This reflection was given by our ALM Carol on Sunday 8 May 2022. Here it is for you again:
In our Gospel reading today Jesus is walking in the temple and is again questioned by the Jews if he is the Messiah. He answers by asking them, and us, if we believe we belong to his flock of sheep. He says that his sheep know him hear his voice and follow him. He will never leave them and will give eternal life to all who follow.
This reminds us of Psalm 23 which we will sing today in 2 different ways, a Psalm most of us will have learnt off by heart from a very young age and sung at many different services. Psalm 23 is popular for good reason. It speaks of God’s care, his guiding, and leading during times of trouble.
Over the past 2 years during the pandemic, I am sure many have been reminded of this. Our world, both global and local, has been hugely changed. We still see Covid statistics flashing before our eyes for the first time in generations. Governments are taking on huge loans that’ll take decades to repay. Major companies have had massive losses, transport prices are skyrocketing. Many local businesses face struggles, and the troubles flow on into the lives of ordinary people, into our community. It’s hard to pay the rent when you don’t have a job.
Today all of us are seeing all manner of troubles. Perhaps you’ve sat with someone at their bedside in hospital. Maybe you’ve walked with a friend through some devastating news. Perhaps you’ve found yourselves in what this Psalm calls a ‘dark valley.’ The question we all must grapple with is this: Is there a way through our troubles? Is there help? Can anyone hear our cries? Is there someone able to lead us and care for us, especially when troubles overwhelm and surround us?
The good news is that the LORD is our Shepherd. Our Shepherd provides, guides, and protects, and blesses his sheep forever. We know this to be true, Jesus says if you believe, you will hear His voice and find comfort. You will follow Him, and the Good Shepherd will look after you eternally. We are His flock.
Jesus is also telling the doubters that He is one with God, that He knows his followers, and that they know Him. He is continuing a strand of teaching from earlier in the chapter; using the same vivid image of sheep to describe his followers. And He is declaring that He knows all who follow Him, and they know Him for who he is. Jesus is once again providing proof that his actions are sanctioned by God.
Again, we hear the allusion to a thief coming to steal the sheep of Jesus’ flock, but his followers are protected by One who is more powerful than any thief coming to do them harm. There are two marks to being part of Jesus’ flock: hearing his voice and following him. The folks who are once again pestering him about his identity are not part of this flock.
All people have known hard times, some more than others, some may have been afflicted by disease and lost loved ones, been addicted and known loss, who have not felt protected from loved ones who abuse or belittle them. This is the context into which we are called to bring the Gospel message of peace and grace. This is the context into which we are called to bring a word of hope. We are called to help folks hear the voice of the shepherd and to follow him in their lives.
So how do we do this? We do it by being aware of what is going on in our communities and being true to that reality. We do it by providing a way out of the lostness of the dark valley — by providing again or for the first time a chance to be invited into a relationship with God. We do this by reminding our people of the gifts of God’s unmerited grace and forgiveness. We do that by once again bringing our people to the table to remember the abundant hope we receive from the body and blood of Christ shared in the sacrament.
Today also, we have brought back the Laying on of Hands during Communion, for the first time since March 2020, and hope that you will take advantage of the Healing Prayer offered here for you as individuals, to help you through the good and bad times in your life today.
“He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. “
Notice the word surely in this passage, not maybe or perhaps; it’s for sure, it’s definite that goodness and mercy will follow you all your days, just trust and believe in our Lord the Good Shepherd. We are His flock, we hear His voice, we only have to listen.
Lord, we would follow you wherever you might lead. Lord, we would follow you.
Forgive us when we stumble and when we stray.
Forgive us when, distracted we lose our way.
Be the one to whom we turn, whose hand we hold, the Shepherd who leads us
safely to the fold.
Lord, we would follow you wherever you might lead. Amen