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.

What is a Good Shepherd ?

John 10:1-20

  • He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (v3)
  • When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice (v11)
  • A willingness to lay down his life for the sheep (v11).
  • Personal knowledge of the sheep (v14). I know my sheep and my sheep know me
  • A missionary heart for other sheep (v16)

Psalm 23

In this passage, God is described as a shepherd who cares for his sheep. The speaker of the psalm (presumably David, the author of many of the psalms) identifies himself as a sheep who is under God’s care. Here are some of the ways in which God is depicted as a shepherd in this passage:

  • God provides for his sheep’s needs (“I shall not want”), leading them to green pastures and still waters where they can find rest and refreshment.
  • God guides his sheep on the right path (“he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness”), correcting and restoring them when they go astray.
  • God protects his sheep from danger, even in the midst of the darkest valley (“though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me”).
  • God provides comfort and sustenance in times of hardship (“thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”; “thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies”).
  • God promises to care for his sheep always, and to welcome them into his house (“surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”).

Another passage in the Old Testament where God is depicted as a shepherd is Ezekiel 34. In this chapter, God rebukes the leaders of Israel for their failure to care for their people and promises to be a shepherd to them himself. Here are some of the ways in which God is described as a shepherd in Ezekiel 34:

  • God seeks out his lost sheep, rescuing them from danger and bringing them back to safety (“I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away”).
  • God provides for his sheep’s needs, giving them food and water and protecting them from predators (“I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel”).
  • God cares for his sheep’s physical and emotional well-being, healing their wounds and strengthening the weak (“I will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick”).
  • God judges between the strong and the weak, ensuring that justice is done and that the vulnerable are protected (“I will judge between cattle and cattle, and between rams and he goats”).
  • God promises to be with his people always, watching over them and bringing them to a place of safety and abundance (“And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods

“I am the Gate”

Summary – I am the Gate by Debie Thomas published in “Journey with Jesus”

“In ten verses of packed metaphor, John gives us sheep, a sheepfold, a shepherd, a gate, a gatekeeper, a pasture, a sneaky band of thieves and bandits, and an even more sinister group of smooth-tongued “strangers.” At one point, the Gospel writer comes right out and says, “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying.” No kidding!

“For me, a particular revelation of Jesus happened when I thought about the metaphors in this Gospel passage alongside <a href=Frykholm’s article about the tenacious little border church between the United States and Mexico. Suddenly, as I imagined eager, loving hands reaching through small gaps in a cold, steel barrier, as I pictured the insistent sharing of song, prayer, bread, and wine across a bleak, intractable border, the resonance of Jesus’s metaphor hit me full force. “I am the gate.” Not, “I am the wall, the barrier, the enclosure, the dividing line.” Not, “I am that which separates, isolates, segregates, and incarcerates.” I am the gate. The door. The opening. The passageway. The place where freedom begins.

“What is it in me that resists the open gate? Where in my life am I walled off, closed to change, averse to movement, risk, freedom, joy? What flock do I belong to, and whose voice do I follow most readily? What calls to me, making seductive promises I shouldn’t trust? Do I know the shepherd well enough to recognize his call? Am I willing to leave the fold in order to find pasture, or am I too complacent, scared, suspicious, and jaded to pursue abundant life?

“For almost ten years now, a group of Christians have gathered on Sunday mornings at Friendship Park, a plaza along the U.S-Mexico border wall, to share worship and Communion. Apparently, this “border church” has survived every obstacle the U.S Border Patrol and shifting United States/Mexico relations have thrown at it.

Where others see a place of crime, fear, death, and hopelessness, Fanestil [one of the founders insists that those who gather for worship and Communion each week see “a place of encounter, exchange, friendship, and fellowship.” In other words, they make it their practice to see Jesus. Jesus, the gate. Unlocked. Wide open. Inviting. Free. May we have eyes to see him, too.

“Needless to say, most of us — left to ourselves — don’t associate “gates” with freedom. We think of bars and locks and alarms and enclosures. We imagine toddler gates, maybe, or puppy training gates. Prison gates and “gated communities.” But what if Jesus is a different kind of gate? A gate that opens out instead of closing in? Not the barrier itself, but the aperture in it? A place of release? Movement? Spaciousness? Liberty? “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

Easter 4, Year A, April 30

I.Theme –   Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the many ways this is fulfilled.

 "Jesus the Good Shepherd" Jacques Le Breton and Jean Gaudin (1933)

The lectionary readings are here  or individually: 

Old Testament – Acts 2:42-47
Psalm – Psalm 23, Page 612
Epistle –1 Peter 2:19-25
Gospel – John 10:1-10 

The first weeks from Easter were different lenses on the resurrection and appearances of the Risen Lord, first with Thomas and then the Road to Emmaus. After this Sunday attention will turn to the teachings of the departing Jesus and the role of the Holy Spirit in preparation for Pentecost. But this week its the shepherd/ sheep image as a way of talking about the enduring and deep connection of Jesus and those who follow him

Psalm 23 provides the role of God as good shepherd in terms of  defense (protection amd care and the idea we having nothing to fear) but also in direction ( guidance, reviving our lives).  

The final verse of the Epistle makes the connection to Good Shepherd Sunday. "For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls." Suffering isolates. This passage and Christian faith connect and keep us connected when suffering.

John’s reading speaks of Jesus as both the Shepherd and the gate. The connection is both personal and loving.   "He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."   We have to listen to his voice and watch out for strangers. There are those who are false shepherds, who are more interested in themselves than in caring for the sheep.

The final verse, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" is a good corrective to what can be an overemphasis on selflessness, self-sacrifice, deprivation and denial as the sign of true faith.  Jesus speaks of abundance not in terms of material goods but a fullness in life.

