We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Lectionary, Easter 4, Year B

I.Theme –   The Good Shepherd

 Mafa – I am the Good Shepherd

“Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.’" – John 10:11,16 

The lectionary readings are here  or individually:

First Reading – Acts 4:5-12
Psalm – Psalm 23
Epistle –1 John 3:16-24
Gospel – John 10:11-18 

Easter 4 is traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday. Today’s readings assure us of God’s constant, shepherd-like care. In his sermon in Acts, Peter preaches that salvation is to be found in Jesus Christ of Nazareth, crucified, but raised from death by God. The author of 1 John tells us that, because of God’s love shown in Jesus, we are now God’s children. In the gospel, Jesus explains how he, as our Good Shepherd, lays down his life because he cares for his sheep.

The image of the shepherd can be difficult to understand. The metaphor of the shepherd has at times been sentimentalized and at other times abused. 

Given that tension, what can we learn from today’s gospel? One of its most heartening aspects is the utter commitment of the Shepherd. Some of us might resent being diminished by the comparison to witless sheep. Yet all of us can respond with gratitude to a committed friend. The special people in our lives who know when we need a joke or a nudge, a compliment or a challenge; those who can both laugh and cry with us; those who give us perspective when we’ve lost ours: they are gift. To have as guide One who is the source and inspiration of all those gifts is blessing indeed.

We have been fortunate in our own day to see models lay down their lives for others. Martyrs in Central America and Africa are dramatic examples. Yet in unspectacular ways, ordinary people sacrifice daily for their children, their coworkers, their friends and relatives. Laying down one’s own life may be as simple as pausing to hear the leisurely unfolding of another person’s story when time pressures mount. Or it may be as complex as financing another’s education. But the surrenders we can observe so often around us prove that giving one’s life is both possible and practical.

A second noteworthy element is the lack of coercion exerted by the Shepherd. His voice is all, and it is enough. We often meet with resistance when we try to persuade another. We also witness the remarkable change that inner motivation can produce. Jesus knows well the drawing power of love and the strength of people driven by love.

II. Summary

First Reading –  Acts 4:5-12

According to Luke, the arrest of Peter and John is instigated by the Sadducees. The Sadducees held only to the written law, rejected the oral tradition followed by the Pharisees and did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees taught a future general resurrection, but Peter and John proclaim resurrection as a present and life-giving reality in Jesus.

Psalm –  Psalm 23

This psalm is probably the most familiar and popular psalm of all. It celebrates God’s loving care for us under the guise of a good shepherd who provides food, security and protection from all dangers. God guides us on our journey through life so that we might “dwell in the house of the lord.”

There are 3 parts of this well known Psalm: 

v 1-3 – Testimony of psalmist – third person. Shepherd  

V 4-5 Psalmist experience – second person . Host 

V 6- Acknowledgment of God aid in praise and confidence for secure future 

This Psalm is almost universally recognized as a Psalm of Trust or confidence. 

The psalmist first makes a present confession of trust. It is usually considered a more specialized type of thanksgiving or todah psalm. God provides, guides and protects. First, it is a metaphorical way to express the psalmist’s own experience and faith in terms of the exodus tradition, which had become a paradigm of God’s care and grace for humanity 

Yet at the same time it places that personal experience in the larger context of reflecting upon and understanding the nature of God as revealed and affirmed in the experience of the community through history. 

God as a faithful shepherd provides for his sheep, and constantly cares for them. God as your Shepherd: 1) He provides for you (this is understood from verses 1-3a); The expression "I shall lack nothing" (v. 1b) recalls God’s provision for the Israelites in the exodus journey toward the land: "These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing The "pastures" or "meadows" (v. 2) that represent a place of security and plenty recall the "holy habitation [of shepherds]" in the Song of the Sea (Ex 15:13), a variation of the same word referring to the land of Canaan to which God led the Israelites after slavery in Egypt.. 2) He guides you (verse 3b), and 3) also associated with the exodus tradition, He protects you (verse 4).He revives our very lives (“soul”, v. 3), and guides us in godly ways (“right paths”). 

