STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH FEBRUARY 7, 2021

Rev. Sabrina Ingram

           

WORSHIPPING TOGETHER AT HOME

 

Call to Worship: Psalm 80: 1 & 2

Listen, Shepherd, Israel’s Shepherd—

get all your sheep together.

Throw beams of light from your dazzling throne

So your people can see where they’re going.

Rise up —you’ve slept long enough!

Come on the run before it’s too late.

 

Lighting of the Christ Candle

 

Hymn of Praise

 

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

Lord Jesus, you are our Good Shepherd. 

You love us and watch over us.

You guide us.

You lead us to green pastures and still waters; your spiritual nourishment restores us.

You value each one of us and look for us when we go astray.

Knowing how death wounds and threatens us,  you laid down your life to save us. 

You gather us in your arms and carry us close to your heart.

We praise you.

 

We know that like sheep we have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way. 

We fall prey to predators who desire to destroy us. 

We seek out hirelings hoping they will love us and show us a more spiritual path. 

Too often we don’t even realize the danger we’re in. 

 

We praise you because our iniquity has been laid on you. 

You continue to forgive us and carry us home.

 

As we worship you today, we remember our brothers and sisters from St. Stephen’s and Christians near and far who worship with us in these strange times.  Give strength to your Church. 

 

May our worship today honour you.  May it please you.  May it reflect our trust in you.  We praise your life-saving grace which gathers us into your fold.  Amen. 

 

Assurance of Pardon:  Isaiah 40: 11

He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

 

Prayer for Illumination:

God of peace, you brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep.  This was not a temporary thing but an eternal covenant.  As we hear your word, make us complete in everything good so that we may do your will and bring glory to you through Jesus, forever.  Amen

 

Scripture Readings

Psalm 23

1 Peter 2: 21 – 25

John 10: 1 – 6 & 11 – 18

 

Message:  I am the good Shepherd

A robber breaks into a house while the residents are away.  While he’s grabbing valuables, he hears a voice come out of nowhere,  “Jesus is watching you.” The criminal jumps.  Scared he’s been caught, he freezes.  Everything is quiet, so assuming it was his imagination, he goes back to stealing.  Soon, he hears again, “Jesus is watching you.” Quite confused, the thief searches the house, but nothing seems unusual.  He decides to loot each room and finds a parrot in one.  As he reaches for a necklace, the parrot says,  “Jesus is watching you.” The thief is stunned.  After affirming that the parrot spoke, he asks the parrot it’s name.  “Naphtali,” the parrot replies.  The man scoffs, “What type of idiot names a parrot Naphtali?” The parrot answers, “The same type that names a Rottweiler Jesus”.

 

Theft is an occupation which was not beyond the sensibilities of my own Macdonald ancestors.  On a raid to Urquhart castle, seat of the wealthy Grants, among the goods taken were twelve beds, with bolsters, blankets, and sheets; five posts; six pans; one basket and a chest filled with money; two brewing cauldrons; twenty pieces of artillery; doors, bedsteads, and chairs.  They also took two hundred containers of oats and one hundred of barely; one hundred cows; one hundred calves; fifty young heifers; sixteen horses and ten harnesses;  two hundred sheep and one hundred lambs.  The final insult was that they loaded the goods in the Grant’s fleet of boats and stole those too.  (It’s hard not to be proud of them.  They were not good people, but they were good thieves.)  Thievery is not unique to Scotland.  Even in Israel in the time of Jesus, there were thieves, and there too, the theft of livestock ran high.  (Although, in the desert the likelihood of your boats being stolen was low).

 

In Israel, raising sheep was a common way to make a living and shepherds were always wary of raiders who would run off with their sheep.  Last week, we talked about the door to the sheepfold which the shepherd would guard with his life.  The reason he did so, was not only to keep the sheep from wandering, but also to keep raiders from theft.  In Israel, just like today, there were petty sheep thieves and there were professional sheep thieves.  Small-time thieves would find a shadowy spot along the wall, out of the shepherd’s line of sight.  One would climb the stone barrier and pass a sheep or two back over the fence and run.   Thieves with bigger ambitions could usher the whole flock out of the pen  but their success depended on finding a way to distract the shepherd.  It was not beyond desperate thieves to attack or even kill a faithful shepherd.  Thieves were dangerous people.   As Jesus noted, “A thief is only there to steal, kill and destroy”  (John 10: 10).   Once the doorway was unguarded, they would drive the sheep out from behind, to sell or slaughter them.  This created panic among the sheep who did not recognize the thieves.

