role was to keep the sheep safe.
But we have a lovely picture of inclusion, safety and gathering, of the sheep being safe and secure, protected and nurtured by the shepherd, who only wants their well-being. It’s a picture which speaks to us today as we try to look after our own and our loved ones’ well-being, but also it relates to our reading from Acts, which gives us a snapshot of life in the early church, where there is a sense of gathering and nurture, of belonging and oneness, as the early believers prayed together, learned together and supported each other. It is always an ideal passage which challenges us to be the church today, being open and welcoming and nurturing one another in the faith.
Another verse in the John passage catches my attention today, and that is when Jesus says that the sheep recognise the shepherd’s voice. Think back to ‘Before Covid’ times, when families would be at beaches or in a park, and children would all be playing together. Perhaps the mothers and fathers would all be chatting together. But if a child suddenly was in difficulties and called out, the parent would immediately discern the voice of their own child amid the hubbub of noise from the other children. Because from birth the parent attunes to the voice of their child, being able to tell when they are happy or sad. So the shepherd knows the sheep, being able to distinguish one from the other, and the sheep in turn learn to recognise and trust the voice of the shepherd.
As Christians we have to learn to recognise the voice of Christ, as we seek to live out our lives, and we do that by becoming closer to him in prayer and in study and in community with one another – the very things which the Christians in Acts were doing. This time of crisis has given some of us time to reflect on our own spirituality.
A final thought in this passage is that the shepherd desires the well-being of the sheep, and so Christ comes to bring abundant life, life in all its fullness. That can be different things for different people. In the previous chapter, Jesus heals a blind man, and for him abundant life could mean being able to see; for a single mother, abundant life could be help and support. For us in lockdown, abundant life may be meeting up with our families. For a minister in lockdown abundant life could be a congregation coming together and breaking bread together.
Life will be very different for us, after this crisis passes. We will be living post-Covid. But there will be things which will remain the same: God’s love towards us and nurture of us as a parent, who desires our complete well-being.
Song – Here is a song inspired by all these pictures of rainbows put up in our windows. It is written by Will Todd, who is the uncle of a friend’s god-daughter and can be found HERE
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Holy and gracious God, shepherd of our lives,
we come to you with thanksgiving for you are the one who nurtures and provides for us.
You transform our weary souls with your grace, wisdom and love.
You bless us each day with glimpses of resurrection and the promise of new life,
in signs of spring, in stories of kindness and perseverance during crisis.
Listening God, shepherd of the world, we bring you now our prayers for others. Hear them in your tender mercy:
We pray for people who are struggling with illness, loneliness, grief or sadness,
thinking especially of those whose lives have been redefined by COVID-19.
And we pray for those whose working life has been changed drastically by this pandemic, thinking of health care workers, those in the food supply chain, and all those whose jobs have disappeared.
May each life be touched by the power of resurrection and new hope.
We pray for countries and communities where it is not safe for people to live out their faith openly.
May all people of faith be granted the freedom to praise without fear.
We pray for people in the world who are victims of discrimination and acts of hatred.
May your desire for justice be made known and lived out.
We pray for our congregation and all people who make up your Church, forced now to consider how to be faithful in difficult times.
May we discover new ways to be your Easter people in the world.
We pray for our families, our friends and for ourselves.
May each of us know the power of your compassion and promise.
Lord, hear our prayer, in Jesus’ name. Amen
Hymn 462 (vv1,3,6) – The King of Love
With Christ as our Gatekeeper, we go from here into fresh pastures. With Christ as our Gatekeeper we find life in all its fullness. Go in peace and may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit enfold and surround you today and always.