In the dark

Worship on the 4th Sunday of Easter
10:00 am      21 April 2024
Online & Onsite (Mixed Presence) Gathering as a Worshipping Community
Led by the Rev Brad Childs
Music director: Binu Kapadia     Vocalist: Lynn Vaughan
Elder: Shirley Simpson

We gather to worship God

Music prelude

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
P: and also with you.

Lighting of the Christ candle
Welcome and announcements
Silent preparation for worship

Call to Worship
L: Jesus the Christ said, I am the Good Shepherd.
P: We have come to follow him.
L: We gather in the name of the One who leads us by still waters.
P: We have come to be restored in him.
L: We gather in the name of the One who prepares a banquet for us.
P: We have come to be fed by his love, so let us worship God.

Opening praise: Lord, I need you

Prayers of approach and confession

Lord, you surround us with your grace. Our cups do overflow. We have been given relationships and people we don’t deserve; people better for us than we are for them. You give us people to care for and love but truth be told, we take more than give. And still, our lives are showered with greatness. You fill our days with care. Even when we can’t see it, it’s there.

We have comfortable homes and beds to lay our heads. We worry, not about food or clean water but about paying bills for things we’ve already enjoyed and planned to pay for long ago. We see before us a blossoming world. We see good people and a watered prairie getting greener by the day. We see schoolchildren staying later after the day is done just to play longer. More noise we hear yes, but more laughter too. We used to be bored. Today we have kids who are free to do so much they are overstimulated. We have so much it’s like we have too much.

But we always grumble.

Where we see rain, we should see a last chance to sit in the calm of a drizzling day in warm socks with a hot tea or cup of stew but instead, we complain about the much-needed rain. God, you provide us with homes and friends and books and hugs and messages from loved ones and safe journeys and surprises.

But we’ve spent a lot of time on ourselves. We’ve ignored others too much. We’ve put forward false and better versions of ourselves when people we love just want the real me and you. We’ve wasted good food, spent too much time sitting around being memorized by nothing or by work or by thinking about things we “need” to do and not enough time with You or the people we love and love us. We have so much we waste.

We’ve spent too much time NOT having meaningful conversations.

These are some of our sins God… some of the things in our lives that just aren’t right on target. We trust too much in ourselves, our ways, our own opinions our strength, our own ideas, our own money, our own everything. We forget that you are the source of it all. We forget how much we need you.

But this week we want to be different. We confess. And we say that we want to be better. And we will be: with your help. Amen.

Response: I waited, I waited on You, Lord

Assurance of God’s grace: Jesus said, “What kind of Father when asked for bread would give his child a stone instead”. Our God hears us when we admit we can be better. Our God hears us when we ask to be better. And our God forgives and enables us to be better. Thank be to God, from a forgiven people. Amen.

We listen for the voice of God

Children’s time

Response: Open our eyes, Lord (445)

Story: Charades
Charades means acting out. You can’t speak. You have to act something out and everyone has to guess. Who’s first???

First word: Penguin! Second word: Telescope! Third word: Hockey! Final word: Love!

You don’t need words to tell someone that you love them. Love is something you can show by the things that you do. Now, let me point out that the game would be a lot easier if you could speak wouldn’t it? That’s true in life as well. You can show people you show them all you want but some people still need to hear it. As young people, you can show God’s love with your actions and with your words.

Prayer: Our God, you help us to shine a light into the world. So help us to say we love you with our words and our actions. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer (535)

Transition music

Song: The Lord’s my Shepherd (11)

Today’s Message

Scripture reading: Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 12; John 10:11-18

Response: Alleluia, Alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord

Message: In the dark

In his book Unseen Footprints Timothy George writes, “When I was a student at Harvard Divinity School I learned “Homiletics” (the art of preaching) from Dr. Gardner Taylor, a minister in New York City.  I’ll never forget those lectures. But most of all I remember a lesson I learned very early on. I remember Dr. Taylor telling a story from when he was preaching for the first time in Louisiana. During the depression, electricity was just coming into that part of the world and Dr. Taylor was visiting a small, rural; predominantly black church (as most were). The place was not exactly beautiful (especially due to a near-total lack of windows in the building) but it was clearly well cared for. And unlike a lot of places it had the much-welcomed technology of a single light bulb hanging down from the ceiling to light the sanctuary.

