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.

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