 

Thieves weren’t the only predators for which shepherds needed to watch.  There were also wild animals.  The most common being the wolf.  Wolves, as we know, travel in packs.  When wolves attacked, the entire flock could be torn to shreds.  The larger, stronger ones might be able to make it over the wall; the others would come directly for the shepherd.  Fighting off a wolf pack wasn’t an easy task.  A shepherd could lose his life.  The situation was compounded because shepherds with more than one flock, need to hire someone to watch over his other sheep.  The problem was the hired hand had (literally and emotionally) no investment in the sheep.  He really didn’t care about them.  He was in it for the money.  Lying across a doorway for a night or two was worth the pay cheque, but he wasn’t about to risk his neck for someone else’s property.   When he heard the wolves howling in the distance and then saw their yellow eyes gleaming through the darkness, the hired man was out of there as quickly as his legs would carry him.   The sheep would scatter, not knowing which way to go, many would be devoured by the wolves.  The lucky ones who got away were only lucky for a time.  They’d get lost in the wilderness.  They’d be in danger of getting stuck in some rocky crevasse or baking in the desert heat without water or food.  Without someone to lead them, they’d die.  And if they survived the harsh  environment, the wolves would eventually track them down and kill them.  The hired man, in the meantime, had given his notice effective immediately.    The shepherd was on his own; the sheep were his problem, and he could search for them if he chose.   The hired hand would be safe at home.

 

This was unlike the shepherds who owned their flock.  They were prepared to take that risk.  They willingly put their life on the line, in order to protect those entrusted to them.  They’d do anything for their sheep.  Despite the dangers, shepherds had more good days than bad.  Each day they’d lead their sheep out to find green pastures and still water, and each night they’d bring them home to the pen.  The sheep felt safe with the shepherd and followed him wherever he led.  A shepherd knew each one of his sheep.  They had a relationship with them, as we might a pet.  Each sheep was given a name (I once had a cow named after me; it was a Charolais, so it was an honour…I think).  The shepherd knew each sheep by name and the sheep knew and responded to their names.  There was no wild bleating, panic or stampeding among the flock when the shepherd led them from the pen.  They were happy to be with their shepherd.  They knew their shepherd’s voice and followed only him.  Still, there were many good shepherds who lost their lives to save their sheep.

 

Jesus is that kind of shepherd.  He loves his sheep.   In fact, he loves them so much his relationship with them mirrors his relationship with his heavenly Father with whom he was one.  He knows his own and they know him and so they go in the way and to the places he leads.   When his sheep are with Jesus, they are peaceful.  They are nourished.  They are safe.   During his life on Earth, Jesus was fully prepared to die if that’s what it took to save them.  It was.  Of his own free will, Jesus went to the cross.  Then he resurrected.  He lay down his life and he took it up again.   Of course, just as Jesus was a carpenter by trade and not a shepherd, so his “sheep” were not sheep but people.  Jesus told his audience that he had more than one flock, meaning he had come not only for the Jews, but for Gentiles.  He was excited to gather them all together into one big flock.  It’s easy to recognize Jesus’ sheep; they are the people who love him, listen to him, know his voice, trust his presence and know they are safe with him.  They are the people who follow him.

 

It’s tempting to sum up this scripture by saying we should all be good shepherd’s like Jesus, to the best of our ability.  Perhaps that’s not a bad goal.  But there is only one Good Shepherd.  At the heart of this story, Jesus is telling us we are his sheep.  So, what does that mean?

 

It means that spiritually were in danger of being stolen.  We may be poached by small time human thieves may try to poach us, a group of people may systemically attack us, or Satan may storm our lives.  Whomever the thief is, the goal is the same.  They would lead us astray and take us down a path that leads to destruction.  They will take us right out of the safety of the pen which is our home with Jesus.   How do we know when we’re in this kind of danger?   First, we don’t recognize these people or resonate with the things for which they stand.  Their teaching is not the teaching of Jesus.  Their “voice” is not the voice of Jesus.  To figure this out, we need to know the teaching of Jesus which is why we have scripture.  We need to spend time in prayer so we get better at distinguishing Jesus’ voice from the many other voices around us.  Secondly, we don’t feel safe with them.  There presence is disorienting and threatening.  That’s not to say that we are to cling to what is familiar or what we’ve always done in the way we’ve done it.  Sometimes, Jesus leads us to new pastures and we leave behind our usual experiences and habits.  As perplexing as change can be, if we are led by Christ we are at peace.  Thirdly, God has wired us to be anxious when we recognize destructive forces, to feel appropriate guilt when we’re off the path and to panic when we’re lost.  When we are being led astray by destructive forces, an siren goes off, deep within our soul.  The trouble is, that if the promise of these “thieves” is enticing enough, people have a great capacity to ignore that alarm and to lie to ourselves.  Sometimes we convince ourselves that the false voice speaks God’s will.  Sometimes we tell ourselves that it’s good to be on a dangerous path; it will expose us to new things.  Sometimes we simply hit the snooze button and ignore the alarm.  Finally, thieves are unlike the Good Shepherd.  We know when we’re led by the Good Shepherd because he leads us gently; we are calm and the herd is calm.  Those who would do us harm tend to push us to places we know are wrong or we don’t want to go.  They coerce us to do things we don’t want to do.  When we feel pushed, manipulated or stressed we may want to stop and ask: am I being pushed or called to this new place, task or experience.  When the whole flock, the congregation or the Church, is in a stressed out, panicky state where we are bleating, pushing and stomping on one another, it’s probably safe to say there’s a thief in our midst.  Like sheep, we need to call out loudly for the Good Shepherd to drive that influence out from among us.

