Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
The Good Shepherd - April 29, 2012 - Fourth Sunday of Easter - Text: John 10:11-18
Today is the day which is traditionally known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Today is called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the Gospel reading is the one in which Jesus describes Himself as a Shepherd and as He says, “He is the good one,” and we are like sheep. For the people to whom Jesus was addressing, the analogy was an easy one. For us today, who do not do much sheep herding, we may need a little help to understand the analogy. So, a little review about sheep and shepherding is in order.
First, and I am not trying to stereotype or as we say today I am not trying to profile here, or be anti-animal, but it must be said, sheep are not the brightest of all the animals in the barnyard, nor are they in particular the cleanest, and their eyesight is not the best. Which is probably the reason they have a tendency to follow the sheep that is in front of them and will follow, I am told, even off a cliff. Sheep also tend to wonder, wherever their nose and mouth (while eating good grass) will lead. Thus, it is imperative that someone watch the sheep at all times. This person who watches the sheep is known as a shepherd, if the person is a male, or a shepherdess if the person is a female. There is one other person involved in this story and that person is the sheep owner, who either hires the shepherd, or in many instances is the father of the shepherd or shepherdess.
Now, to bring the analogy to us and here again, I am not trying to stereotype or profile anyone, nor am I an anti-human advocate, however, we are like the sheep, especially when it comes to temptation and sin, we are not so bright. We have a tendency, our every inclination is toward sin. If you really want to know how easy and how fun sinning is, just listen to the slogans we hear in advertizing. We like to sin, “everyone else is doing it.” Sinning comes easy, we “just do it.” Sinning is fun, “you only go around once in life.” Sinning is natural, “if it feels good, do it.” Sinning is so easy and it requires no practice. Yes, when it comes to sinning, when it comes to following our own way, we are like sheep.
Jesus is like the shepherd. He watches over us. He keeps us away from sin, or at least He tries to keep us away from sin. God the Father is our owner. He does not hire just anyone to watch us, rather He gives that work to His Son. Now, to throw one more thought into the mix, that is, that today we have what we might call under-shepherds and those are our pastors. Our pastors are men who are called by God, through the congregations in order to be a shepherd, “in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
With that as a little review, now let us talk about shepherds and under-shepherds. Some shepherds are simply hired. They are paid and they look at their job of shepherding simply as a job, only for the purpose of making a buck. I would suggest that these are the pastors who seek the position of pastor as a position of CEO, that is for some perceived view of power or authority, instead of understanding that the role of the pastor is that of a servant, being in service to God. I would further suggest that these are the pastors who do not like conflict, especially in the way of being firm in their confession of Holy Scripture. In other words, these are the pastors who are tolerant, who compromise their beliefs so as not to be offensive. They offer open communion, have no opinion on the issue of abortion, have no opinion on the role of women in the church, have no opinion on whether God created the world in six days or if He used evolution to create the world, and are not careful with making sure that worship is God’s service.
On the other hand, there are some shepherds and under-shepherds who are committed and truly care for the sheep, no matter how it might look. Being a pastor is very often like being a parent. There are times when your pastor is the one who is in the position to confront a person with his or her sin. It is at these times that he is like you as a parent who must discipline your own child. Your child does not necessarily like to be disciplined and may even call you names and say they do not like you. The same often happens to pastors when they work to show someone their sin so they might repent and be brought back into a right relationship with Jesus. And as I believe most pastors are willing to admit, I will readily admit, I am not perfect nor do I believe that I do this in the most perfect way, for I too, even though I am a pastor, I too am a sinner. However, God has called me, through you, the members of this congregation, to be Christ’s under-shepherd here in this place and that is what I, with His help, try to do.
