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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - Abundant Life Edition

We are city folk now - or suburban at least - although just a generation or two ago, the place where my church stood was surrounded by dairy farms. Even though animal husbandry is within living memory of some in the congregation, I'm betting the shepherd imagery in many of our readings and hymns will seem pretty quaint and far away for most folks who I'll see this week.

And anyway, I'm noticing that most of the modern commentary I read in preparation for Good Shepherd Sunday does seem to emphasize the gentle nurturing of our Savior. I'm betting, though, that shepherding in the first century had a lot more to do with whacking wild animals with big sticks, practicing creative out-in-the-field midwifery, and staying up all night to catch the thieves climbing over the fence than it did with cuddling anything as fluffy, sweet and clean as this.

However, we are talking about preaching here, not quibbling over farming techniques. And a word of comfort, solace and protection may be just what your congregation is hungry for, in which case John 10 and Psalm 23 are ready and waiting for you. On the other hand, you might want to look at the abundant life promised by Christ in community, as you continue your pre-Pentecost series on the post-Pentecost church in Acts. Or, perhaps you are going in a different direction altogether.

Whatever you are thinking or preaching about this week, (or if you are a shepherd willing to share a real life story or two of your life in the pasture) we'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Art from here. Links to this week's texts found here.


  1. I'm never first!! But I am preaching this week and cannot sleep. My emphasis will be on hearing/listening/discerning the voice of the shepherd. Only extremely loosely related to this Sun. is today's post:

  2. I'm writing about the Internet as the thief that steals sheep away from the shepherd. I'll post my meditation tomorrow at

  3. current thoughts on John 10 and Psalm 23:
    what does abundant life look like?
    what does God's presence look like?

    - real, earthy
    - never giving up
    - with us in difficult places
    - guiding us

    and we are sheep- communal animals who need stay close to the shepherd.
    It is only Tuesday, I am sure it will come together by the weekend!

    looking through some old files
    I found a reference to this site, which I found helpful.

    psalm 23 notes

  4. Years back I used different versions of the 23rd to get people thinking about the actual words instead of just dropping into the "Psalm Zone," that place where longtime church-goers feel they've touched history and piety and can get back to thinking about their shopping list instead. I'm going to look around for those versions. I know one was from a hip-hop Psalm collection!

  5. Songbird, I have an assortment of variations on the's a favorite of mine as this time of year many students are facing exams.

    Students Version of Psalm 23

    The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not flunk;
    He keepeth me from lying down when I should be studying.
    He leadeth me beside the water cooler for a study break;
    He restoreth my faith in study guides.
    He leads me to better study habits for my grade's sake.
    Yea, though I walk through the valley of borderline grades,
    I will not have a test anxiety;
    For thou art with me.
    My prayers and my friends, they comfort me.
    Thou giveth me answers in moments of blackness;
    Thou anointest my head with understanding.
    My test paper runneth over with questions I recognize.
    Surely passing grades and flying colors shall follow me
    All the days of my examinations,
    And I will not dwell in this school/university forever, Amen.
    ~Author Unknown~

  6. My great-great was a banker-turned-farmer because of the Depression. Stories my dad told us of walking the fields with him, looking for lost lambs have stuck with me. Not only did the lambs go wandering off, completely absorbed in eating, but they never seemed to learn "turn around" -- they would keep walking in the same direction, farther and farther from the flock and from help. Hence, they had to be sought out, brought back and cared for until they could run and play... and go do it again.

    Yeah. It's a metaphor for my life.

  7. I grew up on my grandparents' farm where they raised sheep. I have several vivid memories of helping care for them, but the most vivid is the least useful, at least in terms of preaching...but I'll tell it anyway. cuz why not?

    I was probably 8 or 9, and it was shearing season. In order to shear the sheep, its legs first need to be tied together so it won't run away or squirm or whatever other fun sheep-like activity might enter into its very small brain and lead to injury. As you might imagine, it's not easy to just flop down a couple hundred pounds of sheep and tie its legs together, so I was given the task of sitting on the sheep so it wouldn't get up. So I dutifully sat down on the sheep (which is actually kind of gross-sheep are not soft and fluffy, wool that is still on a sheep is coarse, dirty, and greasy with lanolin). The sheep squirmed (as sheep will do) and I immediately bolted off the sheep's back and ran away. "But it moved!!!!" I screamed when my grandparents were ordering me back. "why do you think you're SITTING ON IT??" they shouted across the pasture.

    oh. right....LOL.

  8. curse you blogger!!!!!!

    Well we will try again....

