Sunday 3 May 2020, 4th Sunday of Easter

Contents:

  • Welcome
  • Hymn 413 The day of resurrection (Church Hymnary 4th Edition)
  • All-age time
  • Prayer
  • Reading John 10: 1-10
  • Acts 2: 42-47 (Good News Bible)
  • Reflection
  • Prayer for others
  • Hymn 424 Blest be the everlasting God (Church Hymnary 4th Edition)
  • Blessing

Welcome and let us worship God

Acknowledge that the Lord is God; he made us, and we are his, his own people, the flock which he shepherds.

Psalm 100: 3

Hymn 413

1 The day of resurrection!
Earth, tell it out abroad;
the passover of gladness,
the passover of God!
From death to life eternal,
from sin’s dominion free,
our Christ has brought us over
with hymns of victory.

2 Our hearts be pure from evil,
that we may see aright
the Lord in rays eternal
of resurrection light;
and, listening to his accents,
may hear, so calm and plain,
his own ‘All hail!’ and, hearing,
may raise the victor strain.

3 Now let the heavens be joyful
and earth her song begin,
the round world keep high triumph,
and all that is therein;
let all things seen and unseen
their notes in gladness blend,
for Christ the Lord has risen,
our Joy that has no end.


For younger participants

All-age time
In today’s story Jesus is talking about the way that he cares for his friends: he is like a shepherd looking after sheep

For younger participants
Sammy the sheep has become lost. Help him to find the way to the pool of fresh water. Don’t let him find the rocks, the thorn bushes, the robbers or the wild animals —>

For older participants
Have you ever got lost, in the car, on foot, on public transport? How did you feel? How did you get things sorted – you worked it out, you asked for help, you phoned a friend?

Ask someone else to share their story with you


Opening Prayer
Father

We thank you for your care and concern for us
We thank you that in your care and concern
you came to our world in Jesus
shared our human experience
and suffered and died for us

At times we are prepared to wander off from you
and to head in our own direction
We need you, the Good Shepherd, to find, guide and lead us
We need to be cared for, loved, restored and protected
We need guidance and direction
Transform our lostness into your foundness

Give us the desire to seek Christian fellowship
with other members of your flock
Take away our shyness, fear, distrust
Create in us a spirit of warmth and love that reaches out
Help us to support and care for each other

Through Christ our Lord we pray Amen


Bible reading

John 10: 1-10
Jesus said, “I am telling you the truth; the man who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who goes in through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him; the sheep hear his voice as he calls his own sheep by name, and he leads them out. When he has brought them out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. They will not follow someone else; instead, they will run away from such a person, because they do not know his voice.”

Jesus told them this parable, but they did not understand what he meant.

So Jesus said again, “I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep. All others who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever comes in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness.”

Acts 2: 42-47
They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers.

Many miracles and wonders were being done through the apostles, and everyone was filled with awe. All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed. Day after day they met as a group in the Temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts, praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.


Reflection
For us, seeing sheep is a bit of a novelty (especially during ‘lockdown’). For people in the Holy Land in Bible times it was an everyday occurrence. Sheep provided wool, milk, hides and meat for special occasions. They were a form of wealth, and a vital part of the economy and fabric of society. However, keeping sheep involved hard work:
• neighbouring families, clans or tribes sometimes engaged in sheep rustling
• there were wild animals looking for food
• the terrain was dangerous, with rocks, crevices and ravines
• thorn bushes grew in many of the rougher areas, and it was easy for sheep to become entangled
• in areas with low rainfall the sheep needed to keep moving on to new oases and new pastures

Because sheep were so much part of everyone’s life, religious teachers often drew analogies between sheep and people, between God and shepherds. One of the most popular hymns is ‘The Lord is my shepherd’, a setting of Psalm 23, that speaks of God’s care for his people:
The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want:
he makes me down to lie
in pastures green: he leadeth me
the quiet waters by.
The prophet Isaiah, in speaking of the Suffering Servant (an image the early church associated with Jesus) noted
All of us were like sheep that were lost,
each of us going their own way.” (53: 6)
The prophet Ezekiel took a damning swipe at the leaders of the Jewish community (political? religious?) who seem to have described themselves as the ‘shepherds of Israel’
“You drink the milk, wear clothes made from the wool, and kill and eat the finest sheep. But you never tend the sheep. You have not taken care of the weak ones, healed those that are sick, bandaged those that are hurt, brought back those that wandered off, or looked for those that were lost. Instead, you treated them cruelly.” (34: 3-4)
In their place he sees God intervening and taking on the role of the Good Shepherd caring for his flock, his people. We don’t know whether the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ time (maybe 500 years later) still saw themselves as ’shepherds of Israel’ (Herod the Great, a shepherd?) but Jesus several times speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd, and his followers as a flock – not just a collection of individuals, but a group belonging together, with a shared identity based on their relationship with him.

