Sunday, May 3, 2020
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Prelude: Open My Eyes that I May See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkXIjZERSnE
Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Welcome to our virtual worship. The Lord be with you.
Confession and Forgiveness
If you were to keep watch over sins, O Lord, who could stand? Yet with you is forgiveness, and so we confess: (I invite you to reflect in the privacy of your home before a time of confession.)
Confession: Gracious God, have mercy on us. We confess that we have turned away from you, knowingly and unknowingly. We have wandered from your resurrection life. We have strayed from your love for all people. Turn us back to you, O God. Give us new hearts and right spirits, that we may find what is pleasing to you and dwell in your house forever. Amen.
Forgiveness: Receive good news: God turns to you in love. “I will put my spirit in you, and you shall live,” says our God. All your sin is forgiven in the name of ☩ Jesus Christ, who is the free and abounding gift of God’s grace for you. Amen.
Gathering Hymn: ELW 778, The Lord’s My Shepherd, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkqPro-u9GE
Prayer of the Day: O God our shepherd, you know your sheep by name and lead us to safety through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice, that we may walk in certainty and security to the joyous feast prepared in your house, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn selection of the faithful: ELW 787 On Eagle’s Wings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTPpMdZojNU
HEARING GOD’S WORD
Alleluia. Jesus says, I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. Alleluia. (John 10:14)
First Reading: Acts 2:42-47
42[The baptized] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Psalm: Psalm 23
1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
2The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.
3You restore my soul, O Lord, and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25
19It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
22“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
Gospel: John 10:1-10
[Jesus said:] 1“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
How do we deal with a unique and unsettling experience that challenges our whole understanding of reality? Right now, Covid-19 has caused a disruption to USA life. The disciples thought Jesus was the Messiah who would restore their nation to the glory of the days of Solomon. Jerusalem would become great again. Palm Sunday the crowds cheered his entrance into Jerusalem. But by the end of the week the crowds were yelling, “Crucify him!” And the Roman government did. Dreams were dashed. It’s kind of like standing at the altar but the other person never shows. Can you feel the humiliation and despair? Not only that, after seeing Jesus flogged, driven through the streets of Jerusalem, crucified, and a sword put in his side, Jesus was buried in a tomb that was sealed. Three days later, after the Sabbath, women went to the tomb and found the body gone. Stories began to fly about what happened. Some said the body was stolen. Others said they saw the risen Christ. What happened?
Easter season is about the proofs that Christ is risen. First we heard about Jesus going through closed doors to meet with his disciples on the second Sunday. Last week we heard about Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus and laying a scriptural foundation for two other followers and “breaking bread.” But let’s go back to our question. When reality gets all messed up, how do we straighten it out? The person left at the altar, the person positive for Covid, the victim of a crime, might cope by reflecting back on what has led up to the present crisis. Were there clues that they missed, people they contacted, or mistakes they made? Our lesson today reflects back to on one of our most powerful images of Christ. Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Psalm 23 is our Psalm reading. How does our anticipation of Jesus as the Good Shepherd fit with the reality of the chaos we are living in right now, or did we miss something?
In our passage, John pulls out three strong images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd: voice, gate, and leadership. I do not know your experience with sheep but mine began when my husband, myself and our eight month old first born headed to the northern frontier of Kenya to start a Bible translation with a nomadic tribe. Severe drought had ravaged the area and our cemented mud house was on the edge of a former famine relief camp for about 10,000 people. They lived traditionally on meat, milk and blood. They were camel herders reduced to sheep and goats they kept in corrals made of thorn bushes piled together. If you have watched The Ghost and the Darkness about the man-eating lions of Tsavo, you understand. The animals are not American pets, they are life to the people. Their meat, their milk, their blood, and their skins form the basis of life.
“the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. “
I have been a consecrated, now ordained, Deaconess with the ELCA for ten years. Hence the title “sister.” At the annual assembly where we all gather from the USA, Canada, and Haiti, I have “voice and vote.” Voice is a powerful concept in modern English lingo, perhaps carrying more weight than the original passage but perhaps it reveals a very important insight. When we weigh the truth of Easter and all the claims, all the privileges, all the complications of it, we are weighing it up against the idea of voice. “The sheep hear his voice.” Was Jesus speaking about an auditory experience to be expected by the saved, not unlike speaking in tongues? The “in” people hear and the “out” or “not-quite-in” people must keep straining for the experience. Not likely.
