4th Sunday of Easter

April 30, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Acts 2.42-47 describes the life of the early church, and the Christians’ care for each other. They studied, worshiped, ate and served together, sharing all their possessions.

Psalm 23 celebrates God’s care for us as a shepherd for their sheep… and as a host welcomes, protects and provides for guests.

1 Peter 2.19-25 encourages us to endure suffering, entrusting ourselves to the care of Christ, who is the shepherd of our souls.

John 10.1-11. Jesus speaks of himself as a shepherd whose sheep follow him because they know and listen for his voice.

Preaching Thoughts

It’s nice to think of being personally shepherded by Jesus. But it’s not all about our own smug comfort in green pastures. Jesus doesn’t call us just for our sake. It’s to follow him— going somewhere: from town to town, healing and proclaiming grace. People certainly gained benefits from being among the early Jesus-followers. But they also worked, prayed and shared for the sake of the community. Jesus isn;t trying to shepherd us to heaven. He’s shepherding us into the world, to serve with love.

It’s also tempting to believe that in Jesus’ care we’ll encounter no pain, difficulty or loss. Oh, yeah? The calm, idyllic, pastoral 23rd Psalm leads us right out of green pastures into the valley of the shadow of death. Good Shepherd Jesus doesn’t promise ease and comfort: he promises his loving presence even in awful times. “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” To follow Jesus is to take up a cross, not a lawn chair.

Jesus’ image of the good shepherd is one of mutual intimacy. “The shepherd calls his sheep by name … and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” He knows them personally, by name. Jesus encourages us to believe in a God who knows us, understands us, and believes in us, who doesn’t just react to us according to the formula of laws and requirements. And the sheep know him well enough to recognize his voice. The point of our faith is not to believe some stuff about Jesus, but to know him like a friend, to engage in a living relationship. I think that’s what it means when he says “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” In our relationship with Jesus we enter into a place of rest and belonging, of nurture and empowerment. And we follow him. We know him well enough to listen to him. Preachers will need to talk about what it means to “know the shepherd’s voice,” to recognize what leads us to life, to love, toward intimate connection with the world; and what it means to listen to Jesus, to be open-hearted to ways we may be nudged, attentive to where the “voice“ of Jesus is in our lives: in praying with scripture, interacting with people, observing nature, reflecting on our own inner life….

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Abundant life doesn’t mean abundant possessions or interesting experiences. It means being fully alive, in a free giving-and-receiving relationship with God and the world, receiving all life has to offer, connecting with the presence of God in all things. It means all of life throbs and hums in us, and we are part of all living things. It means not being deadened. It means death has no dominion over us. It means that life overflows in us and can’t be diminished, controlled or taken away. (I don’t think it means anything different from “eternal life,” life that can’t be taken from us.) I think of Luke 6.38: “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.” I think of John 4.14: “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

The Psalter, Epistle and Gospel all show us God or Jesus lovingly shepherding us. Acts shows us what we’re like when we follow the shepherd. We study, worship, share and pray together, we practice awareness that leads to awe, and we reach out to others. Again, it’s not just for our own sake. This passage provides a template with which to look at your own congregation. Do we do all this? Where are we strong? Where are we weak?

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Shepherd of mercy, you provide for us and protect us.
All: Shepherd of love, lead us in your way.
Shepherd of justice, you gather your flock, and care for the lost and neglected.
Shepherd of love, lead us in your way.
Shepherd of our souls, you guide us toward your own heart, and we follow.
Shepherd of love, lead us in your way.
In gratitude and trust, we worship you. Alleluia!


2.
Leader: Loving God, shepherd of our souls, we come to you.
All: Tender Christ, companion on the way, we follow you.
Holy Spirit, guide among the shadows, we depend on you.
Loving God, shepherd of our souls, we listen for your voice.
In stillness… in hunger… in hope… we listen.
Loving God, shepherd of our souls, we come to you.

3. (Psalm 23)
Leader: Loving God, Shepherd of our hearts, by your grace we lack nothing!
All: You give us rest in green pastures;
you lead us beside still waters; you revive us.
You lead us in paths of justice for the sake of your will.
Even though we walk through deathly shadows, we are not afraid,
for you are with us:
your Word and your presence are our safety.
You set a table for us: abundance in the face of all that would diminish our lives.
You shower us with your delight.
Our lives overflow with your grace.
You accompany us with goodness and mercy all our days.
So we come to live in your house, O God,
now and our whole lives long! Alleluia!

4.
Leader: Loving God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Jesus, gentle shepherd, you have brought us out of death,
and led us in green pastures of life, beside still waters of blessing.
Alleluia! Shepherd us, dear Savior, and lead us into life.
Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of love, Shepherd of our souls, we listen for your voice,
the voice that speaks the world into being,
the voice that calls our secret name,
the voice that leads us to abundant life.
Speak to us. We are listening, ready to follow. Amen.

2.
So many voices clamor for our minds, so many noises.
God of love and truth, you speak beneath them all.
In the stillness, we listen.
For your grace, we listen.
For your voice, we listen.

3.
Loving God, Gentle Christ, Life-Giving Spirit, you shepherd us from death to life, from loneliness to community. You know us, and you speak to our deepest hearts. Even deeper than our conscious thought, something in us knows your voice, and responds. So we listen, God, for your Living Word. Speak to us now, and always, and lead us to life. Amen.