When we understand that our pastor is our pastor because he has been called by God through us, the congregation, then we realize that if we speak evil against our pastor and if we fail to support our pastor we are indeed speaking against and rejecting what God gives. And the same is true for our pastor, if he speaks evil against and does not support the congregation to which the Lord has called him, if he fails in his calling to preach the Gospel meaning the law in all its sternness and the Gospel in all its sweetness, if he fails to administer the sacraments and forgive and retain sins, if he fails to visit the sick and the shut-ins, then he too is sinning against and rejecting what God has given. Certainly we understand that, even though God has given us each other through the office of Holy Ministry, this too is an imperfect arrangement because we are His imperfect, at the same time sinner and saint, children.
However, there is one perfect Shepherd. John tells us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the perfect shepherd because He is able to do what none of His under-shepherds are able to do. He gives His life for the sheep. He died so that we do not have to die, at least not an eternal, spiritual death. We do not have to suffer hell, because Jesus suffered hell for us in our place. That is why He is the Good Shepherd.
Now, about sheep. Sheep need a shepherd. Again, as we said earlier, sheep are near sighted. Very often we are near sighted. We only see this world and we cannot always see the world to come. We get so involved in this world that we leave little time to get ourselves ready for the world to come. This too is one of the devils greatest temptations, “there is always time.” Unfortunately, we do not know how much time we have, we do not know when the Lord will return nor do we know when we will pass on from this world, thus it is important that we have an urgency about what time we do have, and that we use the time we do have to prepare ourselves for the world to come.
Sheep need a shepherd. Sheep need something or someone to follow. We are all born with a desire to be lead and that desire is one which needs to be filled, in other words, we all need to believe something. Look at all the false teachings about God and all the heresies that we have in our world today and how many people will follow just about anything, even to their physical death, not to mention to their eternal spiritual death.
Sheep need a shepherd. There are a lot of dangers in this world. There are false teachers, false prophets, false religions. Temptations abound. Sin abounds. We need someone to help to guide us, to keep us from temptation and sin. We need a shepherd.
Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd. He knows His sheep intimately. He knows us by name. He calls us by name. At Holy Baptism He puts His name on us. He claims us as His own. He puts faith in our hearts. He gives us forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He knows the number of hairs on our head or the lack of numbers of hairs on our heads. He knows our likes and dislikes. He knows everything there is to know about us and He still loves us.
In the same way that the Shepherd knows His sheep intimately, the sheep also know their Good Shepherd intimately. We know Jesus by name. We know that we can come to Him at any time, at any place, for any reason. We know that we can speak to Him through prayer and that He speaks to us through His Word. We know that He gave the ultimate sacrifice of Himself on the cross for our sins. We know that we participate in that ultimate sacrifice, in His death and resurrection through faith in Him and especially through His Holy Supper. Through faith in Him His life becomes our life, His death becomes our death, and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
The Good Shepherd knows His Father, the owner of the sheep intimately. Jesus knows the Father because He and the Father are one. He is the one who came to give His life as a ransom, for our life, on the cross. He came to restore our relationship with God the Father, a relationship broken by sin.
Likewise, the sheep know the Good Shepherd’s Father, their owner intimately. We know God the Father intimately. As we know Jesus, so we know the Father. And we thank the Father. We thank Him for the gift of His Son and His life for ours.
What great love our God has for us that we have become the recipients of His great love. We see the love of God the Father through the fact that He sent His Son, not because we were deserving, not because of anything on our part, but because of His love for us.
God the Father loves us and shows His love in the sending of His Son. God the Son, Jesus, loves us and shows His love for us in that He lived for us and that He gave His life for ours. He died so that we might live. “Greater love can no one have than this, that he would lay down his life for another.” Jesus shows this great love in the giving of His life for ours.
Ultimately, by the grace and leading of God, we reflect this love to each other and back to the Father and the Son. What a great privilege we have as sons and daughters of the Lord, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to be able to go out and share that love with others, especially with those who do not know Jesus. What a great privilege to let God’s love for us be reflected on to others.
I want to conclude with John’s words from our Epistle lesson from last week, because I believe they are beautiful words of inspiration for us in our joy of sharing God’s love with others. John writes, “1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1-2). And at that time we will be standing before His throne praising Him and saying, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.