“The voice of God is calling its summons unto men; as once he spake in Zion, so now he speaks again: whom shall I send to succor my people in their need? Whom shall I send to loosen the bonds of shame and greed?” Amen. (PH, 426, 1)
CALL TO WORSHIP (based on Psalm 23 and John 10)
L: The Lord is our shepherd.
P: We are the sheep of Christ’s fold.
L: He makes us lie down in green pastures.
P: In Christ, we dwell secure.
L: He leads us beside still waters and restores our souls.
All: We worship Christ, our shepherd, our gate!
PH #327 - Savior, like a Shepherd lead us
Let us pray...
Loving Christ, you are our shepherd, and we are your sheep. Let us hear your voice that will lead us through the Jesus gate to life, and life abundant, and life eternal. In your name, we pray, Amen.
FIRST SCRIPTURE LESSON
Psalm 23: “The shepherd psalm”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen, Amen!
Let us pray...
O God of peace, Lord of life, who has taught us that in returning to you shall be our rest, and that in quiet confidence in you shall be our salvation: make known your presence to us at this very hour. We would be still and know that you are God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Friend, the Gift which is ours.
We ask this day, O God, that the reality of your presence might be so clear to us that doubts may dissolve, sins be forgiven, weakness changed into strength, turmoil transformed into indestructible peace. Grant us grace to be united with all who worship you, that we and others who have sought and found might sincerely pray to you and might faithfully hear your word. Even now, Dear God, we give you hale and hearty thanks that you are listening, and that you are answering these, the prayers of your people. But above all else, we thank you for yourself, revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the greatest gift of all.
Hear us too, O God, as pray not only for ourselves, but also for others, as we pray for all those who especially need your presence this day—for those who are ill or recuperating from illness; for those anticipating surgery or recovering from it; for those who have left our side to be with you and those who grieve their departure; for those who struggle with the aftermath of all natural and human-made disasters, terrorism, war, and this current health crisis. As always, we pray for those nearest and dearest to this faith family. And especially during this continuing season of pandemic, we pray for and beg your blessing on those countless heroes, medical and otherwise, who risk their lives each and every day to save ours.
O God, in your wise and loving guidance are the destinies of all your children and their nations. Shed abroad your peace, we pray, upon this, our troubled world; and heal the divisions, sickness, violence, and death which plague us all.
O You, who are the source of all that we are, and have, and hope to become: let us share in your glorious work of redemption, by giving ourselves to you and to Christ’s cause, in our own time and place.
Through him who is our Redeemer and Good Shepherd, Amen.
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Praise God all creatures here below!
Praise God above you heavenly host!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
OFFERING PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Let us pray...
O Eternal God, may these gifts represent an inner commitment to love you above all else, and to love our sisters and brothers, because they are loved first by you, in whose name we give and pray, Amen.
PH #80 - The King of Love my Shepherd is
The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
And he is mine for ever.
Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul he leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow
With food celestial feedeth.
And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
Within thy house for ever.
SECOND SCRIPTURE LESSON
John 10: 1-11 (New Revised Standard Version): “Jesus the good shepherd”
SERMON “his voice”
Let us pray...
“Good Shepherd, you supply our need; most holy is your name; in pastures fresh you make us feed, beside the living stream. You bring our wandering spirits back when we forsake your ways; you lead us, for your mercy’s sake, in paths of truth and grace.” Amen. (Hymns of Truth and Light, 88, 1, adapted)
In today’s familiar gospel story—sometimes called the Parable of the Good Shepherd—Jesus presents a variety of images by which he hopes to explain his own identity—sheepfold, shepherd, gatekeeper, gate. But they all have something to do with sheep.
As many of us know, sheep are innocent, not terribly intelligent creatures that need protection and guidance in order to stay alive and hopefully even to live a good life. The world is a dangerous place indeed for sheep. Without constant protection and guidance, their lives are always at risk. There are what Jesus calls “thieves and bandits;” there are hostile animals and all other kinds of predators out there. And that’s why it’s necessary to build a sheepfold—a pen or shelter—to keep the sheep out of danger and therefore alive. To explain the image in terms that folks like us, who don’t care for sheep, might understand better, we might say that the sheepfold is like a church or organized religion in general—a place where believers are prepared for, and kept safe from, the dangers of the world out there.
But, in our parable, the sheepfold is not an end in itself. Keeping the sheep alive is the initial goal. But it is not the final objective; rather, it is only the beginning. The ultimate purpose of all Jesus talks about—sheepfold, shepherd, gatekeeper, and gate—is, as he says, that the sheep “may have life, and have it abundantly.” Not just life, but life abundant; not just a certain quantity of life, but a certain quality of living.
