A reflection for the 25th April, 2021
Fourth Sunday in Easter

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Offered for Sunday 25th April 2021


Stephen

Reflections Script

'Fourth Sunday in Easter'

25th April 2021


I think it is safe to say,
not many of us have first hand experience of keeping sheep.
Perhaps the closest we've come is watching
'One Man and His Dog'.
We've seen the shepherd,
often at some distance behind his sheep,
letting the dog demonstrate its expertise,
guided by shouted commands.

To try and bridge the gap between today's experience
and first century shepherds in the Holy Land at an
'All Age Worship Service, quite a few years ago
I invited the thirty plus children in the congregation
to be sheep and the Church Warden and his son to be
the shepherd and sheep dog asking them to round
the sheep /children and guide them into a make shift pen.
What followed was utter chaos to say the least.

With the congregation in a state of shock
and the Shepherd and his dog frustrated
I called them to order and asked the children/sheep
to go into the pen.
I then instructed the Church Warden/Shepherd to
'Lead, the sheep to the back of the Church.
What transpired shocked even me.
With no priming, warning or practice the
sheep/children simply followed quietly
and orderly in the steps of the
Shepherd/Church Warden!



Let us Pray


O Lord our Shepherd:
Lead us your servant beside the still waters
that restores the soul.
O Lord our Saviour:
Give us your servant release from the fears,
uncertainties and unease of this life.
O Lord our healer:
Touch our lives as only your presence
can touch them and flood your servant's
with the power of your healing Spirit.
In the name of God the Father
Son and Holy Spirit and
trusting in his might alone,
May Christ the Good Shepherd bring us
wholeness of body, mind and spirit,
and deliver us from evil,
and give us peace.
Amen.



Address


As illustrated in first century Palestine,
the shepherd went first, looking out for danger,
while the sheep followed.
The much loved 23rd Psalm tells us;
"The Lord is my shepherd
He leads me beside still waters."

The image of a protective shepherd of God's
flock is popular throughout the Bible.
In the Old Testament, the Lord frequently
promises to lead the flock in person one day.

Through the prophets, there is divine criticism
of the kings of Israel who were supposed
to be fulfilling the role but making a mess of it,
like uncaring hired hands.
God however will be the Good Shepherd!

Unfortunate then as now sheep will often stray
and get lost, making them vulnerable to predators,
of which there were many in first-century Palestine.

Jesus' mission on earth was about bringing strays
of the human variety back to the fold,
encouraging them to change their ways
and forgiving them.
With sheep, though, if the straying process
became a habit, action had to be taken
for the stray's own good.

In Jesus' time there was a practice among shepherds,
still happening in parts of the world today,
where the shepherds would do something
with a persistently stray lamb;
at first seems cruel but was intended to save its life.

They would take the lamb and deliberately
break one of its legs so that the shepherd
had to carry it until the leg was healed.
By doing this, the lamb became so attached
to the shepherd it never strayed again.

Is it reasonable to imagine a hired hand
bothering to take personal responsibility
for a stray sheep, or more than one,
at no small inconvenience to themselves?
Almost certainly not!

As Jesus makes very clear in John 10: 12 to 13,
a hired hand has no investment in the sheep,
they are there only for the wage;
of what consequence is it if the sheep falls
prey to a wolf, a bear or a lion?
The hired hand's priority would be ensure
his own safety and run away.

In sharp contrast Jesus, the Good Shepherd,
has a personal relationship with the sheep.
By day and by night,
he is watchful on their behalf.
He knows them all by name and, in turn,
is known by them. Nor is this relationship
just with the current flock.

Jesus has a potential relationship with the sheep
yet to be brought into the flock;
not just the Gentiles in surrounding areas
but people of all nations.

This is Jesus' Great Commission to the
disciples at the end of Matthew's Gospel.
Above all, this relationship is sacrificial
and the sacrifice is knowingly and willingly
offered by Jesus.
The act of laying down his life is
mentioned repeatedly as the central theme
of these verses in John 10.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd primarily
because of his willingness to die,
once and for all, on the cross at Calvary
How can we, God's children,
respond to this sacrificial act?

How can we mirror the divine love
that has been shown to us and,
as closely as is humanly possible,
replicate it?

Clearly the answer must be linked to what we do
and what we don't do in our lives.
Very pertinent in Jesus' instruction
to his disciples, in Matthew 25, that
"just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family, you did it to me".

We are, though, all very different and Jesus
calls each of his "sheep" individually.
Most Christians are called to quite ordinary work
for God and it matters not whether
the work is high profile,
up front or behind the scenes.

The great Baptist missionary to India,
William Carey, when describing his work for God,
said merely, "I plod."
And that, surely, is how many of us
lead our Christian lives.

In our very different ways we "plod";
faithfully, unspectacularly,
but with loving and generous purpose.
It was the American writer Henry David Thoreau
who said this:
"If a man does not keep pace with his companions,
perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him step to the music he hears,
however measured or far away."
To understand this, we should think of
those sheep in the sheepfold,
hearing their different names being called,
each call having its own tone, pitch,
volume and urgency.

To the sheep, the calls are immediately
recognisable and they respond.
To us, though, the call may come as a still,
small voice, which we can choose to notice or ignore.
May our prayer be that God's call to us
comes clearly and unmistakably through
the din of modern living,
and that we respond as Jesus wills us to?

May we always try harder
with everything we do for Jesus,
our Good Shepherd, but above all may we,
like the sheep, draw closer.



To Summarise

The good shepherd knows
the sheep individually;
the sheep know the shepherd and recognise the call.
The good shepherd is watchful over the sheep,
protecting them from predators
and other dangers.
Particular loving care is shown
to sheep that stray.
The flock is never a complete entity.
There are always sheep that
must be brought into the fold

Supremely, the Good Shepherd is prepared
to lay down his life for the flock,
once; and for all.
Christians are to listen for God's call
on their lives, and be prepared to offer
service according to
ability and opportunity



Our Blessing


May the Good News of the Kingdom
spread and enrich all peoples and
cultures everywhere over the whole world.
May the kingdom of Christ grow among us
as a kingdom of justice, love and peace.
May the light of Christ's truth enlighten all
and his serving love be alive in us all.
May Jesus the good shepherd,
who lays down his life for the sheep.
We who are his flock may we know his voice
and follow him.
And the blessing of God almighty.....


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