Monday, April 18, 2016

Sermon for Easter 4: "The Good Shepherd"

+ 4th Sunday of Easter – April 17th, 2012 +
Redeemer, HB
Series C: Acts 20:17-35; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they know me.

Jesus our Good Shepherd is probably one of the most widely known, well loved, and comforting words of Jesus. But there’s a difficulty for us when Jesus says, “I AM the Good Shepherd.”

Jesus’ words are at the same time unfamiliar and too familiar.

Unfamiliar because most of us have no experience with sheep. Knott’s Berry Farm, after all, is no help with sheep. And the closest thing to shepherding we know is spending time with a herd of children; just ask any teacher or parent and they’ll tell you the same.

Jesus’ words can also be too familiar. We hear the Good Shepherd reading every year. Most people know parts of Psalm 23, if not the whole thing, by heart. We hear Jesus’ words at funerals and confirmations. And that’s not bad, of course. The temptation we must avoid is to take this comforting reality and turn it into a cliché, not by hearing too often – that’s not the issue, but by failing to understand what Jesus says.

Jesus comes from a long line of shepherds in the Bible; shepherding is in his blood. Abel was a shepherd before his brother, Cain, led him to the slaughter. Jacob tended Laban’s flock for 14 years for the sake of his bride. Moses grazed the fields of Midian before leading the wandering sheep of Israel through the wilderness. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of the shepherd-king, David. When Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd,” he’s saying is, “Psalm 23, all that Shepherd talk in Ezekiel and the prophets - that’s all about Me, I am Yahweh.”

That’s the key: Jesus’ words are more than a metaphor. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they know me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.

Although we must admit that Jesus is no ordinary shepherd. After all, what kind of shepherd thinks that the life of his sheep is more important than his own? What kind of shepherd gladly and willingly throws himself into the jaws of the wolf to set his lambs free? “Go ahead, pierce my flesh. Spill my blood. Kill me; not them.” None of course, but one. Jesus Christ is your Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for you, his lambs.

Admitting the truth about Jesus means admitting the truth about ourselves as well. We’re sheep.  And that’s not exactly a flattering image. Sheep are dumb, stubborn, and prone to wandering off. Mean too: kicking, biting, head-butting for position in the flock. We’ll drink from any rancid puddle that promises refreshment - religions, philosophies, pop-Christian fads and false gospels pedaled by hirelings. We’ll nibble on any weed in the pasture that looks pleasing to the eyes, no matter how poisonous it might be. All we like sheep have gone astray. Everyone has turned his own way. That’s our problem. A flock of one is an oxymoron. Sheep – apart from the Shepherd - are defenseless, vulnerable and dead, wolf chow. It’s always the lone sheep, the isolated Christian, who becomes easy pickings for the wolf.

That’s why the Shepherd calls you here to his sheepfold, the Church, to hear the Shepherd’s voice. It’s also a place where the flock circles one another in defense of the prowling wolves. Jesus calls us, his flock, to live for others the way the Good Shepherd lives for us. We need a shepherd. And chances are, you know someone else who does too. And there’s nowhere better to bring wandering sheep than here, gathered among fellow sheep to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd.
Come and hear how Jesus, our Good Shepherd joined his flock; he became a Lamb. God didn’t sit on his throne saying, “Look at those poor lost sheep, I sure hope they find their way.” No. “I myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep,” declares the Lord. “I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life on behalf of his sheep.” It’s in his blood.

Jesus is the greater Abel, sacrificed by his brothers, and for his brothers. Jesus is the greater Jacob who labors in agony for you, his bride, adorning you in woolly white baptismal garments. Jesus is the greater Moses, who leads his wandering sheep to the Promised Land. Jesus is the greater David, who is your shepherd-king; and we are his flock, the sheep of his hand.

Normally, a shepherd’s death would leave his flock in peril. But when Jesus dies, the outcome is different. Shepherd Jesus saves his lambs by dying for them.
That’s what a Good Shepherd does, lays down his life for his sheep. Every night the sheep are herded into the pen. The shepherd lies at the door for the night. Jesus lies down in the door of death, and through His death, we go find true pasture and rest.

Jesus is your Good Shepherd. What do you lack? Nothing. He makes you lie down in the green pastures of his Word. He leads you into the still waters of Holy Baptism. He restores your soul from death to life. He guides you in the path of His righteousness, daily. Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, hunted by sin and the devil, you need fear no evil. Good Shepherd Jesus has gone ahead of you through suffering and death to resurrection and glory. Your Shepherd lives and so do you. He leads you with the disciplining rod of Law and his rescuing staff of gospel.

He anoints your head with healing oil, forgiving your sin. Good Shepherd Jesus gives us, his sheep, a flea bath in the general confession absolution every Sunday. And he also applies private confession and absolution, healing his individually and directly where troublesome sores and spots grow, and if left unattended, become infected.

And Good Shepherd Jesus prepares a table for you; your cup overflows with his own body and blood.

Here in the sheepfold, we rejoice with David, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” Like a pair of sheep dogs nipping at your heels, our Lord’s goodness and mercy will dog you until your Shepherd calls you home, further up and further in his stable.

So when the wolf comes to try and huff and puff and blow your faith down, point him to Jesus, your Good Shepherd. “You want me for supper? You’ll have to go through the Good Shepherd first. You want to accuse me of my sins and flaunt them in my face? Take them up with Jesus. They belong to him.”

