Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) – 2015

19 April 2015

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!

Every year on the third Sunday of Easter we ponder our Lord’s self-description that He is “the good shepherd.”  His teaching about Himself in John 10 has led to some of the most beautiful artwork in the history of the church.  From stained glass windows showing our Lord Jesus gently tending to lambs, to the majestic King James Bible’s almost musical English language rendition of the 23rd Psalm that we recite as we or others find ourselves “in the valley of the shadow of death,” to the lilt of our uplifting and comforting hymns sung on this celebration of Christ our Good Shepherd, these images are among the most beloved in the church.  As well they should be.

For this is precisely what the Gospel is all about.

These images are meaningful to us in the church because we understand the imagery of the sheep.  Though our Lord loves His creation and has promised to make all things new, these historic images of Jesus the Good Shepherd aren’t about cuddly animals.  Our Lord is using a metaphor.  He is the shepherd, dear friends, because we are the sheep.

Like sheep, our sinful flesh is in danger of wandering away from safety.  We may be bored or distracted.  We may be malicious or greedy.  We may be confused or bamboozled.  But for one reason or another, St. Peter explains our common and universal sinful condition using the sheep metaphor: “You were straying like sheep.”  We are in danger because we stray, we wander away from safety by going where we are not led.
Peter is extending the metaphor from the Old Testament, such as what Ezekiel shared anew with us today: that God’s people are “His sheep that have been scattered.”  He goes on to say that we “sheep” are “lost… strayed… injured [and] weak.”

Dear friends, this is what sin has done to us.  We are scattered because we have lost our way.  We have been so corrupted by sin that we don’t know where we are supposed to be, and so we start walking in this direction or that.  We get “lost.”  And once we are lost, the more we walk, the farther we become “strayed.”  Without protection, we are “injured”: injured by being where we shouldn’t be, injured by predators, injured by our own folly, injured by the devil and injured even to death.  We fall prey to our enemies because we are “weak” – lacking the vigor of health and strength precisely because of our wandering.  And again, this is because of sin.

It is only in this context do the images of Christ the Good Shepherd mean anything other than just one more pretty picture.  

But think about it, dear friends.  In our sinful meanderings, we are completely at a loss to help ourselves to overcome our sinful nature and find ourselves, let alone save ourselves.  We are like wandering sheep.  We have no claws like the bear, no fangs like the wolf, no fierce roar like the lion.  We are not feared like the rhino, not capable of flight like the eagle, not aggressive like the wolverine.  We can’t even bluff like a pufferfish or a frilled lizard that can make itself look scary.

In the face of death, in the face of the devil, in the face of temptation, about all we can do is look up and make little bleating sounds.  Thanks to sin, thanks to the fall, thanks to the corruption of our glorious created nature that formerly reflected God’s image, about all we can do is look up and make little bleating sounds for a Shepherd to save us.

And, dear friends, this is the most powerful thing that a sheep can do.  At least, assuming that his shepherd is a good shepherd, that he cares for his sheep, that he is the owner and not a mere hired hand.  For such a shepherd knows his sheep, and they know him.  Such a shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  And when a sheep has a Good Shepherd, bleating out “Lord, have mercy!” to his Shepherd is the most powerful thing he can do.  

This, dear friends, is the good news.  Yes, we are like sheep that have gone astray.  Yes we were straying like sheep.  Yes we are scattered and lost and strayed and injured and weak.  Yes, indeed, all of that is true.  For we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.  

But listen to the promise, dear friends!  Listen to the Word of the prophet Ezekiel: “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out.  As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so I will seek out My sheep, I will rescue them.”  God Himself, our Shepherd, promises to gather and feed us Himself – not by means of a hireling, but rather He will do this Himself: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”

God says these things in the Old Testament in the future tense (“I will be…), but our Lord Jesus says these things in the Gospel in the present tense (I am…): “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…. I know My own and My own know Me… and I lay down My life for the sheep.”

Dear friends, Jesus was not a shepherd to people in the past only.  Nor will Jesus be a shepherd to people in the future only.  For Jesus is the great I AM.  He is our Good Shepherd right here and right now.  For now is the day of salvation!  Now is the moment for us sheep to bleat out: “Lord, have mercy!  Save us now, O Lord!” 

We cry out to a Shepherd and Overseer who is at the same time the “Lamb of God” who “takes away the sin of the world.”  And we are bold to cry out:  “Have mercy on us!”  For this Lamb has ransomed the sheep: “Christ who only is sinless.”

And Jesus doesn’t mere say that He is “a” good shepherd, but rather He says: “I am ‘the’ Good Shepherd.”  There is no other Good Shepherd, dear friends, no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.  “For thus says the Lord God: Behold I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out.”

He says: “I will seek… I will rescue….  I will bring them… and gather them….”  He says: “I will feed them.”

For our Shepherd who became the sacrificial Lamb for our rescue, so that we might be gathered to Him and freed from being prey to Satan and death, He who went to the cross to seek us from our wandering and save us from dying, He promises to be that one and only Good Shepherd: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”

Indeed, dear friends, He has done it.  “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live in righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.”

And as St. Peter says in the past tense, because this has been completed even as our Lord said: “It is finished,” Peter goes on to explain the good news: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  This is the same St. Peter whom the Lord commanded and ordained three times: “Feed My sheep…. Feed My lambs.”  And the Lord commands and ordains men to feed us, His sheep with the Word and the sacraments, and will do so until He returns to gather His sheep.

Yes indeed, dear friends, the church understands the true eternal beauty and the true transcendent love embedded in this gospel mystery of the perfect Shepherd who offers up His own flawless life for all of us wandering and scattered sheep, especially as we pray: “Lord, have mercy” and as we confess: “The Lord is My shepherd, I shall not want.”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison 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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