(this is the sermon I am preaching at Zion Lutheran Church in Alva, OK. They are currently vacant, but have a candidate, Aaron Wagner, assigned to them)
Alva – Easter 4 – May 15th, 2011 – John 10:1-10
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
“A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Just the text that a vacancy pastor, especially one that isn’t really well known to the congregation because he lives 60 miles away, wants to have on his first Sunday covering the vacancy. But, this is a good thing, a good text for us to pause and consider today, because this text really does speak and point to the Office of the Holy Ministry – what a Pastor is, what a Pastor does, and as you are in a time of transition here, as you are moving from Pastor Bersche to Pastor Wagner – this is actually an excellent time to hear this. So, this morning, we will listen to the Words of our Lord, and we will think about what it means for this congregation here.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” Right away our Lord gives us a contrast. If you are supposed to be somewhere, you enter through the door. I have my home. If I want to go into my home, I open the door and walk on in. That’s the right and proper way. Now, if you ever see someone breaking a window and crawling in to my house, I hope you’d call the cops. That’s the way a thief enters, that’s the way that someone who has no business being there enters. And so our Lord gives this picture of his church – Zion here can be likened to a sheepfold. What do we have here but a bunch of Christ Jesus’ little lambs, and God wants you to be spiritually cared for. There should be a pastor here preaching to you, administering the Sacraments to you. But there is a right way and a wrong way to have a pastor show up here. Our Lord says, “I am the door of the sheep.” For someone to be your pastor, he must come here not of his own volition or decision, not to make a profit off of you, not to fleece you, but he is to be one who enters at Christ’s command as Christ’s own called servant.
For 8 years, Mark Bersche was that called servant. Christ Jesus our Lord called him to be your pastor, ordered him, in fact. That’s what the word “ordained” really means – it means to be placed under orders. Now, this congregation has issued a call to Aaron Wagner, and he will come and he will be ordained, instructed by God to be your pastor. Even me, as the vacancy pastor – I didn’t just drive on up here and say, “Well, I heard there was no one here to preach, I guess I will.” The elders of this congregation asked me, one who is called and ordained, to be a fill-in, a stop gap. What all this revolves around is this – our God is a God of order who cares for His Church, and He is the One who sends congregations men to be their pastors, to be their shepherds and to tend to them. And this should all be straight forward, all above the board.
Now, what is the called, ordained pastor of a congregation supposed to do? “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” And lets continue with a bit later from the text – “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” So, Jesus describes what your Pastor is to do with three images – he is to speak to you (as you are to hear his voice), he is to call you by name, and he is to lead you to pasture. The normal way we say this today is that a pastor is to Preach the Word and administer the Sacraments. The sheep hear his voice – when do you hear the shepherd’s voice – when He preaches, when He teaches. The highest duty Pastor-elect Wagner will have is to preach to you in the service. His job will to be preach the Law, make clear what not only God commands, but also what you fail to do. His job will be to call you to the carpet when you are wrong. His job will be to preach the Gospel, to proclaim that you sins, which are many, are forgiven simply and solely because of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. In other words, he is to show poor miserable sinners that they have life in Christ. And he is to constantly teach this – in this pulpit, in bible studies, in confirmation, at hospital bed sides – over and over.
And you are to hear him in this. Many times, the Word of God says things to us that we do not like. I don’t particularly enjoy seeing my sin. I don’t like being shown where I am wrong, and I’m sure that you guys don’t either. But we need to hear that, we need to be brought to repentance, for our own good. Your pastor will do that. We also don’t always like hearing the pure Gospel – we are sinful little people, we like to think about what we add to salvation, what we get to do that makes us good people. That’s not the point of the Church – what you do is never, never ever Gospel. Your actions add nothing to your salvation – they help your neighbor, and you should do good works, but they help and save you never. Only Christ Jesus does that. Your pastor is to fix your eyes upon Christ Jesus and His salvation, and not let any works righteousness creep in and taint and destroy the Gospel. And when your pastor preaches the Word of God purely, when he preaches the Law in all its sternness, and when he points to Christ Jesus and gives His forgiveness – listen to him. For when he does that, your pastor is bringing you life and salvation – he is bringing you Jesus.
Your pastor is also to tend to the administration of the Sacraments. The first of these is Baptism. We heard that the shepherd calls the sheep by their name. Your name, as a Christian, is intimately and directly tied to baptism. At your baptism, as part of the ceremony, the pastor then asked “How is this child to be named” – and then “so-and-so, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is at your baptism where Christ Jesus first called you by Name – that’s why in the old days your first name was called your “Christian name” – until you were baptized you were just Baby Last Name. Baby Brown… but at your baptism, you got your name. That’s also where we get the term “Christening” – to Christen doesn’t simply mean to “name” – it means to put into Christ, and how – by being named a Child of God in Baptism.
This congregation is first and foremost a gathering of the Baptized. That’s why you are here – God has called and gathered you into His church by the gift of Baptism, and it’s because you are part of God’s Baptized family that you belong here in His church – and in this Church you are to be cared for by your pastor, who will preach and forgive your sins. He is to know your name, know that you are one of the Baptized, and he is to care for you as such. This is who you are.
And then finally – your pastor is to lead you out into the pastures of salvation. What is the point of taking sheep out to pasture? It’s to feed them, to nourish them, to make them grow. And for this reason, your pastor is to see to the administration of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord Supper is given by Christ Jesus to His Church, so that those who have been baptized and trained and are part of God’s family will have their sins forgiven and grow in faith and love. The shepherd is to feed his sheep, and so if you are a baptized, confirmed child of God, Jesus provides you a pastor to give you His Holy meal. And your pastor will have as his duty the administration of this meal. When you are repentant, when you seek the forgiveness of your sins, when you are striving to live as a child of God – he will welcome you. But, if you are unrepentant, if you deny the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in this meal, if you choose to live in open sin defying the Word of God, if you choose to love false doctrine and deny your Lord, he will close the altar to you. He must, for your own good, lest you eat and drink to your own judgment and damnation. That’s his job.
And why all this? “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” We live in a world where Satan, the great thief, is active and strong. How much false and anti-Christian teaching is there out there? How many temptations to wickedness do we face? How many people teach salvation by works, throwing Christ to the side? How many people in the world say that what is bad and sinful is good and okay? These are all of the Devil, and they are all meant to steal away your confidence in Christ, to kill your faith, and to ultimately lead you to destruction in hell. But this is not what Christ desires for you, for He loves you, He has died to forgive your sin and He has been raised to ensure your life. And so, He sends to you a man, a pastor, your shepherd, who will stand here in this place and in the stead and by the command of that same Christ Jesus forgive you all your sins. Your pastor will come, sent by God, so that you might have Christ’s life and His life abundantly through the preaching of the Word and through the right and proper administration of the Sacraments. This is a wondrous blessing and God’s love to you. Amen. Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia).