Sunday, May 04, 2014

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) – 2014

4 May 2014

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In most cases, it’s considered an insult to be called a “sheep.” 

This expression is often used to indicate someone who isn’t too bright, who blindly follows a leader, and who is on his way to be slaughtered.  “People are sheep” we sometimes say when a group of people follow a bad leader and get themselves into a mess.

But here we see in Scripture – in all three of our readings – that the Lord calls us just that.  He compares His people to a flock of sheep who are lost, and who need a shepherd to get them out of the mess.

In funerals and in ministering to the dying, the twenty-third Psalm provides great comfort, and in that Psalm, David, himself a former shepherd who became a king – calls all of us sheep and calls the Lord our “shepherd.”

But when God is our shepherd, when our Good Shepherd is revealed to be Jesus, suddenly it’s not so bad to be called a sheep.  In fact, there is great comfort in being part of a flock and to be led by a Master.  Jesus is the eternal King who is also the Good Shepherd, the leader who has been slaughtered on our behalf and for our salvation.

Listen to the promise the prophet Ezekiel speaks to the people of God, His flock, in the centuries before Christ, addressing the people of Israel: “For thus says the Lord God: Behold I, I myself will search for My sheep and I will seek them out…. I will rescue them.”

The old saying is that if you want something done right, you do it yourself.  God Himself promises to gather us into a flock and rescue us from the trouble we get into by scattering, by sinfully separating ourselves from His Word and from His Church.  God Himself comes to us to call us back – the Good Shepherd.  He doesn’t send a hired hand.  He doesn’t send a servant.  He doesn’t send an angel.  God Himself takes on flesh and blood and takes up the shepherd’s crook.  He interposes Himself between us and our enemies.  He saves us.

And when we are described as the Lord’s sheep, when He is our Shepherd, our Good Shepherd, it isn’t insulting at all.  It is comforting and it is encouraging.  It fills us with joy and hope and expectation of eternal life.

For, compared to our all-knowing God, we aren’t too bright.  And when God Himself is our leader, when Jesus is our Shepherd, the King of Love, we don’t mind being followers.  And unlike the hired hands and the false shepherds – be they in the world or in the church – our Lord truly rescues us by getting us out of the mess we are in due to sin.  He gathers us into the flock of the Church, the assembly of those who were lost, but who are found, the people of God whom He leads to green pastures and still waters.

For we have a Shepherd who is also a sheep, a God who is also a man, a Champion who has defeated death and who has also gone through death: “the Lamb the sheep has ransomed, Christ who only is sinless.”

As St. Peter, the disciple whom our Lord told to “Feed my sheep,” reminds us today: “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.”

In our sins, dear brothers and sisters, we were like wandering sheep, scattered from the flock, and in mortal danger of being eaten by the predator, who is the wolf, Satan.  But along has come our Good Shepherd.  Not a hired hand who “cares nothing for the sheep,” who “sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees.”  No indeed!  Our Lord took up His Shepherd’s crook when He took up His cross.  Our Lord cracked the wolf on the skull when He Himself was crucified on the hill known as Golgatha: the place of the Skull.  Our Lord “lays down His life for the sheep” being the very Passover Lamb to end all Passovers, the one final all-availing sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins.  “The Lord is my Shepherd.  I shall not want.”

He says: “I am the Good Shepherd.”  He tells us He is God: “I am.”  He is the “I Myself” from Ezekiel.  “I am the good shepherd,” says our Lord Jesus, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep….  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.”

Jesus has come to gather us, dear friends, us poor miserable sinners.  He has come to save us from our foolish wanderings, to gather us where we will be safe: in the Church, in the flock, under His divine care.  For He knows us and we know Him.  He places His brand on us in Holy Baptism, and we follow where he calls us by His Word.  And instead of hired hands to assist Him, He calls pastors who proclaim His Word and place the brand of baptism upon you.  He charges His pastors (a word that means “shepherds,” by the way) to likewise lay down our lives for the Lord’s sheep and to feed His sheep with His very body and blood.  He calls us to speak His Word of life to you.  He calls us to agonize over you, to pray for you, to go to war against the devil for you.  He calls us to speak to you only the Word of our Good Shepherd, the pastor and bishop of our souls, as St. Peter describes our Lord Jesus in the original Greek language.

For when the Lord is our Shepherd, we want for nothing.  We are restored and led for His name’s sake.  In life and in death, we need not fear, for we take comfort in His leadership over us.  We are anointed by the Anointed One Himself to the point of overflowing, and we live forever because the Lord our Shepherd, our Good Shepherd, “lays down His life for the sheep.”

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With Thee, dear Lord, beside me,
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!


on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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