I have voice at Assembly which means I can come to the microphone and comment on any subject on the floor. I can make proposals. I can make objections. My opinions count. It does not necessarily mean I am the only voice in the room or the determinative voice on a matter. I am not the commander nor am I a beggar, I am partnering with the community. So listening to Jesus’ voice may not necessarily carry the sense of command as much as the right to comment and contribute, to partner. As I grow older, I realize partnership with Christ is not the same as the power struggles of becoming I had with my parents. Jesus partners with his sheep, speaking to them, guiding them. He is not driving and domineering. He moves them at their pace, looking for food and directing them but never in a demanding way. He may sing to them and he knows each one. We hear his voice in all aspects of life.
But so often God seems silent. To this response, I think of our modern day active listening slogan – hearing someone into voice. When God uses his voice through silence, it does not imply absence but focused listening. As we speak and God listens, we clarify our thoughts, our wishes, our petitions and find our own voice and identity. God’s silent voice partners with me to draw me into voice.
Religion is universally identified with prayer. Here prayer, hearing God’s voice, is linked with Him knowing our name. For the Christian, there is a personal relationship. After the crucifixion, resurrection, there was no physical Jesus but perhaps followers reflected on the Good Shepherd and looked for voice. Was there personal relationship where the follower has voice? The post resurrection experiences point to experiences with the risen Christ who knew names, knew histories and personalities, and who personally partnered with follows to accomplish goals. Those qualities still grow in Christians, in you and me today, and direct us to meaningful goals. We hear his voice through prayer, through Scripture, through music, and through community even as his silent voice draws us into our better selves.
“I am the gate for the sheep.”
The sheep and goat corrals in the area where we lived were thorn bushes arranged in a circle and stacked so thieves or wild animals could not break in and steal a meal. There was only one entrance/exit and usually it was positioned so that the owner’s front door was within feet of the gate of the animals. It would be hard for a lion or hyena to sneak in or drag an animal out. The sound of an intruder would wake the shepherd. So then how is it that the sheep of Jesus get hurt? Why do bad things happen to good people? There is the rub. God’s sovereign role and our free will seem so often in tension.
I note the verse says that those who enter the gate “are saved,” not given a happy-ever-after life. “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Somehow in the struggles of life we find pasture, places to feed ourselves, but we also get hurt.
God allowed his son to suffer and allows us to suffer. I use the word “allow” and not the word, “invite” or “planned.” The events of my life are not outside God’s awareness or accidental, even the presence of Covid-19. We hold on to Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” I had a little tomato plant in Nairobi that sprung up in the crack in the sidewalk and faithfully bore tomatoes. Struggling with sickness a nurse cares for us when we cannot care for ourselves. Music comes to mind to strengthen our soul when we are discouraged. At just that moment when we are down, a friend calls and remembers us. I am coming to believe that Jesus endured the cross, not just to pacify some angry God who is far distant, but to show us we need not fear pain and death because a Good Shepherd walks with us on rocky paths and in deserts destroyed by draught. The gate keeps out the evil one but the shepherd walks with us through trials that strengthen us. The gate keeps out the thief that seeks to steal our joy and our life and the shepherd assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even our own doubt.
The gate does not shut us off from life like a bird in a cage but protects us as we go in and out and find pasture. Jesus is our gate who saves us. For me, John 10 confirms the crucifixion and resurrection experience. Life is unfair. Ugly things happen. There are thieves and false shepherds that would steal and whose voice of hatred and revenge would destroy. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who understands tough times like Covid, and walks with us.
