Monday, April 26, 2010

The Lamb Who Is Our Good Shepherd

Sermon Preached for Good Shepherd Sunday, Easter 4, April 25, 2010.

If you want an interesting conversation, ask the secretaries in my office about their attempts to correct my grammar in the printed media from our Church Office.  I write like I speak and this sometimes causes some consternation because my speaking does not follow all the rules of grammar.  But I did learn some things in school and one of them was don’t mix your metaphors.   So what gives with Jesus – Is He the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world or is He the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep?  We know He cannot be both... or can He?
    Although at first it seems to be foolish to call the Lamb the Shepherd, there is something perfectly understandable about it all.  If Jesus is both the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd, then He truly knows and understands not only the world in which the sheep live, but He knows the needs and danger the sheep face.  And if He is the Good Shepherd, then He has the power not merely to empathize with the sheep but to act on their behalf to protect, to feed, to nurture, to defend, and to care for them.  Shepherds do not normally speak sheep but ours does.  The Lamb who is our Shepherd speaks our language -- not English but the language of life in a world of sin, death, injustice, disappointment, sorrow, and struggle.  He is Good Shepherd in part because He comes from us.  He is the Lamb, who was one of us in flesh and blood, who walked our walk in this world, and who addresses us as one of our kind.
    Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  This is not a title He claims for Himself but the very promise of the Father through the prophets, down to the last prophet, John the Baptist, who proclaimed Jesus:  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  This is the reason He was born – to become the real sacrificial Lamb whose blood can cleanse from sin every sinner and whose death can pay the price not for one but for the whole world.
    He was born to be this Lamb for us, the perfect sacrificial victim.  Each of us could have died and eternal death for sin but our death would have covered only ourselves and left the rest of the sinful world of sinners to atone for their own trespasses.  Our death cannot free another, not a child or parent or spouse.  Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God, without blemish or defect of sin, holy and righteous.  So His death has the power to atone for all the guilty – not just a few.  The one and only innocent whose death can atone for a world full of the guilty.
    He is the Lamb of God who died our death to pay the full price of our sin but it did not end there in death.  This is the Lamb of God who visited the cold emptiness of death and called out victory over our every enemy, and then rose again to defeat the death that the wages of sin earned.  He rose not for Himself but for us, that death may not have the final word in our lives.  He rose to life that can never be stripped from Him and now He gives that life as gift to all who will receive it by faith.  What better Lamb can He be than the Lamb whose death pays for all and whose life has the power to raise up all?
    He had every right to depart from us sinners after doing what He came to do and accomplishing what the Father purposed.  He could have done for us what He came to do and left us alone; but that He did not do.  He did not abandon us to our own devices or to the evil and sin still bound and determined to take one more bite out of us and out of our lives.  No, this Lamb became the Good Shepherd of His sheep.  We sheep have a Shepherd who speaks our language, who walked our walk, who met and overcame all our enemies, and who now walks before us to lead us to still quiet waters and rich green pastures.
    Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep.  This is no distant God who nods His head at all our laments but the tearful Lamb who is wounded as we are because He is one of us and one with us.  Like us in every way but sin, He was born, lived, suffered, died and rose again.  He knows us.  He knows us intimately – the hidden, the dark, the shameful, the hurting, the embarrassment, the sadness, the lament and every opposite emotion that makes us soar to the heights before we crash to the depths.
    Jesus not only know us, His sheep, but He knows our enemies.  He does not live distant from our world but within our own boundaries.  He knows our enemies as intimately He knows us -- everyone and everything that works against us, that seek to destroy us, and to rob us of the divine contentment we were created to know.  Jesus knows us and He knows our enemies.  He faced them on the cross and still He walks among us with His Word and Sacraments to guide, protect, feed, and nourish us.  He is among us to bear our burdens with us and for us; He stretched out His arms in suffering to release from suffering all who trust in Him.
    Jesus is not merely the forgiving Shepherd who is there for us to run to when we screw up, He is working in us and through us.  He is the Good Shepherd who continues to walk with His sheep and get dirty with them in order to clean them up again.   How does God deal with our dirt but by becoming dirty Himself.
    I have not had much time with sheep but I know the farm.  We knew where to step and where not to step and we also know we would stink at the end of the day because you simply cannot avoid stepping in it.  We need a Shepherd who has become dirty for us and for us who can clean us and restore us again.  We do not need an ivory tower Shepherd who smells clean and looks pretty.  We need one who has become dirty for us.  This is why our Good Shepherd still wears the marks in His hands, feed, and side.  He got dirty for us.     Even at the cost of His own life, our Good Shepherd wears our dirt, the dirt of death, and walks our walk of death.  The Lamb of God has become our Good Shepherd and He earned His right to this title and office.
    The Lamb of God is greater than all our enemies and His grip on us is so tight that no one and nothing can snatch us from the Father’s hand.  That is the kind of Shepherd the Lamb of God is.  He has us so tightly in His grip that no one and nothing can come between us.  We belong to Him.  He will not compel us against our will and will sadly allow us to walk away from Him and all His gifts, but no one and nothing can sneak in and steal us away from Him.  We are secure in His grasp.
    A mixed metaphor – maybe.  A powerful description of the God whom we call Jesus Christ – for sure.   The Lamb of God has become the Good Shepherd... and we are the ones who benefit.  The Lamb IS our Shepherd, wise to our needs, knowledgeable of our condition, smarter than our enemies, more powerful than our predators who can keep us from falling victim as prey... the Lamb pays the ultimate price, winning the right to shepherd the people of God. Can it get any better?  The Lamb is our Shepherd.
    The imagery that Jesus chooses is clear, the metaphor is not mixed, it is the great paradox that turns into the greatest of all blessings.  The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the sheep is the Good Shepherd of those sheep.  So what is left for us?  To listen to the sound of His voice, to know Him as He knows us, and to follow Him to eternal life.  Amen

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