Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3)

18 April 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 10:11-16 (Ez 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Young people who inhabit the Internet are familiar with the expression: “Owned.” To be owned is not a good thing. It means to be defeated, dominated, or even humiliated. And thanks to an Asian misspelling, a particularly bad case of “ownage” might even be called “pwnage.”

But we Christians take comfort in being “owned.”

We are the Lord’s creation, and thus He owns us. But rather than treat us as objects or as slaves, our Master actually behaves as if He were the slave, making us the object of His divine affections. For He serves us and takes care of us, more as beloved people than owned people. And yet, we can take great comfort in the Lord’s ownership. St. Paul even calls us God’s “workmanship” and urges us to submit to His will for us, like a piece of clay looks to the hands that formed it into a vessel for some use.

When the owner is God, being owned is not a bad thing at all. In fact, our Lord allowed Himself to be “owned” in the eyes of the world by submitting to the cross. He was seemingly defeated, submitted to being dominated, and He willfully allowed Himself to be humiliated – all out of love and mercy for the sheep he owns and loves and in obedience to the Father He serves and loves.

And ultimately, this is the difference between the world’s understanding of being owned and that of our Lord and His Church.

A shepherd has a job: to watch and take care of the sheep. Insuring their welfare is what He is called to do. If the shepherd is only a hired hand – in other words, if the sheep are not owned by the shepherd – the sheep are in great danger. For they will get their water and food only so long as the shepherd is afraid of being fired. But as soon as a predator comes along, as soon as being fired is no longer his worst fear – the shepherd will abandon the sheep, and will leave them to the tender mercies of lions and wolves.

How different it is to be owned by the Good Shepherd, dear brothers and sisters! For the Owner cares about His sheep. Getting fired is not among His cares. Rather He knows that His life is intertwined with that of His sheep. He knows His sheep. He is committed to them. Ultimately, He loves them. And the greatest expression of love is to lay down one’s life for the beloved.

Our Good Shepherd truly lays down His life for His sheep. And we are truly His sheep.

For unlike the calm pictures of shepherds strolling aimlessly in the sunshine among flowers and gentle brooks, the life of the shepherd is actually violent and militant. The shepherd carries a crook. He must stand guard like a combat sentry. He must extricate his sheep from life-threatening trouble. He must beat back vicious attackers that would not only eat his sheep, but would make a meal of the shepherd as well.

The shepherd gets sweaty, dirty, bloody, and bruised. The shepherd stays awake at night and loses sleep. The shepherd frets over the little ones and dotes on the older ones. He binds wounds and he makes sure all of those under his care are fed and watered. The shepherd is not meek and mild and cowardly – that is unless he is a hireling.

Dear friends, our Lord is no hireling.

He did not see the wolf coming and leave the sheep and flee. And nor did the wolf snatch us and scatter us. No indeed! Our Shepherd beat back the wolf even to the point of the cross. Our Shepherd lays down His life for us sheep. Our Shepherd owns us, and it is a good thing in God’s economy to be owned.

And look at what this means for us! We have no faceless caretaker that changes day in and day out. We are not subjected to a shepherd who is only in it for money. We need not fear predators because we expect our Shepherd to cut and run. By no means! Our Shepherd is a good Shepherd, the only true Good Shepherd, the Shepherd who owns the sheep and lays down His life for them.

And so He knows us. He calls us by name. He has baptized us and given us His name. He summons us to worship as He gathers all of His sheep around Himself. He makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters. And we too know Him. We hear His voice as He proclaims the good news that our sins are forgiven. We know His Word, and we gather as a flock around it.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, dear sheep. He fulfills what Ezekiel prophesied: He owns us, loves us, feeds us, redeems us, protects us, and raises us from the dead. He, God Himself, has sought us out. He rescues us. He brings back the strayed, binds up the injured, strengthens the weak, and brings the sheep who hurt the others to justice. And St. Peter, Himself a faithful shepherd charged with feeding the Lord’s lambs, explains: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.”

The wolf came for us, and our Shepherd interposed Himself and defended us – with no regard for His own life and limb. That is the mark of the owner, the one who loves, the one who gives all for the sake of His beloved. As St. Peter continues: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

It is indeed a good thing to be owned: to have been created by the Creator and shepherded by the Good Shepherd. He is the Lamb who has ransomed the sheep – “Christ who only is sinless, reconciling sinners to the Father.”

For this is the work of the Good Shepherd: to become sweaty and dirty and bloody and bruised, to beat back the assaults of the evil one, for “death and life have contended in that combat stupendous.” Our Good Shepherd is indeed the “prince of life who died” who now “reigns immortal.”

And, dear sheep, we look forward to the day when we will join our Good Shepherd in eternity, the one who lays down His life and takes it up again, the one who has defeated death by dying, the one righteous Man who has redeemed all sinful men – the “Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.”

“So there will,” indeed, “be one flock, one Shepherd,” even unto eternity. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

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