And how does the shepherd ensure that? Jesus says that the good shepherd calls the sheep by name. He talks to them, sings to them, and leads them to green pastures. And, most of all, the sheep know “his voice,” the voice of their shepherd; and that’s the only voice they will follow. They will not follow what Jesus calls the “voice of strangers.”
And so, they trust the shepherd; they follow him wherever he leads, because there is a loving relationship between them. The sheep will, therefore, wait patiently in the sheepfold. It is, after all, worthwhile to stay alive and simply wait in that safe place; because they know that sooner or later, the life-giving shepherd will come. And when they hear and follow “his voice,” they will be led, as the psalmist puts it, “in green pastures...beside still waters...in paths of righteousness.” Those sheep know that their own special shepherd will care for them, love them, and lead them ultimately to a good life—maybe even to a life better than this one. This is, I think, an especially provocative image for these days in which we are urged to stay at home, safe in our sheepfolds, protected from the danger outside.
And so it is as well with all of us, my friends, in our relationship to God through our good shepherd. The good news of Jesus Christ comes to us by way of religion—by way of the church, this church; but neither religion nor the church, not even this church, is itself that good news. Religious institutions are what we human beings have built in order to protect, preserve, and, most importantly, transmit the message of the gospel. Religion or the church may be necessary to protect the good news, but neither is a spiritual end in itself. For us Christians, the church is only a visible shell from which comes “his voice,” the voice of the good shepherd, as John says, the very Word of God; and it is this voice and this Word that give life. “His voice” invests the institution with meaning and purpose and even life eternal. It inspires and encourages and strengthens.
One of the silver linings in our current dark cloud of pandemic is the learning of this lesson—neither the church as a cherished building or sacred space, nor the traditional corporate worship as we’ve known it for centuries, defines our faith. They simply enable us to do and be our faith in action in the world. That’s why even while many of us feel disconnected spiritually because we miss desperately our usual church activities of worship, learning, service, and fellowship, we can still feel reconnected to God and one another through the new things we’re doing as expressions of our faith in response to hearing “his voice” and answering his call in this new and very challenging time: “reading” sermons and prayers, “touching” other church members and friends, especially those living alone, through telephone calls, e-mails, texts, and continuing to volunteer yeoman hours to keep our Food Pantry alive and well and serving increasing numbers.
But we all also know that we common, ordinary, everyday, human beings hear many other voices as well, just not “his voice,” rather perhaps the voices, as Jesus says, of “thieves, bandits, and strangers.” And these may be dangerous voices that do not tell the truth and lead us astray. And a religion or a church that follows these voices should not be embraced. Instead, we should seek always to hear, listen to, and then follow only “his voice,” which is the voice of peace, justice, mercy, and love. But if it is the voice of a thief or a bandit, the voice of a stranger, if it does not connect us to others in service, if it violates our conscience or leads to violence or even sin, then it is not the voice of any good shepherd; and no religion or church that hears it will lead to life abundant.
But if we hear and recognize the voice as the good shepherd’s voice, as “his voice,” and if we hear it calling us by name, then we know that it calls us to truth and to light and to love and to service; and we follow; and we are saved in order, as Jesus says, “to have life and to have it abundantly.” Our religion—our church—our faith is all about a life-giving personal relationship that allows us all to hear and follow “his voice” to “green pastures...still waters...and paths of righteousness.”
I couldn’t possibly conclude a sermon on these timeless texts without telling this timeless story--
A Sunday School teacher decided to have her young class memorize one of the most quoted passages in the Bible—Psalm 23, The Shepherd Psalm. She gave the youngsters a month to learn the chapter. Little Ricky was very excited about the task, but he just couldn’t remember the psalm. After much practice, he could barely get past the first line. On the day that the kids were scheduled to recite Psalm 23 in front of the congregation, little Ricky was exceedingly nervous. When it was his turn, he stepped up to the microphone and said proudly, “The Lord is my shepherd, and that’s all I need to know.” Everyone applauded!
My friends, how right Ricky was!
Let us pray...
“Your sure provisions, Gracious God, attend us all our days; O may your house be our abode, and all our work be praise. There would we find a settled rest, while others go and come; no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.” Amen. (Hymns of Truth and Light, 88, 3, adapted)
PH #84 - The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want
“And so through all the length of days God’s goodness fails us never; Good Shepherd, may we sing your praise within your house forever.” Amen. (NCH, 248, 6, adapted)
Go Now In peace