Monday, April 23, 2012

Sermon for 4/22/12--Third Sunday of Easter

No audio for this one. My apologies. My podcast host is being persnickety.

The Shepherd Knows the Sheep
John 10:11-16

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”  These may be the most familiar words in the whole of the Old Testament, if not all of Scripture.  But the Good Shepherd image of Jesus is one that is so familiar to us that there’s a danger we will let it pass through our minds and hearts without really processing what it means. 

King David was that shepherd boy from Bethlehem who grew up to become the greatest of Israel’s kings and the model for all the kings to follow, especially because He was also a forerunner of the Messiah, a prophecy in flesh and blood of the Savior to come.  Think about David and what he did as king; and think of how all of that came to be fulfilled in Jesus. In truth, being a king was, for David, a lot like his role as a shepherd. David protected his people from enemies without and enemies within.  The king administered justice.  It was his job as king to lead and guide his people and to provide for their needs as much as he was able.

Who is it who can really meet your needs?  There is so much to tempt you, to appeal to your insatiable appetite for things that are new and novel.  But who can really satisfy?  And who can fight off the wolves?  Who can protect you?  Who can prepare a banquet table from which you are nourished with every good thing?  Who really cares for you?
This image of the Good Shepherd also says something about pastors.  The Old Testament reading from Ezekiel brings to mind the trouble Israel had with false shepherds, men who were interested in serving only themselves.  These are words of admonition and warning to those who would serve as “under-shepherds” now.  So what does a pastor do to meet the needs of the people in his care?  He may alert them to the dangers of doctrinal errors within the church at large or to spiritual carelessness within his own flock.  He preaches and teaches the Word in a “public” setting like this, and also applies it in private as the situation requires.  He administers the Sacraments of Christ in the sanctuary and in the home.  He can be present with Christ’s people in times of joy and times of sorrow.  He can visit the sick and the hospitalized.  He can “marry and bury,” as it is said.  But he cannot make disease go away.  He cannot ward off death.  He cannot stop someone who insists on destroying Himself with an abusive life.  He is only human.  He makes mistakes and uses poor judgment at times—which means that he is just like his people in that he, too, needs a shepherd. 

Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  What does the Good Shepherd do?  “He lays down His life for the sheep.” When Jesus spoke these words, they would have been well understood; we may not understand them quite as well today.  But for societies that depended economically on raising sheep, the welfare of those sheep was a cold reality.  Sheep were raised because their wool was used for clothing and their meat for food; they were the source of the shepherd’s livelihood.  He cared for them because he had an investment in them.  And because he knows them that well, he also knows their many needs. You can’t blame the hired hand if he runs when the wolf attacks; he has no investment in the sheep.  But the true shepherd is prepared to go the limit to keep his sheep from being harmed.  Indeed, the good shepherd will sacrifice his very life for them. 

The Good Shepherd say to you, “I know my own, and My own know Me.” Even for the most transparent of you, it’s not easy for people to know who you really are.  But there is One who knows everything about you, and so He also knows where to lead you.  “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters; He restoreth my soul.”  About this Shepherd, David also says: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.”  This One who calls Himself the Good Shepherd knows best how to feed you and where to lead you.  He knows what you soul needs, and He provides the marvelous feast of His body and blood to feed and sustain you.  And all of this is wonderfully true for all of His sheep.

The Shepherd Savior has been the One guiding you through your life, no matter where you may have wandered.  It doesn’t mean that you have been spared from going through the deep, dark valleys of death and desperation.  Christians are not spared from such things, even as they are not spared from bearing their crosses.  But you have nothing to fear because God has been with you all the time.  And He brings you together to celebrate, to hear His voice, and to be fed from His table.

The Church has not been wrong when it connects this banquet table in the Psalm with the grace of the Sacrament of the Altar.  For you experience in the Word of God the rod and staff that guide you through life, and in the Supper you receive the same assurance David received from his Lord.  For the Sacrament is a gift of life to sheep who live in the shadow of death; it unites you with Him who is the Life of all the living.  The Good Shepherd who laid down His life for you is alive, and He gives you His life. Thus you can say with David: “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

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