Easter 3 – John 10:11-16 April 26th, 2020
Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! +
Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! +
We often downplay sin, we treat it as but a trifle as one old hymn puts it. I mean that – whether we talk about white lies or just bad habits – things that are bad but if they are habitual and daily it's no biggie – we tend to downplay sin. We tend to downplay the impact of our own sin – whether it's the addict who says it's not a problem or whether it's the times where we've hurt people and but then said, “Well, they are just overreacting.”
Jesus never downplays sin. He never minimizes it. He never poo-poos it and pats it's on its head. He calls sin what it is. And in our Gospel text the image of sin that our Lord uses is that of a ravenous wolf that snatches and scatters a herd of sheep, while the hired hands all run in fear. That's sin in a nutshell, right there. Sin snatches – sin will grab a hold of us and tear into us and shake and not let go until we die. Anyone slightly uncomfortable hearing that? I am – I am now, and I was during the week, and I was while writing it. There's a reason we tend to keep with those bad habits – they've got their claws into us deeply whenever we care to admit it. And sin scatters – folks who should be together get blasted and blown apart. We see a physical example of this right now – disease and death are a consequence of sin, and we've been scattered and separated now, most certainly. But even before last month, well, none of us have to think too hard to ponder relationships that were blown apart, friendships scattered, and people we were once close to from whom we are utterly distant. And sin drives us to fear, drives us to abandon our duties. The hired hand – he was hired precisely to protect the sheep – but he hears the growls, he sees the teeth and the strong jaws of the wolf – and terror hits him. He is “unmanned” as they would say back in the day, and he flees. I like that word “unmanned” - he ceases to be a man and instead flees like a beast. Sin lessens us – as instead of being whom we were created to be, we give into base emotion and are driven away from those whom God has placed into our lives.
Thus the reality of sin. All described neatly in one verse – 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. Actually, Jesus just needed the second half of that verse to set up what sin looks like. And if that was all that we had to talk about, this would be a right dour day for us. And these would be right wretched weeks for us. And we'd be left with nothing but fear and panic and dread – the fear and panic and dread that is floating in the air right now – and it's rightly to be there. People are seeing face to face the impact of sin, the impact of death – an impact long denied. People are seeing that there's no quick and simple governmental solution, that a simple change of policy won't perfect anything. Trust not in princes, they are but mortal – and seeing this drives the fear deeper into so many bellies.
But did you note what else Jesus said? All this impact, all this sin unleashed, all this terrible reaction – it's all from either the sheep or from folks who do not own the sheep. The owner, Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd – well, His reaction to sin is quite different than ours.
I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. You aren't just left on your own – in spite of what the fear driving you away from others might try to tell you, in spite of what your own shame over derelicted duties might make you feel. Sin attempts to scatter, to isolate. Sin tries to drive a wedge between you and God, and that wedge is in a word, death. God gives life and blessing – sin brings as its wage death. And it would have, except for one mind boggling thing. Jesus Christ, your God and Lord, lays down His life for you. When you are snatched away from Him by sin into death, He dives willingly into death for you.
And at first, this sounds like the most idiotic thing in the world. What shepherd ought lay down his life for the sheep? Is not the shepherd worth more than the sheep? I mean, this doesn't seem worth it, or heroic – the economics and math don't line up. That's because we don't own the sheep – economics and price think about selling the sheep or utilizing the sheep or turning a buck off the sheep – and that's never been Christ's relationship with you. He's never viewed you simply on the basis of your utility to Him, how much wool He could sheer you for. No, simply this – you are His, and He delights in you. The great sheep story of the Old Testament is the one Nathan tells David – think on it. “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.” That's not economics and profitability – that's the rich man's world. No – love, loves it like a daughter. Some rich man watching a tragedy unfold won't run into a barn to save a sheep – that's why you have insurance after all. Risking all to rescue one who is as your daughter – that's another thing entirely.
And so when you hear that Jesus is your Good Shepherd, He's not a Shepherd who views you merely as a commodity – He is your Shepherd who loves you, and there is no way on His green earth that He is just going to let Sin and Satan and Death get their wolfy little paws on you. And so He lays down His life for you – He chases down sin and death, dives right on into the pit where they hid, and He rips them apart. For your good. To rescue and redeem you. You bring you back home upon His shoulder rejoicing.
Jesus doesn't abandon His duty – He loves you constantly and continually, and His steadfast love endures forever. And Jesus is not scattered from you – all the things that you think would drive Him away, He forgives – Peace be with you. And even should death snatch you – so be it, for Christ is there and yet you will live. This the reality of the Christian faith – this is the truth we hear and delight in and sing forth. This is the truth that forgives the sin in our own life and calms our fears and forgives each other when we sin – you note that – we begin service by forgiving each other. Utterly astonishing, that. Mayhaps this stay at home stuff has just taught us how much we need to be forgiven and to forgive others. Because over and against the hardship of sin, you have forgiveness and life in Christ Jesus, because you are His, and He will not let you be taken from Him.
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. And the voice of Christ Jesus, His Word, goes forth even today. Even unto us – we who most certainly were far from the disciples in terms of both time and space. Even through us unto our own friends and neighbors. You know them, the ones who are fearful and afraid now. Who are snatched and scattered and fleeing in panic. They too are people for whom Jesus died – and you are able to proclaim the peace of Christ Jesus, His love and forgiveness to them – and you will do so as the Holy Spirit gives you the opportunity and the words so to do. When? Beats the tar out of me, I'm not the Holy Spirit – but this is what God does – He gathers sheep into His fold by His Word, by the voice of Jesus – and the Lord does open our lips, and into the midst of a world of sin and fear, even over and against our own sin and fear, the Spirit brings forth the praise of God.
This is what Jesus has always done for you. This is His love for you, for you are His, and He will always readily forgive you and restore you to life, for you are His now and forever. God grant us His Spirit, that we might ever more see this and grow in this, even in whatever strange days we see. Amen. Christ is Risen!