As Dr. Taylor put it, he was “preach’n away” when right in the middle of his sermon the rare gift of electricity went out.  The building went black as night and Dr. Taylor didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t a real “wing it” type of guy and the pages of his planned 45-minute sermon were now utterly useless. He’d basically just introduced himself. What to do? It was nerve-racking and it was embarrassing and Taylor froze, motionless and speechless. It was just… dark. (1001 Il 190)

“Meanwhile, back at the ranch.”

Psalm 23 is probably one of; if not the most well-known chapter of scripture in all the world. Traditionally attributed to King David who was himself a shepherd, the Psalm is an allusion to God not only as Creator but also as Protector of a flock who knows each of His own by name and guides them through life’s joys and dangers.

Several years ago, a pretty devout Presbyterian man by the name of Steven King wrote a story about a family in crisis. It has a number of different incarnations but was most popular in the form of the book titled The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. In it, Tricia McFarland is on a family hike across the Appalachian Mountains when she stops to go to the bathroom.

While trying to catch up with the family she found herself on the wrong trail. Lost and alone she sat down closed her eyes and tried to pray. “Our Father…” came out of her mouth but not much else and she found it flat and awkward. That was just about all she could remember. In fact, Tricia couldn’t remember discussing spiritual matters with many people including her own mother… But she had asked her father not a month before this trip if he believed in God. “I’ll tell you what I believe in,” said her father.  “I believe in the Sub-audible.” A curious look crossed Tricia’s face. He continued, “Do you remember when we lived on Fore Street? Do you remember how the electric baseboard units would hum even if they weren’t heating up?”

Tricia shook her head. “No”, she said. “That’s because you got used to it,” the father said with a smile. “But take my word for it Tricia that sound was always there. It was there humming. We just didn’t see it. And even in a house where there aren’t baseboard heaters there are other noises: the fridge goes on and off, the traffic going by outside.

We hear those things all the time so most of the time we don’t hear them at all.”

“They are sub-audible,” said Tricia not quite content with her father’s explanation.

“That’s like God,” he said. “That’s great,” she thought, “But is that enough”?

Still, there she was, a young girl lost in the woods wanting to pray and all she could think about was a God that must be there but is ultimately unseen and unheard. And that didn’t help.

So here’s this broken, lost person, who is sensing that there must be something more when for some unknown reason she began recalling her favourite baseball player Tom Gordon.

Tom came to mind. He played for the Boston Red Sox. And Tom ended every game in the same way… by pointing his finger up in the air and giving credit to a personal and knowable God “revealed to the world in the person of Jesus Christ” as he would say to the camera; each time he was given the opportunity. Something about that helped.

After nine days of being bug-bitten, scared, and sick from drinking bad water and eating poisonous berries, she broke down in a very personal and passionate prayer from the depths of her heart. She prayed to the God of Tom Gordon, not the sub-audible, but the God she could point to. At the end of the book, Tricia finds the right path in more ways than one. (1001 Il. 314)

The 23rd Psalm sort of does that for us. It gives us a God we can point to. It’s the God that grants you what you need, takes you to greener pastures, finds you rest and restoration, guides your way carefully, provides all that you’re surrounded with and blesses you. It’s the God you have seen moving in your past and goes inaudibly if we aren’t listening.

But there is a problem. See the truth is, the shepherd is good but the sheep aren’t always that great. It is the nature of the sheep to stray and get in harm’s way, whether from hungry wolves or steep canyons. For centuries shepherds have used various methods from staff to dogs to keep sheep from straying from the safety of their care. But the sheep keep getting into trouble generation after generation.

In recent times shepherds have tried more sophisticated methods. One of those ways is a metal, hoof-proof grid that is built into the ground around the sheep’s territory just two feet wide. The animals cannot walk over the grid without falling over. This works well in keeping the sheep in the protection of a particular area. But in 2006 shepherds in Yorkshire, England found that their sheep were not only stubbornly prone to stray but were also “very crafty”.

