Sunday, April 17, 2005

Sermon: Easter 3 (Jubilate)

17 April 2005, at Mt. Zion L.C. New Orleans

Text: John 10:1-10 (3 Year)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

When it comes to people who hang around a sheep pen, there are only two kinds: good ones, and bad ones. There are the people who are supposed to be there, and there are people who are not. The ones who are supposed to be there are “shepherds” – the caretakers of the sheep. The ones who are not supposed to be there are there for evil reasons – they are thieves.

If a thief breaks into the sheep’s pen, he will kidnap the sheep. Those who are stolen will be under the care of a person who is not sworn to protect the sheep, but rather one who uses the sheep for his own gain. Such a sheep may find himself at the mercy of a wolf (since the thief is hardly going to lay down his life for his stolen sheep), or on the thief’s dinner table.

Part of the shepherd’s job is to keep the thieves away, to protect the sheep from those who would bring harm. We sheep like to trust everyone, to think the best of people. As a result, we sheep can be swindled or tricked, we can be conned, we can become victims of crime because of our own foolishness or greed. There is always a thief trying to leap the fence and sweet talk us into wandering away from the fold. And no matter how good the thief’s offer may sound, we sheep need to know it’s a lie – a great lie that began in the Garden of Eden. For we know who is pulling the thief’s strings, and filling his mouth with beautiful temptations for us to hear.

But we sheep really know, deep down inside, the voice of our Shepherd. He is not a thief, but our caretaker. He does not hop the fence to our pen and make us all kinds of offers that sound too good to be true. Rather, the Good Shepherd enters by the gate (he has no reason to sneak) and he tells us the truth – all the while he feeds us, waters us, calls us each by name, and stands in the gate ready to lay down his life should a thief or a wolf attempt to bring us to harm.

We know his voice – it is his Word. We hear his voice when we hear: “I forgive you all your sins.” We hear his voice when we hear “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We hear his voice when he says “Take, eat. Take drink. This is my body. This is my blood. For the forgiveness of sins.” And we sheep rejoice in our shepherd’s voice, for we know that his Word is truth! We know that he, unlike the thief, will stop at nothing, even death, to protect us from the roaring lion “seeking whom he may devour.”

By heeding the voice of our Shepherd, we can come and go in our lives, always finding green pastures and still waters, that we may have life, and have it to the full. In fact, when the stranger comes into the pen, whose voice sounds strange, whose gospel is not the same as that of the Good Shepherd and his apostles, we need to run away. Such strangers are thieves. They may even wear sheep’s clothes, or wear a shepherd’s vestments – but if their voice is not that of Jesus – dear Christian people, run for your eternal lives! No matter how many promises of prosperity and success are promised by smiling people on TV who bear the title “Reverend” (and who also bear Rolexes and Rolls Royces), beware that such people are robbers and thieves. They do not work for the Good Shepherd, but rather work for the Enemy. They preach a gospel that tickles our ears, but is a lie. Their gospel is no gospel, not good news, at all, but bad news. Listen to the voice of the preacher. If you hear the words of our sinful, greedy flesh instead of the words of Jesus – who gave us his very flesh and blood – run away from that preacher.

But where do we run when we are assaulted by liars, thieves, and false preachers?

Our Lord provides us with an army of his assistants. The word “minister” means “servant.” The ministers of the church are in the service of the Good Shepherd. When they speak, they speak only for Jesus. The Latin word for “shepherd” is “pastor.” Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, he called and ordained the first eleven pastors, even as he told Peter “feed my sheep.” Jesus shepherds us by use of his minister-pastors, who speak only his words, and carry out only his orders. They are to only preach his Gospel, and speak only his Word. Jesus told them “when they hear you, they hear me.”

In our first lesson, we are told that our Lord’s sheep in the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” This is what we do every Sunday in church. We pray, we join one another in fellowship, we break bread, and we listen to the teachings of the apostles, the teachings of our pastors, the teachings of the Holy Church throughout the ages. We hear the same Gospel every Sunday as did the church in today’s lesson – and this is the very voice of the Good Shepherd himself.

We trust the Word of the Good Shepherd as proclaimed by the church. We know who Jesus is by what he does. As our epistle lesson words it: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” He suffered for us. “When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.” He “bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live to righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Just as Jesus bore his cross, so does the church. Just as Jesus was hardly successful in the eyes of the world, so goes it with the church. “Do not despair, O little flock,” as the hymn says. As his flock, we must strive to be faithful to him, not striving for numbers and “success” in the eyes of the world. The Christian life is a life of cross-bearing and struggle. It is not what the world considers desirable or worthy.

So when you are assailed by thieves, liars, preachers of the “prosperity gospel,” workers of false miracles, those who prey on the desperate, those who do a high-pressure shakedown for money over the TV – run from these false shepherds. They are wolves in shepherds’ vestments. And run to the shepherd the Lord himself, the Good Shepherd himself, has provided for you, to feed you and to take care of you – your own shepherd, Pastor Nare.

He knows your voice, and he cares about each one of you. And likewise, you know the voice with which he speaks, it is not his own voice, but the voice of Jesus: the Word of God proclaimed in the Holy Gospel, and given out to you in the Holy Sacraments. And Jesus promises something more wonderful and amazing than anything a slick TV preacher can promise: Jesus promises us life, that we may have it to the full – that is to say life eternal, life as it was meant to be before the thieves and robbers and serpents tricked us into abandoning the voice of our Good Shepherd. This is the life that knows no sorrow, no pain, no loss, and no death. This is what our Good Shepherd brings us, and he is the only gate through which we can enter. There is no other name by which we can be saved, but by Jesus alone.

So let us joyfully heed the voice of our Shepherd who loves us, and has proven that love by dying for us. Let us joyfully receive pardon for all of our sins from Jesus’ minister-pastors. Let us joyfully feast on the life-giving Body and Blood of our Lord. Let us joyfully recall our baptism every day, and every moment when we doubt, every time we make the sign of the cross, and every time we have something to be thankful for. We know the voice of our shepherd, and we know where we hear that voice. And let us praise our Good Shepherd now, and for all eternity. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.