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Sermon and Liturgy (2) for The Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year C
Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 23; John 10:22-30
"Through The Valley of The Shadow of Death"


READING:  Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 23; John 10:22-30
SERMON :  "Through The Valley of The Shadow of Death"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-ea04su 932000

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

   Sources: The Prayer of Invocation is based on a prayer by Mark
   Haverland, Polk City UMC; the Prayer of Dedication is base on a
   prayer by Moira B. Laidlaw (laidlawm@ozemail.com.au); and the
   Prayers of the People are based on those of Jeff Shrowder
   (jeffshrowder@ansonic.com.au) as sent to the PRCL List in 1998.  The
   Eucharistic Prayer is based on that of Nathan Nettleton for this
   Sunday in 2001 as found at www.laughingbird.net.  The children's
   story uses some wording from Brett Blair's "SermonIllustrations.com"
   (bblair@midsouth.rr.com) for May 6 2001.  The sermon itself is much
   indebted to one by David A. Tietz of St. Paul Lutheran Church,
   Taylor, TX, 1998 and is cited with permission.
 

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME & CALL TO WORSHIP  (based on Psalm 100)
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
P  Worship the Lord with gladness, 
   come before him with happy songs.
L  Acknowledge that the Lord is God.  
   Remember that he made us and that we are his.
P  We are his people, the flock of his pasture.
L  Enter God's gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.
P  Give thanks to God and bless his holy name.
L  Give thanks and bless his holy name, for the Lord is good, 
   his steadfast love endures forever 
   and his faithfulness to all generations.


* INTROIT:  "This Is The Day" (verse 1)                            - VU 412
     


PRAYER OF INVOCATION 
Wonderful and Gracious God, some of us come to you weary from the stress
and strain of our days, seeking the rest that only you can give.  Some of
us come doubting or  lukewarm in faith, seeking your spiritual quickening. 
But whatever our condition of mind, heart, or spirit, we come giving thanks
that you accept and welcome us, and in your transforming love, are even now
changing the old clothing of our souls for new.  We open ourselves to your
working within and among us, as we lift our spirits into the light of your
holy presence, and our voices in praise of our goodness.   As you are
present to us O God, help us be present to you.  Guide and lead us and help
us to follow - that we might be both blessed and a blessing.   Amen 


* HYMN:  "Holy Spirit, Hear Us"                                    - VU 377


CHILDREN'S TIME:  "The Good Shepherd"
Object    Shepherd's Crook
Theme     God's Care for Us
Source    Self with some wording from Brent Blair (bblair@midsouth.rr.com)
          "Illustrations" May 6, 2001

The song we are going to sing today before going downstairs is called "The
Lord's My Shepherd" and it's words are the word's written by King David -
who, when he was a young man, was a shepherd for his father's sheep in the
hills outside the town of Bethlehem.

What do you think the shepherd's job is all about?  What does he or she do? 
(keep them from danger from wild animals / sleeps with them or near them
when they are not in the fold / makes sure they move to where there is good
food and water / rescue them when they are get caught in thickets or bushes
/ look for them for them when they have wandered off and got lost.)

One of the amazing things about shepherds and their sheep is how the
shepherd moves them from place to place - and how the sheep know the voice
of their shepherd and trust him or her.  Some people think Sheep are rather
dumb - but really they are not.  It is the cattle ranchers who are
responsible for spreading that ugly rumour, and all because sheep do not
behave like cows   cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with
cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all.  Stand behind
them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you,
because they prefer to be led.  You push cows, but you lead sheep, and they
will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first   namely their
shepherd   who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all
right.

But more than that, the sheep know their shepherd and their shepherd knows
them.  At night the shepherd can walk right through a sleeping flock
without disturbing a single one of them, while a stranger can not step foot
in the fold without causing pandemonium.  And when several shepherds and
their sheep are at a watering hole and it is time to leave all the
shepherds have to do is call and all the sheep that are part of their flock
separate themselves out - and follow their shepherd away.   

The shepherd knows his sheep and looks after them and the sheep know and
trust their shepherd.  God is our shepherd.  God knows us and watches over
us and calls us to follow him and trust him.  The prayer of the church is
that we who are the people of God - may hear his voice and follow him.


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
   Dear Lord God - creator and maker of us all - we thank you for
   watching over us - for leading us to good places - for keeping us
   safe from danger - for showing us how to live - for searching for us
   when we are lost.  -- May we ever follow you - through Christ Jesus
   - the shepherd you have  given us .  Amen

   And in the words of Jesus let us pray....

   Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom
   come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this
   day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive
   those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but
   deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power and the
   glory, for ever and ever.  Amen    


* HYMN:  "The Lord's My Shepherd"                                  - VU 747


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS & CONCERNS
- Welcome and Announcements     
- Birthdays and Anniversaries   
- Special Matters     
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


TIME OF SILENCE & AND INTROIT FOR THE WORD   (v2 of 371)
  Open my ears that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear
  and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear,
  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God thy will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me. Spirit divine! 


A READING FROM REVELATION 7:9-17
   (NIV)  After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude
   that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and
   language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.  They
   were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their
   hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to
   our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." 

   All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders
   and the four living creatures.  They fell down on their faces before
   the throne and worshipped God, saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and
   wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God
   for ever and ever. Amen!" 

   Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are
   they, and where did they come from?" 

   I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have
   come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and
   made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore, "they are
   before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple;
   and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.  Never
   again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will
   not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the
   centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to
   springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from
   their eyes."

L  This is the Word of the Lord
P  Thanks be to God.


* HYMN/READING:  "Psalm 23 - The Lord's My Shepherd"               - VU 747


A READING FROM JOHN 10:22-30
   (NIV)  Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem.  It was
   winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's
   Colonnade.  The Jews gathered around him, saying, "How long will you
   keep us in suspense?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." 

   Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe.  The
   miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not
   believe because you are not my sheep.  My sheep listen to my voice;
   I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they
   shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My
   Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all ; no one can
   snatch them out of my Father's hand.  I and the Father are one."

L  This is the gospel of our Risen Lord
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
   

SERMON: "Through The Valley of The Shadow of Death" 

   Loving God, as you opened the tomb and raised Jesus to new life, so
   open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit that as
   your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us,
   and in confidence go forth to live what you show us.  We ask it in
   Jesus' name.  Amen.

The 23rd Psalm is probably the best known, most loved, most quoted portion
of Scripture.  It is so familiar that people who seldom if ever read a
Bible or go to church can often still quote a portion of this Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I fear no evil, for you are with me.
Your rod and thy 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 goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

One problem, though, is since this Psalm is so often requested at
death-beds and funerals, we too often associate the 23rd Psalm with death
and dying.  But the Psalm is really for the living.  It speaks to the
living - those who are fully alive in the true sense of the word.

Roy Campanella, the baseball player, was in an bad accident years ago that
left him a semi-invalid.  In his autobiography he talks about the many
nights he cried himself to sleep, about the pain that racked his body and
his sinking into deep depression.

He writes,

   All my life whenever I was in trouble, I had turned to God for help. 
   I remembered my Bible and asked the nurse to the get the one from
   the drawer in the night table.  I opened it to the 23rd Psalm: `Yea,
   though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear
   no evil; for thou art with me.'

"From that moment on", he wrote, "I was on my way back.  I knew I was going
to make it!"

There are hundreds and thousands of testimonies like this - of how persons
have found in this simple Psalm the comfort, strength, and the assurance
that they are going to make it!  

I'm sure many of you can tell your own stories about what this psalm has
meant to you.

Psalm 23 not only gives comfort to the dying, 
it also gives courage, strength, and hope to those who are alive.

One of the things we realize, though, is that the 23rd Psalm is steeped in
the language and customs of shepherding and sheep in Palestine back in
Bible times.  If we don't know anything about the customs of shepherds and
the unique relationship between the good shepherd and the sheep, then much
of what this Psalm has to say simply passes us by.

What I am going to do this morning is focus on just one small part of the
Psalm - verse 4:     

          Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of
          death,  I fear no evil, for you are with me.  Your rod
          and thy staff they comfort me.

Tradition tells us that the Valley of the Shadow of Death is a real place
in Israel. 
 
It is a valley, or a mountain pass, that got its name from shepherds
because of it's steep sides and sheer rock walls.  But is was a pass that
enabled the shepherds to lead their sheep from one mountain pasture to
another.  However it was a terrifying place for skittish, defenceless,
fearful sheep: for in the steep cliffs on both sides of the valley there
were numerous caves and rocks and crevices that were perfect hiding place
for animals of prey - and for people who meant harm to passing travellers.  
Sounds would echo and amplify in the valley, making it a terrifying place
for sheep.

We look at the Psalm and hear:

       The Lord is my shepherd.... He makes me lie down in green
       pastures.... He leads me by still water.... He leads me in paths
       of righteousness.

But now the sheep are in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Question:  How did they get there?
-- We have to assume that the Good Shepherd has led the sheep into the
valley.

Now, the images in this Psalm are clear.  The shepherd is the Lord. 
   Indeed, from our Gospel reading, we hear that Jesus identifies himself
   as the Good Shepherd.  The shepherd is the Lord.  And, of course, we
   are the sheep.

