Monday Matters (May 1, 2023)


The Collect for the fourth Sunday of Easter

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Feeling Sheepish


Knowing nothing about sheep, I spoke with a friend whose son has 400 sheep in Vermont. She said that sheep are simply as dumb as a post. Asked what she meant, she said that unless they are led, sheep will walk along, nosing towards the next piece of grass even if they are walking into a blazing fire or over the edge of a cliff. They need a shepherd.

I probably could have deduced that from scripture which again and again speaks of our relationship to God as similar to that between shepherd and flock, beginning with Moses, himself a shepherd, leading the complaining, clueless children of Israel through the wilderness. Psalms (not only the 23rd) speak of the joys of having a shepherd who walks us through the valleys. Psalms speak of how dangerous it is to be without a shepherd. The prophets warn of false shepherds, as did Jesus, particularly in the tenth chapter of the gospel of John, which is always our focus on the fourth Sunday of Easter (yesterday).

Yesterday’s collect (above) makes that point. Our liturgy picks up the need for a shepherd, particularly in the conclusion of the burial office, where we commend the person that we love but see no longer to the care of the good shepherd. We pray: The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant: Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight; through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

So, fellow sheep, how do we get our noses out of the grass and enter into relationship with the one who is called the good shepherd?

Yesterday’s collect gives us three ideas.

First, it’s a matter of hearing his voice. It’s not exactly a newsflash to say that we are surrounded by a lot of noise. Many voices call to us at once. In all that racket, it’s easy to just keep grazing along without really knowing what we are hearing. That is where it is important to carve out quiet time, not always easy to do. Are you in any way able to have a daily dose of silence? We hear the voice of the good shepherd in attentiveness to scripture. That’s why in the work of RenewalWorks we speak of the importance of embedding scripture in everything we do. We hear the voice of the good shepherd in paying attention to the pain in the world. What are the voices that command your attention? Amidst them all, can you hear the voice of the good shepherd?

Second, it involves coming to know the one who speaks that voice. I’m finishing up a pilgrimage in the Holy Land. There’s a historical dimension to that knowledge, learning to know about Jesus, getting a sense of a real human being, with real family and friends and enemies who lived in this part of the world.

But there’s a deeper dimension involved. It’s not just knowing about Jesus. It’s the marvelous and mystical dimension of knowing Jesus, knowing him personally as the living, active and gracious good shepherd, calling to us right now. What do you make of that idea of knowing Jesus the good shepherd? I confess for me it is often challenging. I’m working on embracing it.

Third, it’s about following, again getting moving (another RenewalWorks principle). It’s not just thinking about where I find the next blade of grass, where I get my next meal, what’s the next thing to do on the to-do list. It may mean stepping out into the unknown. It may mean following into a place of risk. It may mean going to a place of change. It may mean leaving what is comfortable. The truth of our faith is that the good shepherd meets us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us there. How might you be a follower this week?

The hearing, the knowing, the following represent our hope. I love the last stanza of Hymn 645, “The King of Love” that references the parable of the lost sheep. It goes like this:  Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed, but yet in love he sought me; and on his shoulder gently laid, and home, rejoicing, brought me.

That homecoming hope rests with the good shepherd. How will you listen for his voice this week?

-Jay Sidebotham

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