Our second Bible reading describes life in the very early post-Easter church in Jerusalem. It wasn’t a pattern of living that survived for long, partly because they realised that the End of the World was not happening soon, that they had to earn a living, and they had to take the Gospel to the whole world, but it does show us how the earliest church pictured what the relationship between followers of Jesus should be, and the commitment to each other.

As the church grew and spread, it moved away from its Jewish roots, and embraced people from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Jews, whether in the Holy Land or in the communities scattered around the Mediterranean and Middle East, had a sense of all being Jewish, and did take steps to support each other. That said, they could as easily fall out with each other as with the Gentiles who lived around them, and there was no great movement to address the structural social and economic differences within their community.

For other communities identity was usually focussed around the family, town or district, rather than Province of the Roman Empire or the Empire itself. People usually came together around their favourite temple or shrine, but would not have described themselves as ‘Zeus-ists’ or ‘Venus-ists’. In somewhere like Egypt the native Copts might feel a sense of kinship with other folk who spoke their language and shared their culture, but primarily weren’t Greek, Roman or Jewish (not so much what you are, as what you are not); and in Greek-speaking communities there was a shared heritage of culture, art and philosophy, though politically they may be at odds with each other.

Then the Christian missionaries arrived with their Gospel. It wasn’t just about a place in heaven when you died, rather it was about a new kind of life that could be experienced now, and would find its fulfilment after death. It was about a new relationship with God through the crucified and risen Jesus, a new relationship with each other, and a new way of living – enabled by the Spirit to be a ‘holy people’ showing the same loving-care and humility that people had seen in Jesus. It wasn’t just for a select few, rather everyone was called to be part of this new community under the leadership/lordship of Jesus. This community would embrace people from a whole range of social, economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It would even embrace people from beyond the political and military frontiers of the Roman Empire (the Book of Acts tells of people from modern Iraq, Iran and Sudan/Ethiopia responding to it).

Even before the challenges of Covid-19 our world was far from perfect: all too often the news was full of stories of injustice, violence, poverty, cruelty, neglect and abuse – and much went unreported. For so many the driving force was ‘me’: I want more, I want power, I wasn’t wealth, I want influence. It all stands in stark contrast to the kind of world God wants, to the values that Jesus spoke about and embodied: service, compassionate caring, putting the needs of others first. At this time of crisis we often hear about people rediscovering a sense of community, and hopes are expressed that the post-Virus world will have more emphasis on community, supporting one another etc. It is a wonderful aim, but on our own unlikely to succeed for long. God has offered us a way to achieve that objective, by letting Jesus be the Shepherd of the flock – building a relationship with him, following his example and teaching, and allowing the Spirit to change us from a self-centred focus to one that wants to serve others, whatever their background, whatever their character.


Prayers for others
Loving God

You see into the hearts and lives of people
and see what their real needs are

We bring you now our prayers for others
trusting that you know far better than we do what people need
and yet you can take and use our prayers
in your work of bringing healing and wholeness

We pray for those who are struggling with unhappy lives
hurting, broken or abusive relationships
for families not speaking
who have lost contact
for people who feel that their life is going nowhere
that no one loves or values them

We pray for all who have responsibility for others
all who take decisions that affect the lives of others
whether in national or local government
in business, in the public sector, in community organisations
in clubs and societies, in your church
some are natural leaders, some don’t feel confident in the role
some easily combine leadership with sensitivity, some don’t
some work full out for others, some are only interested in themselves
some have heavy responsibilities
some have difficult decisions to take

May they always strive to follow the example of Jesus
May they work for the good of others
Put an end to corruption and abuse
Bear them up when they feel disappointed or dispirited

We pray for those who don’t have enough to eat
who don’t have somewhere to call home
are worried about family, friends, money, job or home
for all who long to live in peace and safety
particularly in parts of the Middle East and Africa
for those who have fled from their homes seeking safety
for those who offer help
and those who offer only indifference or harm

We pray for those who are lonely, feeling down or grieving a friend or loved one
those waiting for or receiving treatment, and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are ill, those who look after them, and those who worry about them
for all who are affected in any way by the Coronavirus pandemic, here and around the world

we pray for your church
here and throughout the world
help us to live together in love and unity
and be your hands, your feet, your witness
in everything we do

We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us

And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us

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.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen


Hymn 424

1 Blest be the everlasting God
the Father of our Lord!
Be his abounding mercy praised,
his majesty adored!

2 When from the dead he raised his Son,
and called him to the sky,
he gave our souls a lively hope
that they should never die.

3 To an inheritance divine
he taught our hearts to rise;
’tis uncorrupted, undefiled,
unfading in the skies.

4 Saints by the power of God are kept,
till the salvation come:
we walk by faith as strangers here,
but Christ shall call us home.

Blessing
Christ was raised from the dead
by the glorious power of the Father.
Set out then on a new life with Christ.
and the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
rest and remain with you,
today, and every day, and for ever. Amen

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