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Good Shepherd

Sermon preached on 3 May 2020: Fourth Sunday of Easter by Carol Kidd
Psalm 23 / John 10:1-10

May I speak in the name of Jesus Christ our shepherd and our redeemer. Amen

Today is often known as Good Shepherd Sunday: as God’s word is opened and explored through the familiar words of Psalm 23, and the story Jesus told of the shepherd guarding his flock. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the one who calls us to listen to his voice. It is Jesus who says to all who are ready to hear and draw near: ‘I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness’ [John 10:10 GNT]. A promise of fullness of life – a message you and I, and the whole world need to hear at this time as our lives are affected in so many ways by restriction and isolation, anxiety and danger – but we jump ahead.

In the parable there are many images – for now let us stay with Jesus the shepherd and listening to his voice: The shepherd calls his sheep by name, goes ahead and the sheep follow because they know his voice. [10:3/4]. Sheep in the fields know their shepherd. In the bible the sheep run from a stranger’s voice, if your ever watch sheep in a field they scatter when chattering ramblers pass by, yet as the shepherd arrives there are many welcoming bleats of joy!

The mark of today’s shepherd is not a tea-towel style headdress and a crook but more likely to be the roar of a four-wheeled motorized off-road buggy ridden by a young person in jacket and jeans with their dog enjoying the ride, ready and eager to be at work. The sheep, young and old, run and follow anticipating feeding time for they know the ‘voice’ of the shepherd’s vehicle, the ‘voice’ of the whistle that calls to the dog, the ‘voice’ that is the bark of the sheep dog ready to gather them to be fed. They know the voice that will feed and care for them and when necessary lead them to safety.

Sheep follow the voice of their shepherd who is at the centre of their lives. At this time of pandemic, we need more than ever to keep Jesus, our Good Shepherd, central to all that we say and do and take time to listen to his voice and hear his good news for the world. As we struggle with being isolated from family and friends – from the flock with whom we share so much – statistics and desperately sad news fill our TV and computer screens and are fixed in our minds – and yet – if we take time to listen and hear the truth of Jesus’ good news we can find comfort.

Fear and anxiety are natural reactions when we are concerned for the well-being of those we love and for our own health. Psalm 23 reminds that the Lord is our shepherd who provides for our needs and gives us strength. Anxious and afraid of the Corona Virus – often referred to as an invisible evil – the psalmist’s prayer can be ours:

“even if I go through the deepest darkness,
I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me.
Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me”

Ps 23:4 GNT

Jesus our redeemer will lead and shepherd us through the difficult times.

This life of ‘lock-down’ will not last for ever – a new ‘normality’ will evolve. It is through hearing and recognizing Jesus’ voice – by listening to him and hearing his call – that his gifts of goodness, blessing and unfailing love will be received and our fears and anxieties for the future be allayed.

It is a fact that many are experiencing loneliness of isolation and hunger and thirst for spiritual refreshment. For the psalmist it is God’s voice that leads him to rest in green pastures and leads him beside the quiet waters – on our daily exercise walks we can find our Lord calling to us through sounds of nature, in the beauty of springtime and in the hello’s of those who we pass by – observing social distancing does not mean we are to ignore and disregard others.

Jesus our Shepherd understands our fear of danger, of the virus robbing us of our freedom, stealing away our opportunities for contact with others and threatening our lives and the lives of those we love. We heard in the gospel story that when the sheep were threatened by thieves and robbers they were led to safety. As the sheep trusted the shepherd for protection so, in faith, we can put our trust in Jesus to be with us in times of danger and uncertainty. The current uncertain situation has robbed us of many things that we have taken for granted and we are having to find alternatives.

Through the challenge of closed churches different styles and forms of worship are evolving, Christians are exploring new ways of being together. Following the theme of the parable: Jesus our Shepherd encourages us to find new pasture. Going on ahead he calls us to follow, to share his message so others will hear and know in their own hearts his voice. As we face challenge and change it is by encircling all that we do and say in prayer, by making all our actions in Jesus’ name and for his sake, that others will want to be a part of his flock and know for themselves the joy of being blessed and held freely in his love.

We are Christ’s sheep. Even when like lost sheep we become doubtful, anxious and afraid the wonderful truth is that, if we will only listen to his voice, our Good Shepherd will always be our guide, guardian and rescuer everyday of our lives even to eternity! Jesus says: “I tell you the truth” [v1] “I am the gate. Whoever comes in by me will be saved” [v9]. To all who hear his voice, listen and follow in his way Jesus declares: “I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness” [John 10:10 GNT]

Let us pray:

May the truth of Jesus’ word dwell richly in our hearts that we may not only be comforted when we hear his voice but fully listen to his call, be ready to bring others to hear his message of salvation and follow as he leads all believers to a full life in this world and the next, Amen