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22 March 2020 message – Pursued by the love of God

Readings: Psalm 23; John 5:1-17 (read and acted out by the children)


We were going to talk about healing today and look at John 9 – where the man born blind is healed. Remember – the mud and spit in the eye healing method of Jesus?

I think with the current social distancing no touch protocols acting that out in a play might have been tricky.

We chose John 5 – another healing of a person sick for 38 years.

Interesting that Jesus asks the guy – do you want to get well?

They used to doubt that this pool called Bethesda was a real place – until archeologists discovered it in the late 19th century. It was a place where people waited for the waters to be moved by an angel, and the first one in the pool after that would ge well.

Do you want to get well?  It’s a good question for people who have been sick for so long that they can’t be separated from their condition. It defines them.

Like the spies who went into the promised land – their sickness is an unconquered giant. And they are a bit too happy to be grasshoppers.

The man’s answer to Jesus’ question: I can’t do it!

Joh 5:7  “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Jesus responds immediately: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (5:8). IN the next verse we read: Joh 5:9  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath.

I was at a prison chaplains’ training day Thursday. We had to do this exercise – they read out something and you had to move to a section of the room to show if you strongly agreed, or strongly disagreed, or were somewhere in the middle.

Guess what – I was often on my own.  You’re probably not surprised.

I especially could not say easily that I was a religious person.

I’ve never felt religious. I used to say to the kids I worked with in three schools – I’m not very religious. They often were left scratching their heads. There I was in a dog collar and sometimes wearing a robe a chapel.

The “religious” people in this Gospel passage in john 5 are some of the reasons why I don’t feel comfortable being called religious.

Here’s a man healed after 38 years as an invalid, and they are objecting to the day of the week it happens on? The text continues:

Joh 5:16  So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.Joh 5:17  Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

When it comes to helping people – you can’t stop because of the day of the week. Or  a crisis. Or risk. Yes, you have to take all reasonable precautions.

Jesus kept healing and speaking the truth. He engaged the untouchables. The people living on the margins. The bad people of his generation. And they changed.

A good shepherd doesn’t leave the sheep on a Sabbath – so that they are easy supper for the wolves.

Today fortunately we have Psalm 23 in the readings, which my new friend Tim who heads up the bile reading group I belong to (operating in Russia) -says “is the perfect antidote to the current worldwide panic.”

He points to the final verse: “Surely goodness and covenant-faithfulness (traditionally mercy) will follow (pursue) me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for length of days.” (Ps. 23:6) Goodness and mercy.

We were studying Proverbs 3 in our Bible Study on Wednesday. Pro 3:5  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; Pro 3:6  in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

The previous verse sprung up from the pages Pro 3:3  Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.

Love and faithfulness – loving kindness and truth. Goodness and mercy. We can’t stop caring because God’s goodness and loving kindness don’t just follow us. They are the hounds of heaven. They pursue us!

Tim says: “The word “pursue” is used outside of its normal context in an ironic manner and creates a unique, but pleasant word picture of God’s favour (or a kind God) “chasing down” the one whom he loves.”

Jesus compassion for those who suffered long and tough was there – he healed them.

He sought hem out. He listened. At the pool he discovered this man’s predicament. And intervened effectively. Do we want to be healed?

Do we know that he is pursuing us?

  • Let’s not be afraid at this time in our lives.
  • The Lord is our shepherd. We won’t want  for anything.
  • He restores our soul – heals our hears- and feeds us.
  • We are never alone.

We learnt a song recently and the words really spoke to me:

I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

You’re a good good father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

In the face of global fear, may you have faith in the pursuing goodness of God.


Sunday sermon 17 April, Easter 4 – Sheep and shepherds

Family Service Readings: Psalm 23; John 10:22-30;

FAMILY QUIZ – for all ages.

  1. Who wrote the Psalm “The lord is my shepherd?” (David)
  2. What is the number of that Psalm? (23)
  3. Who had the first sheep dogs in the bible? (David – Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life – “Surely” or a dog called “Shirley”). [This is a joke by the way :-)]
  4. What part of a bible days sheep was very fat? Was it the tummy or the tail? (Tail)
  5. Which way did bible shepherds may their sheep move. Did they drive them from behind or lead them from in front? (in front)
  6. If a sheep was injured say scratched by a sharp thorn bush or sunburned – what did the shepherd use to heal them? (olive oil)
  7. What would a shepherd carry the oil in back in bible days? (a ram’s horn).
  8. What was the name of the shelters made for sheep to be sheltered in/ (sheepfold)
  9. What material was a permanent sheepfold made of? (stone)
  10. What was used to guard the door of a sheepfold? (a watchman or shepherd).
  11. When David was a shepherd boy what animals did he protect his sheep from? (lion and bear. 1 Sam 17)
  12. Did shepherds really know their sheep by name? (yes)

And then two key questions:

  1. Does Jesus know you by name?
  2. Do you REALLY listen to Him?


As this is a family service, here are some questions to discuss with someone younger or older than you in church today:

  • When do you feel the most unsafe?
  • Who are the people you should be safe with?
  • Have you ever been abandoned?
  • Do you remember being lost? In danger?
  • Have you ever been left behind?

