Monday, April 14, 2008

I Am: The Good Shepherd

I Am: The Good Shepherd

The sermon preached at Trinity, Layton for Good Shepherd Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Easter, LSB) adapted with permission from a sermon preached by Pastor David Speers of St. Paul -- Altamount, IL.

Thank you for a timely and pointed sermon, Pr. Speers.

Our lessons for today, Good Shepherd Sunday, are amazing. We are in Easter season. Everything is amazing during Easter. And so that changes everything. We have a Lord who is risen. So that changes everything.
And yet as amazing as Easter is and as much as it changes things for us, still we remain sinners in a fallen world. Though Christ has done everything for us and is risen that we might ever look to Him and what he has done and continues to do for us, we still are all too often thinking about what’s in it for us? Whether we’re going to benefit -- get strength, comfort, protection from this evil world. We concentrate on what we are going to get, but we don’t pay attention to the one who is giving it. It’s kind of like Christmas when you are so excited and focused about getting the gift you don’t notice about who is giving it to you. Your parents have to remind you, who gave that to you and what do you say?
The reason its not hard to get caught up in this is because of our nature as sinners. So as we look at these texts we must ask, Who is doing the work? Who is active? Who is behind the pronouns.
God’s Word does not tell us to trust in the people that are pastors, or elders, or trustees, or presidents, or council members, or even congregations or synods. Has any of these ever met the expectations of God or His people?Jesus doesn’t say I was the Good Shepherd, now its your turn to do your part. Throughout Scripture , the Lord says I am doing, I am going to and always will do these things even to the end of the age.
Notice all the "I’s" in Ezek 34:11_17, the OT lesson often used for this Sunday: 'For thus says the Lord GOD: "Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. . . . I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down," says the Lord GOD. I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment. 'And as for you, O My flock, thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats. (NKJ)
I! I! I! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!
WOW! These lessons are amazing! Jesus says to His disciples, "I am the Good Shepherd. and I have some from another flock and I will bring them in."
So you see, when we get our minds off the Good Shepherd then we can see all sorts of failures. An inept church that doesn’t accomplish much of anything. And the reason is because it’s about Him not us. Jesus makes the statement about this twice "I am the Good Shepherd and twice says the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And He says He will take it up again. It is emphasized by him over and over again because it is the heart of the church the heart of the ministry the heart of the mission the heart of all of these is that Jesus laid down His life. Paul says, "I have known nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified."
But our sins are the things that have put us in danger removed us from God’s care – our sinful nature. The problems we face in this world exist because of our sins. In the garden we heard that the world would be cursed and life would be a struggle and you will go back to dust and everything will be a struggle because of sin. there are some people that think if you are good Christian things won’t be so tough, things will be better because I am a better Christian. There is no such thing. "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Original and actual sins separate us and place out of God’s care unless we understand that the only way we receive care is through the work of Christ.
Yes, he feeds us, rain falls on us- just and unjust – but that is not what it means to be a part of His flock not what it means to say the Lord is my shepherd. Jesus is not just talking about food and drink, house and home, material blessings. Those things our Lord gives to both the just and unjust the sheep and the goats, believers and unbelievers.
Twice here He reminds us that He dies in order to save us. By His death on the cross He paid for our sins.
And there is no one else who does this work there is no other way into God’s care, into God’s protection, into God’s kingdom, into God’s love than through Christ. God so loved the world that He sent His son in this way you receive God’s love – the loves starts at the cross where Jesus took your sins and mine and paid for them once for all- The God-man, Jesus Christ Removes the barrier, the obstacle which would keep us from the Lord's flock the fold. Jesus says I am the door. you come through me – through faith in Christ.
This changes everything about our life here on earth. As you trust and believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins that he gave his life for the sheep as He says twice here – that changes everything. it’s \more than just feeding and taking care of our basic bodily, earthly needs.
Rather everything now works together for good because sin has been overcome in our lives. because we have been renewed and reshaped into the image of Jesus Christ in and through His blood Now, we are a part of His flock and now God says everything will work together for good to those who love God and who are called are according to His purposes. Everything is changed because the Shepherd gave His life for the flock, for His sheep. I am the Good Shepherd -- He came to do that. And if you come to believe and trust that it means the Good Shepherd is still working through His Word.
Not only that, the Good Shepherd does not leave his flock in danger. There are a lot of people, a lot of you, who don’t want to talk about fighting and struggles and the devil. You want to focus on those good things – He feeds me, he cares for me, he protects me, he loves me. But just like a good parent, like a good shepherd, he realizes there are dangers out in this world. This something that He warns about again and again. There are wolves out there who would destroy the flock. To dismiss this to make light of this warning is to make light of God’s word and Jesus word – even Jesus himself. it is to look the Good shepherd in n the eye and say it doesn’t make any difference, I don’t care. There are more important things to think about.
