Welcome to the gathering of St. Mark’s Church (Sunday worship under one roof) Sunday, 25 April 2021 – Anzac Day. Service led by Jill White.
Good morning! Tena koutou katoa!
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)
Welcome to any visitors, or newcomers, here today. If you do not know, my name is Jill White, and I am a member of Parish Council.
Today is Anzac Day and I want to begin our service today reflecting on what that means. There will be different resonances for different individuals. For some, there will be family reminiscences and memories of Anzac Days in the past. For some, there will be thoughts of Dawn Parades and all that entails. For some, there will be very personal first-hand experiences. For some, there will be a conflict of emotions between honouring the soldiers who have served and an abhorrence of war that took their lives.
I am of the generation that had grandparents, great-uncles, and great-aunts serving in the First World War and parents, uncles, and aunts who served in the Second. I am also of an age that grew up midst anti-Vietnam War protests. I have mixed emotions about what Anzac Day means to me, but I found marking the Centennial of WW1 an important occasion, and I have commemorated the day in various ways since 2015.
As our reflection today, I thought I would share with you my family’s story of three men who died in WW1.
Anzac Day Reflection
I invite you to share any thoughts, reflections, stories, or memories that you may have of Anzac Day.
Song Hymn for Anzac Day (Honour the Dead)
Welcome, Notices, and Celebrations
Song Aaronic Blessing
Praying the Psalm
We will pray a psalm together, but before we do, let me say a few words.
The 23rd Psalm, I would think, is the most widely known and used passage from the Bible. People who have no church connection will at least recognise it when they hear it. It has become especially common to include this psalm in a funeral service.
Before David became king of Israel, he was a shepherd. He took care of and protected flocks of sheep, and he wrote this psalm describing God as a shepherd and God’s people as the flock. David lived before Christ, so he was writing of God as shepherd. However, Jesus called himself the good shepherd, thus claiming to be the Messiah that the scriptures foretold.
Through David’s beautiful metaphor, Psalm 23 gives us invaluable insights into the character of God and God’s plan for us. God is like a shepherd who provides and cares for his sheep. We have need of nothing because our Shepherd provides everything. We can rest and relax knowing that God is taking care of us. Our God meets our emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. With God leading us, we experience peace and restoration. So often life drains out of us through our many activities, but, as David found, God restores our wellbeing when we rest in God. Shepherds often risked their own lives to rescue their sheep. They carried a rod and staff to protect and correct their sheep; they beat off any beast trying to attack, and they prodded sheep who were going the wrong way to steer them back to safety. The Shepherd cares for his sheep always, even when death threatens.
To give a fresh perspective on this well-known Psalm, I have chosen to use The Passion Translation. The philosophy of this translation is to transfer the essential meaning of God’s original message found in the biblical languages to modern English. The writers believe that the essential meaning of a passage should take priority over the literal form of the original words, while still ensuring that the essence of those words is conveyed, so that every English speaker can clearly and naturally encounter the heart of God through God’s message of truth and love.
Some notes on the language used here. The word most commonly used for “shepherd” is taken from the root word ra‘ah, which is also the Hebrew word for “best friend.” This translation includes both meanings. The unique term for shepherd is ro’eh tzon — “lover of the flock.” This teaches us that a shepherd was not just a responsible overseer, but a caring father figure, tending to his flock out of a deep sense of love. Shepherds were also fierce protectors of their flocks. Jesus is the Fierce Protector of his people.
A good shepherd knows where to pasture his flock. These green meadows would be a resting place, free from all fear. The Greek verb “to love” is agapao, which is a merging of two words and two concepts. Ago means “to lead like a shepherd,” and pao is a verb that means “to rest.” Love is our Shepherd leading us to the place of true rest in his heart. The Hebrew word menuhâ means “the waters of a resting place.”
“Footsteps of righteousness” or “circular paths of righteousness.” It is a common trait for sheep on the hillsides of Israel to circle their way up higher. They eventually form a path that keeps leading them higher. This is what the psalm is referring to here. Each step we take following our Shepherd will lead us higher, even though it may seem we are going in circles.