 

We also need to be wary of those who appear to be Good Shepherd’s or who stand in their place.  Even among God’s people there are hirelings who are in it for prestige, power or money.  We identify them because what they teach and their “voice”, are not the teaching or voice of Jesus.  They may be very subtle and sound much like Jesus sounds.  They may sound very convincing by feeding our lower nature.  They may have a huge “flock” that hangs off their every word.  They may even seem to genuinely love us and care for us.  But they are there for themselves, and when a sacrifice is asked of them, they refuse.  They’d rather bail out and leave us to our destruction, than lay down their lives for those in their care.

 

On the whole, life is pretty simple for sheep who have a good shepherd.   They are called, led, fed and protected.  All that’s required is for them to trust their shepherd, follow where he leads and eat and drink deeply of the life-giving nourishment he offers.    Life can also be pretty simple for those of us who have and trust Jesus.  Jesus leads us, calls us, nurtures us, protects us and carries us home.  All we need to do is know him, follow him and trust him, because he is the Good Shepherd.

 

Silent prayer and reflection

 

Offertory:

Lord God, you tend to us and provide for us like a shepherd cares for his sheep.  Out of your generosity, we bring our gifts.  Help us to care for you.  Help us to care for others in body and spirit.  Amen.

 

Hymn of Praise

 

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession

Great Shepherd of the sheep,

We thank you for your love which is so great you laid down your life for our salvation.

We are in awe that you know each one of us and call us by name.

We are grateful that we can hear your voice and distinguish it from the many voices that are always calling to us.  Help us to respond only to you. 

Thank you for your care, your nourishment, and your guidance which help us to grow in faith and follow you. 

We know we would be lost without you and this only deepens our gratitude and helps us to cling to you. 

 

We pray today for our lost world.  It seems that humanity is continually falling into shadowed places, led by our own egos and ideologies.  We watch as country after country falls into chaos.  We pray for Canada as our list of domestic terrorist groups grows.  We pray for the United States would seek to be united.  Wherever there is fanaticism expressed in hatred, help people to recognize the evil it brings and turn away from it.  We pray for those caught in and imprisoned due to the insurrection in Myanmar.  We pray for China where Muslims and Christians are persecuted for their faith.  We pray for Hong Kong, for those who live there and those who are trying to leave, in order to escape oppression.  We pray for Russia and those who are working for freedom from tyranny.  We think especially of Alexai Navalny, those who were arrested with him, and their families.   We remember Israel and Palestine and pray for peace in the Middle East.  We pray for India where farmers and government are clashing.  We pray for Africa, where corruption and poverty rob people of life.  Lord Jesus, for this you died.  We find hope only in you who also conquered death.  Conquer the deathly powers of our world. 

 

We pray for people everywhere as we lumber through this pandemic.  We believe that patience and hope are found only in you, so we pray for transformation as people turn away from their own wants and desires and come to trust in you.  We pray that your Spirit will give us courage and love, because where there is love there is no need for law.  Show us the best ways to care for one another through these times.  We remember before you those who are infected and the families who have lost loved ones.  We pray for nursing home residents and those who work there.  We pray for first responders and medical staff as they treat and care for others.  We pray for those who are overcome by fear and those who are resistant to restrictions. 

 

We pray for those we know who are physically ill, mentally ill, or fighting addictions. 

We pray for those we know who need your saving grace.  Help them to hear your voice. 

 

We thank you and praise you for all your goodness and for hearing our prayers.  Hear us now as we say…

 

Our Father…

 

Hymn of Praise

 

Invitation to Mission

We now get on with our lives, knowing our Good Shepherd watches over us. 

 

Benediction:    May the Triune God bless and keep you.  Amen.