Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. Below you will find songs, scripture or poems, and a short message to frame and guide your time in worship. Each week by Friday I will be publishing a new worship outline. The scripture used generally (though not always) comes from the weekly Revised Common Lectionary, connecting the Friends tradition to other Christian traditions around the world. For some of you this worship space may be a place of sanctuary when you are away from in-person worshiping communities. For others, this worship space may help you prepare for your weekly Sunday or mid-week worship.
I suggest that you open each link in a separate window and play through the beginning of the songs to get over any ads, preparing for your worship time. (Though you may want to first check to see if ads play while the songs are embedded in the post. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t!) You may also want to have a candle and a journal nearby. Since this worship is designed in the manner of Programmed Quaker Worship, it includes a period of waiting worship. There are several communities around the world that host online unprogrammed Quaker worship, for which I have included links. These communities worship together at certain times each day and week, so you may want to plan your worship around theirs.
If you would like to set up a regular time to worship through this site or if you have specific prayer requests to be held by my home worshiping community, please contact me through this site. If you would like to leave a message on this page, perhaps a message that rises for you during your worship, please comment below. Messages are filtered to counter spam attempts and it may take me up to 24 hours to approve a comment. Thank you for joining me in this weekly online Quaker programmed worship. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
Shepherding God'’s Call
Centering Silence: Take a few moments to center yourself. Perhaps light a candle, find a comfortable place to sit and put away any distractions. Take a few deep breaths as you center yourself for this time of worship. Feel your body relax as your breaths become deeper. Turn your attention to the presence of the Divine throughout your body and throughout your life. When you are ready let the following worship elements guide your worship.
Scripture: A psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your 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 your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
— Psalm 23, New International Version (NIV)
Scripture: “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
— John 10:1-10, New International Version (NIV)
Message: Shepherding God’s Call
When I think of Psalm 23 and Jesus as the Good Shepherd as described in the Gospel of John, I think of a strong, kind male figure who guides and protects the flock of sheep. It’s an image that was created for me as a child, through the scriptures and by children’s books. This kind, strong shepherd is whitewashed. The stains of living outside with the sheep, in rain and in mud, and the dirt and blood of helping sheep birth their lambs—these realities in the life of a shepherd weren’t included in the pretty clean children’s versions of the story.
The writers of both Psalm 23 and John 10 would have had a more realistic image of a shepherd in their mind. The grime of living outside and living with animals as well as the danger of being a solo person in the wilderness who had to defend the animals against thieves and wolves, were both most likely vividly in the spiritual imagination of the writers. Shepherding is a hard, dirty, and lonely job.
And yet someone has to do it. No really, there are still people who are shepherd out there. It’s a profession that can be found all over the world, though it looks different in different places.
For example, growing up, my family had a border collie, a breed of dog known for sheep herding. We would stop and watch border collie herding demonstrations when we came across them on vacations, and I particularly remember traveling through the western United States and seeing herders with their sheep dogs organizing huge flocks of sheep through mountains and forests while traveling on horseback and living in tents and trailers.
When I hiked the Camino de Santiago in 2009, there were sheepherders who would take their flocks out by day across the vast plains of northern Spain and bring the flocks home by night. They too had sheep dogs who would help guide the flock, nipping at the sheep’s heels and protecting them from wild animals. These shepherds in Spain and in the United States were highly skilled animal wranglers with highly skilled herding animals to help them take care of the sheep.
On the other hand, in the Middle East, in Jordan, Palestine and Israel, the flocks I saw appeared much smaller. When people spoke of shepherds, they meant the single person looking after the flock who wanders over the land, sometimes accompanied by a sheep dog, but usually not. Often the shepherd is a youth who carries a stick to corral the animals. This job as a shepherd seems more closely similar to the scriptural imagery of a shepherd. In general the profession of shepherd is an isolated and isolating job. It is one where for days—if not weeks and months—the shepherd is alone with the flock.
So this week, as the metaphor of God and Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the people of God the sheep comes into our religious imagination, what does it mean? What does it mean that God will protect us, guide us and lead us to still waters? Does this metaphor speak to us today?
