Monday, April 26, 2021

The Strong Good Shepherd. . .

Sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday, Easter 4B, preached on Sunday, April 25, 2021.

     Alleluia!  Christ is risen!   He is risen, Indeed.  Alleluia.

    This Sunday suffers from too much sentiment and not enough truth.  The Good Shepherd has become a cartoon figure and lambs a sweet image without meaning.  It is a comforting image and we love comfort which costs us and the comforter nothing.  Yet that is the point.  The Good Shepherd insists that in order for Him to be the Good Shepherd it will cost Him everything.  I am the Good Shepherd because I lay down my life for the sheep.  He cannot comfort unless He first offers Himself into our enemy death for the purpose of forgiving our sins.  He alone is the Good Shepherd because He alone dies for His sheep.

    Jesus is no victim of a mob out for blood or some puppet ruler on the throne of Israel or some Roman governor placed in this forgotten corner of the empire.  Jesus is not a victim of the power or will of others.  Jesus has authority.  The Father loves Him and has granted to Him this authority over all things and Jesus uses this authority to save sheep not worth saving.  He has authority to lay down His life and He has authority to take it up again.  He is the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd has authority.  He manifests His authority not to demand from us the price that will pay for our sin but He uses His authority to lay down His life for us, to pay for our sins not with silver or gold but with His own precious body and blood on the cross.

    The Good Shepherd is not nice or merely kind.  He is strong; He has power.  The sheep depend upon Him to stand between them and those who would prey upon them.  The sheep depend upon Him to find the lush, green pastures where they can feed until they hunger no more.  The sheep depend upon Him to lead them to the still quiet waters that give life to the dying and refresh the weary.  The sheep depend upon Him to stay focused upon them while they are distracted and to hold up His rod and staff so that they know where He is at all times.  The sheep depend upon Him to pour on their wounds the healing balm that restores their dying flesh.  The sheep depend upon Him to overflow the cup that continually is drained in frustration and disappointment, struggle and sorrow in this life.  The sheep depend upon the Good Shepherd to bring them into the House of the Lord where they dwell forever.  The last thing we need is a nice Shepherd.  We need a strong shepherd with authority.

    Today, when we laud the Good Shepherd, we confess that He is good because He is strong, because He has authority.  We need a shepherd stronger than our enemies, strong enough to sustain us in want, and strong enough to take us where we need to go.
This kind of shepherd looks out on the world and sees the chaos, the power of fear, the anarchy of personal desire, and the failed attempts of humanity to find a way through it to protect the weak, to provide justice for the oppressed, and to make the world’s resources supply what everyone needs.  He is strong enough to confront us with the law; we cannot repair the institutions soiled by sin or find political leaders who are not flawed individuals or to resolve every dispute so that all are happy.  It cannot be done --  not because we don’t want to do it but because we can’t.  Sin has stolen our ability to solve our problems and restore Eden.  We will and we must work to make the best of our lives lived in this world of sin and death but we dare not believe this world can be fixed.

    Our Good Shepherd has not come to band-aid our world but to replace it, to lead us to a new pasture, and to deliver us once for all from our sins of thought, word, and deed, of evil done and good left undone.  Our Good Shepherd has come to build a new heavens and a new earth to replace that which is passing away.  He is not simply a refuge in the storm but the builder of a new kingdom not of this world, for us, His sheep, who are in this world.  He has authority.  We do not need a shepherd who will tell us everything is going to be okay.  We need a shepherd who is strong enough to make it okay.  To carve a path for us through the decay and death and bring us to the place where sin cannot rule and death cannot reign.  That is why He is good..

    Over the past months a new term has come to describe us as people.  We are called sheeple.  It is meant to be a derogatory term.  It means we will believe anything and follow anyone and do anything.  It means we cannot think for ourselves or do for ourselves or discern the difference between fake news and truth, between voodoo medicine and real medicine.  Well, guess what.  It is true.  We are not wise or strong or thoughtful.  There is an arrogance among us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, to presume science offers a uniform and unassailable truth, and to judge religious truth less true.  If we could rise above sin or think our way out of all the dilemmas we face, we would not need a Good Shepherd.  We are simply people, men and women of unclean minds, hearts, and lips.  The miracle is that God still has loved us with the powerful love that has rescued us from sin, death, and from ourselves!

    We think we need more time or better choices or better leaders.  God has supplied us with exactly what we need.  He has given us His Son as our Good Shepherd.  And He has given this Son authority to speak for Him, to act for Him, and to do what He wills.  This is our Good Shepherd.  He sends His Spirit into our hearts so that we hear His voice and recognize that He is the truth so that we might follow in His way.  He lays down His life not for the worthy or the deserving but for poor, miserable sinners, who abandoned Him once and will again unless He stands guard over them.
To call Him the Good Shepherd is not to think of Him as being better than others but to acknowledge His strength and authority, to admit He alone has this authority, and tp confess He has used this authority to make you His, to protect you, to guide you, to  provide for you, and to present you at last to His Father as His most precious possession.

    When Jesus says He has other sheep not of this flock, He is not suggesting that there are other paths to God or other religions of truth.  How foolish!  No, Jesus is telling us that through time and throughout the world others will and are being called into the Kingdom of God by the preaching of His Word and the administration of His Sacraments.  The Holy Spirit is at work every the means of grace are brought to bear.  These different flocks are still His flock, still under the authority of His Gospel, and still fed and nourished upon His Word and Sacraments.  But one day, the Good Shepherd will stand upon the earth to address them not with the voice of salvation but with the voice of Judgment – to distinguish between sheep and goats.  Then He will take the sheep into His heavenly kingdom and will banish those who are not sheep to hell.

    If you would be saved, you must be sheep.  Sheeple.  This is not a derogatory term but who we are.  He is not insulting us when He calls us sheep.  At the same time this is a confession of our sin, our weakness, our lost condition, and our death, it is also a confession of the power of Christ’s life to rescue us and redeem us.  He is our Good Shepherd and it is His charge from the Father to save us, to sustain us in this world and in this life, and to deliver us to everlasting life.  He does not appeal to our feelings or desires but to our needs and to His grace sufficient for them all.

    We work our best to be good neighbors in this world, to be faithful witnesses of God’s mercy in Christ, and to be instruments of goodness and virtue.  And we should. But we must never mistake the eternal Kingdom for that which is passing away or the Gospel that saves us to eternal life for fixing what is wrong with this world.  Neither can we afford to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, lest we wander from the Good Shepherd’s care, from the one authority of His Word that forgives our sins, the one power that fills water with everlasting life, and the one food that tastes eternity in the bread and wine that is His body and blood.  Jesus is this Good Shepherd.

    Alleluia!  Christ is risen!   He is risen, Indeed.  Alleluia.  Amen.

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