(Many thanks to Marcia Mcfee and the Worship Design Studio for providing these resources free during this pandemic! We have adapted them slightly for use in our context. I'll post both the Word and Reflection and Action Response, as well as the Have Goodwill action for the week.)
Melissa: Jesus used the metaphor of a shepherd several times in his ministry. We will hear a song using the most famous instance from Psalm 23 later in our worship. In this passage from the Gospel of John, the sheep know that the Shepherd really cares about them and offers what they need–good, abundant, green pastures to eat in. They recognize this Shepherd who takes care of them as they hear his voice.
John: I assure you that whoever doesn’t enter into the sheep pen through the gate but climbs over the wall is a thief and an outlaw. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The guard at the gate opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger but will run away because they don’t know the stranger’s voice.” Those who heard Jesus use this analogy didn’t understand what he was saying.
So Jesus spoke again, “I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and outlaws, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. - John 10: 1-10
Melissa: There are so many ways to live life to the fullest right now–or, as another version of the scripture calls it–“living life abundantly.” Being together, either physically or virtually, is one important way for us in this moment. Perhaps we can keep up some of our “connection habits” we have exercised well beyond our time of isolation. This next scripture is an extended version of our theme scripture for our Easter Season series and shows us the value the early Christians, some of whom had to gather in secret and isolation, were supporting one another “abundantly.”
Cheryl: The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. - Acts 2: 42-47
Melissa: In these two scriptures we see the desire of God for us to be taken care of, for us to live to the fullest, and for us to support one another in having abundant life and community, food and gladness. The “thief” in the first passage could be anything that robs us of those things. Sometimes the sacrifices we have endured because of our attempts to slow this virus can feel as if we’ve been “robbed” of our well-being. But we can also turn that around and see that these sacrifices are how we share goodwill and well-being with one another. Our hearts overflow with the grace and guidance we know from the Shepherd and we want that goodness for everyone. Glad and generous hearts overflow with love in so many ways.
I was thinking about what I’ve been robbed of these past few weeks, visiting family, margin that was provided by regular childcare, ability to get off the island and run errands, eating whatever I want just about whenever I wanted it...and it reminded me of a post I saw going around social media a couple weeks ago. I’ll read it to you - it’s from an anonymous author.
I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked, and mine might not be.
Or vice versa.
For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflections, of re-connection, easy in flip-flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial and family crisis.
For some that live alone, they’re facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest, and time with their mother, father, sons and daughters.
With the $600 (US) weekly increase in unemployment, some are bringing in more money to their households than they were working.
Others are working more hours for less money, due to pay cuts or loss in commissioned sales.
Some families of four just received $3400 from the stimulus package, while other families of four saw $0.
Some were concerned about getting a certain candy for Easter, while others were concerned if there would be enough bread, milk, and eggs for the weekend.
Some want to go back to work because they don’t qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break quarantine.
Some are at home spending two to three hours a day, helping their child with online schooling, while others are doing the same on top of a 10–12 hour work day.
Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it, and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it.
Others don’t believe this is a big deal.
Some have faith in God and expect miracles this year.
Others say the worst is yet to come.
We are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.
Each of us will emerge, in our own way, from this storm. It is important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, actually seeing.
We are all on different ships during this storm, experiencing a very different journey. — Unknown Author
I think it’s fair to say that the pandemic has certainly robbed us of a lot - and I think to some degree all of us have felt it. It’s been hard, there is no doubt - and it will get harder as we all start to get a bit stir crazy! But as we consider Jesus’s invitation to life abundant and the situation we’re in right now - what can seem like deprivation, what we experience as sacrifice and hardship - because this is hard work we are all doing - is for the sake of love of neighbor.
What I really love is this picture - and for those of you who attend our Friday afternoon class meetings, you’ve seen this - but it’s three simple questions: [share screen]
And what I love about it is that it not only allows us to name the grief we feel, the struggle we’re going through, but it also challenges us to name the things that the pandemic can’t take away from us...and the unexpected gifts in each day. This, I believe, is part of what Jesus invites us into with life abundant.
I think about this, too, with the early Jesus followers - those who came into the fold after the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. That early church gathered together in homes and at synagogues often at great personal cost. Many of these gatherings had to be secret for fear of being persecuted. Being a Christian meant subverting the authority of the Roman Empire; it meant alienating yourself from your friends and neighbors...perhaps even your family members. It meant you distanced yourself from many of the activities that were a normal part of your life. Eating different foods. Being in community and sharing food with different people - those you wouldn’t have associated with before. It meant new religious habits and rituals that marked you as an outsider. And yet - even with the sacrifice of so much, there was this beautiful sharing of food, possessions, money, shelter...life together. The fear and worry I’m sure were still there - what would happen to you if you were found out as a Christian could very well cost you your life. But there was something so compelling about the way these early Christians lived that people were willing to let go of their old way of being and relating and live for something new.
That’s still true for us today - life abundant means acknowledging the fear, the worry, the grief - and entrusting it to God’s care. The Shepherd’s care. It doesn’t mean those feelings won’t go away - but it does mean that we can chose to see them for what they are and surrender ourselves instead to the love and grace that is always there ready for us.
Leader: And so I invite us today to take our stones and place them in a full bowl of water. This glass of water filled to the brim symbolizes the state of grace and love that is always and already what God gives to us. When we drop our worry and grief into it, we will see the love spill over. Placing our feelings and trust into God’s love helps us to pour out love all around us, making that love available to everyone. There is always enough to go around.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and almost 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.