May 3 – 4th sunday of Easter

     

 Welcome  

Good morning! I wish you continuous health and strength in body and spirit on this 4th Sunday of Easter! I greet you with the words we have been using as a welcome at our worship services:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.    Based on 2 Cor. 13:13

Lighting of a Candle:

Just as on the previous Sundays, – if you have a candle at home – I invite you to light it for the time you dedicated for worship service. Please join me in saying these words for the Candle Lighting Liturgy:

As we light the Christ candle let us remember what Jesus said:

“I am the light of the world,” “Whoever follows me will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). Amen

Hymn: VU # 344 How sweet the name of Jesus sounds

Call to Worship

In a world that is sometimes scary and confusing
We come to the Good Shepherd to find sanctuary.
In a world that is sometimes ahead of itself,
We come to the Good Shepherd to encounter what is holy.
In a society that abuses power so readily,
We come to the Good Shepherd to weave ourselves into
the circle of God’s all-encompassing love.

Adaption of a prayer of Cindy Randall; Gathering, Lent-Easter 2014 pg. 42Used with permission

Announcements:

  • Please carry on the precautionary measures recommended by health authorities:

Practice good flu season hygiene which includes:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with those who are sick.
  • Cough and sneeze into your sleeve and not into your hands.
  • Stay home if you are able, but especially if you are sick, to avoid spreading illness to others.
  • Maria is sending a daily encouragement and devotion to those who have e-mail addresses. Many thanks to Chris Whittaker for forwarding these messages to the congregation’s mass e-mail list.
  •  Thursday Coffee and Conversation  time has moved to ZOOM. If you haven’t received the link to join, please let Rev. Maria or Chris Whittaker know.  I plan to forward you the theme of next week’s conversation by Tuesday evening. 
  • ZOOM “Office” Hours: If you would like to connect with your Minister beyond e-mails and phone calls, you can dial in to a ZOOM conversation on Tuesdays and Fridays 9:00-10:00 a.m.

For safety reasons, and to avoid too much waiting time, these meetings will require registration from next week on. Here you can find the link to register:

  • For Tuesdays:

You are invited to a Zoom meeting.  When: 09:00 AM Edmonton

Register in advance for this meeting:  https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAkcumupzIpGtx_EhmeQsmdp3Rvzo2kfEhG   

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

  • For Fridays:

You are invited to a Zoom meeting.   When: 09:00 AM Edmonton

Register in advance for this meeting:  https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEtdeCqrTgtHNA7isBX7njnmzy-ZSWHj4C7  

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Hymn: VU # 365 Jesus Loves Me

 Prayer of Approach

Good Shepherd, you call us by name, reach out with compassion and protect us tenderly. In deep gratitude, we offer this prayer.

Your gentle love sustains and nurtures us, enabling us to support others.

May we listen attentively, care responsively that we may have life, and have it abundantly.

Help us to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Adoption of prayers from Feasting on the Word; Year A V 1 pg. 227 &
by Laura Turnbull; Gathering, Lent-Easter; 2017 page 41; Used with permission

 Prayer of Confession

Friends, in as much as God is our shepherd, let us not fear, but confess our iniquities that God may restore our souls. Let us lift our hearts up to God by saying the Prayer of Confession:

Holy One, we confess to you that we have not always followed Christ’s example. Our going astray may include

  • that we can be scared to hear your voice, out of fear of what we may need to let go of to follow you;
  • that when we have been abused, we have been abusive in return;
  • that we substitute pride of possession for participation in your beloved community.

And it may include other things known only to ourselves and to you.

Forgive us, we pray. Lead us back into your fold and guard our souls in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Adoption of prayers from Seasons of the Spirit, Lent-Easter 2020, page 137; &
Feasting on the Word; Year A V 1 pg. 226-227;  Used with permission

Words of Assurance

Friends, the promise of our faith is that if we entrust ourselves to the One who judges justly, we need not feel threatened, for we will be returned to righteousness. Jesus is able to bring us back into the safety of God’s fold.

Feasting on the Word; Year A V 1 pg. 227;   (Modified); Used with permission

Hymn: VU # 400 Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying

Prayer of Illumination

Loving God, we pray that your Holy Spirit will strengthen us to be devoted to the teachings of your Word, that through it we may hear your voice and follow it into eternal life.  Amen.

Feasting on the Word; Year A V 1 pg. 227

Scripture Readings:

Psalm 23 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

John 10:1–10 New International Version (NIV)

1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.

2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.

8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.

9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

 MESSAGE:

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

As you could guess from our Scripture readings for today, this day is called the “Good Shepherd Sunday”. However, it comes only one verse later to our actual text, when Jesus states explicitly: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (v. 11)

People ask me sometimes: so, are we the sheep? I believe, in a sense it can be true. But it is more like a metaphor. As Peter also puts it into his first letter: “For “you were like sheep going astray,” (1 Peter 2:25)

According to my understanding, there are similarities but there are also great differences as we use the metaphor of being the sheep.