So, let’s pray this Psalm together. Please join in the words in bold.
David’s poetic praise to God (The Passion Translation) Psalm 23
1 Yahweh is my best friend and my shepherd.
I always have more than enough.
2 He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love.
His tracks take me to an oasis of peace near the quiet brook of bliss.
3 That’s where he restores and revives my life.
He opens before me the right path
and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness
so that I can bring honour to his name.
4 Even when your path takes me through
the valley of deepest darkness,
fear will never conquer me, for you already have!
Your authority is my strength and my peace.
The comfort of your love takes away my fear.
I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.
5 You become my delicious feast
even when my enemies dare to fight.
You anoint me with the fragrance of your Holy Spirit;
you give me all I can drink of you until my cup overflows.
6 So why would I fear the future?
Only goodness and tender love pursue me all the days of my life.
Then afterward, when my life is through,
I’ll return to your glorious presence to be forever with you!
Song The Lord’s My Shepherd
Scripture: John 10:11-18 (NIV)
11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So, when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’
There are over 200 references to shepherd in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, and sheep are mentioned over 500 times. The ancestors of the Jews were nomadic, pastoral people, so caring for their flocks was a major part of their lives. The image of a shepherd was also applied to leaders throughout the Middle East, as far back as the Sumerians in the 4th millennium B.C.E. This everyday concept became a metaphor for how God cares for God’s people.
Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, and Adam had to till the ground. Of their sons, Cain was the worker of the soil, while Abel kept the flocks. The story of the ensuing generations, before and after Noah and the flood, include those who worked the soil as well as those who tended the flocks. Traditionally, it was the younger son who did the shepherding.
Abram, or later Abraham, was a shepherd. When he travelled from his home of Ur into Egypt, he acquired livestock, and these flocks and herds travelled with him and his family until he settled in Canaan. His son, Isaac, was also blessed with many animals. Isaac’s son, Jacob, had to leave flee from his brother, Esau, but he ended up tending the flocks for his father-in-law for many years. Jacob’s many sons tended his flocks, but his favourite son was Joseph, of multi-coloured cloak fame. Joseph and his brothers were tending their father’s flocks when Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt.
Moses was also a shepherd. He tended his father-in-law’s flocks after he fled from Egypt, and it was while he was leading a flock in the wilderness that God called to him from the burning bush, and sent him to free the Hebrew people from Egypt.
Several generations later, we meet Jesse’s youngest son, David, while he is tending his father’s sheep. David defeated Goliath, wrote many Psalms, and became king of a united Israel. He is an ancestor of Jesus, and was both a literal, and a figurative shepherd – a leader of the people.
Thus, the role of shepherd is an important one in the Old Testament. However, these are all actual shepherds. The image of a shepherd with his flock was also a metaphor for a leader and his people. This could be a king or a prince, or a spiritual leader. Joshua is likened to a shepherd in Numbers chapter 27, when Moses asked the Lord for a new leader for the Hebrew people, and Jeremiah calls himself a shepherd who follows the Lord. Ezekiel prophesied against the leaders of Israel, calling them shepherds. They were rebuked by God, through Ezekiel, for not caring for their flock, and God declared that the shepherds would be removed and God would take over the care of the flocks, seeking out the sheep where they had scattered and leading them to good pasture on the mountains of Israel. This was foretelling the return from exile in Babylon.
Passages from Ezekiel and Isaiah prophesied the coming of the Messiah as shepherd, and shepherds tending their flocks by night were the first witnesses to the birth of that Messiah.
What are the characteristics of a shepherd that would have been familiar to people in Biblical times? In the Middle East, the shepherd leads his sheep, rather than driving them from behind. Often, several shepherds would join their flocks together for safety, especially at night, and they would call to their sheep to separate them out. The sheep knew the sound of their shepherd’s voice over the others.