In the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelo, the main character starts off in the book as a young shepherd. He describes this in relationship to him and his sheep:
“The only things that concerned the sheep were food and water. As long as the boy knew how to find the best pastures in Andalusia, they would be his friends. Yes, their days were all the same, with the seemingly endless hours between sunrise and dusk; and they had never read a book in their young lives, and didn’t understand when the boy told them about the sights of the cities. They were content with just food and water, and, in exchange, they generously gave of their wool, their company, and—once in awhile—their meat. If I became a monster today, and decided to kill them, one by one, they would become aware only after most of the flock had been slaughtered, thought the boy. They trust me, and they’ve forgotten how to rely on their own instincts, because I lead them to nourishment.”
So when the scriptures describe God and Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and we the sheep, is this blind faithfulness what is being described? Are we to blindly follow God without question? Are we to simply give of ourselves when asked and trust wholly in the guidance and protection of the Lord?
For some Christians the answer here is yes—and I think there is an element of truth in that view. For we are prompted by the scriptures and by the Holy Spirit revealed to us in our lives daily to faithfully follow the will of God, give of ourselves generously, and trust in the Lord. But… we are also asked to become more and more like the Good Shepherd.
As we live our lives more and more in accordance to God’s will, we also live our lives more and more with awareness of God’s presence in our lives. We become the vessel through which God works and as such become the shepherds of God’s callings and leadings in our lives. So it is not about finding a group of followers, or a group of people to blindly and dimwittedly follow our leadership. Instead we take on the responsibility of the shepherd to the flock and are stewards, shepherds to God’s work in the world.
The scriptures describe the shepherd as Good, a distinction that suggests that shepherding in the age of the scriptures was not always an honorable profession. In fact, it was often a job given to the youngest child and the family member with the least amount of education or job prospects. Shepherds were sometimes seen as vagabonds, living off the land, and people of little means. Being wanderers, these were not people you’d want your children to marry. They were not considered positive contributors to society. And yet, the scriptures use this profession along with the qualifier “Good” to suggest that any profession done with moral consideration should be respected, even professions that are considered outcast or untouchable.
In addition, being a shepherd comes with a certain amount of freedom, freedom from borders and boundaries, and freedom from social responsibility and expectations. The Good Shepherd is a symbol that is used to uplift sovereignty from religious, political and other types of authority while also introducing a kind of authority, a kind of leadership that is servant-led, that serves the people or flock that is being guided and protected, that serves the needs of the sheep.
Back in Paulo Coehlo’s book, The Alchemist, the main character describes this kind of servant leadership:
“He arose and, taking up his crook, began to awaken the sheep that still slept. He had noticed that, as soon as he awoke, most of his animals also began to stir. It was as if some mysterious energy bound his life to that of the sheep, with whom he had spent the past two years, leading them through the countryside in search of food and water. ‘They are so used to me that they know my schedule,’ he muttered. Thinking about that for a moment, he realized that it could be the other way around: that it was he who had become accustomed to their schedule.”
And such is our shepherding of God’s work: as we become accustomed to the needs and requirements of God’s call, we live into the roles and responsibly that emerge. We become the Good Shepherd when we embody these roles and responsibilities with love, grace, and mercy and do our best to be Good Shepherds of God’s work in the world.
Silence-Waiting Worship: This is a time for you to turn your attention fully inward. The songs and passages and the offered message have prepared you to listen deeply to the Divine. Spend at least 20 minutes in silence listening for that still small voice of God. You may want to join an online waiting worship community. A few links for these can be found below.
When you have come to a place of closure in your waiting worship, continue on to bring your time of worship to a close.
Afterthoughts: Afterthoughts are thoughts that rose for you during waiting worship that didn’t completely form into a message. Perhaps you discerned that what was rising for you in waiting worship was a message for you alone, something not to be shared with others or perhaps you only received fragments of a message and it didn’t come together completely during the silence. Take a few minutes to journal these afterthoughts so that you can look back at them another time. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these partial messages and the fullness of their meaning will be revealed in time.
Joys and Concerns: It is traditional in Programmed Quaker Worship to have a time for the sharing of joys and concerns. Take a few moments to write down in your journal a few things from this week that you are thankful for and a few things that you are holding in prayer. Feel free to post these in the comments below as well (though remember that it may take up to 24 hours for them to be available to others to read) so that others can include your requests in their prayers and celebrate your joys alongside you.
Closing: Take another few moments of silence to close your worship time. Breathe deeply and give thanks for your time in worship today. When you feel ready, end in vocal prayer, either of your own creation or read out loud the following: “O Holy One, enliven in me that Good Shepherd that is your Spirit, that guides your people and protects against injustice and harm. Help me lay down by still waters and take care of myself so that through me you can reach out to the world. Amen.”