Monday, April 22, 2024

The Lord is my Shepherd...

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (B), preached on Sunday, April 21, 2024.

There is hardly an image more precious to us than to call the Lord our Good Shepherd.  There are perhaps a dozen overt references to God as our Shepherd but there are another 50 or so indirect mentions that imply or infer the same. Can you imagine a funeral without the 23rd Psalm?  Or Sunday school children not singing “I am Jesus little lamb?”  No, we are pretty wedded to the Lord as our Good Shepherd but yet with that comes some difficult things for us to swallow.

In the world to call someone a sheep is to insult them.  It accuses them of not being individuals but herd animals who cannot think or act on their own.  It presumes that we are spoon fed people who cannot chew upon the real facts.  We are crowd people who find the safest place to be in the anonymous middle of a large group.  We accuse our enemies of being sheep.  We insist the people who belong to a different party or vote for a different candidate are sheep.  You name it.  Our enemies are always sheep but we are not.  We are independent thinkers and we are fully prepared to go it alone.  Hogwash.

How arrogant we are!  Look at the cars we drive and the clothing we wear and the movies we see and the food we eat.  None of us is unmoved by peer pressure.  We all like what the crowds like and think what the crowd thinks.  We are all sheep.  We take our cues from others.  Our enemies cannot help themselves but we are not that gullible or foolish or stupid.  We think we are God’s helpers, His sheep dogs, but not sheep.  Look at your sins.  We are sheeple.  We sin like sheeple.  We are not heros or guardians of virtue.  We are driven by lust and power.  We are gossips and hypocrites.  We are skeptics of truth and consumers of lies.  So the first truth of calling Jesus our Good Shepherd is admitting we are sheep and heeding His call to repent.  Stop trying to act like you are not who you are.

We love the image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd but we presume that this means long, slow walks in comfortable meadows with a lot of scratches behind our ears and hugs.  That is not the kind of Shepherd Jesus is.  It is not because He has no emotions or cannot show them.  It is because He shows them by dying for His sheep.  Greater love has no one than he lay down his life for his sheep.  Who does that?  Only Jesus.  Jesus does not call us sheep to put us down – our sins have already done that.  Jesus calls us sheep because it is sheep for whom He has come to die.  He calls us sheep out of love.  Out of love the Shepherd dies for His sheep.   So if you are not a sheep, Jesus is not your Good Shepherd; He has nothing for you
This sheep and shepherd business is not the romantic stuff of idyllic images.  The most pastorale setting we are given is a cross and a Shepherd who dies for stupid, selfish, herd animals like you and me.  To call Jesus our Good Shepherd is to admit we are sheep and that shepherding is not nice and easy but hard and costly – even to death upon a cross.  But if this is what the Good Shepherd will do so that you might belong to Him, then cry out a Thanks Be To God for the world has never seen such love before.  

This Good Shepherd not only dies for you but lives for you.  The grave could not contain Him and now He lives so that you and I will be shepherded into the presence of God.  He is still your shepherd.  He will watch over you the whole of your life.  He will protect you from all your enemies and sometimes that means even protecting you from yourself.  He will guide you to the rich and verdant pastures of His Word, through the still quiet waters of baptism, and set His table for you in the presence of all your enemies.  The shepherd’s job is not simply to guard the sheep but to bring them through the valley of the shadow and into the mountain of God’s presence where they will dwell in safety forever.  This is what Jesus does for you.

We all know, however, that just as there are false teachings about the Good Shepherd, there are also false shepherds teaching people lies for truth and stealing away those for whom Christ died.  You are sheep.  Don’t be stupid sheep.  Do not be blindly led to destruction because you do not know God’s Word well enough to separate the false from the true.  Do not be a stranger to God’s House so what it always feels like your first time here.  Do not forget what Jesus teaches you and remember whatever the world is ranting about or selling in this moment.  The Good Shepherd deals only in truth because only truth saves.

You are what you eat.  Feed on Christ and you will grow up into Christ, beginning to look like Him in the thoughts you think, the words you say, and the works you do.  God has not come to feed your fragile egos and tell you that you are just fine the way you are.  That is the lie.  The truth is that you are dead without your Good Shepherd and your truth and your feelings will betray you to destruction.  God has called you to be kind but do you know what kindness looks like?  It looks like Jesus.  It sounds like Jesus.  Forgive as you have been forgiven.  That is as kind as it gets.  If the Spirit has led you to green pasture, lead others also in Christ’s presence.  Kindness is not about being soft but about truth.  That is also Christ.

Have you ever noticed that lambs know who has the milk?  Why is it that we don’t?  We are sheep but we need to be wise and discerning sheep.  We need to long for the true spiritual milk of God’s Word and know where that food is found.  We need to grow up into Christ who is our head, imitating the godly as they imitate Christ but refusing to imitate sin.  We cannot remain children who are susceptible to lies and deception but wise to the ways of the world so that we may avoid them and recognize what is of Christ and what is not.

We may like the image of Jesus as Good Shepherd and the romance of little lambs but the reality is better than the imagination.  Jesus does not love us with words or little acts of kindness.  He loves us to the cross.  He has put Himself between us and our enemies.  He allows Himself to be ravaged in the pain of death so that we might be kept to everlasting life.  Yes, we are sheep and herd animals but let us at least know which herd is the right one, where God’s Word is preached in truth and purity and where Christ’s table is set in accordance with His Word and will.

The Lord is my shepherd.  And we are His sheep.  Each of us a lamb of His own redeeming, for whom He died and in whom we now live.  The Lord is my shepherd.  And we are His sheep.  His presence and His voice and His table is set among us beckoning us to come to Him and never depart.  The Lord is my shepherd.  Ans we are His sheep.  Now in the hills and valleys of this mortal life and in the hillside of His eternal grace on high, where death and darkness can no more confuse or destroy us.  Thanks be to God!  Christ is risen.

No comments: