Fourth Sunday of Easter
Hear the Shepherd’s Voice
Acts 9:36–43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9–17, Jacob 2:21–24, Doctrine and Covenants 163:2a–b
Blindfolds will be needed for the Focus Moment as well as extra helpers to place the blindfolds on participants.
Sharing of Joys and Concerns
Part of being a community is trusting others with the blessings and the concerns of our lives and hearts.
Incorporate the joys and concerns that were shared.
Call to Worship
Scripture: Psalm 23
Consider using the Lectionary Story Bible (Year A), a children’s bible, or The Message to provide a different approach to this well-known psalm.
Song of Invocation
“I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” CCS 31
OR “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” CCS 247
OR “Come Away from Rush and Hurry” CCS 83
Prayer for Peace
Light the peace candle.
God of Wonder and Grace,
We can’t begin to comprehend the love you show us, a love that made you willing to come amongst us in flesh and bone, to endure the hardship of humanity. To move amongst the persecuted and marginalized so we might learn new ways to be in relationship with you and one another.
Open our eyes and hearts to the message you have for us, to the opportunities you provide us each day to reach out to others and live your love and compassion—to truly see our neighbour and extend your hands.
We pause now Lord, that we might listen. Listen to your promptings, guidance, and desires for our lives that you may speak the ways in which we can bring peace; that we might hear your voice and respond. Pause for one to two minutes of silence.
In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
For more ideas, the Daily Prayer for Peace services offered at the Temple in Independence, Missouri, can be found on the church’s website as Calendar Events at www.CofChrist.org/daily-prayer-for-peace.
Hymn of Peace
“The Lord’s My Shepherd” CCS 259
OR “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” CCS 262
OR “You, Lord, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd” CCS 22
This activity will need blindfolds as well as extra helpers to place blindfolds on the participants.
Invite all who are participating to come up front. Either pair up the participants for all to participate or select two volunteers from the group. One of each pair will be blindfolded.
Once the blindfolds are in place, identify two points in the room and name them Point A and Point B. For example, Point A is next to the piano and Point B is the pulpit or Point A is the chair farthest away from where you have gathered the group and Point B is the door to the worship space. Physically show those without blindfolds the locations of Points A and B, being careful not to let those with blindfolds know the locations.
The job of the partner without a blindfold is to give the blindfolded partner verbal directions to get to Point A and then to Point B. Depending on how challenging you want the task to be, all participants can do the same activity at the same time or those who are not the two specified volunteers can make noise or call out misdirections. After the participants have located Points A and B or after a few minutes of not finding their locations, invite everyone to participate in the discussion.
Discussion Questions (project or print)
- How easy or hard was the task of getting from Point A to Point B?
- What made it easy or difficult?
- Do you think it would have been easier if no one else was talking?
- Was it difficult to know which instructions were for you?
- Do you think it can be hard to hear what God is saying to you?
- Why might that be?
There is much going on in our lives that can be distracting. It can stop us from being able to hear God. Sometimes it is easier to recognize voices that are familiar to us, for us to pay attention. To make God’s voice more familiar we need to spend time getting to know God. This can be done by practicing various ways of listening to and being with God.
Project or print:
- What are some ways we can try to listen more closely to what God is saying to us?
- God communicates through nature. How can we focus our listening on God’s voice rather than our own thoughts?
- God often speaks through visual images. How can we interpret the images correctly?
- God speaks through scripture. How can we ensure that God’s voice is familiar to us through scripture?
Hymn of Listening
“Open My Heart” CCS 171
OR “O Lord, My Shepherd” CCS 264
OR “Spirit Fill Us” CCS 160
OR “Three Things I Promise” CCS 511
Disciples’ Generous Response
Listen to the word of God’s commands, and do not let pride in your hearts destroy your souls. Think of others and be free with your substance, that they may be rich like you. But before you seek riches, seek first the kingdom of God for the intent to do good: to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and afflicted.
—Jacob 2:21–24, adapted
Stewardship Principle 5: Save Wisely
Saving is a way to prepare for the future. It gives us the chance to extend our love and create a better tomorrow for our families, friends, the church’s mission, and the world.
Prepare for the Future—Expected and Unexpected
God calls us to live in hope. We live in the hope that Christ’s mission will transform the world into God’s vision of shalom. As expressed in Sharing in Community of Christ, we share a future: “Our future is full of possibility, necessary challenges, and hope as we continue to respond to the guidance of God, who has led the church from its beginning” (3rd ed., 7). The principle of saving wisely is part of a disciple’s way of preparing for the future as Proverbs 21:20 expresses.
Saving helps us prepare for the future—our future, our families’ futures, and the future of the Community of Christ mission. Apostle Paul asked the Corinthians to save so they could give to mission: “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:2).
—Stassi Cramm, ed., Choose Generosity,
(Herald Publishing House, forthcoming).
