The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
April 25, 2021
Fourth Sunday of Easter
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
you know our names;
you care for us.
When we face darkness and death,
walk beside us.
When we hunger for your love,
fill us with your presence.
When we are fearful,
feed us at your table.
May we dwell in the house of goodness and mercy
all the days of our lives. Amen.
PRELUDE Lauda Anima John Barr
CALL TO WORSHIP
The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want.
God leads us into green pastures and beside still waters;
God restores our soul and leads us in right paths.
Even though we walk through the difficult valley, we fear no evil; for you are with us; your rod and your staff — they comfort us.
You prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies; you anoint our head with oil; our cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord our whole life long.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
God is the Good Shepherd and knows our needs. God leads us into green pastures and beside still waters, and sustains us when we are in trouble. But, consumed by our own interests, we don’t see God’s presence, nor do we attend to our neighbor in need. Our God is merciful, eager to forgive, if only we would repent and confess our sin. Confident in God’s mercy, let us offer the good confession before God and one another.
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
O God, you are the Good Shepherd who attend to our needs, but we fail to see your abundant life in our midst. We see only scarcity. Our consumer culture has engraved upon us the message that we are “not enough” — not beautiful or handsome enough, not smart enough, not rich enough. At the core of our being, we believe that we are “not enough.” Help us to see that we are your beloved children, created in your image. And help us to live out of your goodness. Amen.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The psalmist tells us that God’s goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. Friends, believe this good news. Believe that God’s mercy is sure, and that God’s goodness will fill our lives and empower us to love God and neighbor as ourselves.
PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
In sharing the peace of Christ, we express the reconciliation, unity, and love that come only from God, and we open ourselves to the power of God’s love to heal our brokenness and make us agents of that love in the world. Since God has forgiven us in Christ, let us forgive one another. The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
ANTHEM “Empty Now” Joseph Martin
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Almighty God, open our eyes, our hearts and our minds to hear, see and know your Word as we read the words of Scripture. Empower us with the wisdom to hear, see and know what the Spirit is saying to the church. Amen.
SCRIPTURE John 10:11-18
11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.16I 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. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Author Michelle Minutillo tells the story of her parents selling her grandmother’s house. It was an emotional process for many reasons — she passed away only months ago from COVID-19, and her home was the last tangible thing that we had of her.
That was the home where she entertained, and the last space she shared with my grandfather before he passed away. It was where she cultivated her garden and made her pasta, and enjoyed reading outside beneath her favorite tree.
Her house always smelled of onions and garlic and spices that you couldn’t quite name, but if you could take a bite out of the air, you would — that’s how good it smelled. It was warm, and it was inviting; it was home.
When my parents decided to sell the house, my mom was searching to find people who really would love the home that my grandmother built. Part of her grieving process was needing to find a buyer that would love those walls and that kitchen and that garden just as her mother did — she took comfort in that. Eventually, the right couple found them, and my mother was in love.
These were the people that were supposed to have my grandmothers’ house. These were the people who would continue to make sure her garden flourished. These were the ones who were going to enjoy the home, just as my grandmother had done. After they met the buyers for the first time, my husband and I met my parents for dinner. At dinner, they told us about this couple. Not just generic, tiny details, but they essentially knew their life story. They knew their careers, and their change in careers, and their political affiliation, and their religion, and the names of their children and their grandchildren, and what they were doing in their spare time. They knew all of this after just one meeting.
At one point, my husband and I started laughing, and naturally, my parents wanted to know what was so funny. We reminded them how it was a marvelous thing to see how much they had learned about these people after one afternoon, and that their ability to find out so much about these people so quickly was nothing short of a superpower. They have an uncanny ability to connect with people, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve known them for fifty years or five minutes — everyone who meets them tells them their life story. And they do so because they listen.
They listen without judgment, or pretense, or ulterior motive. They listen — not to indoctrinate, come up with a witty retort, or insert their own story. They listen so that whoever is sharing their words, hearts, and stories, feels seen, heard, and loved. When we listen to others, whether it be a stranger that we meet as we go about our day, or a friend or a family member who is in the thicket of struggle or just simply needing to share whatever is pressing upon their heart at that moment, we pave the way for effective communication. And when we communicate effectively, we create a world where dreams know no limits, and potential has no end.