So, what are the similarities and what are the differences?

If a sheep meets a more powerful threat, like a wolf or lion, the sheep has no chance to win. We may have very similar experience as we face greater powers than us. Those powers can be many different things during our lifetime. When we say it can be illness, the present situation of the pandemic illustrates well a greater power that has the ability to kill. But there are other illnesses and diseases that can wreck or destroy our lives.   

It can be a loss, or multiple losses. The most painful one is losing a loved one; but loss can have varied faces. COVID-19 introduced us to losses of jobs, and financial insecurity; losses of celebrations; losses due isolation, loss of the warmth of hugs and handshakes.  

That greater power can also be temptations and what Paul puts like this: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:15; 24)

Carrying on the thoughts on similarities and differences: if the sheep is lost, it is unable to find his or her way back to the shepherd. The shepherd has to start off and look for the sheep. And here, I believe, we have both similarities and differences. Jesus came to find and to save us. But unlike the sheep, we ourselves have to accept and say yes to this saving love. We have the opportunity to reject Jesus and we can choose not to follow him.

Talking about sheep and shepherds, I would like to share a story with you that I read in one of the Christmas Ideals. I hope you will find it similarly moving and inspiring:

Tobias ben David was the shepherd’s name, though people called him Toby. His flocks were in good hands this week, cared for by his grown sons, but Toby had left them to listen to Jesus of Nazareth. Today the teacher was talking about salvation, how God came to save His people from their waywardness and sins, to rescue them and gather them close.

Now Jesus’ illustration turned to sheep. Toby felt better. He knew a lot more about sheep than people.

“The good shepherd,” Jesus was saying, “lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand who doesn’t own the flock runs away when he sees the wolf coming, but not the good shepherd. …”

One night, years ago, the men Toby had hired to watch the flock with him fled when they saw a mountain lion roaming the hills. But Toby had stayed. Shepherding was his livelihood. He knew the sacrifices that good shepherding required. He knew about defending defenseless lambs. He knew about putting his life on the line for the sheep. That’s what good shepherds did.

Jesus continued, “Suppose you have 100 sheep and when night comes one is missing. What do you do? You leave the 99 safe together and then climb the hills, looking, searching until you find the lost sheep. Then you pick him up, put him on your shoulders, bring him down the hill to the camp, and ask your fellow shepherds to rejoice with you.”

“Your heavenly Father is like that,” Jesus said. “When you have lost your way, He will rescue you and save you and never give up on you until He finds you – and you find Him.”

Toby’s heart was racing. He felt a lump in his throat. He understood. Toby had combed the hills for lost sheep, not stopping, not quitting. He knew the joy of discovery, of rescuing the sheep, of bringing it back and celebrating with his friends. He had been that kind of shepherd.

But he also knew how it felt to wander off, feeling lost, aimless, trapped. Clueless about where he was and where he was going. …struggling to climb out of what seemed like a steep ravine.” (Ideals – Christmas, 2013)

Yes, we may feel like the sheep many times: lost, aimless and trapped. Or we may feel attacked by illness, loss or disappointments, which we can’t control or defeat ourselves.

But contrary to the sheep, we have a free will to choose whether we want to belong to the Good Shepherd or not. We can choose not to listen.

However, we can also say to ourselves: ‘it is a priority for me to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and to follow that voice’.

What does it mean in the practice? And what may be its consequences?

First of all, it means that we have to be familiar with the Bible, which is the primary source of God’s communication to us.

The United Church of Canada says that there are other ways, too, we can hear God’s voice: through nature, through the voice of fellow believers and the voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Still, as our Basis of Union puts it: We affirm our belief in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the primary source and ultimate standard of Christian faith and life.” (Basis of Union; Doctrine 2.0)

I believe, if we are familiar with the Scriptures, then we will recognize the voice of God in other forms, too. We have to get used to hearing Jesus’s voice from the Bible. If we hear it only time-to-time, there is a chance that we don’t recognize it. Jesus said: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:3-4)

Do we know his voice? Are we familiar with it by our daily encounter with him through the Bible? Do we recognize when He calls; and do we follow him?

This is quite a heavy question by itself. But there is another consequence of knowing and following the Good Shepherd’s voice, which I believe is even more striking, and influences us deep down.

This consequence is that due to our daily relationship with God, we will be filled with God’s Word and Spirit instead of other things, such as worry, anger or revenge.

I would like to quote one of my fellow minister’s thoughts on the importance and consequence of what we spend our time with, and with what we fill our heads and hearts:

“Several years ago, I saw a youth pastor preaching to the adult congregation and the question was the same, why should we read the Bible.

