Sunday, April 6, 2008

Today's Sermon

Easter 3 – April 6th, 2008

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen +
Who is your Shepherd? That is the question this morning – who is your Shepherd? Now, I’m pretty sure you probably were ready to answer – The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Very good – that is the right answer – The LORD is, Christ Jesus is. But, what does this mean? What does it mean that the Lord is your Shepherd, what is distinctive about this, what does this teach us about our Lord? What does this LORD who is your Shepherd do – what makes Him a Good Shepherd? Christ Jesus is playing off the 23rd Psalm when He speaks the words of our Gospel, when He says that He is the Good Shepherd. He is using imagery to teach us – so let us look with care at the Words He speaks, and learn again what it is to be a sheep in the fold of the Good Shepherd.

I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Before this verse, Jesus in the beginning of chapter 10 had been speaking about those who were thiefs and robbers – who sought to hurt and destroy the sheep. And then He says this – I am the Good Shepherd – the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. How do you know who the Good Shepherd is, how is He identified? What makes the Good Shepherd stand out from the throng all around? Jesus says, “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” How different, how strange! Isn’t that backwards? Isn’t the sheep there to serve the Shepherd – to provide Him wool to sell, sheep’s milk perhaps – even perhaps to be the roast lamb or mutton stew when guests and visitors come by? If anything the sheep might have to give its life to it’s master. Your cows, your steers – there may come a time when you have to sell them off, send them to the slaughter house, make profit off of them. That’s why we keep animals, to get something out of them.

Not so the Good Shepherd. He doesn’t demand that His sheep be killed for His sake – no, He lays down His life for His sheep. How do you know, how do you recognize God, how do you see God at work? When you see the Shepherd lay down His life for the sheep – when you see the One with power, the One who could demand service rather seek to serve. John’s Gospel is especially concerned with demonstrating that Jesus is God – John calls the miracles “signs” – things that point out who Jesus is – but in all of John’s Gospel, the greatest sign, the largest indicator that Jesus is God is His Crucifixion. Do you wish to know who your Shepherd is – behold the Cross, see Christ Jesus thereupon, laying down His life to redeem you, to buy back His sheep whom He loves. In this, doing that which is so contrary to the way things work here in the world, so opposite of how things go – Jesus demonstrates His love for you. This is how He shows it to you – He breaks down any and all barriers that would separate you from Him – sin, Satan, death – all of these He breaks down upon the Cross. He desires that you have His life, His strength, His love – and so He strides forth from the tomb and gives you His forgiveness and life – He rises so that you may have life. This is the Shepherd – this is the LORD – and you cannot know God or understand Him apart from Christ’s death and resurrection. If you ignore the Cross, you might imagine a God who is strong, or powerful, or even kind and gives you goodies. But it is there, upon the Cross, that you see who God is – I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the Sheep.

Your relationship with God is shaped, is defined by what Jesus did upon the Cross. You are who you are in Christ because He is the One who died and rose for you. Because He paid the penalty for your sin you need not be eternally punished, and because He rose for you, you now have true eternal life. That’s what we see Christ doing by going to the cross. But not everyone acts like Christ. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. A hired hand has no true investment in the sheep – they just belong to somebody else – their loss is the other guy’s loss, so be it. A hired hand is there simply to see what he can get out of it, what is in it for me, why should I do this, what benefit do I get? And a hired hand certainly isn’t going to die to save some sheep. Sorry boss, we were attacked and I needed to hightail it out of there.

How often does someone you hoped in, someone you relied upon, end up turning out to be just a hired hand? The hopes you place, the help you need – you look up and they are gone. The support and protection you wanted – vanished – and trouble comes barreling your way and you are left on your own. Happens quite often, doesn’t it? People fail you, people disappoint you, people don’t do for you all that you expected them too, all that their duty would say that they ought to for you. In fact, how often do you yourself act like a hired hand? How often do you feel annoyed when others need you? How often do you wish to say, “Not my problem?” You see, this is the way the cookie crumbles here in the sinful world. We don’t relate to each other here like we ought. All too often, when we look at each other, our thoughts are on what do I get, what’s in it for me, why should I bother because I’m never going to get my share back in this – I’m just going to forget it all – after all, am I my brother’s keeper? We can so easily go off on our own and abandon others, write them off – eh, if the wolf gets them, better them than me.