He guides us into a righteous life for the sake of His own reputation and He protects us, not by shielding us from difficulty, though He does at times, but by permitting in our lives only what is beneficial to us according to His good purpose for us. 

Even when beset by evil (“darkest valley”, v. 4), we have nothing to fear. God’s “rod” (a defence against wolves and lions) protects us; his “staff” (v. 4, for rescuing sheep from thickets) guides us. The feast (v. 5) is even more impressive, for it is in the presence of his foes. Kings were plenteously anointed with oil (a symbol of power and dedication to a holy purpose). May God’s “goodness and mercy” (v. 6, steadfast love) follow (or pursue) him (as do his enemies) throughout his life. He will continue to worship (“dwell …”) in the Temple as long as he lives. 

Notice the pilgrim trusted God not only to fill his need, but reveal loving care as he provided such need (“green pastures and safe waters”). The loving care extended to the “dark” times of danger, stress, and lack. The pilgrim trusted God would be always present in every situation, for that was the true meaning of pilgrimage: a journey to a specific religious shrine in response to the call of God. 

In short, the shepherd "keeps me alive". In the second section of the psalm (verses 5-6), the gracious host also provides the basic necessities of life – food ("a table"), drink ("my cup overflows"), and protection ("you anoint my head with oil") – leading to a situation of safety and security, or in short, life as God intends.

Epistle –   1 John 3:16-24

These verses discusses the mark of a Christian’s life—love. This love is the proof that Christians have passed from death to life. Refusal to love one another is tantamount to murder. True love for one another is manifested in action, modeled upon the experience of Jesus’ love for us. It is shown as self-sacrifice at the heroic level and in the daily exercise of generosity. Deeds, not devout protestations or guilty feelings, will reveal our true standing before God, who knows us better than we know ourselves.

Gospel –  John 10:11-18 

In the Old Testament, God is called the Shepherd of Israel, as is David or the Davidic Messiah. Today’s reading develops the figure of the shepherd of the sheep. Jesus is “the good shepherd” (v. 11). The word good more literally means “beautiful,” as in an ideal of perfection. Here it might be rendered as model. Jesus is the model shepherd, both because of his willingness to lay down his life and because of his intimate knowledge of his flock.

One practice that was common in Jesus’ day was the practice of combining flocks at night, so that shepherds could take turns keeping watch for predators. In this way, shepherds who had worked all day could get some sleep without having to worry about the safety of their sheep. Then in the morning, each shepherd could stand in a different part of the field surrounding the pen and call to his sheep with his distinctive voice or call or even piping on a simple instrument. The sheep all knew the distinctive call or voice of their shepherd and would follow the one who, they knew, kept them safe. 

Jesus and others call to us.  The collect for this week reflects this – "O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."  Which are the voices that give you life, and which are the voices that take life away from you? Can you discern the voice of the Good Shepherd in those voices, people, activities that put life into you (give you a sense of abundant life)? And can you discern the voice of the hired hand who might call to you and promise to lead you, but in the end will let you down and forsake you?

It is also interesting to note the difference between cattle herding and shepherding. Whereas cattle are often herded by “driving” them from behind on horseback, with whips and loud, threatening calls, sheep need to follow their shepherd. If the shepherd were to get behind the sheep and try to drive them like cattle, the sheep would all run to get around behind the shepherd. As some have pointed out, sheep don’t need to be threatened and driven by whips and yells. Instead, sheep seem to think of their shepherd as one of them, as one of the family, so to speak.

The intimacy between the shepherd and his flock parallels that between the Father and the Son. The purpose of this mutual knowledge is to bring Jesus’ followers, both the flock of Israel and the Gentile flocks, into union with him and with one another.

Thus, we can see why the collect of the day for Good Shepherd Sunday is so appropriate – we pray that we may know the one who calls us (recognize his voice or call), and we pray that we may follow where he leads (as opposed to being whipped and driven). 

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

First ReadingActs 4:5-12

PsalmPsalm 23  

Epistle  – 1 John 3:16-24 

Gospel  – John 10:11-18