Sunday Worship, 25 April 2021

Welcome

Like a shepherd he will tend his flock,

and with his arm keep them together.

Isaiah 40: 11

watch today’s service here:

Hymn 411 Christ the Lord is risen today

Opening Prayer

Almighty God

We are your people, we are your flock

 not because we have earned that position

 not because it is ours by right

 but because of your great love and mercy

 you have called us to be your children

 you sealed that call by the death

  and rising again of your Son Jesus

You are always with us and guide us through life

 whether through the equivalent of fields of green grass

  and pools of fresh water

 or our own valley of shadow

 you have given us guidance on how we should live

 we have before us the example of Jesus

 and we have your Spirit constantly with us

  helping us to know which path to take

  helping us to cope with life’s challenges

  helping us to be more Christ-like in what we think, say and do

But all too often we are like the sheep that wander off

 something over there looks attractive

 this seems like a good way to go

 and too late we realise that we have left the safe place

  the right track

 in your mercy you look for us

 in your mercy you are ready to forgive us and give us a new start

We ask for forgiveness

 and your Spirit’s help in being the people you want us to be

Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen

All age time (for ages 0-100)

My 6th birthday fell on a school holiday, and we had a family picnic in the country. There was a small outcrop nearby that we climbed up, but I was kept away from the edge because there was a dead sheep at the foot. Being aged 6 I naturally wanted to see the dead sheep. But it highlights one of the natural dangers for sheep in upland Britain. We could also add peat bog and thorn bushes. Jesus’ audience in the Holy Land would have perhaps pictured some of the steep ravines, rocks and scree of the land bordering the Wilderness.

We no longer have wild animals like wolves and bears in Britain, but foxes and dogs ar still a threat to sheep, and eagles and other birds of prey are ready to attach a young lamb if they are hungry. The danger to sheep is one of the objections raised to the idea of reintroducing lynx to Britain’s uplands. Although there were probably fewer wild animals in the Holy Land in the time of Jesus, compared with the time of David the Shepherd Boy, there may still have been some lions, jackals or wolves about in remoter places.

When we were on holiday near Skipton a few years ago a farm along from where we were staying had large notices saying that the gates were secured and there were CCTV cameras monitoring the fields – sheep rustling can be big business. Thieves and rustlers (whether individuals, small gangs, or armed raiders operated by political leaders in neighbouring territories, were a regular feature of life in the Holy Land in Jesus’ day.

Bible reading

John 10: 11-18

Hymn 417 Now the green blade riseth

Reflection

For most of us, sheep are things that we see on a day out in the country, not part of our everyday lives. Some may know a sheep farmer personally. A few may have had some hands-on experience of tending sheep in their youth. How many, if any, of us actually know a shepherd whose sole job is looking after sheep? Could there also be a difference in the experience of older and younger generations, with the younger ones having less experience of the countryside and farming, and less exposure to stories and pictures of Jesus the Good Shepherd? Having said that, it is probably fair to remark that there would have been many town-dwellers in Jesus’ day who knew as much or as little about sheep and shepherds as we do.

The Good Shepherd image ties in with the ancient history of the Jewish people. Based on the Prophet Ezekiel’s withering attack on the political and religious leaders of his day, it would appear that one or both of these groups may have promoted the image of themselves as the Shepherds of Israel, the protectors and guardians of the people. But in practice they abused their positions and exploited the people They were duly condemned by God, who declared that he was dismissing them from their posts and taking over direct care of his people himself.

Jesus presents himself as the Good Shepherd, but he also looks to another part of Jewish tradition and everyday life for the people he met: the practice of offering a lamb as a sacrifice to restore the relationship between God and his people. The sheep dies so that the people might live. Jesus rather turns it on its head: in his case it is the Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep – he was preparing to suffer and die so that humanity might come into a new relationship with God.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, a model of leadership, a model for us to follow, whether we are in some position of leadership in the church, some position of leadership elsewhere, or we are part of the team:

  • The Good Shepherd is not over-bearing. He does not spoon-feed the sheep. He does not keep them in the sheep-fold for safety. He does not tether them in a safe area of pasture, but lets them be free to roam and choose where they want to graze
  • At the same time he is their protector – looking out for danger, of which they may be unaware, and probably can’t even envisage
  • He was ready to put his protector-role into action. He didn’t spot danger and then run away, but stayed to confront it and save his flock
  • He knew his sheep, which was which, and their strengths and weaknesses
  • He was ready to increase the size of his flock, to welcome the new comers, and integrate them into being one flock

It is one thing to recognise the role model he gives us, another to strive to follow it. That is partly why he has given us the Holy Spirit – his living presence with us every day to help us work towards the standard he has set for us

Prayers for others

Heavenly Father

We pray for all who are in positions of leadership in our country and world

Inspire them to be true shepherds to their people –

 not exploiting or abusing

 exercising care not cruelty

 compassion not corruption

 striving for peace, prosperity and justice for all

we pray for all who are ill,

those who look after them

 and those who worry about them

those waiting for or receiving treatment

 and those for whom there is no treatment

those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one

those who are worried about home, work or money

 a friend or a relative

those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters

those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home

those who long to live in peace and safety

those who have fled from their homes seeking safety

We pray for the Queen, the Government

 all in positions of leadership in this and every land

We pray for you church

 the worldwide church

 the wider church in Dumbarton

 our own congregation

help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord

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

Hymn 413 The day of resurrection

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.

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