The reason this happens is because of sin. Sin makes you selfish, makes you focus upon yourself. All sin puts the individual as the highest priority, all sin seeks to serve itself. The hireling seeks only what is best for himself. When you sin, whatever sin it is, you are simply putting your wants, your desires, your likes above and over your duty to serve and love others. That’s what every sin is – it’s running away to save and serve yourself at the expense of your neighbor.

But Christ Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Good One, the One without sin – the One without that selfish impulse. When He sees you, He doesn’t just see another drain on His time, another problem that He’ll have to deal with. He sees His own sheep, His own, the one that belongs to Him, the one that is His, that He cares about. You’ve been sealed as His – in the waters of Holy Baptism you were claimed by Christ – you’ve been marked as His own – receive the sign of the Holy Cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. He sees you as His own – and so He will serve you – He will never abandon you – He will stay and fight for you – for He is the Good Shepherd, and if He is willing to lay down His life for you, no wolf will ever snatch you away from Him.

I Am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock – one shepherd. Christ has claimed you as His own – you are His. And how do you know this? Because of His Voice, because of His Word. Christ Jesus puts His life giving Word to work in your life, by His voice calls you out of darkness into His marvelous light, calls you into His fold, into His House, into His Church that here you may be fed with all that you need for your spiritual growth, that you might be kept steadfast and secure in the one true faith – that you might always heed the voice of your Shepherd and not go wandering off after some false prophet trying to lead you to the slaughterhouse. Christ Jesus uses His voice, His Word, to gather His sheep together.

Today, in America especially, we can see all sorts of different ways people try to gather sheep on their own. Promises of wealth and a better life if you simply follow a few, simple rules – all about what you do. Promises of happiness beyond compare and God’s blessings – if you just make the right donation. Even within our own Synod – there are wild ideas of what we ought to do to get people to come to Church. What can we do to get more people in the doors – we’ll do anything to pack them in. Plans of men and marketing strategies as though we weren’t congregations but rather franchises trying to sell fast food burgers to the world. And in all this, the Word is sort of pushed to the side, the Word is forgotten. Do not forget, but hear! And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, One Shepherd. Who does the acting here? Is it left up to the sheep to find the shepherd? Must we somehow seek Him out? No – The Shepherd will bring the Sheep. And How? By the sound of His voice. By the Word. It is God who grows His Church – and He grows it by the proclamation of the Word. Your task isn’t to try and grow the Church – you can’t force that. Rather, what falls to you is to tend and give heed to the Word – to see that the Word goes out unhindered – to see that Christ’s voice echoes out from this place. Break down that which hinders the Word, like sin, and see that the Word is cherished and proclaimed, be in the Word yourself that you yourself might grow, that you might be a healthy sheep. Be in the Word – for the Word is the power of God unto salvation. It is God’s power for your salvation, it is God’s power for salvation for your friends and neighbors – it is the way in which the Shepherd gives you all that is His. Give heed to the Word, listen to the voice of the Shepherd, and delight in His salvation.

Who is the Good Shepherd? The Good Shepherd is Christ Jesus, who lays down His life upon the Cross so that He might call out to you, His forgiven sheep, and by the power of His Word make you lie down in His green pastures. No deceit is found in the mouth of Your Shepherd – only the Words of life, the Word of forgiveness and comfort which He gladly speaks to you. He is Christ the Crucified, who has risen from the dead and calls you unto life as well. This is the hope of the Christian Church, to ever be in the fold of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christ is risen (He is risen Indeed, Alelluia) Amen.

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