    Doesn't it seem like we just read Psalm 23????

    Oh right we did. On APril 3rd (when I was off but the supply preached on the Psalm). So my reflection on it will wait for another Good Shepherd Sunday.

    Our Junior Choir is singing a piece called "Feed My Lambs" this week so we are pairing John 10 with Jesus and Peter by the lakeshore in John 21. And so we not only have Jesus as the Good Shepherd but also Jesus' followers called to be shepherds (unless you are big on apostolic succession in which case we have Peter and his successors called to be shepherds).

    So are we sheep? Shepherds? BOth? WHat if we (in all honesty) would rather be neither?

    My sermon title is The Care and Feeding of Sheep

    So any words of wisdom about what is actually involved in the care and feeding of sheep would be greatly appreciated....

    (Here's hoping it posts this time and doesn't get eaten)

  9. I went to a workshop by Dr. Joel M. LeMon and Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Emory who completely changed my understanding of Psalm 23.

    He went through the original text (I never took Hebrew...shhhh) and shared with us that you can also translate that first line, "The Lord is Shepherding me." That is so different to me with respect to thinking about God is actually poking and prodding me with the Shepherd's crook toward those green pastures, instead of just rescuing me when I get myself caught in the brambles yet again.

  10. Teri, that is a fantastic story! Thanks to all for the deeper sheep thoughts.

  11. Preaching on new community as seen in Acts 2. In UK, we're preparing to celebrate Christian Aid week, the work of which transforms communities, so we'll be thinking about that work and how we can transform our communities - initial thoughts here

  12. Teri, love that story, thank you. And thanks, all, for sheep-y thoughts.

    I'm with Gord - we just had a musical Sunday based on Psalm 23, so we are side stepping that one for now.

    I actually have a little series planned on what Jesus says about himself based on all these John passages coming up. I had originally conceived it as sort of a prolonged interview with a journalist, but now I'm thinking, gadzooks, 5 weeks of THAT is going to get pretty long, even for me. So, I'm rethinking. But in the meantime, I'm going with the Jesus Is the Gate imagery and seeing where that takes me.

    And, hey, trying to read up on who is the gatekeeper. Thoughts?

  13. Thank you, Juniper, for your great invitation this week!

    Noodling on the gospel lection, I found myself struck by how frequently the theme of knowing turns up in the gospel readings for the Easter season. Jesus is really big on this "knowing" thing, inviting folks--even after his resurrection--to see him, eat with him, touch him, recognize him.

    The theme persists with this week's gospel, and I love how Jesus points out that he knows us by name. It prompts the question for me, of course--just how well do I want to be known? Given that being known can sometimes leave us feeling exposed, is there some part of me that I'm resisting having Christ know? How would it be to let him bring that through the gate, too?

    New art & reflection & blessing connected with these things at The Painted Prayerbook. Blessings to everyone this week!

    And Teri--thanks for the great story!

  14. When in the workroom looking for a communion liturgy to use this week I found a Shepherd's Crook!!!!!

    That should come in very handy for both children's time and the sermon (not to mention keeping unruly congregants in order ;) )

    Anyway, I got my Bulletin done. And I have posted some liturgy pieces here in case they are helpful (although they include references to john 21 so that may make them less helpful)

  15. Gord,
    You can also pull the old Nixon line: "I am not a crook..." THIS, is a crook (pointing to shep's crook). Might be a good lead in to 'who's the thief/bandit?'
    You're posting a reflection on the internet as the thief...on the internet?! what fun!

  16. I have only a tiny idea of where I may go with my sermon this week...thinking along the same lines as Jan, "being known" and "names"..since this will be my second Sunday with this congregation, whose names I am still learning, this might be where I go with the text...however, it's only Tuesday and something else may pop up!

    I do love the sheep stories being shared...I have my own, but it's about sheep grazing in the mountains of Utah and deciding that the small two lane mountain road was a great path for their wanderings, completely stopping traffic from both directions....

  17. revl- bwah ha ha! you are cracking me up! what you think, Gord?

  18. Our church's Bible scholar is teaching from the Aramaic texts. Last week he noted that the saying "spare the rod, spoil the child" has been a sorely misunderstood and misused mis-translation. (lotsa "mis"us there). The "rod" was not used to hit animals. It was used as a guide. If a sheep drifted out of line, the shepherd would line the rod along the side of the sheep and guide it back into line. No hittin' required. Interesting stuff.

  19. WoW!that was a great story. .really appreciate your post.=)

  20. in the realm of more useful sheep info, I can share this.

