Read-along Service for Sunday, April 25, 2021

Trinity St. Andrew’s United Church
Order of Worship
Sunday April 25, 2021 – 4th Sunday of Easter
Good Shepherd Sunday

Prelude
Words of welcome, announcements

Lighting the Christ Candle
Bless this light, O God; may it restore our vision. Rekindle our faith we pray. May it renew our hope in your kingdom that gives life for us all.

Call To worship
In a gracious spirit of love divine God opens wide the doors and welcomes us into the divine presence that is all around us. Saints and sinners alike are invited to share in a feast as God spreads a table before us, filled with the richest fare. You are invited to share in this feast of love and mercy that feeds both your body and your soul. We come with joy to gather here for a while, to taste and see God’s goodness, to celebrate the gift of grace and mercy in our lives. May the healing presence of the Holy Spirit inspire our praise and thanksgiving, as we worship God together.  Amen.

Prayer of Approach
Loving God, you are our Good Shepherd. You provide for all our needs. You seek to keep us safe in times of trouble. We confess that we often take your care for granted. In the midst of your many blessings, we complain of not having enough. In the presence of danger, we fail to trust your abiding love. When you set a table before us, we turn aside from you as we seek even greater delights. Call us back into your care and help us trust your compassionate presence. May we learn to hear your voice and trust what you say.  May our lives gratefully proclaim your truth, your peace and your love for all things.  Amen.

Hymn                  The Day of Resurrection                                     VU 164

1.      The day of resurrection! Earth, tell it out abroad;
          the passover of gladness, the passover of God!
          From death to life eternal, from earth unto the sky,
          our Christ has brought us over with hymns of victory.

2.      Our hearts be free of evil, that we may see aright
          the Christ in rays eternal of resurrection light,
          and, listening to the accents, may hear so calm and plain
          Christ’s own “All hail!” and, hearing, may raise the victor strain.

3.      Now let the heavens be joyful, let earth its song begin,
          the round world keep high triumph, and all that is therein;
          let all things seen and unseen their notes of gladness blend,
          for Christ indeed is risen, our Joy that has no end.

Scriptures                    Acts 4:5-12                    Psalm 23   John 10:11-18

Special Music
Homily
Musical Response

The offering
We give thanks for everyone who continues to support TSA during these challenging times. Your gifts of support and encouragement mean a lot to us. As so many of our traditional fundraisers have had to be put on hold, your donations are vitally important. For all the gifts you share, for all the people you bless by your serving and giving as a disciple of Jesus, we give thanks.

Hymn                   Beyond the Beauty and the Awe                        MV 80

1.      Beyond the beauty and the awe,
          beyond the fear and dread,
          we long, O God, to hear your word,
          to taste your transformed bread.

2.      Our lives feel torn between the world
          whose needs are grimly real
          and empty talk of peace and joy
          with distant, vague appeal.

3.      Oh, teach us how to hear your voice
          despite the traffic’s din;
          to keep the blasts of rancour out
          and let your Spirit in.

4.      In sound or silence, sight or smell,
          may we some token find
          that makes your living presence known
          to body, soul, and mind.

5.      Then help us live as Jesus taught,
          as light and salt and yeast,
          that others may be brought to share
          your promise and your feast.

Pastoral Prayer & The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn                  Psalm 23 The Lord’s My Shepherd          VU 747

1.      The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want;
          he makes me down to lie
          in pastures green; he leadeth me,
          the quiet waters by.

2.      My soul he doth restore again;
          and me to walk doth make
          within the paths of righteousness,
          even for his own name’s sake.

3.      Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale,
          yet will I fear no ill;
          for thou art with me; and thy rod
          and staff me comfort still.

4.      My table thou has furnishèd
          In presence of my foes;
          My head thou dost with oil anoint,
          and my cup overflows.

5.      Goodness and mercy all my life
          shall surely follow me,
          and in God’s house for evermore
          my dwelling-place shall be.

Benediction
May God the creator, guide your feet as you go forward in faith. May Christ the good shepherd walk with you in hope. May the Holy Spirit fill you with the abundant gift of unconditional love.

Postlude

The Shepherd’s Love. Text: Psalm 23, John 10:22-30
Preached by Rev. James Murray at Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church, April 25 2021

This morning we heard one of the most familiar and best loved of the psalms.  “The Lord is My Shepherd” has been set to music by thousands of different composers over the years. The book of Psalms is our original book of prayers and our original hymn book. Faithful people have been reciting and singing these hope-filled words for three thousand years. Psalm 23 is often used at funerals because of its message of assurance that God is with us in all the difficult moments of this life. This morning I’d like to take some time to look at this psalm in detail, to discover what good news it can offer us today.

When most of us think of the Twenty Third psalm, we often think of a quiet pastoral scene. We can just imagine experiencing the beauty of the warm day, the sunshine on our faces, the cool green grass, the quiet pond of water, the nice hiking path. It is a pastoral scene, a ‘happy place’ we like to visit when we are feeling down. While life on a sheep farm can be quite wonderful, it is also a place full of hard work.  My cousin and his wife have a sheep farm down near Brockville. For many years we would go there for a family Easter dinner celebration. Sadly we have missed out on the last two years. It was always a busy weekend for them because spring is lambing season. They have to check the barn several times a night in case one of the ewes goes into labour. On a few occasions, one of the lambs who needed to be bottle fed could be seen hanging out in the kitchen. One thing I have learned from visiting their farm over the years is how shepherds must spend a lot of time building up their relationship to the flock so they can provide for them. A shepherd has to protect the flock from attacks by coyotes. They have to make sure even the smallest of lambs gets enough to eat. When a sheep gets sick, they have to administer the medicine. The sheep need to see the shepherd doing all these good things before they can learn to trust you.

