THE FOURTH SUNDAY of the Easter season every year features the 23rd Psalm prominently and is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Thomas Merton prayed “You have a wild and crazy sheep in love with thorns and brambles…You have found me. All I have to do is stay found.” The good news for us is that God is good at finding us, is willing to search in the thorniest and brambliest places, and is not inclined to let anybody go. Ever.
CALL TO WORSHIP
Hear this morning, the call of Christ, the Good Shepherd.
Good Shepherd, speak to us, we who tend to tarry.
Come, I shall lead you beside the still waters.
Good Shepherd, speak to us, for we are given to lose heart.
Fear not. I shall restore your soul.
Good Shepherd, speak to us, for we are prone to wander.
I shall guide you along the paths of righteousness, for my name’s sake.
Good Shepherd, speak to us, we who lose our way.
Though you walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I am with you.
Good Shepherd, lead, we shall follow. Amen.
POEM: “All we like sheep”
Some go blithely among the hills,
the sun shines warm upon their backs.
Some are in the thickets and brambles.
Others have strayed and are alone —
do they know it? Some are with young.
Some bleat loudly as if to protest.
Some are soiled. Some are scarred.
Some are lighter. Some are darker.
Some run. Some follow. Some push.
Most of them keep their head down,
picking clover and the wild ramps.
All of them possess a certain sheep smell,
though some are more pungent than others.
One of them (and isn’t there always one?)
is interested in you. It twitches an ear
and comes toward you. That sheep is you.
God of lost sheep, find us, re-route us.
Quiet now our wandering minds,
O God, that we may hear Your voice.
As we pass places of darkness, seasons of isolation,
periods of sickness and gloom,
Good Shepherd-God, You are somehow both with us
and walking before us.
When we lose our way, may we experience the thrill,
the joy of being found.
Brace our hearts to trust and follow,
To see, even in troubled times,
that our cup runneth over.
Anticipating the good that is in store for us, O God,
And seeing anew, the blessings of Your love. Amen.
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HYMN: “In Heavenly Love Abiding”
Green pastures are before me,
which yet I have not seen;
bright skies will soon be o’er me,
where the dark clouds have been:
My life I cannot measure,
the path of life is free;
my Savior has my treasure,
and He will walk with me.
— ANNA LETITIA WARING, 1850
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ANTHEM: “The Lord is My Shepherd”
by Howard Goodall, © 2000, Faber Music / SATB, Solo, Keyboard, Orchestration available.
Performed here by the Choir of Wells Cathedral, Somerset, under the direction of Matthew Owens. Yes, it is the theme music for the great TV show, “The Vicar of Dibley.” (Lyrics from Psalm 23 below)
The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want;
He maketh me to lie down
in green pastures
He leadeth me beside
the still waters.
Yea, though I walk
through the valley
Of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil
For you are with me.
You will comfort me.
Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me
All the days of my life
And I will dwell
in the house of the Lord
(Words were drawn from the King James and New King James versions of Psalm 23)
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As sheep prone to wander, to tarry, and to lose our way,
may we experience this week the thrill of being found,
of being re-routed, of being led
toward the blessings of the Kingdom of God
in store for us all.
May we go under the guidance of the Good Shepherd.
May we go now in God’s peace.
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Thanks to Greg Funderburk for his contribution of the liturgies. Additional prayers, hymns, and anthems for Sunday can be found at Faithelement Resources for Worship. Greg is the Minister for Pastoral Care of South Main Baptist Church, Houston and author of two recent books, The Mourning Wave (a novel about the Galveston Storm of 1900) and Let It Be Said We’ve Borne It Well: Following God in the Time of COVID-19.