Saturday, April 9, 2016

Easter 3 Sermon

Easter 3 – April 9th and 10th, 2016 – John 10:(10)11-16

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
I am going to go back one verse earlier than our Gospel lesson – I could go back more because John 10 begins with this discussion on sheep and the Good Shepherd, but let’s content ourselves with just one. John 10:10 reads as follows: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The old thief, the old wolf has been hounding us since the garden. Satan has been stealing and snatching and killing and destroying since then. And God will not let that stand. God is not content to simply let Satan mess with you, not content to let Satan snatch you away from His Kingdom, not content to let Satan lead you into destructive sin and vice, not content to merely let you die. And so, Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd comes. And why? So that you may have life, so that you may have it abundantly.

And then we get to our Gospel text. How are you to have life? How are you to be rescued from Satan who would do you such harm? “I Am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” What an odd thing. What a strange thing. And of course it is strange, it is the mystery of the ages. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. To our cold and calculating human mind, this verse seems strange. Think about it – plenty of you have livestock, and of course you want to protect them… but are you really going to die protecting them? Not accidentally, but on purpose? If the pack of coyotes comes, are you willingly going to let them chew and gnaw on you so that that old grey mare of yours gets to live? Defend, protect what is ours, we get that. But literally to lay down your life for…sheep? According to cold, hard logic, that makes no sense.

It made no sense to Satan on Good Friday either. There was Christ Jesus upon the Cross, laying down His life. When He could have come down, when He could have run away. That is what Satan had been used to since the fall – “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and flees, and the wolf snatches and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” That’s your description of the history of the world since the fall. Satan entered the garden, and Adam suddenly stopped caring for Eve – It’s her fault God, it’s the woman You gave me who messed this up. Adam cared little for her, take her instead of me. Cain would ask, “am I my brother’s keeper”? I care nothing for him, God, and why should I? And on and on through the Old Testament we could go – we see examples of selfishness and disdain of the neighbor over and over and over. We see it all over, even in the New Testament, whenever we see someone other than Christ. And to be honest, we see it in ourselves. None of us here has to think too hard to think about the times we have been selfish, where we have cared more about ourselves than our neighbors, when we have let someone else suffer rather than suffering in their place. It ain’t my problem, why should I bother? Or even closer – drop the ball for your family this week, let a friend twist and hang? Let someone else do the hard work while you went off and did something else? That's what sinful folks end up doing – we pass the buck. And so Satan was used to jumping in, stealing us away from one another, scattering us, killing our friendships and loves and relationships, while we would run in terror. Satan was used to us men fleeing at his approach. We all like sheep have gone astray.

And then, there is Christ. He doesn’t flee. He doesn’t run away. He doesn’t let Himself be scattered. He does not stray. Instead, when the wolf comes He steps forward and says, “Here you go, wolf, take a big giant bite out of Me.” And He lays down His life. He suffers and dies. Why? Because He wants you to live, to have life abundantly. See, the lie, the myth that sinful man believes is that if he can just keep running, he can outrun sin and death and the devil. That we can be selfish and duck and dodge and keep getting our own, keep running away from every responsibility we face. Let Satan gobble that sheep over there, and he won’t be hungry anymore, and then I can get away and get on with my life. There’s an old joke – “two guys stumble across an angry bear in the woods, and the one guy starts to tie his shoes tightly. Why are you doing that, you aren’t going to out run the bear? I don’t have to out run the bear, I just have to out run you.” That’s how we think – these tough times might get them, but as long as I get through it, it will be fine. We can be callous and cutthroat to survive in the short term – but we forget the simple truth. Satan is relentless. Sin doesn’t stop. The wicked world never stops whirling, and what goes around is coming around again. Run away, seek to save and serve yourself, and it gets you no where. You still end up the same as everyone else. You know what there is? Dead. You run the rat race for riches – you still can’t take it with you. He who dies with the most toys, still dies. Because Satan is relentless, and if left to ourselves, well, as Luther's old hymn puts it, with might of ours could naught be done – soon were our loss effected.

But then Christ comes, and He lays down His life for the sheep. Instead of running, instead of hoping that the wolf will snack on the neighbor so that He could maybe make it until tomorrow (when the wolf will just be back for more) – Christ Jesus goes to the cross – and there on the cross He gives death a meal that it can’t swallow. He gives Satan more than He can chew on. Jesus lays down His life, and then, He rises again on the third day. Death is destroyed, Satan is wrecked. And you now have life – not a life where you simply scramble and hope to survive just a bit longer than your neighbor – but life, life abundantly. Life that lasts through all eternity. Even if Satan still scowls fiercely, even if your flesh and the world grouse and complain – you know the truth. That Christ Jesus has died for you, that He has risen for you, and that in Him you have life. And Satan can’t change that fact. There is nothing that Satan can do that will stop the fact that on the last day you will rise again. There is nothing the world can do to change the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you and that you are His and that He loves you. The Good Shepherd is your Shepherd, and He has laid down His life for you.

“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.” You know who this Good Shepherd is, for you are His own. You belong to Him, and you know, you know that He has laid down His life for you. He has claimed you as His own through the preaching of the Gospel – the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith – that faith which clings to Christ Jesus who has laid down His life for you. This is the heart of the Christian faith, the heart of how you relate to God. Christ Jesus has laid down His life for you – and it worked. You are His, you are forgiven, and He even accomplishes His good through you among your neighbors. This is true. This is real.

And Christ continues, “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.” Now this is where for too many preachers, the bait and switch comes in. This is where suddenly all the nice stuff about Jesus goes away and you get the lecture about what you need to do. Alright, go find those other sheep, people, go, work, work, work! We could even do a guilt trip – Jesus was so nice for you, can't you just do this for Him? But there's one major problem with that. Is that what Jesus said? No. Jesus said, “I must bring them.” What Jesus speaks here isn’t a command – it isn’t marching orders, it isn’t finger wagging. Rather, it is a promise of what He will do. He will gather His Sheep by the power of His voice, the power of His Word. The Church will continue. Now, humanly speaking, this may happen through us. I've baptized plenty of folks, but is that *me* - Eric Brown growing the Church, or is that Jesus gathering His own sheep? You speak the Gospel to a friend and they believe and are comforted – but is that *you* growing the Church, or is that Christ speaking through you to accomplish what He wills? You see, this passage isn’t meant to be a burden, it isn’t about “you need to do more” – and if someone beats you over the head with this, they are off. No, it is a promise – that just as you have been called by the Gospel, so too others will be. Perhaps even through God working through you – either way, it’s God at work, God in action, to Him alone be the glory. Christ Jesus will gather His sheep, and there will be one flock, and we will all together be under Christ. For He is our Good Shepherd, and He indeed gathers His sheep and brings them peace.

And so, my dear Christians friends, we know and have seen that Christ’s Words are true. He has laid down His life for the sheep, and He has taken it up again. In Christ Jesus, you do have life and life abundantly, for He has called and gathered you into His flock, and His voice still rings out to you this day, saying peace be with you, forgiving your sins, giving you life. He's the Good Shepherd; that's what He does, that's what He died and rose in order to win and give to you. This is the joy and triumph of Easter, this is the Victory that is yours in Christ, and it shall be yours forever, for you belong to Christ. Amen. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

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