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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Easter 4A   May 3, 2020

Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23, p. 476
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Today is one of my favorite Sundays in the Church year, and I hope it is one of yours, too. This is Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday after Easter. Our opening reading, continuing the study of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, tells us something about the community life of the early followers of Jesus.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of head and the prayers, just as we have promised to do in our baptismal vows. They shared their resources. The scripture says they “had all things in common.” They helped those who were in need. They celebrated the breaking of the bread. They were grateful for all of God’s gifts to them, and they were generous. And their number kept growing.

Our psalm for today is one of the most powerful and beloved psalms in the Bible. This psalm guided the followers of Jesus in England during World War II as they fought valiantly to keep Adolph Hitler from invading Britain. This psalm reminds us that our Good Shepherd leads us to the green pastures and the still waters. Our Lord sets the table with a feast even in the presence of our enemies and nourishes and sustains us so that we can persevere in the face of every threat. He calms our fears and strengthens our faith. 

Our reading from the First Letter of Peter to those who are suffering persecution reminds us that our Lord has gone through everything that we may have to endure. 

Our gospel tells us in a powerful and compelling way that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He knows each of us, warts and all, and he loves each of us, and he loves the entire flock. When he calls, we follow him.

Back in Biblical times, the shepherds would lead their flocks out to the country to find good pasture. At night they would bring the sheep into the village where there was a communal sheepfold, The sheep would be placed there to stay safe through the night. 

In the morning, each shepherd would come to the sheepfold. Each one had a unique call. When each shepherd called, the sheep of his flock would follow him. When the next shepherd came to the fold, his sheep would follow him. That is how our relationship is with Jesus, We know his voice. We know he will lead us to good nourishment and we know he will lead us to that place where we can be still and know that he is God.

Our Good Shepherd protects us. If lions or bears come to attack, he will fend them off. Yes, in the time of Jesus there were lions and bears in the Holy Land. Our Good Shepherd will give his life for us. That is how much he loves each one of us and all of us together. Our relationship with him is extremely close. We depend on him for everything. We trust him because we know how much he loves us and how determined he is to protect us.

The biblical shepherd went out in front of the sheep. He walked the path ahead of the flock. He found the good water holes. He kept them out of the brambles. He led them away from poisonous plants or anything else that might harm them. This image of the Biblical shepherd tells us that our Lord has been through anything and everything that we might encounter, even death itself.

In this portion of Chapter 10, Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture, I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Later on in John’s gospel. Jesus says,” I am the way and the truth and the life,” Our Good Shepherd is the way, the path, the one who leads us to newness of life, eternal life, life in a deeper dimension that begins right now, We are already in the new life, the kingdom, the shalom of Christ.

Like our brothers and sisters in England in World War II, we can receive strength and renewal from Psalm 23 and from the knowledge that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. We have never experienced what we are going through with this pandemic. We have never had to stay home like prisoners in our own homes. We have never been unable to gather and celebrate Holy Eucharist together.

Because he is our Good Shepherd and is out in front leading us, we can take comfort in the fact that our Lord has walked this way before us. We can hear his loving voice calling us to have faith that he will bring us through this. We can hear him reminding us not to panic and rush out to resume our normal lives before he has guided us to use our heads, trust the advice of our expert medical and scientific guides, and create the conditions necessary to make each step toward a new normal as safe as possible.

And he is also calling us to love others as he loves us, to help those who are hurting so badly because of being unemployed through no fault of their own, to support those who are on the front lines working in dangerous conditions and becoming so tired they can hardly stand up. He is calling us to help each other just as he helps us.

And he is calling us to love each other, to stay connected, to be a strong flock relying on him for strength and guidance.

Lord Jesus, our loving Good Shepherd, help us to listen for your voice; help us to follow you; help us to love each other as you love us, and give us the grace to share your love and care with others. In your holy Name we pray. Amen. 

Easter 4C May 12, 2019

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10: 22-30

In our lectionary, whether in Year A, B, or C, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. The psalm is always number 23, and the gospel readings always come from the tenth chapter of John’s gospel.

We begin with this wonderful reading from the Book of Acts. In Joppa, there is a woman who helps people whenever she can, and she loves people. That’s what we, as followers of Jesus, are called to do. Love people and help people. This woman’s name is Tabitha in Aramaic and Dorcas in Greek. Her name means “gazelle.”

