Lord as we approach you today in worship, we lay before you our faults. We know we have fallen short of how you have asked us to be.
Through this week we confess that we have not always loved you with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our mind.
We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
Through our words, our actions and our thoughts we have sinned; both in that which we have done and that which we have failed to do.
But we know that you are a faithful God, whose mercies are renewed each day and whose love endures forever. We know that through the blood of Your Son Jesus our sins washed away.
We give you thanks for Your act of sacrificial love and ask that you help our lives to become a living sacrifice, following you will, in response to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
O Good Shepherd,
who desire to guide all
into safety, refreshment and peace.
Meet us here today and
Fill us with your love,
that we may look into your world with your loving knowledge,
welcome our sisters and brothers with your joy
and offer our lives with your generosity
as members of your beloved community:
in your name we pray,
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,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
I remember, as a child, asking my dad what his favourite book in the bible was. He answered, after a brief pause for thought, the Acts of the Apostles. I asked him why he chose that, I can’t quite remember the answer he gave but he encouraged me to read it for myself. This I did, but it just sounded like any other book in the New Testament. I was none the wiser.
It was not until many years later that I understood the significance of the book of Acts and it became a firm favourite of mine too. For me it represents the start of the current era we live in now. We have the BC era (the time before Christ, or BCE as some call it today), we have the time during which Jesus Christ walked the Earth and we have the AD era, the time after Christ’s ascension - i.e. now! The book of Acts tells of how the those that followed Christ, when he was around, figured out and wrestled with what to do next now that Jesus was no longer with them in physical form. Something which mankind has been doing ever since to this day, hence its relevance still to this day.
So how does this relate to good shepherd Sunday?
Along with the reading from Acts, the other readings for the today, as offered in the lectionary, start with Psalm 23 - The Lord is my shepherd - a popular psalm and song inviting us to look through the eyes of a sheep as a shepherd leads us safely through the countryside. There are two other readings: one from the Gospel of John (ch.10 v.10-18) and the other from the first epistle of John (1 John 3:16-24) and they are very similar.
The gospel passage starts at verse 11 and has Jesus telling his disciples “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep……” and He (Jesus) re-emphasises this point a few sentences later in verse 14 saying “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me……”. We can hear the echoes of Psalm 23 here.
The passage in the epistle of John starts (verse 16) - This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. The reading then goes on to conclude…... (verse 23) And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
This imagery of the good shepherd is consistent from the days before Jesus (i.e. Psalm 23 in the old testament), during the days of Jesus (i.e. the words of Jesus in the gospel) and the times after Jesus (i.e. the epistle of John).
I don’t know how many of you have been on a formal presentation training course or marketing training but one of the things they remind you over and over again is that if you want to make a message stick with your audience you do three things, which are: 1. Tell them what you are going to tell them; 2. Tell them; 3 Tell them what you just told them. You are in effect; setting up the message, delivering the message and recapping the message. It feels like this technique is being used with the theme of the good shepherd through the old testament writing of the Psalm, the words of Jesus and the summary in the epistle.
So what are we to do with this image of the shepherd that is consistently offered to us, what is the actual instruction for us to do? And how does this relate to the book of Acts and today’s passage?
Today’s reading from Acts tells us about the repercussions from what happened when in the previous chapter Peter was on his way to the temple with John one afternoon to pray. They came across a man who was lame and asking for money; they had no money to give but Peter gave him healing from his infirmity instead. The interesting thing about this particular healing is that it is the first one recorded in Acts following Jesus’ ascension. This episode happens after Pentecost (strange I know that it is put this week in the lectionary ahead of Pentecost) when the disciples had been given the Holy spirit. The news of this healing spread quickly and very soon the elders and teachers of the law were demanding answers of how this occurred and by what name or power it happened.
So Peter is stood in front of the authorities boldly saying in Acst 4:10:
"...... it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.”
The rulers must be thinking “here we go again”, no sooner had they thought they had gotten rid of Jesus, his ideas and miracles which were troublesome to them here comes another bunch of upstarts unsettling their status-quo.
You see, Peter and the disciples were now full of the spirit. They had very little option but to follow the spirit that empowered them. And this spirit was leading them in the very footsteps of Jesus, literally to steps of the court of the religious authorities where Jesus had once been tried. Where the shepherd once walked the sheep were now following.
This story, for me, underlines how the book of Acts tells of how the disciples were transformed from scattered sheep to regroup and courageously follow the example of their shepherd - Jesus. And that is what we are called to do also; so let's remember this as we head towards Pentecost; how will we be inspired to follow the example set by Jesus as we live our lives here in 2021 and beyond?
Teach us to follow you; to care for all that are close to us, to protect those who are threatened, to welcome those who are rejected, to forgive those who are burdened by guilt, to heal those who are broken and sick, to share with those who have little or nothing, to take the time to really know one another and love as you have loved us.
Teach us to follow you; to spread compassion to those who are far away, to speak for those who are voiceless, to defend those who are oppressed and abused, to work for justice for those who are exploited, to make peace for those who suffer violence, to take the time to recognise our connectedness, and to love as you have loved us.
Teach us to follow you; and to be faithful to the calling you gave us to be shepherds in your name.
Lord, we ask for the courage of the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.
We pray for those prepared to suffer and even to die for what they believe in.
We pray for those whose lives and rights are sacrificed in the name of power and greed.
We pray for those who risk themselves by accompanying others along paths of deep suffering, through valleys of fear and despair.
Lord we ask for the compassion of the good shepherd who leads his sheep to safe pasture.
We pray for those who work to feed and shelter and educate the poor peoples of our world.
We pray for those skilled at nursing and healing those who are suffering or ill In body, mind or spirit.
We pray for those who care, for the victims of our society, those unable to cope with life, the neglected, the abused.
Lord, we ask for the love of the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep by name.
We pray for our church, for leaders and office bearers, for its preachers and teachers and all engaged in pastoral care.
We pray for those we know, relatives or friends who are facing difficult times.
We pray for ourselves that we might hear the call from our Good Shepherd and follow his way of love.
We make all our prayers in Christ’s name.
Prayer Credits: Call to worship & Prayer of invocation — Credits to: Brian Draper, Monthly Prayers page of the Christian Aid website & Rev. Susan Blain, Worship Ways website. . . The Good Sepherd prayer —John van de Laar, © 2009 Sacredise on his Sacredise.com website. . . Intersession Prayer - — from Companion to the Lectionary, Volume 4, by Christine Odell. Posted on the http://pilgrimwr.unitingchurch.org.au/ website. . . Created with an image by kangbch - "barley field wheat agriculture"