Worship Times and Styles

Saturday, 5:00 PM in the chapel

Traditional worship in a relaxed, intimate setting

Holy Communion every week, open to all believers

Sunday, 10:00 AM in the sanctuary

Traditional, liturgical worship in our beautifully designed main sanctuary

Nursery available for children under age 4

Holy Communion every week, open to all believers

Children are a part of the body of Christ, and we encourage families to worship together. Activity bags are available in both worship spaces, and Pastor Jerry shares a fun, meaningful message for children every week.

Listen to the Service

Experience worship at First! Click on the link below to listen to the entire worship service or just the sermon. 


Sunday Sermon - John 10:11-18 Fourth Sunday of Easter

Recently I was talking with some friends about my childhood neighborhood and upbringing. We were one of the post WWII, pre-planned communities. We had city parks within blocks of our homes in all directions. Our houses had front porches instead of back decks, and the neighbors watched over all of us kids, coming and going, all day long. We were protected, and our neighbors were our shepherds. They taught us to respect ourselves and to respect others.  They kept us safe. They were very good shepherds.

The images of their faces come to mind as I think about today’s Gospel Lesson, where Jesus says of himself, “I am the good shepherd.” Now I don’t have direct experience shepherding any real sheep; 2 dogs and a cat keep me busy enough. But over the centuries, this image of Jesus as the good shepherd and his followers as sheep has been very appealing to the church. Notice that even Jesus is not directly referring to himself as a keeper of sheep; rather he is tapping into the image used by the Hebrew people to refer to their kings, priests and prophets of Israel.  These people were seen as having been made responsible by God to take care of the people, God’s flock.  And as many of them failed, the Hebrew Scriptures are filled with tales of bad kings and false prophets.

When Jesus calls himself the “Good Shepherd,” he is contrasting himself with all those previous leaders who had been poor and incomplete shepherds, no better than hired hands really.  By contrast, Jesus identifies himself as the good shepherd, the one truly ready to “lay down his life” for the good of the sheep. Of course, that is what Jesus eventually did upon the cross, and it was that act of laying down his life for the sheep, all God’s people; which are, after all, all people from every time and every place–that created the new community, the new flock, that we call the church.  In this new flock, we are all both shepherd and sheep–called of God to care for each other and for the world. Regardless of our neighborhoods and varying circumstance and situations in life.

After the voter’s meeting next week, Ann and I will jump in my truck, load the puppies and head down to Las Cruces, NM. It’s actually an interesting area, although we have no desire to live there. The church building from my previous call is adjacent to the “Bataan Memorial Highway”, commemorating the death march from WWII. It goes through WSMR. Cruces is a community with many veterans, government employee, as well as New Mexico State University; its constituency is very similar to Manhattan. It’s very historic from the days of Spanish explorers to wagon trains settling the west. The work at WSMR changed the world in WWII. So bear with me today as I use a WWII story as an analogy to the Good Shepherd.

Phillip Yancey in his book “Rumors of Another World”, which has since been retitled as “A Skeptic’s Guide to Faith,” tells the story-behind the story-of the movie, “The Bridge Over the River Kwai.” It’s from the book written by Ernest Gordon, titled “The Miracle on the River Kwai.”  It’s about Scottish soldiers in WWII, forced by their captors to build a jungle railroad. The soldiers had degenerated to a level of barbarity, of animalistic behavior toward one other just to survive. Yancy summarizes it this way:

“One afternoon, a shovel was missing.  The officer in charge became enraged.  He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else.  When nobody in the squad budged, the officer took out his gun and shouted “All Kill. All Kill” all of them, there, on the spot.  Then, finally, one man stepped forward.  The officer put away his gun, picked up a rifle, and beat the man to death. When it was over. The survivors picked up the bloody corpse and carried it with them to do a second tool count.  No shovel was missing.  There had been a miscount at the first tool check.

The dead man was innocent.  He had voluntarily died to spare the others.  What was it Jesus said, “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep?”

That’s not the end of the story.  The fact that someone had died to save them worked a profound change on the prisoners.  As one of them said, “we wanted to be worthy of the sacrifice.” Rather than compete with one other in order to live, the prisoners began to treat one another as brothers, looking out for and taking care of each other.

When the victorious allies swept in and liberated the prison camp, the Japanese guards were terrified.  They fully expected to die, to be executed on the spot.  Their former prisoners, now little more than skeletons, lined up in front of the guards and began to shout. “No more hate.  No more killing.  What we need now is forgiveness.” The Japanese guards were stunned, and broke down weeping.”

Sacrificial death had transformative power.  The death of an anonymous prisoner transformed the POWs from isolated and competing individuals into a community who cared about and for one another.  The sheep became shepherds to one another.

This one man’s sacrificial death also transformed the way the prisoners saw their captors.  When the war was over, they chose to treat their oppressors as lost sheep–not as ravenous wolves.  They saw them as the “sheep not from this flock,” that Jesus spoke of and decided to forgive them and love them. It seems unimaginable to me; but that is the very nature of God’s grace. How we live our lives sends a message to the world. When Martin Luther said that the church is a "priesthood of believers," he didn't mean that we are all pastors; he meant that we all carry Christ into the world in our words and in our actions.

We have an opportunity to open ourselves up to the transforming power of the gift of new life, letting our lives be changed by the Risen Christ living in us and in this community.  Just as Ernest Gordon experienced the transformation of the soldiers as a group, he too was individually transformed. After WWII he went to seminary, became a Presbyterian pastor; and went on to be the Dean of the Chapel at Princeton University. We are called to continue the work of the good shepherd, caring for one another, loving each other, dying a little for each other, opening doors and tearing down barriers, bringing everyone into the sheepfold, into God’s beloved flock—individually and collectively. AMEN!