A tragedy has struck. Tabitha has died. The followers of Jesus in Joppa have heard that Peter is ministering nearby. They wash Tabitha’s body and lay her out in an upstairs room. Then they send for Peter. Peter gets there as fast as he can and they take him to the upstairs room.

The widows are there, and they have clothing which Tabitha has made. This means that Tabitha had a ministry of giving people clothing which she made herself. The widows are a group of women who also engaged in servant ministry. They were close to Tabitha, and they are devastated. They are weeping.

Peter leads them all outside so that there can be quiet in the room. And then, what does he do? He kneels down and prays. He links himself to God. He opens the channel of communication with God. He becomes a channel of God’s peace and healing. He lets the grace of God flow into him. He allows God to fill him with faith.

And then Peter turns to Tabitha’s body and says, “Tabitha, get up.” We think of so many healings. Elijah raises the son of the widow of Zarephath. Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb. Tabitha opens her eyes, sees Peter, and sits up. He helps her to her feet. The news of this healing spreads all around Joppa, and many believe in Jesus because of it.

And then, Peter goes to stay with Simon, a tanner. The work of a tanner involves touching the hides of dead animals, which according to the law was considered unclean. Peter is staying in the home of a ritually unclean person. The good news is breaking the old boundaries and expanding to include everyone.

This theme of inclusiveness is emphasized in our passage from the Book of Revelation. A great multitude is worshiping God. The new faith is for everyone. God is sheltering and  loving all of them.

Our gospel today is the last part of Jesus’ description of himself as the Good Shepherd. In the earlier parts, he tells us that he knows his sheep and his sheep know him, and his sheep follow him when he calls. He also says that he will die for his sheep. In those days, there were still wild animals in Palestine, and shepherds did indeed die protecting their flocks from wolves and even lions and bears.

It is winter, and Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Dedication of the temple. This is what we call Hanukkah. The religious authorities ask Jesus how long he will keep them waiting. Why won’t he tell them that he is the messiah? The main reason why he does not tell them is that they do not believe anything he is saying. They have no idea what he is talking about. He is calling us to undergo a complete transformation from earthly concerns to the values of his kingdom. They are so focused on their own limited human ideas about preserving their power that they are totally closed to Jesus and to anything he might say.

Jesus puts this in terms that his followers in the crowd will understand. He tells the authorities, “You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep.” Our Lord is saying that the authorities have fought him every step of the way, but his true followers have been with him. They have listened to him, eaten with him, walked with him, learned from him. They know his voice. When he calls, they follow. And he knows us. He loves us. We love him. There is a relationship between him and us that is so close nothing can break it, not even death.

My sheep hear my voice,” he says, “and I know them, and they follow me,” He knows each of us. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses, our foibles, our flaws, our sins, our gifts, everything about us. And he loves us, foibles, flaws, and all. He loves us. He’s not trying to protect his turf or get power as the religious authorities are. He simply loves us.

“I give them eternal life,” Jesus says. This means that he gives us life in an entirely new and joyful and deep dimension. Life that’s really worth living. A life in which we are transformed into his likeness so that we can accept his love and share that love with everyone.

And then he says, “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” He will protect us. This does not mean that nothing bad will happen to us. Following Jesus does not mean that we are immune from tragedies, illnesses, loss of dear ones. We live in a fallen creation. The shalom of God has not yet come. But he will be with us. He will be out in front of us, leading us to the green pastures and the still waters, helping us to find safety in the midst of it all. And he will be walking beside us every step of the way. And sometimes, when the challenges are beyond us, he will carry us in his arms. He says, “What the Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.” We are in God’s hands. The entire creation is in God’s hands.

And then, “The Father and I are one.” Jesus and the Father are one. Or, as I like to say, Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. If we want to see who and what God is calling us to be, we can look at the life of Jesus in the gospels and see a blueprint for living a human life. That’s what we mean when we say that Jesus is the Word of God, the logos, the model, the blueprint for human living. He is here with us now, He is with us whoever we gather. He is leading and guiding us.

Let us listen to his voice. Let us follow him. Amen.

Easter 4B RCL April 22, 2018

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also Earth Day, a day to renew our commitment to be good stewards of God’s creation.