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they know me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Sermon for Easter 3: "Jesus Does Everything"

+ 3rd Sunday of Easter – April 10th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Acts 9:1-22; Revelation 5:1-14; John 21:1-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Every episode of the beloved children’s program Sesame Street begins the same way: the theme song, the number for the day, and of course, the word on the street. It’s the word of the day, and it sets the theme for the rest of the show.

Today’s Gospel reading from John 21 is somewhat similar. Today’s word on the street, or better yet, by the seashore is vocation.

Usually we take the word vocation to mean just “our job”. But in the Scripture it’s so much more than that. It’s our calling. Our calling into faith in Jesus by the waters of Holy Baptism. And our calling in all the places where God sends us to serve at home, church, school, work, in our community, and the list goes on.

It was the disciples’ vocation to follow Jesus, hear his word, and then after his resurrection to continue the work of casting nets and fishing, not for fish, but for living men, not with hooks or nets, but with the Gospel. And it was Jesus’ vocation (his calling) to be our Crucified and Risen Lord. To be born for you, live for you, suffer for you, die for you, rise for you. Jesus gave his life to serve you. And so, wherever God places us, that’s where we find our vocation, our calling.

Take for example the vocation familiar to many of us, that of parent, whether it’s us or our own parents. It’s the vocation of parents to provide everything the children need: clothing, shoes, home, food, water, diaper changing, chauffeuring here and there, and the list goes on. Why? Selfless love for others – that’s the calling, vocation, of parents. And parents – imperfect sinners though we are – are still a glimpse of God’s fatherly care for us.

Now, today’s Gospel reading may be a completely different setting but something similar is happening to the disciples. They were out fishing on the sea of Tiberias, they had caught nothing all night, and then as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore and called out to them: “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.”  He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” 

It’s a familiar story. When Jesus first called his disciples, they had been fishing all night with no fish to show for it. Jesus told them to lower the nets. And there were so many fish they needed extra boats to haul it all to shore. A preview of Jesus’ work through the disciples later as they labored for the Gospel.

But notice how tenderly Jesus called to his disciples? Children. And then Jesus provides everything for them. He gave them fish in their nets. He prepared breakfast for them. Gave them bread and fish by the seashore. And once again, he showed himself to the disciples after his resurrection from the dead.

Jesus does everything for his disciples after his death and resurrection just as he had done everything for them before Good Friday and Easter. Jesus is the selfless giver of all things for his disciples, for his Church, and for you.

Today we find ourselves in the same boat with the disciples (yes, pun intended). In our family life at home, and in our family life in the household of God, the Church we are God’s children. And once again, Jesus does everything for you.

It is just as Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Why children? Children are dependent upon their parents for everything. Children are born into a family – they didn’t choose it or earn it; the name and inheritance are gifts to them. Children also trust their parents and look to them for all good things.

For us and the disciples this means a revolution in how we look at God. We must give up all bragging rights on what good little boys and girls we’ve been. We must drop all attempts at earning our Father’s favor by what we think, say, or do. We must drop dead to every futile effort to crawl over our brothers and sisters just to get a better seat on the Father’s lap. In other words, repent. Give up on self-reliance. Give up on self-justification. Give up your self-love.

And instead, listen to the voice of Jesus. He calls you as he did his disciples: Children. Come, and eat breakfast. Jesus prepared everything.

Listen to Jesus’ voice and look to his cross and empty tomb. Jesus has done everything for you. Jesus was born for you. Grew as a little child for you. Jesus submitted to father and mother for you. Jesus perfectly trusted the Father for you. Jesus was obedient to his Father’s will for you.

Listen to Jesus’ voice in Holy Baptism where you are made God’s child: I Baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Listen to Jesus’ voice at his holy table where he feeds you holy food to nourish you in body and soul: Take, eat; take, drink. This is body given for you. This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

Listen to Jesus’ voice in the absolution: you are forgiven all your sins.

This is how Jesus is known by his disciples on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias and the shores of Huntington Beach. By his abundant, overwhelming, gracious giving to sinners.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

That’s our vocation, our calling as God’s children. We receive everything that Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for us. And yet, our vocation doesn’t end there. It goes on. Having received, we give. We love because he first loved us.

Jesus called his disciples to be fishers of living men. Cast your nets…and you will find some. And so he calls us.

That’s why we have a preschool to teach the faith by singing, praying, and reading the Scriptures to our children and community.

This is why we have Bible class and Sunday School, that we might read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God’s Word; and having freely received his promises, declare those to others.

This is why Lutherans sing the hymns we sing, why the order the service is the way it is, why the whole service from beginning to end is the voice of Jesus calling out to us with his promise, peace, and pardon for sin for all who hear.

This is our vocation, our calling. Cast the nets of Jesus’ word, and water, his body and blood out into our community, to our neighbors, co-workers, carpool buddies, friends, even our enemies. Jesus has promised his Word will go out draw people to himself. Do not fear. The ark of Christ’s Church won’t sink. Jesus’ presence fills his Church. Jesus feeds you, His people. Jesus sustains you, provides abundant mercy for you. Jesus does everything for you.

That’s his vocation for you.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.