Easter 3 – April 29th and 30th, 2017 – John 10:11-16
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen +
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen +
The Gospel texts that we hear in these weeks after Easter really end up focusing us upon what the Risen Christ does for us and makes us into – what we in the Church are made into on account of Christ. On Easter, we get the foundation – Christ rises from the dead, and this is for us, it is to give us new life now and the assurance of our own resurrection on the Last Day. Last week, we heard that Christ uses His Word of forgiveness to counter our fears and doubts, to give us strength for this new life - that He makes us to be people whose lives are defined by the fact that we receive forgiveness from Christ. Do you see how both of those texts describe how Christ relates to us, and then describe who, describe what we are in the Church because of Christ and His love for us? Today we hear another description of what Christ establishes in His Church, what His love makes us to be. And it’s familiar – it’s the image of the Good Shepherd.
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” We hear these words, and we make those joyous connections – of course Christ is our Good Shepherd, and on Good Friday, the Good Shepherd laid down His life for us. We know this, we give thanks for this. As Paul would have us be, we are determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified in this place – we know that as often as we celebrate the Supper we show forth His death until He comes. Behold the love that Christ the Crucified has for us in dying for our sins so that we might have life in His Name! But let’s not run by this idea too quickly. Let us pause and consider it again – the Good Shepherd does what? What does a good shepherd do? He dies for the sheep. Do we realize just how odd an approach that is, how differently our Lord thinks and teaches from the rest of the world? A shepherd dying for sheep? For those sheep who exist so that you can sheer their wool, so that you can even slaughter them? For that a good shepherd would die? Who gives up their life for an animal, for a lowly beast? Yet, that is how Christ describes His Church. It is as though Christ were to say, “I am God Almighty – and although I am God and you are as below me as a sheep is below you, yet I choose out of My love for you to die for you.”
Do we believe this image? Does this shape how we think? Do we view ourselves as sheep, as foolish folk who easily wander astray into sin? Do we view ourselves as simple folk in need of constant and continued care, who are relatively powerless to defend ourselves against predators? Do we believe this? We ought, for it is true. Christ is the Good Shepherd, and we are sheep – we all like sheep had gone astray, and we need to be cared for. This is part and parcel of what being a Christian is – it means acknowledging that you are weak and lowly and that you need to be cared for – that you need God’s care for you, that if the Good Shepherd hadn’t died for you, then you yourself would have been lost, and that there is nothing that you could have done about it – that you are dependent upon Jesus, just as a sheep is dependent upon its shepherd.
This is who we in this place are, we are those who are dependent upon Christ. And why are we dependent upon Christ and not someone else? “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. This is because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” This is the other reality – to be in the Church is dangerous, for that old wolf Satan loves nothing more than to bound amongst God’s sheep and snatch them, seize them, scatter them. And if I could make an observation here. When are the sheep scattered? When the hireling who doesn’t care about them flees. This hireling is contrasted to the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd owns the sheep and lays down His life. The hireling – he doesn’t care about the sheep themselves – he thinks along the ways of the world. He cares for the cash in his pocket, and if this flock gets eaten up, well, there’s more places in the world to make money. Now, in many ways this part of the textis a warning to me – for I am a Pastor, and Pastor is just the Latin word for Shepherd. I serve under the Good Shepherd, and when I tend to you in His stead and by His command – the thoughts of worldly things are to be far from my mind. That’s part of the reason why we have a Church Council, why we have a voter’s assembly – so that I don’t personally have to deal with the worldly, business affairs of this congregation by myself and begin seeing dollars and cents instead of sheep in need of care. Whenever that happens, Satan delights. However, this passage also describes you. God has instructed, God has called you to love your neighbor – and how – love your neighbor as yourself. To see that you are involved in your neighbor’s life, that your neighbor is part of your own life. This is a warning to you as well. When you do not love your neighbor as yourself – when your own thoughts are distracted by what you can gain, what you can make, what you can take for yourself from your neighbor – that is when Satan comes in and snatches folks. When you don’t show love, your indifference and coldness lets Satan wreck havoc upon your neighbor. And more than that, when you don’t show love, your indifference and coldness lets Satan wreck havoc upon you yourself. If you do not show love, you are saying, “I don’t want to be a sheep – I want to be a wolf, I want to prey upon others, seize and snatch what is theirs for my own selfish desires.” This is what we need to be aware of – that if we fail to be content with simply being sheep who are cared for by the Shepherd, and instead we become focused on the things of this world, money, power, fame, respect, glory, might – we are no better than a hireling who flees and leaves the sheep to be slaughtered, we indeed become the wolves preying upon our neighbor instead of praying to God for their good.