Jesus is our good shepherd. In Jesus’ time, a shepherd could encounter wolves, bears, lions, snakes, and all manner of other dangerous animals. The shepherd of those times would go out in front of the sheep and the sheep would follow him. The shepherd knew each sheep very well. And the sheep knew the shepherd’s voice. Sometimes the shepherds would go into a village and put their flocks into a fenced in enclosure for the night. In the morning, the shepherds would go and call their flocks. Each shepherd had a distinct call. His sheep knew that call and would leave the enclosure and follow him.

Sometimes the shepherd has to fight a wolf or a bear or a lion. Some shepherds run away. But the good shepherd fights for the sheep, protects the sheep. Because he goes ahead of us, he has gone through everything we may ever experience. He has gone through torture and death and he has come out the other side—alive and even stronger.

He knows us, with all our idiosyncrasies, faults, gifts, and flaws—and he loves us. He loves us so much hat he is willing to give his life for us. Even though we aren’t perfect and we have made mistakes and will make more, he loves us. He helps us to get to the good water holes and avoid the ones that would make us sick. He leads us to the good pastures and helps us to avoid the noxious weeds that would poison us. Because we are aware of his love, we follow him. When we hear his voice, that distinct call of his, we follow.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Our Good Shepherd is also the eternal Word who called the creation into being. Today, on Earth Day, many people of faith are renewing our commitment to be good stewards of the creation.

In the Old Home Day parade of 2016, thanks to Andy and his helpers, the Grace Church float consisted of a beautiful Earth. It was on the back of a truck, but we all could imagine it shining like a jewel in our little solar system in the Milky Way galaxy.

We are called by God to be good stewards of this beautiful earth. Today, on Earth Day 2018, our carbon emissions have risen to over 400 parts per million. We need to reverse that trend, and it’s going to take all of us.  Grace Church has always had a focus on taking care of our beloved planet earth. Way back when, Andy and Michael had a recycling ministry, and now, we are all trying to be part of that ministry in our own homes.

Our Native American brothers and sisters have a deep appreciation of how God expressed God’s love in making this beautiful world and all that is in it. God’s love is shown forth in every tree and flower, every animal, even the wolves, bears, and lions, and every person.

Today, we are going to have some prayers for creation in our Prayers of the People. After the coffee hour and Vestry meeting, I hope some of us will stay to join in some special Interfaith Climate Prayers. In doing that, we will be joining people all over the world who will be praying at noon their time, so the earth will be covered in prayers for our stewardship of the environment.

You will also have an opportunity to sign up to receive emails about the environment and to sign a form committing ourselves to protecting the creation.

Our Good Shepherd is calling us to preserve those clear, good waters and those green pastures and all the beauty of his creation .  Amen


Easter 4A RCL May 7, 2017

Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Our opening reading from the Book of Acts gives us a dynamic snapshot of the early Church. “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They studied together. They reflected on what the apostles had taught them.

They still went to the Temple each day because they still considered themselves part of the Jewish community. But they also met in each others’ homes to pray together and to share in the breaking of the bread. Their whole mission was to share the love of Christ with each other and with everyone they met. That love caused them to share everything in common. They took care of each other. If someone had a need, that need was met. And because of the depth of their love and faith, new members joined them every day.

As we continue to read the Book of Acts, we will see that controversies came up early in the Church’s history, and they have continued into the present time. But that quality of love and caring, centered on the presence of the risen Christ at the center of the
community, has held the Jesus movement together for over two thousand years.

Our psalm today is one of the most beloved psalms in the Bible. Each of us has turned to this inspiring song of praise many times in our lives.

As we have said earlier, the First Letter of Peter was addressed to Christians suffering persecution under the Roman Empire in Asia Minor, or what is now called Turkey. Scholars tell us that the letter was especially addressed to slaves and aliens. This section of the letter actually begins, “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle, but also those who are harsh.” Today, we know that slavery is wrong. Two thousand years ago, these words were written to give encouragement to people who had no power and were suffering because of their faith. They were encouraged to remember how Christ suffered on the cross and
to follow his example of courage. We can imagine that this message could have given hope to those who suffered in slavery here in our own country. But I believe that our Lord would also want us to say that no one should be enslaved in any way. We are called to help free those who are the victims of domestic violence or human trafficking
or any other form of slavery.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday, and our gospel comes from the tenth chapter of John’s gospel. Jesus has just healed the blind man, and the Pharisees are investigating the healing and challenging Jesus at every turn. Jesus has just told them that they are spiritually blind leaders.