4.
Gentle Shepherd, you guide us and protect us and nourish us. You gather us as one flock; and we find grace in one another’s companionship. Your voice leads us to abundant life; your steps lead us in serving. Speak to us now, so that, recognizing the voice of love, we might follow. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Jesus, gentle Shepherd,
you speak with the voice of life,
the voice of love.
You call us each by name.
We listen,
and we will follow.

Poetry


      Haunt me

Holy Mystery,
may your voice haunt me all this day,
your blessing cling to me like a smell,
your beauty drip through my veins,
your hand be my own shadow beneath me,
your Way be the light I walk through,
your heart the path I travel,
your Word the breath I take
your blessing my world.
Amen.

Eucharistic Prayer

Click here for eight settings of the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation and Amen to familiar tunes suitable for the Easter season.

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]
1.
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Beloved, you are our shepherd. You lead us beyond our fears and wants.
You lead us to drink of deep springs, to rest in green pastures.
You restore the breath of life in us.
Feed us with your grace, O God, and lead us in your ways.
[silent prayer]
In Christ you have accompanied us with love and tenderness.
Gentle shepherd, we thank you for your love and presence.
You walk with us even in the valley of the shadow of death, and lead us to life.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
[silent prayer]
Gracious Host, you have set for us a table of rich and luxurious blessing,
and invited us together with all your beloved, even our enemies.
You make us one in this feast. Our cup overflows.
Pour out your Spirit on us, and on these gifts, that our hearts may overflow with your grace.
Your goodness and mercy be with us always.
In your loving care, listening to your voice of life, following you in all we do,
may we live in the house of your love every day of our lives.
[silent prayer]

     (The Blessing and Covenant)

________________________

2.

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

We thank you, O God, for from the beginning you have shepherded us
and given us all that we need.
You have fed us in the green pastures of Creation.
You have led us by the waters of your Word.
You have restored us with the breath of your Spirit.
You have led us in the paths of justice for your name’s sake.
You have led us from captivity to freedom, from fear to compassion.Therefore with all Creation we sing your praise:

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Even in the shadows of death you have been with us.
Your Word and your Presence, they comfort us.

[… The Covenant and Blessing … ]

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                     —or—
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

You prepare a table for us, and invite even our enemies, and make us one.
You anoint us with your joy.
The cup of blessing that you give us overflows.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ.

May goodness and mercy fill us all our days.
May we dwell in your presence now and in eternal life. Amen.

     [Spoken or sung]
Amen
.

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
1.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) In gratitude for all you have given us we give you our lives, symbolized in these gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Shepherd us by your gentle Word; lead us to follow you and to do your will, for the sake of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have led us beside the still waters of your peace. You have fed us in the green pastures of your grace. You have led us in the paths of your love. Shepherd us as we go into the world, following your voice, living by your Spirit, sharing your love. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have led us in peace and fed us with grace; our cup overflows. Grant that we may always listen for your voice and follow, into the world, serving our sisters and brothers, whom you love so much that you would lay down your life for them. We pray in the name and the Spirit and the company of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Dear Gentle, Watchful Shepherd (Tune: O Sacred Head Now Wounded)

Dear gentle, watchful shepherd, you lead us as we graze,
and guide, us when we wander, to find again your ways.
And when we stray in darkness, alone and lost and weak,
unseen, you still are with us, your dear ones whom you seek.

We pray for those who struggle through life all on their own,
who find no path to guide them, who think they are alone.
You fold them in your mercy in every lonely place,
and with your hand upon them you bless them with your grace.

O lead us, loving shepherd to seek the last and lost,
to love them with your passion, and serve at any cost.
Send us to find the lonely, forgotten and ignored:
it’s there that we shall meet you, our saving, healing Lord.


Jesus Our Shepherd          (Tune: Morning Has Broken)

Jesus, our shepherd, gently you lead us
to these green pastures’ sheltering place.
By the still waters guide and refresh us;
gather and feed us here with your grace.

Jesus, our shepherd, gently you bless us,
granting us peace and life-giving breath.
Through the dark valleys still you are with us.
Lead us to new life out of our death.

Jesus, our shepherd, gently you call us.
We hear your voice and follow with you.
Lead us to serve you, loving each other,
always receiving life that is new.


Lead Me, My Shepherd (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

Lead me, my shepherd, in paths that you show.
Not by my own will, but yours, may I go.
By the still waters of baptism’s grace
dear God, renew me, and show me your face.

Love, may your rod and your staff be my guide.
Even in death’s shadow walk by my side.
Help me to listen, to trust and obey,
going wherever you show me the way.

Dearest companion of blessing and weal,
you who provide and forgive me and heal,
still now, I listen and wait for what’s true:
your voice that leads me to life, and to you.


Psalm 23 (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God is my shepherd; I have all I need. God
Makes me lie down in green pastures to feed.
By the still waters God gently will lead.
Love, you’re my shepherd. I have all I need

Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I
fear not, for you are as close as my breath.
For you are with me, your staff and your rod
they are my comfort, my shepherd, my God

You set my table before all my foes. You
pour out your blessing; my cup overflows.
Goodness shall be with me wherever I roam,
and I will live with you, my Heart, my Home.