When it found itself falling each time it came over the grid, one particular sheep determined to lie itself down and roll over the grid. [it must have been a crazy sight to behold]. The other sheep in the herd saw this genius little troublemaker and followed suit. Soon the entire flock had spread over the entire countryside to neighborhood gardens where they ate the food and flowers of local residents.

The shepherds eventually gathered up the troublesome sheep and returned them to their pen but they escaped again and got back into trouble right away. While the escape of these sheep may have seemed like an exciting adventure to them, it placed them in harm’s way from everything from theft to unfriendly dogs to busy traffic on the streets. They found it fun. But it was bad for them to run away. They just didn’t know it. (1001 Il. 111)

While the shepherd cares for His own and puts barriers around us for safety – We sheep are sometimes sly too.

I’m told several men were in the locker room of a private and very expensive club when a cell phone rang. One man picked it up without hesitation and said “Hello”.

“Sugar, it’s me!” she said.


“Hi, back Shug. I’m at the store and this coat is absolutely beautiful. It is more than we had agreed to but it is also on sale. It’s $1,900. Is that okay?

“That’s a bit more than we agree,” the man said, “But Okay if you like it that much, then go ahead and buy it.”

“Thank you,” said the wife. “Oh and Sugar, I stopped by the dealership and the new BMW M6 is here and it does come as a red convertible!”

A little annoyed now, “How much?” said the man.

“$138,000 she replied???”

“Fine – but I want every option they can possibly stick on it, or in it, for that prince, and I mean it – Loaded!”

“Great!” came the replay. “Now before I hang up, I spoke to the real estate agent and that piece of land we looked at on the beach last year is for sale again. And you were right; Smarty-Pants the price did go down. It’s $740,000 now, so I think we should maybe talk about it tonight after dinner if that’s alright?”

“No,” said the man, “Go for it! You call and set the whole thing up. It sounds great.”

“Thanks, Shug! I love you” said the woman.

“I love you too,” said the man.

Then the man smiled a huge loving smile, hung up the phone, raised it in the air and announced, “Does anybody know whose phone this is?” (1001 Il. 263)

Sometimes the sheep wander out of the pen and into dangerous ground. Other times we just do whatever we want ‘cause we think it’s fun.

We are sheep.

Thomas Linacre was the king’s physician to Henry the 7th and Henry the 8th of England, founder of the Royal College of Physicians, and friend of the great Renaissance thinker Sir. Thomas Moore. One of the colleges at Oxford is named for him.

Late in his life, Linacre studied to become a priest and was given a copy of the Gospels to read for the first time. Linacre lived through the darkest of the church’s dark hours under the papacy of Alexander 6th the pope whose bribery, corruption, incest and murder, plumbed new depths in the annals of Christian shame. It is recorded that in reading the Gospels for himself, Linacre was both amazed and troubled. “Either these are not the gospels,” he said, “or we are not the Christians”. (1001 Il. 23)

The sheep it seems were out of the pen.

Too often we proclaim to love the Good Shepherd with our lips, but with our lives, we choose to ignore Him.

The craziest thing about Psalm 23 is that when we read it, we can generally agree with it.

When we look back on our lives, it’s pretty easy to see that someone was there helping us all along the way. We tend to see those “footprints in the sand” so to speak of the one who carried us through. But we didn’t see it at the time. And it’s a lot harder to see a personal and knowable God we can point to, when we are walking through the valley of darkness. And that should be no surprise. We see it when looking back. That’s true for King David as well.

After all, David didn’t write this Psalm when he was poor.

He didn’t write it while his brothers were making fun of him.

He didn’t write this as he was being attacked by a bear.

He wrote it years later from the comfort of a palace.

He wrote it when the dark valley was something of the distant past and he knew he’d been carried through.

Yes, Psalm 23e says that God is with us in the shadow of death but it doesn’t always feel like that does it? It might not of at the time… even to David. If you have been in Death’s dark valley you know, it’s dark.

The valley is where you don’t know if you can pay your bills, you don’t know if that medicine is going to work, don’t know if that surgery will work, aren’t sure what’s going to happen to your children.

The valley is where you feel alone and confused and you don’t know what to do and “all the best-laid plans” have come to naught. It’s in the valley that it feels like the Sub-audible [g]od is all we’ve got.