Our Lord teaches us how He makes us to avoid this horrible and wicked fate. “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 My life down for the Sheep.” Do you note what is so wonderful about this? Here we have just heard about the dangers facing us, the problems we might get into. And what is the solution? Does Jesus say, “Well then, sheep, you better learn to get tougher so you can fight off a wolf on your own”? Does Jesus say, “Well then, sheep, you’re on your own, you better formulate some master strategy and plan”? No – Jesus puts the focus back upon Himself. Yes, I know that you sheep are in danger – but I am the Good Shepherd, and I know you, and because I know you, you know Me – and I lay down My life for you. Christ Jesus lays down His life for us – this isn’t just describing the one time, the once for all event of Good Friday – but rather this. Christ always lays down, Christ always gives you His life. Again, this shows us how we need to think, how we ought to view the things in this Church. Everything here in this place is us receiving from Christ His life, the life He laid down for us – and this life protects us, it makes us to know Him and know His love for us. Christ is the center of everything here. We don’t just pay Jesus a minute of lip service and then go talk about something else. Our liturgy – this is Christ’s Word of love for us so that we might know Him, know the forgiveness that He won for us by laying down His life. Our hymns – they aren’t about us and what we do – they are about Christ Jesus and what He brings us. We are content in Christ. Christ is our Shepherd. We rejoice because Christ’s death has set us free. Our Hymns proclaim Christ. The sermon – it’s not going to be 4 simple rules for having better stuff – it’s always going to be about what Christ does in winning and giving you salvation. The Supper – what is that – the Body of Christ, given for you. The Blood of Christ, shed for you. The Good Shepherd laid down for you. That’s what the Supper is.
So I am going to ask the question. Do we believe this – do we act as though what we confess here is actually true? Do we believe that God Himself is present here – do we believe that God gathers His flock here so that we can hear His voice, hear His Word and thus be safe and have life in His Name? Do we actually believe that it is Christ who gathers us here, that the Holy Spirit works through Christ’s Word, and that this is what makes us one, one flock? I ask, not because I think you don't believe, but because Satan will do everything in his power to destroy, to distort this place. He will tell you it is pointless – as though eternal life and salvation isn’t a big enough point. Satan will tell you it is boring – as though the very wonder of the ages – that God becomes Man and suffers and dies so that you might live is somehow humdrum and dull. He will tell you it isn’t exciting - as though our sole goal in life is to be entertained. Satan will tell you that God’s Word isn’t enough – as though God’s Word which created everything, the world and our faith, somehow is weak. Do you believe, do you understand that you are a sheep who has heard Christ’s voice, who knows the voice of your Master, the Good Shepherd who has laid down His life for you, the Good Shepherd who has been raised from the dead proving that you will have everlasting life in His name? This is reality, this is what your life is – and indeed, this is what everyone’s life should be – this is why we are to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified so that these walls echo with nothing but Christ, so that we in our lives speak and show forth Christ – so that through us others, our family, our friends, our neighbors – so that these people whom God has placed into our lives would hear the voice of Christ as well, that they would be gathered here. And this is all done by Christ Jesus – the Good Shepherd who lays down His life – the Good Shepherd who calls out and restores and forgives us through His Word. This is what our life is, this is what this place is. We are Christ’s own dear sheep whom He loves, whom He cares for by His Word, and whom He will never abandon, all thanks and praise be to God Almighty. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.