Sunday 3 May 2020

This week, only the accompaniments for hymns have been recorded, and you are invited to read or sing the words in time to the music. The organ accompaniments for Laudes Domini and Crimond are provided by Richard M. S. Irwin ( and are used with his permission.

Order of service

Piano prelude: Sonatina – Thomas Attwood (1765 – 1838)


Call to worship
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news! (Mark 1.15)

Prayer of approach and Lord’s prayer (From Worship: from the United Reformed Church adapted)
Eternal God, creator of all things, giver of life, we praise and worship you.
We thank you that you have always loved the world you have made; and that, however far we stray from you, your love is always there to welcome us home.
We do not deserve your love, but we dare to believe the good news of your mercy declared by our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered His life for us and for all people.
With penitent and forgiving hearts we ask you to fill us with your Holy Spirit, that our worship may truly express our love for you and for all your children.
Make us glad and give us joy and peace we pray, in the name of our precious Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, Amen.

I invite you to join with me in the words of the prayer Jesus taught us

Tune: Laudes Domini – Joseph Barnby (1838 – 96)

When morning gilds the skies,
My heart awaking cries:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer
To him I would repair:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Does sadness fill my mind?
A solace here I find:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Or fades my earthly bliss?
My comfort still is this:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Let earth’s wide circle round
In joyful notes resound:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Let air and sea and sky
From depth to height reply:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Be this, while life is mine,
My canticle divine:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Be this the eternal song
Through all the ages long:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Anonymous German hymn
tr. Edward Caswall (1814 – 78) altd.

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 7 – 15
Our readings today are taken from the lectionary for the fourth Sunday of Easter. The first one, from Ezekiel 34.7-15, is in the time of the Babylonian Empire. Ezekiel is in exile, and after the death of his wife, is called to be a prophet. This section of the prophecy begins at verse 1 of the chapter. It is clearly against those Israelites in charge in Israel. They are meant to be like shepherds, looking after the people, but rather have fed themselves, caring little for their subjects. In the section we’re reading today, God speaks against the shepherds, and declares He will come Himself to rescue them. It is read to us by Jon Foster.

Piano interlude: Song without words – Moritz Moszkowski (1854 – 1925)

Reading: John 10: 1 – 10
Our next reading is John 10.1-10. This is a continuation of a story which begins in Chapter 9, the healing of a man who had been blind from birth. It’s a story of restoration, because of course, those with disabilities in that culture were barred from worship, with no means to live. As Chapter 9 progresses, there is a standoff between the Pharisees and this man. They condemn his healer, who healed on the Sabbath, whereas he declared the healer must be from God. Jesus heard what happened, and on finding him, the man is keen to believe in Jesus and to follow Him. Jesus offers him acceptance that has nothing to do with social position, and everything to do with trusting in His promise of life. So we come to Chapter 10, where Jesus is now addressing a group of Pharisees standing near when He was speaking with the man. These verses are in response to their question, “Surely, we are not blind, are we?” This passage is read to us by Mandy Foster.

Those words from the end of John 10.10, are the gospel message in brief: “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.” They are words I began my ministry in Leeds with, and it’s my vision for the people Headingley and of Leeds, to bring the life Jesus gives to those living in darkness and despair.

Life to the full, in all its fullness, abundant life, as other Bible translations give. It’s what Jesus is about, and the community of believers is about, what they witnessed with their lives after the resurrection. It’s a community of believers in Him, a new community, made up of people who follow Him. In these verses in John 10, Jesus refers to Himself as the shepherd of this new community, and the new community as His sheep.

When our younger son Stuart was young, he loved a series of adventure books about talking cows who battled some nasty talking bulls. The bulls kept trying to subject humans to their authority and change history forever. One I remember was about King Arthur of Camelot. The bulls hoodwinked Merlin, and tried to get the knights of the round table to take special swords out on a quest. Unbeknown to them, the swords transmitted an hypnotic signal to transform the humans into behaving like cows, and they all got down on all fours, started mooing and eating grass. Of course, the good talking cows save the day, and humanity from a fate worse than death.

Now when Jesus refers to His followers as sheep, thankfully, it’s metaphorical – we won’t be eating grass all day long. Jesus refers to those who know His voice and follow Him. He uses the image of sheep because in traditional communities, sheep know the voice of the shepherd and follow that particular shepherd, and no other – with no sheep dogs to round them up.

Jesus is bringing to the minds of His hearers, the Pharisees, the actions of the leaders of Israel, talked about in Ezekiel 34. They didn’t look after the interests of the people. Jesus is using that image to bring home a message to the Pharisees in His day, not that they understood what He was saying. They were leaders who were more interested in the people obeying the laws than in following God.

In Ezekiel’s day, even under Babylonian rule, the leaders of Israel were corrupt, they didn’t look after the needs of the poor, but rather concentrated on their own needs. This is never far from the behaviour of those in power from time immemorial; it was how many of the Pharisees were; and we see it across the world today, even in our own country.

So Jesus uses this familiar image of a shepherd to speak against the behaviour of the Pharisees. He refers to them as thieves and bandits, who would take the right to life from those who are poor, and those with disabilities. Jesus sees Himself as the shepherd who Ezekiel speaks about, God Himself come to seek out His sheep, to rescue them from the corrupt powerful, who would prevent them from flourishing.

Jesus is the shepherd, who looks after the sheep. He knows them, and they know Him. Unlike under the old leaders of Israel and the Pharisees, whose actions denied people the opportunity to live life to the full, the true shepherd has a relationship with His flock. It is based on their belief in Him, and therefore trust of Him, and so in their following Him as disciples.

The Psalm in the lectionary for today is Psalm 23, which we’ll sing a little later: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I’ll not want; He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul. He leads me along the right paths.’ That’s a wonderful picture of the flock flourishing, of us flourishing.