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Each morning the young warriors, male and female, would take the animals to pasture. Each evening they would bring them home and all the animals of the village would play together in the streets as the milking took place. Little goats would butt heads with each other. How they got put to bed in the right corral, I do not know. But as dusk settled over the desert, the young people would dance, jumping into the air, shaking their beads and stamping their feet. Older people sat before houses made of poles and grass mats or cardboard boxes. Often we brought our food and we shared with them. Community, laughter, and stories filled the air. Perhaps my memories are a bit idyllic as it has been forty years but somehow life was “good,” not perfect. I don’t believe the abundant life means material possessions in big houses with lots of cars, but that pervasive sense of contentment and satisfaction that we have faced the challenges of the day to the best of our ability with the aid of our best friend at our side advising us, navigating the challenges, and rejoicing together. We talk and share. The sun sets and we can sleep peacefully for we have a savior who never slumbers or sleeps.
We do have voice through prayer, we do have protection through the gate that mediates what events touch our lives, and we are headed to even greener pastures. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, even during Covid-19.
Hymn of Day: The King of Love My Shepherd Is. ELW 502 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iI1OeQfkVyI
Let us join our voices virtually by sharing the Maasai (a tribe in Kenya) Version of the Apostles’ Creed.
We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the bible, that he would save the world and all the nations and tribes.
We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.
We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.
Or you can listen to the Creed in vocal form: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuDI-sk2nJU
Prayers of Intercession
Uplifted by the promised hope of healing and resurrection, we join the people of God in all times and places in praying for the church, the world, and all who are in need.
Shepherding God, we thank you for the educational ministries of your church. Enrich the work of teachers, professors, mentors, advisors, and faculty at colleges, seminaries, and learning sites. We pray that Bethany’s Learning Ministry for young children might open soon and continue to be a blessing for children. Bless teachers who are sheltered but still trying to guide students from a distance. Give them creativity and give the students the ability to receive the lessons. We pray for those navigating graduation experiences. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Creating God, we praise you for those who maintain and operate farm equipment, for those who plant and harvest crops, for local farmers’ markets, and for those involved in agriculture of any kind. Strengthen their hands as they feed the world. We especially remember Bethany’s Community Garden as they seek to follow guidelines but work within the rhythms of nature to feed many. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Guiding God, no one should be in want. Bid the nations to return to your paths of righteousness and inspire our leaders to walk in your ways, so that all may have the opportunity to live abundantly and sustainably. We especially remember those in need from sheltering and unable to pay bills. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Comforting God, you carry us tenderly. We pray for those who walk through dark valleys overshadowed by anxiety and overwhelmed with suffering. Again we especially remember those impacted by Covid-19 and all the services on the frontline of this battle. Give them strength and protect them. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Nurturing God, you desire justice for the hungry. Bless advocacy work, food pantries, and feeding ministries in our congregations. We think of the families that need the help of Bethany’s Basket. May none of our neighbors lack for basic needs. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Everlasting God, your beloved have heard your voice; you have called them by name and guided them to your side in death. We thank you for their lives of faithful witness. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
With bold confidence in your love, almighty God, we place all for whom we pray into your eternal care; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Peace If you are worship with someone else, turn and share, “The peace of Christ be with you always.” Response, “And also with you.” You might use your finger to mark you children or loved one with a cross on their forehead. If you are practicing social distancing, put your palms together in-front of your chest and open them outward to the other to show your blessing of them. Peace!
Merciful God, our ordinary gifts seem small in light of your actions for us, but you make of them an abundance, just as you do with our lives. Feed us again for service in your name, in the strength of the risen Christ. Amen.
Communion: I invite you to talk a little piece of bread and eat it. Christ is as close to you as the bread in your mouth and stomach. Always remember. Now take a sip of your drink. Christ is as close to you as the blood in your body, strengthening you. Always remember.
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.
Prayer after Communion
Life-giving God, you have fed us with your word, and our hearts burn within us. Through this meal you have opened us to your presence. Now send us forth to share the gifts of Easter with all in need; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May the One who brought forth Jesus from the dead raise you to new life, fill you with hope, and turn your mourning into dancing. Almighty God, Father, ☩ Son, and Holy Spirit, bless you now and forever. Amen.
Sending Hymn: Praise the Lord, Rise Up Rejoicing , ELW 544 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DEiYj0ZoIQ
Christ is risen, just as he said. Go in peace. Share the good news. Alleluia! Thanks be to God. Alleluia!