We are invited to listen. Not to indoctrinate. Not to come up with a witty retort. Not to insert our own story. We listen… and that is one of the main themes of our text for today. One of the most fascinating realities of this text is in plain sight. Jesus’ claims point to one key fact that permeates this passage: recognition of the shepherd’s voice (verse 16).
Embedded in this statement is a basic fact recognized and studied in the field of speech communication: listening. Prior to recognizing and responding to a sound, one must listen.
In their pioneering research work Listening, co-authors Wolvin and Coakley identify five basic types of listening:
These interrelated types start with the very basic ability of an individual to hear sounds and then move to other tiers of analysis, critique, concern, and appreciation. If the link between Jesus and his flock is mediated by recognition of the Master’s voice, what does that mean for the kind of spiritual listening involved in responding to him?
In a culture and church which is heavily focused on word and speaking, the emphasis on listening as a prior condition and state can be overlooked. Yet, listening has a rich spiritual and personal biblical history and in the area of spiritual formation and discernment. It is the prior requirement for any type of effective speaking environment. The call is to listen, first!
Certainly, the ability to recognize the shepherd’s voice at all is what preaching the Gospel is about. We daringly claim to speak for God, by our voice to bring the Voice which calls us to life, salvation, new hope, and safety. It is a voice which the Church has had the wisdom to recognize must be spoken repeatedly without cessation to all who recognize it and to those who are unfamiliar with it. It is that same shepherd’s voice that prompts Christians to say to one another, “We have heard the Lord!” BUT are we listening OR… Are there other voices that call your name these days? Are there other voices that try to keep your attention, drawing you away from listening to the voice of the Shepherd??
I imagine you, too, have noticed what I have noticed: we live in a loud, loud world with many, many voices clamoring for both our attention and our allegiance. Many voices promising that if we will just listen to them, then our needs will be met, our lives will have meaning, and everything will be OK. There are lots of voices out there trying to drown out the voice of our Shepherd. For example, you know what voice I hear speaking quite loudly and quite often these days? Fear’s voice. I hear Fear’s voice almost everywhere I turn, and I am not the only one. The voice of fear has been heard in communities like:
Fort Worth TX
Rock Hill, SC
“Everyone is afraid,” people are saying. Folks are afraid their city is going to deal with another mass shooting, more police violence or political protest that becomes violent. They are afraid of each other; they are afraid of the system; they are afraid of their own rage exacerbated by the death of neighbors. And many of us clergy are deeply concerned, because we know that if the voice of Fear is not kept in check, it will behave just like the thief that can come in the night: it will destroy friendships, communities, and lives.
It is true. Once Fear starts speaking and commands the microphone in the room, a particular cadence, a distinctiveness, begins to emerge in the conversation. You’ve probably noticed that whenever Fear is the main voice we hear and the primary voice to which we pay attention, the whole discussion changes quickly, even if we don’t realize it until much later. For example, once Fear starts to speak, what had been a regular, healthy discussion or debate about police policy or justice or institutional racism quickly changes into a discussion about “those people,” said with that tone.
You’ve heard Fear switch things up like that, haven’t you? It does not matter on which side of the political or theological aisle you stand. Fear does not care if you are conservative or liberal. Fear does not care about the color of your skin or the amount of money you have in the bank. If given a hearing, Fear is an equal opportunity deceiver. But we can usually tell it is Fear who is talking and not the Good Shepherd because the God-given humanity of all those involved starts to get stripped away. The conversation morphs from dialogue into an “us vs. them” monologue. We start to define ourselves over and against the other perspective or person in a way that discounts God’s ability to be at work in them, too. We no longer see “those people,” whoever they are, as a part of the flock. And it is dangerous.
