Worship Service for the 4th Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship on this 4th Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday, landing on April 21, 2024!

The worship bulletin for this service can be found here. In it, you will find the order and words of worship as well as the full sermon to follow along with. Alternatively, all the words that you need to know will appear on your screen, and the sermon is included on this page below the video.

For an enhanced online worship experience, if it is safe to do so you may have a candle in your space, lit at the beginning of the service and extinguished near the end after the sending hymn when the altar candles are extinguished. And you are also welcome to participate in communion by having something small to eat and drink ready to be consumed at the right time during the service. Further instruction will be given at the appropriate time.

May the love and welcome of the Good Shepherd be apparent to you, today and always!

Lord God, by the leading of your Spirit may we be able to hear your voice and follow in your paths all the days of our lives, through Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.  Amen.

So it’s no secret that I am a Transformers fan.  Just take a look at my office and my desk and you’ll see that I never really grew out of that part of my life.  Knowing this about me, you could imagine my excitement when they released the trailer for a new animated Transformers movie that is set to be released this September.  I’ve been waiting for this movie since they announced it about a year and a half ago, as it’s the first animated Transformers movie since the original Transformers: the Movie from 1986, and it was rumoured to be based on that original cartoon series that captured my heart all those years ago.

So when the trailer dropped this past Thursday I made sure to watch it without any distractions so I could soak it all in and see if this movie would be worth the wait.  And… well… it doesn’t look like it would be.  Different animation and voices aside, I can already tell that they’ve botched the characters, the story, the whole mythology around the Transformers.  So much so that I just might not even bother watching this movie in the theatres. 

This has been my problem with a lot of these movies that try to retell a story that has already been told.  When they take these artistic licenses to add more flare or excitement or just their own take on it, to me it feels like the movie is ruined.  It makes me think of the live action Transformers movies and how much I hated them.  Everything about the Transformers was changed so much that I wondered why they just didn’t give the movie a different and original name and create their own universe, instead of hijacking one that is already so loved and butchering it beyond recognition.

And this isn’t just with the Transformers franchise, but many of the movies that are based on some kind of pre-existing thing, whether it be books, comics, or even other movies, always seem to go too far in changing things away from how they’re supposed to be.  It’s like they don’t care about the source material anymore but just want to ride on its popularity rather than being faithful in their reproduction of something that is already so great.

Anyway, I can go on and on about these atrocities, but many of my friends would just shake their heads, roll their eyes, and call me a fanatic.  I don’t know if I’d go that far, I mean I’d call myself a fan for sure, but a fanatic would be more like someone who reads up on all this stuff, knows more about it than what would be considered normal, and maybe complains a bit too loudly when things don’t go their way.

Oh wait, maybe I am a fanatic.

But this kind of fanaticism isn’t exactly new though, is it.  Since the advent of opinions, people have been guarding their own and protecting their ideas of what is their way and what is just apparently wrong.   And there seems to be almost a competition between the different preferences, tastes, and viewpoints as the fanatics size each other up and try to out-crazy those who just don’t seem to belong in their particular camp.

And it’s not just with movies either, but we see this in many areas of life.  From sports, fashion, and technology.  In our families, ethnicities, and traditions.  In the different science disciplines, politics, and unfortunately, even in religion.

Don’t believe me?  How many times have we judged or been judged by the size of our congregation?  Or what denomination we grew up in?  Or even what doctrines we might hold to?  How many of us have been called “not real” in terms of our faith because we didn’t see eye-to-eye with whoever it was that was calling us that?  Even if we don’t have experience with these exact things, we can’t deny that there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of lines we can draw in the sand to define us as “us” and them as so very much “them”.  This is just a symptom of this fanaticism.

We see this throughout our bible stories too, don’t we?  I mean in this ancient Middle Eastern time, there was no hiding from the racism and patriotic piety, thinking that only certain bloodlines can ever be honoured, welcomed, and loved by God and those that “belong” to God.  This kind of segregation has been justified, rationalized, and even Christianized over the years and quite honestly has translated into our modern times very subtly but no less sinisterly. 

But of course, we’ll always consider ourselves, followers of Jesus, as on the right side of the history of faith.  We’ll always think that the past is the past and we are the ones who will help to usher in a new future.  We’ll always think that we and perhaps we alone are the ones who are right and everyone else who doesn’t agree with us is wrong.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I do feel like we need to have a certain level of boldness and confidence in our beliefs, but I think the problem comes when we begin to exclude others because they don’t believe in what we believe, they don’t express themselves the way we express ourselves, or they aren’t faith fanatics in the same way we are faith fanatics.  I think the purpose of our faith is defeated when we use these wall-tearing ideals to build new walls.  I think the point is missed when we use religion to hate rather than to love.

And perhaps this is why we need Jesus so much.  He was all about welcoming, showing compassion, and reminding the marginalized and oppressed that they are actually loved, included, and saved.  And no matter how much of a fan you are, or how “in” you can be, or much you feel like you belong, we all are marginalized somewhere.  Whether it be because of our faith, our ethnicity, our gender, our age, or how much we enjoy the toys and media of the 80s, we have felt the exclusion that effectively kicks us out onto the curb, leaving us to feel isolated, alone, and very much abandoned.

But that is where Jesus comes in.  Jesus looks past all that separates us and promises us welcome.  I mean the gospel text that we have for today is out of the “Good Shepherd Discourse” also known as John chapter 10, where Jesus really hits this home for his disciples using a metaphor of a flock of sheep that is defined by a fence, accessible through a gate, and watched over by this Shepherd. 

At first glance we might think, “see, Jesus kept his flock close and behind a locked gate, he had walls between us and them as well.”  And this is that dangerous justification, rationalization, and Christianizing that I was talking about.  But what really redefines this is Jesus’ line in verse 16 where he reveals that he has “other sheep that don’t belong to this fold” to care for. 

Other sheep.  That don’t belong.  They actually do belong.

Isn’t that amazing?  Jesus knew there will be lines that we’d instinctively draw.  Jesus anticipated our need to segregate in the name of protection and preservation.  Jesus was aware of our natural tendency toward fanaticism that would build walls between us and whoever we don’t think belongs with us, and he tears those walls down.  He removes the segregation of our opinions, narrow viewpoints, and reasons to hate.  Jesus not just erases the lines that we draw, but he obliterates the need to even draw them.

Because in spite of that, Jesus says welcome.  Jesus opens the doors wide and throws out all prejudice and preclusion and shows us all that we belong.  Jesus tears down those walls and reveals to us all invitation and inclusion.  Jesus removes the lines over which we justify hate, and breathes in us all a Spirit of love.

This is why he is known as the Good Shepherd, leading us to green pastures and still waters, reminding us of the peace that is found in the Spirit, where all people needn’t worry about their own belonging, but only how to show that belonging to others in this fold.  Where we can have the confidence of community, knowing that regardless of who we are or what our pasts look like, we are welcomed.  Where we can, after seeing the grace that we have received in spite of our subtle fanaticisms, we can extend this grace to all, welcoming everyone into this church, this one body of Christ where we all have a place as one flock under God, for all time.

As we continue in this season of Easter, may we be reminded constantly of the life-giving resurrection that empowers us, encourages us, and leads us into the belonging that we share in this fold of God’s people loved and cared for by the Good Shepherd.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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