The message we get from Psalm 23 is much more than just some comforting scenery. While it may start out in an idyllic place, the psalm takes us on a difficult journey.  It speaks of us travelling on paths of righteousness. To be righteous is to be a person who does what is right and is in a harmonious relationship with others. A path of righteousness is a path of justice.  In an unjust world, nothing feels or looks right because of the exploitation, the hurt and the anger that exists between us.  In an unjust world, everything is out of balance. Without justice or righteousness, there is no harmony or beauty in the world. The African American theologian Cornel West says “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Justice is how we show loving ethical kindness to others. On this journey, God is showing us how to live a life full of love and justice so we can build strong loving relationships. We need such strong loving relationships because these paths of righteousness lead us right through the valley of the shadow of death. They don’t give us a detour around the hard times. Because we walk with God, we can walk through the darkest valley without fear. The good shepherd isn’t there to give us a free ride to the other side. We are being shown a way to pass through the valley and find strength for this journey.

While we may feel trapped when we are in the valley that is as dark as death, we are given the assurance that this darkness does not last forever. On the other side, we have the promise that the sun does shine again, for the darkness will fade away. Our God is giving us the means to face the darkness, to endure, and to persevere. We have been given the promise of God’s abiding love which helps us to come out on the other side. We need this assurance because we don’t always get what we want out of life. Sometimes we are rejected or too weak to continue on our own. Sometimes we are lost or hurting. That’s when life gets messy. That’s when a good shepherd helps us to make a way possible.

One of the reasons I love Psalm 23 is because you can tell the author has been down that dark path and has lived to tell the tale. This why we know the good shepherd is not there to take all the difficult things in life away from us. Its message assures us that God is with us to help us face our troubles. Psalm 23 goes so far as to declare “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my foes.” We are fed by God, but this feast is made in the presence of our enemies. We have the promise God will provide.

But our troubles are not removed from sight. They are ever in view, even while we are in God’s presence. We are given minimum protection even as we are given maximum support. Shepherds cannot keep their flock safe from every trouble, but they are there to help when trouble does come around.

I once met a minister who had once worked as a shepherd. He often joked about his change of career. He said he had just changed flocks. He drew great comfort knowing the word Pastor is the Latin word for Shepherd. He gave up working as a shepherd because his heart wasn’t strong enough for the physical labour involved in caring for the sheep. But his heart was strong enough to love his flock in the church when they were hurting and they needed a shepherd to guide them.

I didn’t grow up on a farm, so I grew up with a very simplistic understanding of sheep. We usually talk of them in very condescending ways. We need to remember that in real life sheep are not docile or dumb beasts. Sheep are very intelligent animals. They are strong and if they don’t like you they will run right over you. Sheep are very aware of the dangers which surround them. A few summers ago my cousin asked me to watch their sheep farm while they were off to Germany for a family wedding. The biggest challenge I had was getting the sheep to trust me. To make matters worse they had a new sheep dog who had not yet bonded with the flock. The sheep did not know me, so it was hard for me to get them into the barn at night. They were hesitant to eat the food I put out for them. They were having problems with coyotes attacking the flock so I had to spend most of the day outside keeping an eye on them so I could keep them safe. That was hard to do because the sheep wanted to stay as far away from me as they could.

When the sheep do know the shepherd, they believe the shepherd will protect and provide. In the King James Version, it says “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” Thou is the intimate pronoun we use for people we love. The pronoun “you” is more formal and distant. We can see this more clearly in French. At work we say “Vous etes la boss” “you are the boss” while at home we say “Tu est mon amour” “Thou art my beloved.” This is how intimate and close we are to be to the shepherd.  Yet even such an intimate trust does not blind the flock to the terrors which await them along the paths of righteousness. Sheep are taking a risk when they trust the shepherd.  They do not follow out of a sense of simple blind obedience or fear. In the same way, when we choose to follow our Good Shepherd, we are not meekly being herded around. To follow Jesus is a daring act of placing a radical trust in God’s loving presence. God protects us, by sharing in our vulnerability. God wishes to wipe away every tear from our eyes.  The good shepherd doesn’t try take his flock out of the world. Rather the shepherd desires to lead us to the waters of life.

The Christian gospel does not ask us to be a dumb sheep who blindly do as they are told.  Rather we are asked to be like the sheep who trust their shepherd. We are being offered an abiding love which can carry us through our darkest hours. We are being shown what a radical trust in God can feel like, a trust which will provide, even when we know troubles are all around us. This trust, like the ways of the sheep with its shepherd, empowers us to live this life with meaning, purpose and courage. It helps us to live with a sense of justice and loving kindness in the face of all the dangers, toils and snares of this life. We can trust in Jesus Christ, for he is our good shepherd. He restores our soul, so we can continue the journey along the paths of righteousness, the path which leads to the fullness of life which is eternal.

The psalmist proclaims this good news by sharing the final assurance that “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Amen.

_