The youth pastor put two glass bowls on a small table, both of them filled with water but in one of them the water was stained with black ink. He put a sponge in each bowl, and said: “We are like sponges, we usually absorb what surrounds us.” Then he lifted both of the sponges, squeezed them, and said: “Life squeezes us… Sooner or later, more or less, but it squeezes us all… then whatever is inside comes out; whatever we filled ourselves with, will show itself.”

A few years later, I went to visit a friend’s grandmother. The old woman spent her whole life in a reservation, in great poverty but she had the Word of God, the Voice of God with her, always. In the hospital, in her pain, she was quoting the Bible. She was not loud, she was not talking to her grandson or to me, – but to God. In her pain, she was quoting the King James Bible.

It is difficult to describe my feeling then, but I knew I was standing on holy ground… That was an important lesson, – I met a person, who had nothing, yet she was rich; she read only one book in her entire life, but she knew more than me…  and of course, I remembered the youth pastor with the sponges…

It does not have to be pain and hospital or deathbed; it can be a heated argument, a decision-making situation or some pivotal circumstance; or a temptation with far reaching consequences, – life squeezes us and we react. – What is hidden inside, comes out – “from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) This is why it is important to find time to fill ourselves with the Word of God.” (Newcastle/Red Bank Pastoral Charge Daily Devotions; May 3, 2017)

So, what our hearts are filled with? Do we let the Good Shepherd to feed us? Do we listen to his guidance and calls?

There are so many voices we can listen to or follow. But we may also know that Jesus – our Good Shepherd – loved us so much that He was ready to lay down his life for us. And its consequences way more overlaps this life. As Rev. Donovan – whose worship resources I use regularly – put it:

“Jesus’ concern was never for the kingdoms of this world, but was for the kingdom of God.  He invites us to become members of the kingdom of God––to become children of the King.  He offers to transform our lives and to make us new creatures in God.  Then––in that kingdom––in that sheepfold––he provides us a security that has no end.  He provides us pasture that sometimes feeds the body but always nourishes the soul.” (www.sermonwriter.com)

Accepting this promise fills us with the hope, peace, joy and love that Jesus gives us. Not just at Christmas or Easter but – as we could hear earlier – when life squeezes us. When we face a global pandemic, sorrow, pain, difficulty or even death.

The grandmother of that friend is not the only example of what it means when our bodies are God’s holy temple. You, too, may know someone who demonstrated the faith, which receives strength from Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

If we are ready to listen to, and follow the Good Shepherd, this commitment and faith can make us ready for whatever may come––in life or in death.

God gives us a promise, and ready to provide for us what we need for this new life in Jesus. How serious He was, we can see it in Good Friday. So, let us answer this love by following the Good Shepherd that we may all experience that He is faithful and his promise is true; in all circumstances. Amen

                                                                                

Hymn: VU # 638 God, Take My Hand

 Invitation to the Offering

Even though we don’t worship in person, we are encouraged to continue to support God’s mission carried out by our church family, if we are able in these changed circumstances.

Please consider using the ways still open to us for our offerings. As we offer our financial means, let us remember that we are called to imitate Christ’s offering, and it is more than just money. We may offer our time, our talents, and our love to make a difference in this world and in our community.

 Offertory Prayer

Holy and generous God,
You have anointed us and we are yours.
Bless our offerings that they may become green pastures and still waters for any and all who need your comfort and restoration. Amen. 

Feasting on the Word; Year A V 1 pg. 229  Used with permission

 Prayer of the People

God of Grace, we know that you are our Good Shepherd, the source of all good things. You want to join us in all our rejoicing, and in our suffering, you are nearer to us than we can imagine, holding us with a love that will not let us go. 

Today, we bring before you our celebrations and our concerns, trusting that as our prayers arise, your joy, mercy, comfort, and endurance will be poured out on us and on all those who are in our hearts or known to you alone:

…in places of illness and injury

…in places of abuse and victimization

…in places of oppression and captivity

…in places of hunger and homelessness

…in places of exploitation and slavery

…in places of war and the struggle for justice

…in places of pollution and destruction of natural habitat

…in places of uncertainty and rapid change.

 As with all things, named and unnamed, we trust in your goodness and wisdom, and rest easy in your arms of compassion.  And gathering all of our prayers into one, we pray in Jesus’ name and in Jesus’ way.  Amen.

(Together We Worship; April 29, 2020; modified; Used with permission)

The Lord’s Prayer

It is also in Jesus Christ’s name that pray the Lord’s Prayer:

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 trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

 Departing Hymn: MV # 126 Are You a Shepherd?

Benediction
Devote yourself to the teachings of the gospel, for they will lead you to a glad and generous heart.

May the God who calls us by name
lead us out to green pastures and lead us in to the safety of Christ’s fold.

(Feasting on the Word; Year A V 1 pg. 229; Used with permission)