Jesus presents us with a typical scene from the Middle East. There is a large sheepfold in the village, surrounded by a stone wall. In the wall there is a gate. There is even a gatekeeper, so this must be quite a large village. The sheep go into the fold to spend the night in a protected place. In the morning, the shepherds come to get their sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd, and the shepherd goes into the fold, calls to his sheep, and leads them out. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd. They will not follow anyone else.

His listeners do not seem to understand what he is saying, so Jesus tells them, “I am the gate for the sheep.” He has implied that he is the Good Shepherd, in contrast to the thieves and robbers who might come to harm the sheep, but now he says that he is the gate into the safety of the fold. Jesus is our good shepherd, and he is also “the
way, the truth and the life.” By following him, we go into the safety of the fold and we are under his care and protection.

And he tells us, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Following him brings us into another and different kind of life. We call it eternal life, life in his kingdom. It is life in another and deeper dimension. As we follow him and spend time with him and learn from him and pray with him, we are changed.

Let’s review the context of our gospel this morning. Jesus has just healed a blind man on the sabbath. The Pharisees are upset because Jesus is not following the law. Our Lord’s description of himself as the Good Shepherd is his response to the Pharisees, some of whom have abused their power and have become wealthy as a result. For example, some Pharisees would become spiritual advisors to widows and, in the process, take all of the widows’ savings.

Jesus puts the needs of people before everything else. In Matthew’s gospel, he makes this very clear when he says, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me….Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these, who are members my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36, 40b) His care for us, his flock, translates into our care for others in his Name.

Each of knows his voice. Each of us knows when our Good Shepherd is calling us. Each of us is trying, with his help, to follow him faithfully. He knows each of us, our strengths and our weaknesses, our gifts and our flaws, and he loves us with a love that nothing can

As we reflect on our readings today, we can remember that our brothers and sisters in congregations two thousand years ago were following him, and our brothers and sisters in Asia Minor, living as aliens and slaves, found hope and strength in him. Our brothers and sisters in the Coptic Church in Egypt and in Syria, and Yemen, and Iran, and Pakistan. and many other places, remain faithful in the midst of persecution.

May each of us listen for his voice. May all of us together listen for his voice.P And may we follow him with faith and hope and love. Amen.

Easter 4C RCL April 17, 2016

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

In our readings for the Easter season, the apostles are freed from prison to share the Good News, Jesus appears to his followers to assure them that he has conquered death of all kinds and is truly alive, many people are healed and forgiven; many decide to follow Jesus, and the new faith spreads far and wide.

In our opening reading, we meet Tabitha, a faithful disciple who sews clothing for widows, who were often very poor in those days. Her ministry has expanded to a group of widows who also make clothes for others and support them in many ways. Tabitha has died, and the community of faith calls Peter to come right away.

Peter goes to the  upstairs room where Tabitha is lying on the bed with all her fellow ministers weeping around her. Peter asks them to leave, not because he is trying to be unkind but because he wants to have quiet to let the Holy Spirit work.

He kneels down and prays. By this time, Peter has learned the power of healing that comes from the risen Lord and from the power of the Holy Spirit. He says, “Tabitha, get up.”  She opens her eyes and gets up. Peter calls the members of the community to come and see that Tabitha is alive.

Even today, our Lord rescues us from many kinds of death. I have been privileged to see situations which physicians have called “miracles.” Someone with kidney failure is prayed over and recovers. A tumor is there but it fades away on a subsequent cat scan or X ray. Millions of people have recovered from various kinds of addictions, and they consider that they have been saved from certain death and are walking miracles.

In our reading from the Book of Revelation, we have a vision of heaven, where people “Will hunger no more, and thirst no more,” and the “Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

In our gospel, the religious authorities are asking Jesus whether he is the messiah. Jesus has just been talking about how he is the Good Shepherd, that he knows his sheep and they know him and they follow his voice. But these people are trying to find out whether Jesus fits their definition of the messiah.

And our Lord says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Jesus is speaking of a relationship between himself and us. This is not an intellectual concept or something to be defined. It is a close relationship which is based on his infinite love for us.

Each of us hears his voice, that loving voice calling us to follow him, to do the caring thing, to be people of compassion, to do what is ethical, to be honest, to work for the growth of his shalom.

Each of us has been called by him. Each of us knows him. Each of us has been led to the green pastures and the still waters where we can eat and drink and be renewed.

Each of us has been saved from deaths of various kinds and from dangerous thickets that could have caught us. Each of us has been rescued from following paths that would not have been right for us. We know his voice. We know him. We trust him.

