"Good Shepherd Sunday"
Detail: The Cross and Crown from the Easter Mosaic of the Cathedral Basilica
of Saint Louis, MO. CC BY-SA 4.0.
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário comum revisado (português)
The leaders who had Peter arrested for healing the lame man and proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus demand by what authority he acted. Peter boldly proclaimed it was by the power and name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and that all salvation there is comes through him.
Psalm 23 (UMH 754 or 137 KJV).
Use response two, spoken or sung. If you will be singing the version on 754, use Tone 1 in E-flat major. Avoid the temptation to sentimentalize this very familiar (and often sentimentalized!) text. Remember that the psalm is a response, NOT a "text" to be preached! See also the contemporary musical setting of Psalm 23 by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan.
1 John 3:16-24.
Submitting to the authority of Christ by obeying his commandments leads us to love in truth and action, laying down our lives for one another.
The authority of the Risen Lord, the Good Shepherd over his flock, comes from knowing his sheep by name, caring for them, and laying down his own life to protect them. Jesus also notes his "flock" includes people not in "this fold," and he extends the same mission and care to them.
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” It is called this because the gospel lesson for this Sunday has historically taken up some part the “Good Shepherd” address in John 10 and has included Psalm 23 as the Psalm
Shepherding is demanding, hands-on, physical work. It requires intimate visual and bodily attention to the flock and to all its members, and a commitment to protecting each and all from harm. The shepherd lays down his (or her) life for the sheep, investing in them whatever it takes to keep them healthy and protect them from harm. The authority of a shepherd over a flock comes from developing strong relationships with each and all in which each and all come to trust and so more listen to the directions of the shepherd.
Today’s doctrinal focus is on the authority of Jesus. The ministry focus is on serving for the sake of the flock. Formational groups of the newly baptized or confirmed may focus this week on helping their members identify the flock or flocks in which they’ve been given or have a shepherding role and to identify concrete steps to enact that role among these people during this week and the days ahead.
Now-May 24 Easter Season
All Month: Asian-Pacific-American Heritage Month
Christian Home Month
May 10 Mother's Day (USA)/Festival of the Christian Home
May 14/17 Ascension Day/Sunday
May 24 Pentecost
Heritage Sunday/Aldersgate Day
May 25 Memorial Day (USA)
May 31 Trinity Sunday
Peace with Justice Sunday (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
June 21 Father's Day (USA)
June 24-28 Youth 2015
July 4 Independence Day (USA)
August 6 Hiroshima Nagasaki Memorial
Atmospherics: Good Shepherd Sunday
In much popular imagination, which is to say imagination removed from the realities of shepherding, shepherding is a fairly worry-free life; shepherds are smiling and sweet, and all the sheep are cute, puffy clouds.
In reality, shepherds are tough-bodied and equally tough-minded people working a clear plan, coordinating the overall movement of a group of easily distracted herd animals, and ready to intervene at a moment’s notice to bring individuals going astray or into danger back into safety. Far from worry-free, the life and work of a shepherd is one of nearly constant vigilance.
This is not a way of life most would choose to undertake were they not called to it in some way.
Yet the metaphor of shepherd and flock remains one of the most persistent and powerful metaphors for the relationship of Jesus with the church, leaders (as under-shepherds) with the people, and the church with each other. And for Jesus, and his disiciples, the shepherding goes beyond the immediate flock of the church as well, calling any and all from anywhere and everywhere into flocks for the sake of their lives and safety.
It’s the reality of shepherding that Jesus referred to in calling himself “The Good Shepherd,” and in referring to the church as at once flock and a community of under-shepherds. It’s the reality of shepherding that drives the doctrinal and ministry foci for this day, and the formational work we are invited to engage with the newly baptized or confirmed for the coming week and then for the rest of our lives.
Doctrinal Focus: The Authority of Jesus
Look at what the authority of Jesus does in today’s Scriptures. In Acts 4, a man born with significant physical impairments and so doomed to a life of begging is completely healed. Then, in the face of threatening pressure from religious authorities, Peter and John name Jesus and his power as the ground upon which this healing has taken place. Then they make the boldest claim of all. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name given among mortals by which we must be saved” (4:12, NRSV).
