Service of the Word: Easter 4

Gospel Reading: John 10:1-10

‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Reflection by Rev. Lee Johnston

Sheep and shepherds seem to be everywhere in the bible. If I were to ask you what Psalm you know, after a minute you might say Psalm 23 – the Lord’s my shepherd. Which of course, makes us the sheep. We could imagine more heroic images of ourselves rather than those small, wandering, helpless balls of fur that roam the countryside around Lanark. Surely not us. We’re educated, successful, self-sufficient – agents of our own futures. We go where we want and do what we want. Or, so we used to think.

Recent events have taught us that we are far more vulnerable and dependent than we ever imagined. We are like those fearful sheep in the pen, surrounded by fences, keeping the dangerous world out. The virus, like a thief or bandit, uses its victims for its own purposes, harming them in the process. And so, we stay confined. Not too independent after all,  we look to nurses, doctors, supermarket workers, and the government to keep us safe. But, even those who help and lead – heroic and humanitarian as they are – are still human, and have limits. They aren’t all-knowing, they can’t keep every bandit out, they can’t tell us what it means to live abundantly in difficult times. We remain sheep desperately in need of a shepherd and will do, even after this is over.

Without the plans that give shape to our lives: projects to start; progress to be made; celebrations to enjoy, we could be feeling lost right now. Who are we if our job is furloughed and our families or friends live elsewhere. The usual voices that lead us and give us a sense of security, or the joy of excitement, have been silenced. Without direction, we like sheep are soon to get lost. Being in Lanark we have plenty of sheep and farmers who know this all too well. Unknown to our parishioners Nicholas & Nell, two of their newborn lambs and their mother had been wandering where they shouldn’t last month. One lamb even ended up on the road, Oblivious in the face of danger. But, Kirsty, a Lanark local saw them and stopped the car and was a good shepherd to these lost ones. She got them off the dangerous road, untangled them from the bits of hedge and fencing they got trapped in, and brought them back to the safety of the farm, and here’s a wonderful picture of the moment of reunion. You can’t help thinking of that story of the one sheep that was lost and the shepherd’s joy – God’s joy –  at finding it.

For us who feel lost because of this thief – this unexpected virus – Jesus is here to be our good shepherd. His voice remains clear, leading us into the safety of eternal life and the security of being known and loved by God. On the cross, he put our interests first and still does because we are his flock and are known to him by our individual names. We are not independent, we are not self-sufficient, and so he never leaves us alone. He leads us from the front, going before us into the unknown. Not one of us has been forgotten in this crisis by Jesus. By listening to his familiar voice, the one that speaks your name with the love of God, you will be led through this struggle into abundant life. More than just survival, more than merely existing, you can know the spiritual pasture of God’s love because you know and are known by him, your good shepherd. Listen to his voice, the next time you feel lost or afraid.

Let us pray for the world, the church and any who feel lost.

Prayers for Others

Jesus, Good Shepherd, we trust in you, to lead us in safety. Sustain and guide all in government and the emergency services as they continue to use their skills for the good of others. Keep safe those who work with the public and grant success to the researchers seeking a vaccine. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Jesus, Good Shepherd, we come to you, the true guardian of our souls. Protect and comfort your flock, as they struggle with illness or worry, or lose hope in the face of uncertainty. We hold before you Christine, Ian, Richard, Ros, Chris, Bill, Lorna, Richard, Joyce, Louyse, John, Avril, Helga, Karen ,Colin, Margaret, Stuart, may they hear your voice which speaks of peace and abundant life. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Jesus, Good Shepherd, we follow you, our faithful king and high priest. Enable and direct the ministry of our Bishop-elect Kevin as he prepares for his new calling to the people of Glasgow and Galloway. Sustain our churches as they feed the hungry, comfort the mourning and pray for the world. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Jesus, Good shepherd, you are the abundant life we seek. Be with all  who are at the point of death and those who care for them. Grant rest to those whom you have called by name, to their eternal home in God’s pasture. George, Marilyn, Kim, Leslie, Beth, Lilian. Lord in your mercy. Hear our Prayer.  

Accept these prayers, Good Lord, and our worship, for you alone are our strength and our salvation. Amen.