What are we thinking? Jesus puts the words about the laying down of his life as bookends to the danger. how much he cared that he would do this for you, take your sin upon him, sacrifice his life on the cross, send His holy Spirit with his word through his church and ministers. Do you really think He did all that so that we would ignore the fact there is a danger out there – that there are wolves about?
The very reason He does these things for us – He recognizes this danger and He wants us to also. This danger lives and breathes in the Word of God. We are born again through the Word of God, sustained and nurtured through the Word of God, sins forgiven through the Word of God, but there is a danger. The wolf comes to devour the sheep – to take away the Word. From the garden of Eden on the devil has been out there saying, "Did God really say?"Some people, maybe even you at times, think all we do in the church sometimes is fight about words. Well, if there are words that give life, if there are words that save and restore and renew, if there are words out there that really have the power to do that – and there is an enemy out there who wants nothing more than for you to be destroyed, for you to go to hell, if that is what this enemy is trying to do, then what’s he going to try to keep from you? What’s he going to do to try to stop these words from coming to your ears, your hearts, and your minds?
Jesus warns us against hirelings. It’s an interesting image, full of meaning for us. I am the Good Shepherd – but there are hirelings. Hirelings are folk who when they see the wolf coming, when they see there is going to be battle about words they say lets not worry about that so much. We have more important things to do. Let’s think about some positive things. Lets think about some good things. Let’s think about what we should be doing. And when the wolf comes to tear them up, they flee. They leave the flock. They say things like we shouldn’t be so worried about pure doctrine. We shouldn’t get so caught up with words. As long as we mean well and are on fire for the Lord and those unbelievers out there, that’s’s what really matters. After all, people are dying in unbelief out there. We have to stop all this insistence on pure doctrine – it’s a waste of time that can be better spent. Really? Is that what Jesus is saying here, His Word doesn’t matter so much as how we are spending our time?
Anyone who would teach such a thing and have us believe the intent and passion of a person comes before the Word of God in this way and says such things is a hireling. Because if the Word is what brought you to faith – that Word that’s proclamation of absolution, forgiveness, renewal, life, and salvation -- the Word that comes to you in Baptism, the Word that comes to you at the altar if that word gives you life and someone says we don’t have to worry so much about it – that person is taking and distracting you away from the Good Shepherd.But wait a minute, the pastor isn’t the Good Shepherd, is he? Well, no, but the pastor is called and sent by the Good Shepherd to preach the Word of God – all of it Law & Gospel, Gospel & Law – not his own opinions, not his own words but the Word of the Good Shepherd.
You can see this distraction from the Good Shepherd happen in churches where their leadership will go and try to keep everybody together, create unity, keep everybody happy. And slowly but surely they give up on things like sexual sin. Okay living together, that’s okay. Homosexuality- no big deal. A pastor must be the husband of one wife – well that doesn’t really mean a pastor has to be a man. When Paul said people were dying because the Lord’s Supper was being handled lightly without regard to what people believed that was just an exaggeration. besides, it was Paul, not Christ who said it. Six day creation, miracles, all easily explained by science. Besides, all these things are so controversial and offensive to people today. And finally, you have nothing left but people and their works rather than the work of the Good Shepherd. Sadly this is the life of the church all around us – even in our synod, our own little congregation.
The thing is, rejecting all, or even any, of these things puts the resurrection in question as well. After all, if Scripture stretches the truth and exaggerates about one thing just what can we trust as truth? Thankfully we Lutherans of Trinity and Missouri have not gone so far – yet. But it does exist within Lutheranism, and even in nooks and crannies of our own synod. We are not immune.
There are Christians, even Lutherans, that say Jesus never said the Words, "Take eat this is my body given for you. Take drink this is my blood shed for you." or at least He didn’t really mean them that way.
What does that do to God’s Word? What does that do to the Jesus, The Good Shepherd as the Truth, The Way, the Life? What does that say about His faithfulness if His Word does not really mean what it says but is only a way of motivating us at best and manipulating us at worst into doing His will?
And yet we allow that to exist among us at our tables when those who believe such things commune with us, when we use educational materials and programs from churches and "pastors" that believe and teach such things. And when we do, we feed the wolf and allow him to prowl among us and to ignore and deny the Words of Jesus and His loving care. To think that wolf is not out there wanting to take away your faith is to look the Good Shepherd in the eye and say, "I don’t care what you say. I don’t want to hear your warnings. There’s good stuff to eat over there Im missing. Look at all those people growing and having all sorts of success.This is troubling and dividing our synod today because we just cannot sit down and talk about the Word of God. Our conferences, and committee meetings end up being all about getting along and listening to each other rather than listening to the voice of the Shepherd and what His pure doctrine has to tell us. Our conventions and voters’ meetings are about getting people together and looking for leaders that can keep us happy and united around clever sounding programs in order to meet our financial goals. There just is no time to study the Word and wrestle with it together – besides that would be too contentious.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, warns us. The hirelings are not worried about much else than having a large group to give them power, a good paycheck, lots of prestige – lots of people = lots of money, lots of attention – and our envy. We look at a huge church like that of Joel Osteen filling up the Astrodome. All he is really concerned about is having large groups of people doing lots of stuff. Asked if he preaches about sin, he said, "No we really don’t talk about sin down here." Such talk just doesn’t put seats in the pew or money in the plate, does it?