In I John 3, our submission to the authority of Jesus, through obeying his commandments, frees us from self-condemnation and frees us up, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be bold toward God and bold in enacting love for our neighbors, even to the point of laying down our lives for them.
And in John’s gospel, we, the sheep, hear the voice of the Good Shepherd who invests his whole life in us, and we follow where he leads as he brings us with others of other folds into one flock (10:16).
The authority of the Good Shepherd comes precisely from the fact of what he has done and continues to do among us—investing everything in us, even to the point of his own death, that we might be a sound and united flock.
This makes the authority of Jesus very different from other authorities we typically encounter among the powerful. Their authority is often largely grounded in self-preservation (turning stone to bread), self-interest (jump off the pinnacle) or self-aggrandizement (“Worship me and all this will be yours,” said the tempter). Their authority often comes off as authoritarian. Most often, we function as pawns in their games rather than as participants in the game we are all playing together for the common good of all, even if they claim their efforts are for the common good.
Not so with the authority of Jesus. It is no less authoritative, and we are called to obey his commandments and follow where he leads. But he does not lead for himself or for some against others. He leads that we all may experience the fullness of salvation, individually and collectively. His leadership is not invested merely in his vision, but directly in us, just as he invested himself directly in the lives of his first disciples. He does not walk or run away when danger threatens. He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death, and so shows us how God’s authority to deliver us and the universe truly works.
The authority of Jesus stems from and is his total investment of himself for the sake of the salvation of the world and each of us in it.
For the sake of his mission and ours as his disciples, it is essential that we be clear what is and is not reflective of the authority of Jesus. Healing, confrontation of those who resist or reject healing, deliverance from sin’s power, and creating and sustaining a united flock are signs of the authority of Jesus, grounded in his total self-investment in the salvation of the world. Jesus is clear that appearing to take strong stands but running away at the appearance of threat are not.
In Your Planning Team
It is critical for all Christians, especially the newly baptized or confirmed, to understand the authority of Jesus aright. As Matthew 28:19 reminds us, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to Jesus. But the nature of that authority is never about “lording it over” others, or using others to one’s own benefit. Rather, the nature of that authority is found in how committed he was to demonstrating God is out to save us and the universe entirely and in every way, and in the process to make of us “one well-shepherded flock.” Jesus never shows off. Instead, he shows up those who do by his unflagging investment of himself for the salvation of the world.
One effective way to help people connect with a solid versus a distorted view of the nature of Christ’s authority as Good Shepherd is through hymnody. There are plenty of “Good Shepherd” hymns to accompany the texts for today, many of them quite familiar. Some of these reinforce the nature of the authority our Good Shepherd has among us, grounded in his fierce love for us and commitment to our salvation. Yet some of these may teach or seem to teach Christ’s shepherding role as sheer gentleness (real shepherds have to use some force at times to get the sheep in line or out of harm’s way!). Others may over-emphasize our dependence and weakness, denying the reality that the sheep in a well-shepherded flock tend to become stronger and wiser over time, a parallel to the process of sanctifying grace at work in our lives.
In addition to working with hymns, work again with testimonies. There are people in your congregation or community who have stories to tell about the ways in which the authority of Christ described in these texts—an authority grounded in Christ’s unfailing investment in their salvation and bearing fruit in healing, growth in faithfulness and boldness (Acts), and an increase in their actions demonstrating God’s love toward others (I John). Some of these may come from members of your planning team. Send out members of your team to collect others. While you may not use all of these in worship today, use at least two or three, and then continue to tell these stories in formational groups and in other media or teaching interactions you have with the congregation during the week as living signs of the authority of Christ active and alive in your midst today.
Ministry Focus: Serving for the Sake of the Flock
As we respond to the authority of Christ in the way I John in particular calls us to do so, by practical, hands-on obedience to his commandment to love one another, we are also called to do so as he did, investing his all for the sake of the whole flock.
Jesus “laid down his life for the sheep” (John 10:15). He not only did this himself, he did so to show us how to do the same thing and to empower us to do it. (I John 3:16).