As you share financially through Mission Tithes, or if you give regularly through eTithing, please use this time to consider your commitment and how you will tithe to your true capacity of time, talent, and testimony.
Blessing and Receiving of Local and Worldwide Mission Tithes
Hymn of Generosity (sung as the offering is received)
“I Have Called You by Your Name” CCS 636
OR “We Lift Our Voices” CCS 618
Doctrine and Covenants 163:2a–b
Invite four people to share short testimonies on how they have heard God’s voice and responded. After each testimony, sing a verse of “I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me” CCS 581 OR “God Is Calling” CCS 172.
Song of Commitment
“You Are Called to Tell the Story” CCS 625
OR “Make Us, O God, a Church That Shares” CCS 657
OR “Listen for the Call of God” CCS 343
Read stanza 3 of “God, Whose Grace Redeems Our Story,” CCS 570.
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Exploring the Scripture
Jesus was in Jerusalem and according to the Gospel of John, he had been there for several weeks. In chapter 7 Jesus quietly, if not reluctantly, makes the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Tabernacles. Tabernacles, like Passover and Pentecost, is a pilgrimage feast that was celebrated only in Jerusalem. Pilgrims traveled there to take part. It was an autumnal festival originally scheduled to celebrate the harvest. By our modern calendar the festival would be held in late September or early October in the Northern Hemisphere and March or April in the Southern Hemisphere.
Jesus didn’t leave when the feast was over. He stayed on in Jerusalem preaching, teaching, and doing miracles. In verse 10:22 it is now winter and the Feast of Dedication is in progress. The Feast of Dedication celebrates the temple’s rededication to the God of Israel in 165 BCE, after it had been defiled by the Syrians. This feast takes place in December and is known today as Hanukkah.
John has a purpose in setting this scene during the Feast of Dedication. First, when put side by side with the Feast of Tabernacles we understand the passage of time. Jesus’ vague speeches over weeks of being with the people in Jerusalem help highlight the impatience in the tone of the question when the crowd asks Jesus, “How long will you keep us in suspense?” (v. 24). Second, the temple’s rededication had an unexpected result. The rededication fueled a rise in the expectation for a coming Messiah who would conquer the Israelite’s foes, whether Syrian or Roman. Even during Jesus’ time the feast had overtones of political messianic expectation. Early readers of John’s Gospel, as well as the crowd around Jesus that day, understood the poignancy of the feast being celebrated at the same time they made their plea “If you are the Messiah, tell us…” (v. 24).
The crowd challenged Jesus, “Tell us plainly” (v. 24). In reply, Jesus did not say anything new in his answer. He had already talked about this during his stay in Jerusalem. However, the way he had said it before was not easily understood. They had not understood what Jesus meant because Jesus used metaphors, but they wanted him to make clear statements. Jesus plainly puts them in their place, saying they don’t understand because they don’t believe.
Jesus has talked at length about being the Good Shepherd before this speech. His use of the good shepherd imagery in verse 27 reminds us of verses 11–18. The imagery itself comes from Ezekiel 34 which describes the kings of Israel as bad shepherds who ignore the sheep, leaving the animals to fend for themselves. Then immediately the prophet lifts God as a good shepherd who will tend the flock. For Jesus to use the image of the good shepherd pointedly implies Jesus is fulfilling God’s promise to love and care for God’s people.
It is likely second- and third-century theologians used verse 30 as one of the scriptural foundations for the doctrine of the Trinity. As we consider the meaning of the phrase “The Father and I are one” we have centuries of Christian thought that allow us to discuss the nature and persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But as we do so we need to understand clearly that John’s inclusion of that phrase was not to make a statement about the nature and person of God and Jesus. John included the phrase because it was one more example of the message John was trying get across in his Gospel. From the first word to the last, the Gospel of John delivers the message that God’s love is made alive in the world in the words, works, and form of Jesus. For John, the phrase simply says that Jesus acts and speaks with the incarnate compassion as God.
Is Jesus the Messiah? Despite personal experiences and faithful commitments, life as a disciple sometimes challenges what we think we know. As we strive to live God’s love in our words and works, as we allow Christ’s mission to give direction to our lives, we are often faced with moral and ethical decisions that cause us to pause. We have to consider what to do and in our impatience with the struggle, we sometimes cry, “tell us plainly” (v. 24). Yet it is the struggle to understand God’s ways and purposes that reminds us who is our shepherd, to whom we belong and, in the end, whose voice we hear. Christ remains the Messiah when we who follow and hear his voice carry out his mission and make God’s love alive in the world.
- We often are impatient with the way God is present in our lives.
- We need to take time to listen for God’s voice.
- We are called to make God’s love alive (incarnate) in the world by our words and acts.
Questions to Consider
- Consider a time when your long-held ideas about Christ’s mission were challenged. How did you handle the challenge?
- When have you faced moral and ethical decisions? How did your discipleship figure into your decision making?
- Where is God calling you in your journey as a disciple?