He is always with us, even in the valley of the shadow of death. In situations that terrify us, in circumstances where we become lost and confused, he leads us.

When we are surrounded by those who would do us harm, he sets up a safe space and a banquet table. He anoints our heads with oil. He extends hospitality to us and he gives his healing to us. He protects us. He gives us abundance beyond measure.

He is the true bread from heaven. He is the way and the truth and the life. He is the vine and we are the branches. He is the living water.

But most of all, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, he is our Good Shepherd. If we listen to his voice, he will lead us. If we ask for his help, he is right beside us lending a hand.

There is no way to put him into a category. Our relationship with him goes beyond logic, beyond categories. He is our God who cares so much for us that he has come among us and he has triumphed over all the things that we fear most.

He is our Savior. He is our brother. He is our Good Shepherd. May we listen to his voice and follow him into newness of life.   Amen.

Easter 4B RCL April 26, 2015

Acts 4: 5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John  10:11-18

Jesus says to us this morning, “ I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” The biblical shepherd goes out in front of the flock. He walks the path ahead of us. There is nothing we can go through which he has not endured. He knows where the good water and the verdant pastures are. He is ready to lay down his own life to protect us.

We know the voice of our Good Shepherd. In biblical times and even now, the shepherd takes the sheep up into the mountains to graze during the day and brings them home at night to a safe place in the village. It may be a cave. It may actually have a wall around it. All the shepherds in the area put their flocks into the fold, and, in the morning, each shepherd comes and calls his sheep, and his flock knows his voice and comes out and follows him. The relationship between shepherd and sheep is an intimate one.

It was not easy to be a shepherd in Jesus’ time. It was a dangerous job, and it was a profession that was on the margins of society. Paradoxically, there was the idea of the shepherd-king, the leader who cared for and protected the people, especially those who were most vulnerable. King David, who was called from tending the flocks, was the most revered example of the shepherd-king.

The twenty-third psalm is one of the most beloved of psalms. and it elaborates on the theme of the good shepherd.  I would like to take a little time to meditate together on this beautiful psalm. I am going to use the traditional version, which is on page 476 of the Prayer Book.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Jesus has already told us that he knows each of us by name. He knows everything about us, good and bad, and he loves us with a love that nothing can stop.

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. On the journey of life, our Good Shepherd takes care of us. We have everything we need. He takes us to green pastures where we can graze to our hearts’ content. He leads us to water in quiet, protected places where we can drink in peace. He leads us to the stillness and serenity that make us able to know how fully we are in his presence. The still waters—how rare stillness is in this busy world.

He restoreth my soul; he feeds and strengthens, not only our bodies, but our spirits. He gives us everything we need. He reinvigorates and revitalizes us. He fills us with his love and energy.

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake. He leads us, not on just any path, not just on a good path, but on the right path so that we can grow into the persons he calls us to be and  glorify his Name.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me. Because our Good Shepherd is with us in every moment, we do not have to fear anything, even death. Sometimes our journey takes us into some scary places. We can always trust that our Lord will bring us through.

How can we have this level of trust?  The psalm gives us the answer: For thou art with me. He is with us on the journey. He is with us to guide us. When we feel scared or confused, or lost, this is a line we can say to ourselves. For thou art with me. He is with us in everything. We are never alone. We may feel alone, but he never leaves us. He is always there.

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. If jackals or wolves come after us with teeth bared, our Good Shepherd uses the rod and staff to beat them off and protect us. The  rod and staff are also used to keep us from straying off into the thorns and thickets and getting into trouble, Our Good Shepherd uses these tools to comfort us. Comfort is from the roots con-with and fortis-strength. So, comfort actually means strength. Our Good Shepherd strengthens us in times of darkness and danger.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Here, the journey takes us into a situation of a battle. The enemies are gathered all around. Maybe our little flock is surrounded by wolves. Maybe these are human enemies. Maybe it is a spiritual battle and we are being assailed by the forces of darkness.

Whatever the enemies are, our Good Shepherd is creating a safe place, setting a festive table with the best food, and blessing us with the best of hospitality.  Thou anointest my head with oil. In biblical times, a good host would anoint the guests with oil. Scholars tell us that this scene of the table is almost on the level of a royal feast.

There is some threat, and our Good Shepherd is making us safe and hosting a feast into the bargain. The wolves can circle, but they cannot get in.