And what is the Valley of the Shadow of Death?  

It is those terrifying, dark, lonely, frightening times in life -- times of
   sickness, tragedy, emotional stress, tension, economic disaster,
   loneliness, when God may seem far away.

But we see here that it is the Good Shepherd who leads the sheep into the
Valley of the Shadow of Death.

But we must remember that the shepherd has a purpose: The shepherd takes
the sheep from pastures that are now eaten up and barren, where food is
scarce and the land is parched, to new lush, green meadows.  But to get
there, the shepherd and the sheep have to pass through the valley.

The sheep don't understand this.  
   The sheep cannot comprehend the purposes of the shepherd.  
       All that the sheep experience are the frightening, terrifying
surroundings.

But the shepherd knows.  The shepherd has a reason, a purpose.  
And the sheep have learned to trust the shepherd.

As Jesus said,

       "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.  I
       give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  No one will
       snatch them out of my hand."

Yes, the sheep have grown to trust the shepherd.  
   The shepherd has proven trustworthy 
       and so the sheep follow the shepherd 
       even through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, 
       "fearing no evil."

And so it is the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, who leads us through
troubled and difficult times of life.  But he has a reason, a purpose -  to
lead us to greened pastures, to deeper faith.  He calls us to trust in him,
to put our faith in him, even when we cannot always see his plan or
purpose.

But we trust the Good Shepherd, 
because we know the shepherd is trustworthy.

Another thing we need to realize is that there is a world of difference
between death and the shadow of death.  The shadow may be frightening,
dark, and cold, but they are just shadows, not the real thing.

What is death?  

Death - real death - is separation from the awareness of God's love and
grace.  Death is being afraid of God.

It doesn't matter how strong or healthy and safe or secure you may think
you are, if you live outside of the love of God, if God is someone you do
not know or have come to fear, then you are among the living dead.  You are
living in death.

But St. Paul tells us that Christ has taken up our death into life!   
Into the resurrection life prepared for all who trust in him.

Do you remember when Jesus came to the tomb of his good friend, Lazarus,
and he met his sisters, Mary and Martha, how Jesus said, 

       "I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me,
       even though they die, yet shall they live, and everyone who
       lives and believes in me will never die."

The promise that we Christians have every day of our lives is that we will
never die.  We will never be separated from the love of God that we have
through Jesus Christ.

But there will be those times when we experience the valley of the shadow
   of death.
There will be those times when we might feel forsaken, abandoned, alone,
   rejected, 
those troubled times when we may wonder where God is.

The valley of the shadow of death are those times when we feel forsaken,
but by faith we know that we are not, because we have both God's promise,
and the experience of God's grace and love for us throughout the past.

When we are in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we may feel as if God is
far away, but deep down inside we can know that God is very near.  God
promises us life - life in this world, and life in the world to come.  
Christians don't die.  God simply calls us from one life to another.

But as long as we live in this world of sin and suffering, we will
experience the shadow of death.
  
And that can be a terrifying experience for us.  At that time is it is good
to recall how the Good Shepherd is leading us to green pastures where he
will restore our souls.   To remember that he is preparing a table for me -
a table that contains the bread of heaven and the wine of everlasting and
abundant joy..

Listen to the voice of the shepherd when you are in the valley of the
shadow of death. Listen and know that he is leading to a better place.

       Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
       I fear no evil, for you, O Lord, are with me.  Your rod and
       your staff comfort me.

       Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my
       life.  And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Blessed be the name of our God - now and forevermore.  Amen


PROFESSING OUR FAITH: The New Creed                                - VU 918
L  With the whole church - with the company of all the redeemed
   let us confess and proclaim our Easter faith.
P  We are not alone, we live in God's world...


PASTORAL PRAYER AND PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Loving God - we give you thanks that we are not alone.  That you are here
as our God, our Shepherd, and our friend.  We thank you and we pray to you
for ourselves and our world with thanksgiving and with hope....  Lord hear
our prayer....

Gracious God, you care for me; I need nothing more.
   Hear the cry of those who are hungry;
   hungry for justice, and dignity, hungry for freedom, and love, 
   hungry for the bread of both heaven and of earth.
Lord, hear our prayer....

Caring God, You lead me into a haven of peace and rest.
   Hear the cry of those who are alone;
   those who grieve a relationship broken by death or human failing,
   those who live in the isolation of a hospital room, a prison cell, a
   frail body, a confused mind.
Lord, hear our prayer....