When you’ve been left behind, perhaps after school,  and no one came to fetch you. How did you feel? Scared? (not really/maybe).  Unloved? (toughen up kid –  or maybe you felt terrible unloved?)  Angry? (probably – because you’re a kiwi kid and have a sense of entitlement?)

We watched a presentation about children in Romania being abandoned totally by parents – children who lie in hospital cots for years. It’s a great story though of a kiwi woman who started an orphanage there – and eventually a whole organisation to rescue children.

The bible has a lot of ways of describing God’s love for us as God’s children. The Good Shepherd is a great one – this Sunday Easter 4 is always Good Shepherd Sunday. He really does care for us as part of his flock. And of course he speaks of “lost sheep” in another place, describing how we get separated from Him. Here’s a great video telling that story:


Thankfully we are found by Jesus – and part of our work is to help lost people get reconnected to Him too.

Here’s one way of looking at Psalm 23 which is one of those passages that are our bread and butter – like 2 Corinthians 5:17 (if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation) and John 3: 16 (God so love the world). It’s by Ben Witvoet.


Dialogue with Scripture:

This has been another busy week. I don’t know whether I can focus on worship this morning. Something is nagging at my feelings.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
Life is busy. There seems to be no end to work. I can’t relax.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.
I have bad, painful memories.

I am hurting inside.

He restores my soul.

I struggle with sin. The good I want to do I cannot do. The evil I do I do not want to do. Who will rescue me from this body of death?

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 

I am getting older and may soon die. Someone I love may soon die.

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

My fellow workers look down on me. My boss gives me a hard time.  have few friends at school.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

Life is full of troubles. My health is not as it should be. Where can I find meaningful work?

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

I am worried about the future. Will I meet a partner? Can I repay my debts? Is my business going to fail? Will my marriage last?

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.

Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


John 10 – the good shepherd.

The Gospel reading has a number of great things that are a strength to us as well.

The whole of John 10 is worth reading. It doesn’t all take place at the same time. This last part is at the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) in winter and takes place on the east side of the temple where pronouncements and judgments took place.

The Jewish leaders are eager to pin Jesus down on his claims. In fact, there’s only one verse in the whole of John’s gospel where the question is asked directly? They encircle him, corner him and ask: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24).

He answers in sheep and shepherd language. They would pick that up quickly – because they would have known Psalm 23 too (The LORD- YAHWEH – GOD -is the shepherd) – and that there and in other places God is the shepherd of the flock. Jesus is making a claim to be this shepherd. Here is his reply:  Joh 10:25  Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, Joh 10:26  but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. Joh 10:27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. Joh 10:28  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 

Importantly, eternal life – in John 17:3 – is described as a relationship – knowing God. And Jesus is claiming here that we are safe in his hand.

Just in case they don’t get it he spells it out further: Joh 10:29  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. Joh 10:30  I and the Father are one.”

The moment he claims to be God – the next verse in fact – they want to stone him!

There is nothing worse than a closed mind. They could not get their heads around that possibility that he was “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14). Of course in John 1:11 John writes: He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

Jesus challenges us too – to really believe in Him – not just who he is but that he really is the good shepherd.

I suspect often we live the opposite – as if we had been abandoned by God – that he forgot to fetch us at the school of life.

Here’s Psalm 23 again – with some key words to describe God and Jesus:

Psalm 23 -a Litany

The Lord is my Shepherd That’s Relationship!

I shall not want That’s Supply!

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. That’s Rest!

He leadeth me beside still waters. That’s Refreshment!

He restoreth my soul. That’s Healing!

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness That’s Guidance!

For His Name’s sake That’s Purpose!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death That’s Testing!

I will fear no evil That’s Protection!

For Thou art with me That’s Faithfulness

Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me That’s Discipline!

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies That’s Hope!

Thou anointest my head with oil That’s Consecration!

My cup runneth over That’s Abundance!

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life That’s Blessing!

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord That’s Security!

Forever That’s Eternity!

May he bless you today with the knowledge of how good He is.