Jesus was serious when he warned that the thief comes in to steal and kill and destroy. We see that kind of destruction every time we allow our personal discourse or our national discourse to be dominated by the sneaky cadence of Fear, allowing it to crowd out the voice of the Shepherd. Soon, with Fear as our leader, we start to spend our days living protectively and reactively, “othering” people rather than seeing them as neighbors, part of the fold. We become numb to the “others’” humanity, thereby cutting off our own. As my friend in other community know, living in a way that allows the voice of Fear to dominate is not an abundant way to live. It is not the life we have been given to live. But Fear’s voice is crying out all over the place these days. But, we are called to listen for the voice of God. The voice of the good shepherd. The voice that reaches out to people like Samuel.
A thousand years before Jesus attends confirmation class at the Temple, the boy Samuel has trouble listening. He grew up in the Temple with the priest Eli, who had gotten on in years. One night, at the time when he is around the same age as the young Jesus in the Temple, Samuel is lying down when a voice calls out his name. Thinking Eli has summoned him, Samuel goes to the priest, who tells him he did not call.
Samuel returns to bed, and once more he hears, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Again, Eli says he has not called him. It happens a third time, and finally the old priest Eli realizes what’s happening: God is calling the boy, but Samuel is simply not able to listen and understand. He doesn’t hear God’s voice, because Samuel assumes God would never be speaking to him.
With Eli’s help, Samuel – whose name means, ironically, God hears – is learning to listen. Learning to listen is not merely a helpful tool on the journey of faith – it is the heart of the journey of faith. When we learn to listen, we begin to experience, and open ourselves up to, the holy.
“Speak,” Samuel says finally, “For your servant is listening.”
When Samuel learns to listen, he finds direction and purpose. He discovers God’s claim on his life, and moves beyond his own little cocooned world. Listening breaks the bubble. When we listen to one another, we can’t help but move outside our protected versions of reality. By pausing to listen, we’re invited into someone else’s worldview, and if, like Samuel, we’re able to hear it, then we may be changed by it. Let us listen for the Good Shepherd’s voice!
Commentary provided by Timothy Hart-Andersen, Megan Minutillo, Shannon J. Kerschner, Meda Stamper, Samuel Cruz, Scott Hoezee, Nancy Rockwell, David Lose, Karoline Lewis & Susan Hedahl
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Apostles’ Creed
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
God of the Easter season, you come to us with resurrection life to liberate us from all that enslaves us in patterns of racialized and economic violence, and from all that keeps us from the fullness of life you desire for all of your children and for the earth itself. Help us to see that you are the Good Shepherd whose goodness and mercy follow us all of our days. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for your church throughout the globe amid this pandemic. Empower us to serve you faithfully, and be the place where wounds are touched, attended to, released, liberated and redeemed. And we pray for countries who have not yet received an equitable supply of the COVID-19 vaccine. Give us, your church, a spirit of justice so that we can witness to officials who are responsible for just distribution of this needed vaccine so that equitable sharing will be the norm and not an afterthought. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for the people in every nation throughout the earth. May we seek your common life and work for justice and peace for all your people and not just the few. Enable us to
be in solidarity with those whose rights have been abused or rejected, so that we may be a witness to justice. And we pray for those whose lives have been traumatized by gun violence — may we be agents of nonviolence in places of deep brokenness. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Empower us to live according to your Great Commandment — to love you with our whole being, and to love others as ourselves. Help us to trust that your future is struggling toward realization even now in our midst. We pray all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray saying, Our Father…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
The flowers are given in the glory and honor of God for Jean Davis.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
God has given to us freely of the goodness of God’s creation. We now return a portion of these goods in the hope and promise that these resources will service God’s commonwealth in our church, community and world.
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Creator, Liberator and Redeemer God, we pray for the wisdom to be good stewards the gifts you have given to us. Take these gifts, we pray, bless and use them to benefit others and to empower our work for justice in the church and in the world. Amen.
Go forth into the world in peace,
knowing that God’s goodness and mercy follow us.
Lift up the broken-hearted.
Stand with the oppressed.
And let us do everything out of the love of God,
which we know in Jesus Christ, our Lord.