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Abundant Life: SALT’s Commentary for Easter 4

Shepherdess with a Flock of Sheep, by Anton Mauve, c. 1870-88, Dutch painting, oil on canvas

Link to SALT Project

Easter 4 (Year A): John 10:1-10

Big Picture:

1) This is the fourth of the seven weeks of Eastertide. The gospel readings for the first three weeks were resurrection appearance stories; the next four weeks, between now and Pentecost, will explore Jesus’ teachings about living in intimacy with God.

2) Many early followers of Jesus would have been familiar with describing the promised Messiah as a caring and skillful “shepherd”: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel each use such language, and likewise, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah contrast the divine shepherd with “worthless shepherds” who neglect, exploit, and scatter the flock. For listeners today, Psalm 23 (this week’s psalm) is likely the best-known reference to God as a shepherd, with the “rod and staff” evoking the hazards of the wilderness: the rod for fending off wolves and lions, and the staff for rescuing sheep trapped in thickets or crevasses.

3) In the passage immediately following this one, Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd” — and the Greek word in that phrase translated as “good” (kalos) means not “morally good” but rather “real and proper” or “true,” as in, “I am the true shepherd” or “I am the genuine shepherd.” And what is that, exactly? In this week’s passage, Jesus defines “good shepherding” this way: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd…” (John 10:10b-11).

4) And what is “abundant life”? As we’ll see in the weeks ahead, the abundance Jesus has in mind isn’t a life of material wealth, but rather of love and intimacy with God, like the trusting companionship of sheep and shepherd. An intimacy so close, Jesus will go on to say, as to be a kind of symbiotic communion, comparable to the relationship between a vine and its branches (John 15:5).

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The 23rd Psalm Sung by Bobby McFerrin

From the SALT Project. “From the SALT project. “Bobby McFerrin’s virtuosic reimagining of that ancient, beloved song.

“The translation helps us hear the lyrics afresh, and the musical setting helps us feel the song’s emotional depths, echoing across the centuries.”

Bobby McFerrins VOCAbuLarieS featuring SLIXS & Friends, live in Gdansk, Poland at the Solidarity of Arts Festival, 17 August 2013

Exhibition : The Lord is My Shepherd

This is from the Visual Commentary on Scripture, a web based museum on topics in scripture.

Click the link to to the exbhiti: The Lord is my Shepherd

The exhibit has a drop link (“Exhibition Menu”) to the scripture passage, commentary, an comparative commentary.

Most artworks inspired by Psalm 23 (or commissioned to illuminate it) prioritize either the pastoral side of the Psalm (as in the case of the Parma illumination) or the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ of Psalm 23:4 and its attendant imagery (as in the Stuttgart illumination).

1. Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1855, Salted paper print by Roger Fenton

2 The Parma Psalter, 13th century, Illuminated manuscript

3. Psalm 23, from the Stuttgarter Psalter, First half of the 9th century, Illuminated manuscript

Maximilian Kolbe – a caring shepherd among his people

From a sermon by Rev. William D. Oldland, "Jesus is the Shepherd and the Gate"  about Maximiliam Kolbe 

"His life exemplifies the role of a caring shepherd for his flock. His life is also a gate or perhaps a gateway through which we can see the effect of the incredible love of God. 

 "The priest’s name was Maximilian Kolbe. He was born in 1894 in Poland. His parents were poor. His father was a weaver. At an early age he had a vision. He had prayed to Mary and asked what was to become of him. In response Mary came to him in this vision holding two crowns. One was red and the other was white. The white one symbolized perseverance in purity and the red one meant martyrdom. She asked which one he would choose. He said he would accept them both. This decision shaped his future actions and would one day come true. 

 " In 1910, he entered the Franciscan order and he was ordained a priest in 1919 in Rome. On his return to Poland he was a teacher of church history and he built a friary outside of Warsaw. The friary grew until it housed 762 Franciscans. He went to Japan and India and started friaries there as well. In 1936, he returned to supervise the friary in Warsaw. When Germany invaded he sent the friars home to protect them. He was a good shepherd to his flock. He was imprisoned for a while. But when he was released he went back to the friary where he took in three thousand refugees. 2,000 of these refugees were Jewish. Those friars who worked with him shared all they had with the refugees. They shared their clothing, the little food that they had, and anything else that was useful.

 " As you can imagine the Germans became suspicious and in 1941 they closed the friary arresting Maximilian and four other brothers. They were all transported to Auschwitz. At the camp Maximilian endured many hardships. No one had enough food. Clothing was inadequate for the cold. Shelter was not much help from the cold either. Maximilian was known to move among the prisoners with gentleness. At night he did not rest. He moved from bunk to bunk identifying himself as a priest and asking if they needed anything from him. He listened to confessions and heard their pleas for consolation. He continued to be a shepherd to his flock.

 " Father Kolbe also endured personal pain. An SS officer saw him one day. He chose the heaviest boards he could find. He loaded them on Father Kolbe’s back and made him run with the load. When he fell the officer kicked him in the stomach and face. He ordered the soldiers to give him fifty lashes. Father Kolbe lost consciousness and the soldiers left him in the mud for dead. Some prisoners snuck him into the infirmary.

 " Here is where we see the gateway begin to open. Even though Father Kolbe was beaten horribly, he endured all of the hardship. He pleaded with the other prisoners to forgive the persecutors, to pray for them, and to overcome their evil with good. Whenever he was beaten, he did not cry out. He prayed for them. He was always the last to seek help for his injuries. Everyone else had to go first. Do we begin to see the gateway? Can we see where Jesus has called this man? Do we see how Jesus is with this man? Even in the pain, even in the heart of this incredible darkness, Jesus’ light shines out as a beacon of love. This man lives the faith he believes. Yet, this story is not over.

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