We often get tripped up on this language of “laying down our life.” We get tripped up in part because we associate this action of “laying down life” solely with choosing to die or putting oneself in harm’s way or being destroyed on behalf of another. But this is not, and cannot be, the primary meaning of this phrase in context. The words themselves do not point solely or even primarily to death.
Think about it. How good or helpful is a shepherd if, at the first sign of threat of wolf, the shepherd chooses to let the wolf kill him or her? Not so good or helpful, right?
No, the shepherd who lays down one’s life for the sheep is one who invests fully in the good of the whole flock and each member of it. It takes both great commitment and great skill to learn how to do this wisely and well. This is the very commitment and skill Jesus offered to his own disciples as he sought to help them learn to do the works he did, and greater works still (John 14:12).
Our side of the investment, and so our first response to the authority of Jesus is, as I John reminds, to learn and obey his commandment to love in truth and action just as he had done. (I John 3:18). It takes both our commitment to Jesus and learning over time, growing better in our own skills of loving as Jesus has taught them and teaches them still to enable us to become investors in others as he invested himself in us. We do not magically gain these skills all at once by some sort of “divine transaction” or some set of “magic words” we say to God about Jesus. We do it as we submit ourselves to the instruction of Jesus as he, with his body, the church, in the power of the Holy Spirit, continues to disciple us in his way.
This is an important word for the newly baptized. Sometimes we may approach baptism as “arriving” at some destination. No matter our age at the time we receive it, baptism is not arrival. It is initiation. It is a kick-start into a new way of life. But this is a new way of life we must still learn how to navigate, and we learn to navigate it precisely as we learn to submit to the commandments of Jesus.
And not simply to the commandments, but to the aim of Jesus in giving these commandments and the gifts of the Spirit for our ministries in his name in the first place—for the good of the whole flock.
Jesus invested himself fully in his disciples, who invested themselves fully in those they discipled, down to those who may have invested themselves in discipling us—so we will learn and grow skillful in our capacity to do the same for others— the one flock God is gathering in Christ, and in particular the parts of the flock God makes possible for us to become invested in ourselves through our lives and gifts.
In Your Planning Team
Worship is the work of all the people offering their gifts to God with the whole community the best way you and they can.
And one of the engines of this self-offering is testimony.
This week’s ministry focus cries out not simply for the teaching of the pastor, but the testimony of those who are living the way today’s Scriptures call for—those who are submitting to the commandment of Christ and investing their lives in others for the sake of the flock.
What do these people have to say about the boldness or freedom of spirit they find as they keep Christ’s commandments? How do these people love in truth and action, not just in words? And what stories do they have to share about how, in the course of investing themselves in others, they’ve actively fended off a wolf or two?
What hymns sing their faith as they continue to invest themselves fully in others to disciple them in the way of Jesus and teach them to do the same?
Let what you find from the abundant witness of the Holy Spirit’s work in your midst become the raw materials for what you will together design to offer back to our Good Shepherd in gratitude and commitment to continue to follow his way.
Finally, today’s reading from Acts is a response to an act of healing. Might you consider offering a rite of healing as part of today’s service in response to the Word, or as stations to which one might go for healing prayer after Holy Communion?
Greeting: BOW 381 (John)
Greeting: BOW 456 (Acts)
Opening Prayer: BOW 393 (2/3 down, just above Sunday after Ascension, Acts, John)
Opening Prayer: BOW 460 (3rd from bottom, “O God our Guide and Guardian” Psalm, 1 John)
WORD AND RESPONSE
Canticle: UMH 646, "Canticle of Love" (1 John)
Prayer: UMH 457, "For the Sick" (Acts)
Prayer: UMH 460, "In Time of Illness" (Psalm)
Prayer: BOW 506, "For the Church" (Acts)
Prayer: BOW 507/508, "For Creation" (1 John)
Prayer: BOW 518, "For Others" (1 John)
Prayer: BOW 529, "A Prayer of Saint Patrick" (Psalm, John)
Prayer: BOW 546, "For Those Who Suffer" (Acts)
Prayer of Intercession: BOW 399, Week 4 (Psalm, John)