- How is your congregation making God’s love incarnate in the world?
Small-group Worship Suggestions
Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 10:22–30 NRSV
The Facilitator Notes provide an overview of Sacred Space and how to use the resource to best meet ministry needs. This is a must read for first-time users.
The weekly outline and handouts provide everything needed to plan and facilitate a scripture-focused Sacred Space gathering and includes additional options such as Thoughts for Children.
Today is the fourth Sunday of the Easter season. The Easter season continues for 50 days and concludes with the Day of Pentecost.
Prayer for Peace
Ring a bell or chime three times slowly.
Light the peace candle.
God of wonder and grace,
We can’t begin to comprehend the love you show us, a love that made you willing to
come among us in flesh and bone, to endure the hardship of humanity.
To move among the persecuted and marginalized so we might learn new ways to be in relationship with you and one another.
Open our eyes and hearts to your message, to the opportunities you
provide us each day to reach out to others and live your love and compassion—
to truly see our neighbor and extend your hands.
We pause now Lord, that we might listen.
Listen to your promptings, guidance, and desires for our lives as you speak the ways that we can bring peace;
that we might hear your voice and respond.
(Pause for one to two minutes of silence.)
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Read the following to the group:
In Psalm 23, the psalmist declares, “The Lord is my shepherd…even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me.”
During this Easter season, our spiritual practice is a Breath Prayer. During the prayer we will use a word to breathe in and a word to breathe out. For today’s prayer we will breathe in the word comfort, and breathe out the word fear.
Sit with a relaxed posture. If you are comfortable, close your eyes. We will spend three minutes in centering prayer.
Breathe in a regular, natural rhythm.
As you inhale, focus on comfort. As you exhale, breathe out fear.
Continue to focus on breathing in comfort and exhaling fear.
Monitor the time. Occasionally give instructions: “Breathe in comfort, breathe out fear.”
After three minutes share the following instructions:
Close your Breath Prayer by offering a silent word of thanks to God. When you are ready, take a deep breath and open your eyes.
Sharing Around the Table
John 10:22—30 NRSV
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 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. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
Jesus was in Jerusalem. According to the Gospel of John, he had been there several weeks. In chapter 7 Jesus quietly, if not reluctantly, makes the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Tabernacles (an autumnal festival originally scheduled to celebrate the harvest). Then, Jesus stays in Jerusalem preaching, teaching, and doing miracles.
When the time is connected with the Feast of Tabernacles we understand the passage of time, highlighting the impatience in the question when the crowd asks Jesus, “How long will you keep us in suspense?” (v. 24). Additionally, the temple’s rededication fueled a rise in the expectation for a Messiah who would conquer the Israelites’ foes. Early readers of John’s Gospel, as well as the crowd around Jesus that day, understood the poignancy of the feast being celebrated at the same time they made their plea, “If you are the Messiah, tell us…” (v. 24). Certainly, Jesus was the Messiah, but not in the way they expected.
Jesus’ talk about being the Good Shepherd is not new. The imagery itself comes from Ezekiel 34, which describes the kings of Israel as bad shepherds who ignore the sheep, leaving them to fend for themselves. Then immediately the prophet lifts God as a good shepherd who will tend the flock. For Jesus to use the image of the good shepherd pointedly implies Jesus is fulfilling God’s promise to love and care for God’s people.
In verse 30, John uses the phrase, “the Father and I are one.” It is one more example of the message John was trying get across in his Gospel. God’s love is made alive in the world through the words, works, and form of Jesus. For John, Jesus acts and speaks with the incarnate compassion as God.
As we strive to live God’s love through our words and works, we often are faced with moral and ethical decisions that cause us to pause. We have to consider what to do, and in our impatience with the struggle we sometimes cry, “tell us plainly” (v. 24). Yet it is our struggle to understand that God’s ways and purposes remind us who our shepherd is, to whom we belong, and in the end, whose voice we hear. Christ remains the Messiah when we who follow and hear his voice carry out his mission and make God’s love alive in the world.
- When have you wanted God to “tell [me] plainly” the right answer to a moral or ethical decision?
- How does the struggle to understand God’s ways in your circumstance remind you of God’s place in your life?
- How are you making God’s love “alive” in the world?
NOTE: If you are using Thoughts for Children, make time for children to share their pictures at this time.
“Faithful disciples respond to an increasing awareness of the abundant generosity of God by sharing according to the desires of their hearts; not by commandment or constraint” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:9). The offering basket is available if you would like to support ongoing small-group ministries as part of your generous response.
The offering prayer for the Easter season is adapted from A Disciple’s Generous Response:
God of rejoicing,
We share our gifts joyfully and with thanksgiving in response to the generous gifts you have given us. May the offerings we share bring joy, hope, love, and peace into the lives of others that they might experience your mercy and grace. Amen.
Invitation to Next Meeting
CCS 254, “Jesus, Jesus, Ever Near Us”