Generous God, You breath new life into me and lead me in new ways.
   we pray for a just and caring use of your creation;
   a fair sharing of its abundance, 
   an ethical searching of its mysteries.
Lord, hear our prayer....

Compassionate God, You are with me and comfort me, even when the darkness
of the world looms large.
   We pray for those who seek the truth;
   those who cannot speak, 
   and those who cannot be heard,
   that the light of your Word may shine in the darkness which overshadows
   their lives.
Lord, hear our prayer...

Merciful God, In the face of those who trouble me you provide for me, and
pour out your blessings.  
   Hear the cry of those trampled by racial or religious intolerance, 
   Those disoriented by homelessness, and those defeated by unemployment;
Lord, hear our prayer...

God of healing and wholeness, you are with me always and have promised to
sustain me all my life.  Enlarge our vision of life, and make us bold in
our hope.   Lord, hear our prayer...

Gracious Shepherd - hear our prayers for all these we have asked for - and
for those whom we now specially raise before you by name - both in our
hearts and with the words of our lips... (BIDDING PRAYER)..  

Lord Hear Our Prayer.... and in your love answer.   Amen.


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS:  As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of
Dedication
         
   Merciful Saviour, we thank you for the ways in which you have
   enfolded us in your love and called us to follow you.  May these
   gifts and our lives, offered in your name, be used to enfold others
   in your love and to bring to you the praise and glory you so richly
   deserve.  Amen


SHARING THE PEACE:  (We great one another with a sign of love and
   reconciliation, saying words like: "The peace of Christ be with you"/
   "and also with you")


COMMUNION HYMN:  "All Who Hunger"                                  - VU 460


COMMUNION LITANY
L  The peace of the Lord be with you.
P  And also with you.
L  Lift up your hearts.
P  We lift them up to the Lord.
L  Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P  It is right to give God thanks and praise.


THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER (Prayer of Thanksgiving)
   We do indeed give you our thanks and praise, O God, for you are the
   shepherd who guides us to springs of the water of life.  You spread out
   creation like a rich banquet, and forming us from the dust of the
   earth, you raised us to life and opened our eyes.  You chose a people
   to be your flock, tending them with goodness and love.  In the fullness
   of time your Son, Jesus, came working in your name.  You placed those
   who belonged to you  into the safety of his hands and they recognised
   your voice in him.  When he was cast into death's dark valley, you
   raised him to new life.  Now he lives forever and shepherds all who
   look to you for salvation.  You wipe the tears from our eyes and spread
   a table before us so that we might feed forever  from your abundant
   goodness and hunger and thirst no more..


THE INSTITUTION
   So it is with gratitude and awe and hope that we remember what Jesus
   said and did on the night before his death upon the cross.  We remember
   how he took bread, gave thanks, as even now we give thanks for this
   bread, then broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and
   eat.  This is my body, broken for you."  We recall too how, in the same
   manner, after the meal was done, he took the cup, the cup of blessing,
   and passed it to his disciples, saying, "Take and drink. This is my
   blood, the blood of the new covenant for the forgiveness of sin, poured
   out for many.  As often as you do this, do it in remembrance of me."

   When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord
   Jesus, until you come in glory.   We thank you for counting us worthy
   to be not just your servants, but your friends.


THE CONSECRATION
   Send O God, your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts.  May we
   receive this bread and this wine as the body and blood of our Lord
   Jesus, discerning in it the gift you seek to give us, and becoming, as
   you will for us, a people who are one in your sight, one in love and in
   devotion to you and to all your people.  Amen

             
THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE ELEMENTS 
L  The bread of life, broken for you.
P  Thanks be to God.

       (as you are served in the pews, receive with the word's "and
       also for you" and give with the words "the body/blood of
       Christ - broken/poured out for you".)

L  The cup of eternal joy, poured out for you.
P  Praise be to God.


DEPARTING PRAYER
L  For all that you have given to us - we thank you..
P  For all that you have revealed to us - we praise you.
L  For all that you have commanded - we pledge our obedience.
P  For all that you have called us to - we commit ourselves anew.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:   "In The Bulb There Is A Flower"                - VU 703


* COMMISSIONING:  In the power of the Holy Spirit we now go forth into the
   world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of Christ.
   
     
* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN                                   - VU 971
Go in peace and love and care for one another in the name of Christ Jesus
knowing that God is your shepherd and that you are his people 
- and may God comfort you with his rod and his staff
- may the Lord Jesus call to you and lead you each and every day,
- and may the Holy Spirit tend with goodness and love,
till at last you sit at the table of God in the house that he has prepared
for all his people.
Amen


* CHORAL BLESSING: "Go Now In Peace"                               - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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