But is that what church is really about? How can you talk about the love of God without talking about sin? How? How can you talk about the Gospel without the Law? It’s impossible. Old Lutherans used to say if you don’t preach the Law you just can’t preach the Gospel. At least you can’t unless you make the Gospel into the Law, something we sinners are prone to do. And that is all too often what happens in the visible church. Sinners turn the Gospel of what the Good Shepherd does for us into the Law of what pious people do for God.
These hirelings are interested in their own personal benefits. You can tell where they are not because you can see into their hearts, but you can see when the battle comes and the Word of God is being challenged they pack up and walk away. They don’t want to fight about it. They don’t want to struggle and contend for the Word for the sake of the sheep. They don’t really care about the flock so much as for their own comfort and well being When the wolf comes they aren’t interested in standing up for and with the Word to fight for the flock, they run away.
The problem for us is that we cannot see the heart. We cannot tell who are the hirelings and who are not on the basis of their heart. And we are not even called to somehow figure out who has the heart of a preacher and who has the heart of a hireling. We are not really to be looking for any person in particular. We’re not trying to find the great, great, great, preacher as opposed to the mediocre preacher or the guy who is a false preacher. We are actually supposed to be listening for the voice of the Good Shepherd. For His sheep know his voice and will follow no other. That is, we are listening for the pure Word and true doctrine of our Lord.
That’s all we can do, it's all we are to try to listen for and follow. Because he promises I am the Good Shepherd. he promises His voice will go forth and call you to repentance and faith. Just like his first sermon, "Repent and believe." Yes Jesus preached the Law. Remember the woman caught in adultery? Did he say that’‘s okay, don’t worry about it? No, he said, "go and sin no more." Repent and believe. Beautiful stuff.
We’re not to be looking for the perfect flock or the perfect preacher. We are to be listening for the voice of the Shepherd. And he promises it -- He -- will be there.
Notice at the end of John’s lesson he says, "I have other sheep to draw in. And they will hear my voice." He is talking about those who will believe by hearing the voice of the Shepherd through his apostles and pastors. Just as he told Thomas, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29, NKJ) The ones who will hear and believe because of the voice that goes out through His church by the power of the Holy Spirit – the voice that speaks forgiveness of sins through the work and merit of Jesus.
The Shepherd’s voice is what you are listening for. And anyone who tells you don’t be so worried about doctrine is telling you not to listen for the voice of the Shepherd – whether they realize it or not, whatever good intentions they may have, however nice they may be. Ultimately these are become hirelings because they want, or at least ask, you to follow and trust them regardless of whether what they say comes from the Word of God.
It’s a temptation to tell people what they want to hear from the pulpit and have them leaving all pumped up and feeling great, to have them say, "great sermon pastor. I love to hear that." There is a proverb used to teach preaching that goes something like this: "When nobody says a word to you about your sermon, that’s when you know you’ve done some good." Think about that for a bit. The voice of the Shepherd comes forth with the truth about our sin and His salvation.
He promises never to leave you or forsake you. He promises to be there. he promises his voice will go forth. So the only thing you are to listen for is whether your preacher speaks the Word of God. You’re listening for the voice of the Shepherd --not whether the preacher is skilled or artful or charismatic – but whether he speaks the Word of God, the voice of the Shepherd. Some might say, "Oh, yes, our pastor preaches a sermon that speaks the true Word of God and only teaches pure doctrine, but . . . ." What does our text say about this? Is there a but? ". . . the sheep hear his voice; . . . he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.(John 10:3_4 NKJ)
Somebody asked Luther once, "What do you think about our pastor. He is not a very good preacher is he? He does not speak very well." And Luther replied, "When you eat your venison Sunday afternoon do you care if you eat off a sliver plate or a wooden plate?"
The voice of the Shepherd is all that matters. "I am the Good Shepherd. I will seek my sheep." How does that happen? He still does it today. The Good Shepherd still works through His church (third article creed) to bring lost sheep into the fold. Jesus came 2000 years ago but he also said others later would hear his voice.
They will come in by hearing my voice also.
When the voice of the Shepherd goes out into your ears, He also begins to write that word on your heart. And as you support the ministry of the Word here, people hear the voice of the Shepherd from the lectern, from the altar, from the font, from the pulpit. And then they also here it from you as you teach your children Bible stories and the catechism, as you speak of the wonderful word you hear with friends and relatives and fellow workers in everyday situations and troubles.
In these things the world hears the voice of the Shepherd. It’s not about you and its not about me – hopw good and active we are – that’s another religiion. You see it all the time. Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. . . . I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. . . . they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd."
"For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." (Matt 18:20 NKJ) That is, where the Word of God is preached and proclaimed for repentance and the forgiveness of sins, there the voice of the Good Shepherd is being heard. There is the sheepfold, the very kingdom of God. And you are counted among the sheep and abide in the kingdom of heaven – in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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