It’s in the darkness, we have to strain our eyes to see.

In that tiny little church back in Louisiana when the lights went out and Dr. Taylor didn’t know what to say or do. He stumbled around a bit trying to search out a phrase or word that might remind him of what he had planned to say. But he didn’t find it. He just looked out at the congregation in stunned silence. “What could he possibly teach these people?” he thought. He felt like a sham. AND THEN, all of a sudden a voice rang out from the back. “Preach on, preacher. We can still see Jesus in the dark”. And then again from someone else and someone else, and on and on… “We can still see Jesus in the dark”.

That day Dr. Taylor didn’t have much to teach. But he had a lot to learn. This world can sometimes be a cold, dark place. Life is full of surprises and not all of them are good ones. Yet, while it may not always feel like it, God is always down in the valley with us and just below all the noise, but personal and knowable too. And if we really try (and you may have to)… we can all still see… Jesus… [even] in the dark. (1001 Il. 190p2). Amen.

Song: Saviour, like a Shepherd lead us (485)

We respond to serve God: Our time of giving

Reflection on giving: Dayspring is empowered to carry out our mission of worship, service, and care by generously given volunteer time, talent, and treasure. Many thanks to all who give so generously!

Prayer of gratitude and for others and ourselves

We make our offerings, small and large,
with the hope and confidence
that all we do,
all we offer
all we say,
all we think,
and all we hope
will take root in this world
and be the source of new expressions
of God’s love,
of God’s justice,
of God’s character,
of God’s mission,
and of God’s reign.
May God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven
through us,
alongside us,
despite us,
and for us.

Gracious and loving God, as a shepherd cares for the flock, so you care for each one of us; move in our hearts, minds, and communities and enable us to care and serve as you lead each of us.

You are rest and you lead us into green pastures: we pray for all those who are tired with work or with worry; who wear themselves out with anxiety or serving others; be rest and re-creation for those who feel weary and tired:

Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

You are truth and you lead us beside quiet streams of reflection; where peoples’ lives are twisted by untruth, where tyrants and leaders or any in authority distort reality, be a strong and transforming word of truth:

Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Particularly this morning I pray for those in North Korea who have recently received smuggled bibles. We pray for safety for understanding and protection. We pray that all people might find a heart for one another and an end to violence.

Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

You are life and you restore our souls: wherever people’s lives are impoverished or in chaos, repair and bind them up. We remember all who are facing trials and difficulties, those who are sick and dying, and those who are bereaved. We pray for loved ones watching others fade away and feeling left behind. And we pray for those affected by the terrible earthquake in Nepal this morning. Lord may they feel a strong sense of your presence and peace and may you be seen in the lives of the rescue workers and aid:

Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

You are freedom, your rod and staff comforts us. We remember before you all those in danger for those who are far from home, prisoners, exiles, the marginalized, victims of oppression, police abuse and brutality, racism, and hatred:

Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We give you thanks for those times when others and we have found peace in the face of turmoil, happiness after moments of strife, and when insight has emerged from times of confusion.  Open our eyes more to the redemption of your work in our lives and orient us so that we might be part of your redeeming work unfolding around us for others in need:

Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer. Amen

Song: Christ is alive (251)

Sending out with God’s blessing

May God,
the Good Shepherd,
lead you
to places of rest and renewal;

May Christ,
the Lamb of God,
accompany you
on the journey;

May the Holy Spirit
fill your hearts
with joy and generosity;

And may the blessing of God Almighty, the Creator, Christ and Spirit, descend upon you and dwell in your hearts this day, on hills and in valleys, always and forever. Amen.

Response: Go forth into the world

Music postlude


Numbers in brackets after a song/hymn indicate that it is from the 1997 Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Those and other songs are being used in accordance with the specifications of Dayspring’s licensing with One Licence (3095377) and CLC (A735555).

The Rev. Brad Childs retains the copyright (© 2024) on all original material in this service. As far as Brad Childs is aware, all of the material that has not been attributed to others is his own creation or is in the public domain. Unacknowledged use of copyrighted material is unintentional and will be corrected immediately upon notification being received.

Posted in Recent Sermons.