Sunday, May 08, 2011

Sermon: Misericordias Domini– 2011

8 May 2011 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!

One might be tempted to think of a shepherd as a less-than-manly occupation. Taking care of fluffy animals, giving them each a name, and feeding and watering them just doesn’t sound like something a boy would daydream about becoming when he grows up.

And most of the time, being a shepherd is tedious, spending countless hours walking around with bleating sheep under the stars, often in dull isolation. It isn’t exactly the kind of thing that young people aspire to, not the kind of work that would inspire action figures.

But then there are those times when the shepherd must be a soldier, a warrior, a protector. There are indeed those times when the sheep are under attack by predators who not only consider the sheep to be dinner, but who have no qualms about killing the shepherd as well. In such times, the shepherd is a fighter. And a good shepherd will not run from danger. A good shepherd will stay and fight. A good shepherd will turn and face the foe. A good shepherd will battle the enemy of the sheep to the very death if necessary.

By contrast, a hired hand is only there to get a paycheck. A hired hand, when confronted by a ravening wolf will say: “This is above my pay grade,” and he will flee. And woe to the flock of sheep who are under the leadership of such a phony and shallow shepherd.

Sheep need a shepherd because of their tendency to wander, to stray, to get themselves into trouble by losing their way from the safety of the flock. And when the sheep are thus scattered, they are as good as dead.

That is, unless their shepherd will “seek out” his sheep that have been scattered, and “rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered.”

Such a shepherd is no ordinary keeper of flocks, but is a heroic mighty-man, a warrior who defends the lives of the weak not merely for pay, but because of the principle that defending the weak is the right thing to do, according to his calling and according to the will of God.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, dear friends, Jesus is the Good Shepherd!

The prophet spoke the Word of God: “Behold I, I myself will search for My sheep and I will seek them out.” Our Lord Jesus, the Word made flesh, fulfilled this Word when He Himself proclaimed this Word of truth: “I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”

And while much of the artwork that depicts our Lord Jesus focuses on His gentleness and tenderness – often showing Him sweetly tending to little lambs or young children – there is an aspect of the Good Shepherd that is anything but meek and mild. For as a shepherd carries a crook to deliver blows against the enemy, our Lord Jesus Christ wields His Holy Word, His passion and death, and His bloody cross itself to crush the head of the vile predator Satan who seeks to devour the sheep – especially the weak and the wandering, the ailing and the lonely.

Our Good Shepherd is not afraid to get dirty and bloody, to jump into the fray and interpose Himself between the devil and us, His sheep, His people, His beloved whom He has come to save.

Unlike a hired hand who is only in it for money, our Lord Jesus Himself spends all that He has – His very lifeblood – to protect, defend, and redeem us from sin, death, our flesh, the devil, and from hell itself. For like a soldier falling on a grenade to save his comrades, our Lord Jesus heroically withstands and absorbs the excruciating pain and suffering that we deserve by our willful wandering from the path of righteousness, suffering and dying heroically to save us from the wrath that we deserve.

And instead of being decorated for His militant heroism with a Purple Heart, His own heart was pierced by a Roman soldier’s sword, issuing forth the water that reminds us of baptism and the blood that reminds us of the Eucharist.

For our Good Shepherd isn’t just a smiling face in a fictional painting. No indeed! Our Good Shepherd is a mighty-man, a warrior who defends the lives of the weak. He is the God Man. Our Good Shepherd saved us at the cross and continues to come to us as our Savior in His Holy Supper, in His Word, in the forgiveness of sins, and in the proclamation of the Good News of the Good Shepherd’s Good Friday triumph. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness,” says St. Peter, to whom the Lord commanded “Feed my sheep.”

Dear friends, let us never forget that we are sheep. We wander carelessly and recklessly when we sin, and we do so repeatedly and without excuse. We deserve to be eaten by the wolf. And yet we wandering sheep have a Good Shepherd, the one who “lays down His life for His sheep.”

Indeed, our Lord is the pinnacle of manhood, the mightiest of all men who is also God in the flesh. He is the Good Shepherd who does not flee, but who turns to face the evil one, conquers Him, and rescues us.

Let us ponder anew the reality that “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. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 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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