Then in the next verse are the words, ‘your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ We all get the picture of a staff, with its hooked end which pulls the sheep out of trouble, and of the rod, to guide us in the right way, or sometimes to poke us into action. They comfort us in the sense that we know the Lord is looking out for us, as our shepherd, and leading us in the right way. It’s not a sentimental comfort, an emotional comfort but an encouragement to action, to following.

Jesus knows us and we know Him. He leads us to good pastures. Sometimes that is difficult to realise, and we may wonder at the moment what that is all about. He can lead us over rocky ground, and sometimes through rivers which feel as though they will overwhelm us. But always, He is the shepherd, and we can trust He will take us where we need to be. We may not always feel we are flourishing, but as Jesus leads us, He takes us through those difficult times, and as we look back, we can see that He was with us. One day of course, He will lead us through that final struggle to eternal life, that final journey.

So when we hear, when we discern Jesus’ voice, we are to follow. If we don’t follow, we can end up in the wrong place, needing to listen for His voice, and follow again.

Jesus also calls Himself the gate to the sheepfold. That’s one of the so-called ‘I am’ sayings in John’s gospel. In the next vs to the passage, is yet another ‘I am’ saying, He calls Himself the good shepherd. That is the reading for next week, so I won’t say any more about that now. Jesus then is the one we go in by, as well as the one who leads us.

Many of us are more familiar with airport gates than sheepfold gates, although not at the moment! A garden gate may suit us better, when we can get out. The sheepfold gate is a source of protection from thieves, bandits and corrupt shepherds. And it’s the entrance for good shepherds to come in to lead the sheep to pasture, to the food and nourishment needed for abundant life. The shepherd also acted as the gate, literally lying in the gap to protect the sheep.

For us, the word ‘gate’ has come to be associated with bad leadership. It started with Watergate, I’m sure we all remember that one. Since then, the word has been used as a suffix for many things, including political and celebrity scandals. There was Burning Sun Gate in S Korea in 2019, uncovering criminal activities which involved top celebrities, powerful figures, and the police; or Blabbergate in 2017 involving President Trump – you can guess what that was about!

So Jesus calls Himself the gate, but in a good sense. He is the one lying in the gap between us and God. In this Easter season we remember His lying in the gap on the cross, taking all the wrong of the world in Himself. We can see Him as the bridge, the cross piece of the cross, bridging that gap between us and God. The point is, it is through Him that we can all have the abundant life He speaks of in v10.

It is for us, for all who believe in Him – God’s own. Yet it is not to keep to ourselves. It is to tell others about as we share our faith stories, because Jesus wants it for all people. He is the gate who is open to receive all, through whom all can come to fullness of life.

Interestingly, one of the other readings for today in the lectionary was Acts 2.42-47, that picture of the life of the early Church we’re exploring in Holy Habits. This is the flourishing community Jesus is talking about, the community who believe in Him and follow Him. Their lives and their lives together, reflect new life. It is a transformed community, joyful and giving. This is the beginning of a community into which the once-blind man was received, one which is based on the values of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus said then, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.” We are part of that new community where life is affirmed, not denied; where sharing and giving are part of our lives; and where people flourish. Like the early believers, we are called to share whatever we have, and what we have: the Lord Jesus Christ, the true shepherd. As I think about that vision in Headingley and in Leeds, I wonder as we come out of lockdown, whether we could come out of our corners, of what we do in our Churches, to look to the bigger picture together, of how God wants us to work for our city to draw others to this new life. That may be in some of the projects we’re involved in now, or it may be in new ways He shows us as we have that opportunity during lockdown to listen in prayer.

Tune: Crimond – Jessie Seymour Irvine (1836 – 1887)

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want;
he makes me down to lie
in pastures green; he leadeth me
the quiet waters by.

My soul he doth restore again,
and me to walk doth make
within the paths of righteousness,
ev’n for his own name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through death’s dark vale,
yet will I fear no ill;
for thou art with me, and thy rod
and staff me comfort still.

My table thou hast furnished
in presence of my foes;
my head thou dost with oil anoint,
and my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy all my life
shall surely follow me;
and in God’s house for evermore
my dwelling-place shall be.

Psalm 23
Metrical version by William Whittingham (1524 – 79) altd.

Prayers of Intercession
God of each one of us and God of every one of our neighbours, near and far, we lift our hearts in prayer to You.

Lord, You are our rock and we ask that the strength we receive from You may be shared with all who are troubled and afraid at this time.

Lord, You are our refuge and we pray that those who mourn throughout the world will know the comfort that Your everlasting arms being under them will bring.

Lord, You are our helper and we ask that You will give Your wisdom to all those who are working so hard to create and subsequently to produce a vaccine which will protect us from Covid-19 and thus change our lives once again.

With trust Lord we give You our burdens, in faith we know that You will take care of us.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tune: Sing Hosanna – Traditional

Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising.
Give me joy in my heart, I pray.
Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising.
Keep me praising till the break of day.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
sing hosanna to the King of kings!
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
sing hosanna to the King!

Give me peace in my heart, keep me loving.
Give me peace in my heart, I pray.
Give me peace in my heart, keep me loving.
Keep me loving till the break of day. [Refrain]

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
sing hosanna to the King of kings!
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
sing hosanna to the King!

Give me love in my heart, keep me serving.
Give me love in my heart, I pray.
Give me love in my heart, keep me serving.
Keep me serving till the break of day.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
sing hosanna to the King of kings!
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
sing hosanna to the King!


Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, which binds us together even when we’re apart, be with us all, evermore, Amen.

Piano postlude: Toccata – Domenico Paradies (1707 – 91)