    1. sheep will eat ALL the greenery in a given area...they have to be moved regularly in order for the grass to continue to grow. otherwise they'll eat it down to the dirt and then look around completely incomprehending as to why there's no more grass.

    2. if they know you, sheep will follow you anywhere--and I do mean ANYWHERE. if they do not know you or if you have proved untrustworthy, they will not follow you anywhere, they'll just stare at you like you're an alien.

    3. sheep smell bad.

    4. sheep are not soft and cuddly, though they look that way.

    5. Sheep, just like your house pets, respond to their names if they are taught them. We had sheep with all kinds of hilarious names, Agatha and Bertha and every other letter of the alphabet too. :-)

    6. purposely bringing a whole group of sheep together is impossible. this is why we use dogs to round them up. and pushing them from behind (as you do cattle) is even more impossible--they have to see the leader before they'll go anywhere.

    7. sheep are not mean. they are very sweet unless you are holding food, in which case they will eat your hand to get it.

    those are my late-night reflections on remembering growing up on a sheep farm. :-)

  21. LOVE the sheep stories...and Pink Floyd have a version of the Psalm which might refresh your spirits if the sermon proves recalcitrant. I'm still not sure it's preachable, but it would provide a brief LOL at least.
    One other bit of sheep lore (my MIL had a flock), they used to say you had to run sheep one to an acre until the land would support one sheep to an acre. This has to do not only with how much they eat, but with what they, um, give BACK...hence, increased productivity of grass etc.

  22. So, I rolled my eyes at Good Shepherd Sunday. I've been rolling my eyes a lot lately which is how I know it is time to take a vacation. Praise God that I have a week off starting next Wednesday. Anyway, sort of annoyed that it is here again and scared to death of touching the whole gatekeeper language, I planned to go Acts and not mess with the shepherd stuff at all.

    Jan, you've got me intrigued, though. And all this good sheep stuff. OK, so maybe I'll try it. I'll play around a bit more today and see what I come up with before I totally decide.

  23. Well, I'm just coming OFF vacation, which means I just now realized that this Sunday is also petblessing, which we do after church, but there will be animals with us in'm back to sheep, too.

    Teri! You are awesome! Thanks for your help!

  24. Gord, I am loving imagining, btw, a store room in which a shepherds crook and a communion liturgy are sharing space - sounds like lots of little closets and corners at my place!

  25. I am seriously tired of preaching on the good shepherd and I love this week's reading from Acts so that's the direction I'm headed this week. I"ve done it once before and I'm going to revisit it for a start. I am always fascinated by the way we like to gloss over the notion of pooling our resources the way the early apostles did.

  26. I'm trying to find a way to weave the knowing/trusting/recognizing the voice parts of the Good Shepherd stuff in with the Acts text. I think I'm headed in the direction that while the past may look good, we always see it with a rosy hue. (Referencing the sort of "happily ever after" tone of the Acts story. So we need to listen for the voice we trust to lead us forward.

    So far, what I have is a title ("Back to the Future") and a lot of notes about the metaphors in John 10. I'm also caught in the "abundant life" because of the blog post I wrote earlier here. So basically I'm all over the place. Yep, that about covers it.

  27. OK. With all your thoughts and actually some of my own (!), I decided to go with the shepherd stuff after all. We project our order of worship and have space to put images so for the first half of the service, up to the sermon time, we're going to project the real cheesy, traditional Jesus/Shepherd images. At the sermon time, I'll start making a switch from those usual images to "The Truth about Sheep." Wasn't that someone's title? I haven't titled my stuff that, but just used it to describe right here. I might start with Teri's list of sheep memories.

    I'm going to end with a focus on the hearing the voice part. The Working Preacher comments has a story about villagers and sheep who know voices and names. Not sure yet, but that's the general idea. A little bit about how we know Jesus's voice (anyone have a clue????) and/or how he calls us by name to follow him. It works well since I have one more ordination/installation to do this week, so I can tie that in here.

    Rev Dr Mom - - When I chose the Acts passage 3 years ago, when I was just a couple of months into my call, I dug into that part of the passage. When it was all over one guy came through the line to shake my hand and questioned, "You aren't really a socialist, are you?" I answered, "I don't know if I am, but it seems like the New Testament is!"

  28. I'm going with Jesus as Gate/Door;
    since the John text has the mixed metaphors, Jesus saying, "I am the good shepherd" and "I am the gate/door" linking that with the coming and going in Psalm 23, the following and leading. It's grad Sunday, so linking it with the coming and going through various doors in the lives of the graduates


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