The Biblical story takes place in a predominantly agrarian/pastoral context. Images of sheep and shepherds are common. David was the Shepherd King. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. God leads the sheep through the valley of the shadow of death. Of course, for most reading this, sheep and shepherds are not common sights. We speak of clergy as shepherds -- but as we see in both the Ezekiel passage and the reading from 1 Timothy, the shepherd is not meek and mild. The shepherd is one who leads, takes charge, and protects the sheep. Indeed, the shepherd needs to be aware of those who would infiltrate under the guise of being sheep. Should you be observing Good Shepherd Sunday, David Ackerman -- newly called to be Conference Minister for the Penn West Conference of the United Church of Christ (a shepherd of shepherds) -- offers us an interesting group of texts to ponder in his Beyond the Lectionary.
Easter 4/Good Shepherd Sunday
“God Is Our Good Shepherd”
Call to Worship: Psalm 28:1-2, 6-9 NRSV
One: To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, do not refuse to hear me, for if you are silent to me, I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Many: Hear the voice of my supplication, as I cry to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.
One: Blessed be the Lord, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.
Many: The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
One: The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Many: O save your people and bless your heritage; be their shepherd and carry them forever.
Gathering Prayer: Shepherd God, you have brought us together, even though we would be scattered in a million different directions if left to our own devices. Thank you for drawing us near to you. Help us to look to you and keep our focus on you.
Confession: O Good Shepherd, we confess that we have been like wayward sheep. We have not listened to your voice and have gotten ourselves into all kinds of trouble. For our failure to follow you, we ask your forgiveness. Transform us, we pray, into people who willingly look to you to lead us through all the dangers of life.
Assurance: Like a gentle and firm shepherd, God directs us in ways that let us know that we are truly loved. Thank you for letting go of our wrongdoings and for loving us into the life that you want for us.
Scriptures: Ezekiel 34:25-31 – “You Are My Sheep”
1 Timothy4:6-16 – “Leadership Advice”
Matthew7:15-17 – “Beware of False Prophets”
Commentaries and sermon helps are available in Beyond the Lectionary.
- In a time when people have undergone a period of exile (as the people of Israel had in the days of Ezekiel) how do you think they would have received the “covenant of peace” in chapter 34? How do you hear those words today?
- Does the advice offered in 1 Timothy 4 sound like good wisdom for Christian leaders? Which of these charges stands out for you?
- Note the change in the Gospel reading from Luke 15:4-10 to Matthew 7:15-17. The book was in error in including the passage from Luke, which appears on Proper 19 in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary. The new recommended reading from Matthew 7, however, probably fits today’s theme better than the passage from Luke 15. How do we discern good leaders from bad? What are the kinds of fruit grown by good leaders? How can leaders cultivate good fruit in their leading?
- Does the Bible’s “sheep imagery” make it sound like we’re supposed to be timid and docile? Is this out of touch with our world today? What might be some better images to describe what our relationship to Jesus should look like in the twenty-first century?
Prayer of Thanksgiving: God, you have found us, even when we have tried to hide from ourselves and from you. Thank you for leading us, and teach us to live in peace, as you would have us do.
Benediction: God leads us out so that we may lead others into the green pastures of God’s grace and love. Let us go this day to do this, as together we focus on our Good Shepherd, Jesus. Amen.