Biblical scholar J. R. P. Sclater writes, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies becomes a table spread in the midst of the pilgrimage, even when foes are massing to the attack. The verse has been declared to have been a favorite text in London at Communion services during World War II, when the bombing was at its peak, even in one instance when a part of the church was hit, while the service continued.” (Interpreter’s Bible, Ps. 23, p. 128)

My cup runneth over. Our Good Shepherd showers us with abundance. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. With our Good Shepherd leading and guiding us, we will journey with courage to His glory and we will get home to the safety of the fold.

May we continue to follow him.  May we follow him always.  Amen.

Easter 4A RCL May 11, 2014

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 23

1 Peter 2:19-25

John 10:1-10

In our opening lesson this morning, we have an opportunity to look into the life of the early Church. Gene M. Tucker of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta lists the qualities of the early Christian communities. He writes, “First, they are absorbed in religious teachings to which they are committed.” Tucker notes that they were building on the teachings of the apostles themselves.

“Second,” he writes,  “they have regular fellowship in both social and religious settings. The word for fellowship is koinonia and is best rendered in a dynamic… form—sharing.” Tucker notes that this can also involve the sharing of material possessions and financial resources. He notes that the people engage in what he calls “active care for one another” and that they have a “spirit of oneness.” When we care deeply about one another and listen to teach other and help each other, we do develop a spirit of oneness. The Holy Spirit is with us in that caring.

Tucker continues, “Third, they continue steadfast in prayer.” When a community spends time in prayer, the members of that community grow closer to each other and to God.

Tucker adds, “Fourth, they exhibited a proper sense of awe before God.” What a wonderful way to say it—“a proper sense of awe before God.” Do we feel that sense of awe? I hope so. God is very close to us and very loving, and God is also awesome in the best sense of the word, God is immanent, near us, and God is transcendent—powerful and all-encompassing.

Tucker writes, “Fifth, they grew and flourished.” Because of their love of God and each other, their “spirit of oneness,” their caring and sharing in every way, these communities attracted new believers every day. These qualities are good examples for us to follow all these centuries later.

Our epistle is addressed to slaves who are suffering at the hands of their masters. Although we do not condone slavery, and we are not slaves, this lesson can still be helpful to us. We can gain strength from our Lord in our own sufferings. We are indeed in the care of our Lord, the “shepherd and guardian of our souls.”

In our gospel, Jesus has just healed the blind man and he is being attacked by the authorities. He is commenting on the qualities of  a good shepherd, a good leader.

In Jesus’ time, and still now in parts of the Middle East, shepherds and their flocks will come into the village and the sheep will be put into one sheepfold, one protected area for protection during the night.  In the morning, the shepherds will come. Each shepherd has a different call for his sheep, and, as each shepherd calls, his sheep will separate from the larger flock and follow him.

There is a level of trust and intimacy between sheep and shepherd which is amazing.  The sheep know who their shepherd is. They will not follow anyone else. If we think of our psalm for today, and we imagine being with our shepherd day in and day out, we can begin to get a sense of that intimacy.  Our shepherd leads us beside the still waters where we can drink, He leads us to the green pastures where we can eat. Even when we have to go through dark and scary places, he guides us with his rod and pulls us back from danger with his staff.

After we have gone mile after mile with him and he has protected us from lions and wolves and has rescued us from bramble bushes and thickets, we really get to trusting him. We know his call. We would not go with anyone else. He is our shepherd.

And, of course, we need always to remember that the biblical shepherd goes out ahead of the sheep. There are no border collies here, much as we might admire and love border collies. There is only our Good Shepherd and a host of dangers from wild animals, bad water or no water in a desert environment, lack of good pasture, cliffs to careen over, mountain paths to trip and fall on, and on and on the dangers go.

Our Good Shepherd leads us to all the good things, even to a feast in the face of our enemies. No matter how bad things get, he is there to guide us, and we get through those bad times.

I think the early Christians had a sense of all this. I think they had lived through their own challenges. Their Good Shepherd and ours had gone through the worst of the worst, death itself, and had come out on the other side, looking different enough so that they didn’t always recognize him at first, but gradually, in the breaking of the bread or in prayer or in the study of the scriptures or in a breakfast of fish on the beach, they realized who he was, somehow different but even more himself than he had been before, and they knew that his goodness and mercy would follow them for the rest of their lives and they would dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.