Monday, April 19, 2010

Pastor E's sermon from Sunday, also on the Good Shepherd, shows just how it is that I can spend a lifetime learning about the Good Shepherd and still not understand a 1,000th of what this truly means to me, for me....

Misericordias Domini sermon
John 10:11-16

Does it comfort you, when Jesus says, I know My sheep?  It means that He knows precisely who we are.  He knows precisely what you have been, what you have thought.  He knows what you desire; He sees your schemes. Your selfishness and hypocrisy, camouflaged to others, is seen clearly by Him.  Jesus the Good Shepherd knows the things you hide from others, and even the things you hide from yourself.  He says, “I know who you are.”

That was the startling revelation to Thomas last week: Jesus had heard Thomas’s declaration of unbelief, and so repeated the words back to him:  “Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing” [Jn. 20.27].  In the book of Revelation, Christ Jesus says again and again to the seven churches, “I know your works.”  He knows your works.  He knows your words (as He knew Thomas’s).  He knows His sheep.  

He knows that we have lived “like sheep going astray” [Epistle].  For that, we deserve to be devoured and destroyed, as a lamb left alone with the wolf. Do you think what is happening to you is not fair? God has decreed death for you and for all mankind, and He is just, righteous, and completely fair in doing so. If God were altogether fair and just in dealing with us, He would simply consign us and all humanity to hell, as one great lump or mass of perdition.

Those words, “I know My sheep,” are not necessarily comforting words.  But these are:  “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” [Introit].  The Hebrew concept of goodness here includes mercy; the LORD’s goodness is in His steadfast love. So we can read that verse from the Psalms this way:  “The earth is full of the goodness—the mercy, the steadfast love—of the Lord.”  Our God is a just God, who knows you in all your sin and fallenness. But He is also a merciful God.  Jesus our Good Shepherd is a merciful Shepherd.  Although He knows your failings, your wretchedness, your sins, nonetheless, purely out of His goodness and love, He shows mercy.  And God the Father has so ordained it that precisely at the time when the earth is blossoming with all manner of good things, when our globe is garbed in beauty and the land is clothed in fragrant splendor, precisely at that time did He choose to have His Son rise again from the grave.  Thus we are annually reminded that these words are true:  “The earth is full of the goodness—the mercy, the steadfast love—of the Lord.”  

In this life you have known and will know gloom and despair. And you have gone through, or perhaps are going through now, a time of impiety,   failing to pray, neglecting to let the Lord’s Word have its way with you. In this life you have known and will know a world that doesn’t care about you.  On just such a “cloudy and dark day,” says our God, He Himself will search for His sheep and “deliver them from all the places where they were scattered” [OT].  On a cloudy and dark day, He seeks out the lost, brings back what was driven away, binds up the broken, and strengthens the sick.

Those words from the Old Testament foretold God Himself coming, in the person of Jesus, to do for you what you could not do for yourself.  Jesus is not a good shepherd, but the Good Shepherd.  A good shepherd would be expected to defend his sheep, but Christ the Good Shepherd voluntarily sacrifices His own life as the Passover Lamb—the Paschal Victim—so that His sheep may live.
One of the students in a Christian Faith class at our school said something brilliant this past week. Pr. McClean had stopped by so the students could meet him, and he was explaining to them that the word “pastor” means shepherd, but that Jesus is the true shepherd, and we pastors are just His helpers. So my student Bryce said, “Jesus then is the ultimate Shepherd.” Exactly!

Jesus the ultimate shepherd put Himself between us His sheep and the gaping jaws of that hound of hell, Satan.  But in seeking to devour Jesus the ultimate shepherd, death bit off more than it could chew.  Satan grabbed a Man, and discovered God incarnate.  Death could not hold Him.  By Christ’s death, He destroyed death.

Our Good Shepherd, having saved us then from the penalty of our sins, and having made us His flock, does not abandon us.  He will not abandon you, but He continues to care for and tend His flock, the Holy Church, of which we are a part by Holy Baptism.

How does He do this? Two ways:  First, by speaking to His flock—by the Word; and second, by feeding His flock—by the blessed Sacrament.  “My sheep hear My voice,” [Jn. 10.27], says He, and we confess, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” [Ps. 23].

First, He speaks to His flock.  The sheep, He, says, “will hear My voice.”  We come here to the church not to do something for God, but to hear His Word. We do that together on Sundays and, if possible, during the week for worship and Bible study. But it also should be something that goes on throughout every day of the week. It’s important to read the Bible and think on the Word of God every day. This is not some sort of Law or guilt trip; we need God’s Word because we are constantly being bombarded by other words. Words of bad news on the television and radio, words of covetousness fed by the advertisements, words of filth spoken everywhere. We need to hear God’s Word often to remember who we are – sheep prone to going astray – and who God is – the Shepherd who rescues us and cares for us.

Jesus has called us to “follow Him [as He] lead[s us] by the way of death through the lowlands of this passing world to the pastures of life” [St. Peter Chrysologus].

That is where Christ’s voice is leading us – to the pastures of life.  We are “the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand” [Venite].  Follow Him to death, for He will lead you to life.  Be His companion in shame, for He leads you to honor.  The way is indeed hard, but He shall be your Way.  Listen to the doctrine of the Good Shepherd, and be bold and uncompromising in the Faith.  Listen to the love of the Good Shepherd, and be tender and compromising toward your neighbor.

For Christ your Good Shepherd knows you, and here at the Eucharist He makes Himself known to you. Just before reading the Gospel today you sang, “Then was the Lord Jesus known to them in the breaking of bread” [Verse].  Here at His Table is where we know Him – where we see His mind toward us, His mercy, His goodness, His steadfast love.  And here He knows us, in all our poverty and defeat, and embraces us anyway.  Here He feeds us and nourishes us with His own self, and we know Him, or rather are known by Him.

I leave you, therefore, with the Holy Spirit’s words recorded in Hebrews:  “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight…” [13.20-21a]+inj+

The Peace of Christ that passes all understanding keep your minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

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