The shepherd had complete care of his sheep. The terrain of the area meant that the sheep had to be guided to grass and water. They had to be protected from wild animals – big and small. David used his shepherd’s sling to kill Goliath, and he had perfected the use of this weapon while guarding his father’s sheep from wolves and lions. Other dangerous creatures, such as scorpions and snakes, hid in crevices in the rocks, and these would be poked out using the shepherd’s staff. The staff could also be used to guide the sheep, or for protection. The shepherd’s rod was another form of protection. It was a long wooden club. The shepherd would inspect each sheep as it passed under the rod at the door of the sheepfold at night.
At night, the sheep would be kept in a sheepfold, a rock wall enclosure of loosely stacked stones, to provided protection against thieves and robbers, and also wolves and other animals of prey. If they were far away from home, the shepherd would make a temporary fold from bushes and shrubs. The enclosure had a doorway for the sheep to come in and go out. It was at this opening that the shepherd would lie, so that a thief or wolf would have to climb over the shepherd to get in at the door.
Sometimes, the farmer didn’t have a son (or daughter, as girls did sometimes take this role) to do the shepherding, and had to use a hired hand. Such a person didn’t have as high a stake in the welfare of the sheep, and may run away at any sign of trouble. Ezekiel talks about the bad shepherds of Israel who failed to provide proper care. They slaughtered their sheep for their own gain rather than feeding them. Rather than caring for the flock, they treated them with “force and severity”. Perhaps Ezekiel’s greatest rebuke was for their lack of guidance. The sheep were scattered, they were lost, and became prey for every beast. There was no one to search or seek them.
A more familiar shepherd for us would be a NZ sheep farmer. My mother’s cousin was a farmer in Roxburgh. He is from the same branch of my family that Sam Vernon married into. I used to spend August school holidays on the farm at Roxburgh when I was at school, so I saw the sheep farmer in action, as it were. While he had a larger flock than Biblical shepherds, and didn’t know his sheep individually by name, he certainly had total care of his sheep. He would keep a close eye on each sheep, especially in lambing time, and would know when a ewe needed help with birthing or feeding. He didn’t have to worry about wild animals, but he certainly kept the fences closed to keep the sheep safe from wandering on the road, or elsewhere. He mostly used sheepdogs to guide the sheep, but sometimes he used a crook. As the sheep passed through a gateway, he would check them over with a practised eye. I remember once asking him how he counted the sheep so quickly as they ran through the gate, and he answered that he counted the ears and divided by two. At my tender age, I actually believed him!
Ezekiel presents Yahweh as the good and perfect shepherd of Israel. Without ambiguity, Jesus took that title to himself, demonstrating that he is God.
Our reading today begins with the words “I am.” Jesus speaks these words several times in John’s gospel. It is a proclamation of divinity, because it echoes the holy name that God revealed to Moses in the burning bush. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.” He contrasts himself with the hired hand, who cares nothing for the sheep and abandons them. In this, he is referring to the Pharisees and other religious leaders to whom he is talking. They had been questioning Jesus about healing a blind man on the Sabbath.
Jesus again says, “I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” He goes on to say that there are other sheep not of this pen who will know his voice, and when he brings them, there will be one flock and one shepherd. Jesus lays down his life for all people; Jews, Gentiles, and anyone who knows his voice.
A third time, in this fairly brief passage, Jesus says that he lays his life down. This time, he states that he will take it up again. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” Jesus knew that his road was leading to the cross and he willingly followed this path. However, he also knew that he would take his life up again and it is because Jesus took up his life again on the day of resurrection that we have everything we need as the sheep of the Good Shepherd.
We have a loving God who cares for us and knows us by name. Our Good Shepherd, who is our friend and redeemer; who brings us comfort, rest, and reassurance. Even when times are dark, our God is near. This is the message of Easter and the Resurrection. Thanks be to God.
Song Wonderful Grace
Prayer for Others
Song The Lord’s Prayer [offering to be brought up during the chorus “Amen”]
Offering and Dedication Prayer
Today we remember those who gave their lives in service of their country. We also remember the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for us. As we bring our offering and ourselves to you, loving God, bless us as we serve and follow our shepherd.
Song Take My Gifts
Sharing the Peace of Christ Peace of Christ be with you
Song of Sending Like a Rock (PowerPoint)
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
The Love of God
The Communion of the Holy Spirit
Be with us all now and forever. Amen