Sunday, April 21, 2013

Easter 4, Series C

Sermon on John 10:22-30
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 21, 2013 (Fourth Sunday of Easter)

In a crowded department store a child has gotten lost.  His mother had been holding his hand, but she had to let go for just a moment to pick up and look at a blouse she was thinking about buying.  The child saw something that looked interesting a few display racks down, and went to investigate.  Now the mother, realizing the child is gone, starts to look for him, but where she begins looking is in the opposite direction from where he is, putting them further apart.  There are people talking all over the store; it’s a relatively busy day.  The mother is getting more and more frantic and worried that something has happened to her son.  She starts to call out his name.  The child realizes that his mother isn’t near him anymore, and begins to cry.  But out of the crowd the child hears the voice of his mother calling his name, and the mother hears the voice of her child crying and they follow each other’s voice until they are together again.

People have the capacity to separate one voice that is important or meaningful to them out of a chaotic mess of other voices and sounds and follow that one voice.  Parents and children can sometimes find each other by this means.  And it’s not even unique to human beings.  Penguins can separate their own chick from a crowd of thousands of them simply by voice.  Our own Tweety often will answer to her mom, Daffy, despite the noise our other birds are making.  And, more appropriate sheep are able to tell the voice of their shepherd apart from the voices of all other human beings.  Jesus uses the example of sheep with a shepherd to illustrate the relationship that believers have to Himself in today’s Gospel lesson.  A believer is one who, like sheep with their shepherd, is able to distinguish the voice of his Lord and Savior from the other religious and philosophical messages that come to him from the world, and to follow that voice of the Good Shepherd.  To a nonbeliever the voice of the Good Shepherd doesn’t sound any different than any other religious message.  We can see this in the case of the Jews Jesus meets here by the fact that they aren’t able to tell that Jesus’ preaching and His miracles are the Word and the works of the God of their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They are confused about Jesus because they don’t recognize His Word as the voice of the one they claim is their God.  They don’t recognize His Word because they don’t believe.

What about you?  Do you recognize His Word as the voice of your Good Shepherd, your God?  Or do you doubt and wonder and question when that Word is proclaimed to you?  We see many in our society today who do not recognize God’s law as the warning given by their creator to protect them from getting themselves hurt.  Whether it be stealing, murder, disobedience to parents and others in authority, or whether it be sexual sins, or what is even worse than any of these, outright hatred and blasphemy against the true God and His Son Jesus Christ, we see and know examples all around us of those who do not hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.  But again I ask, what about you?  Do you believe what Christ says about Himself and about you in His Word?  Do you believe that you are a sinner who is saved only by the grace of God in Christ Jesus?  Or do you think of yourself as a pretty good person who goes to Church because that’s what good people do?  Are you a sheep who would be lost without his Good Shepherd, or are you a goat who is independent and self-righteous, who comes here to show everyone else how good you are?

The Jews who talked to Jesus here were in the latter category.  They set themselves up as judges of who they would and wouldn’t believe, and they had to be convinced logically of who Jesus is before they would follow Him.  This is not the attitude of trusting sheep toward their Good Shepherd.  It is the attitude of people who don’t want to be sheep, people who want to be their own masters and who will only have a god if that god obeys their own terms for the relationship.  Of course, a god who obeys us rather than the other way around is no god at all.  Such a so-called “god” is really a figment of our imagination, something that we construct out of thin air to replace the true God because we don’t like the fact that He calls us to account for our sinfulness.  The sad thing about that is, that not only do people not recognize God’s Law as His design for their life, but they especially do not recognize His Gospel as the voice of their Shepherd calling them to green pastures and quiet waters, and they refuse the blessings of eternal life and salvation because they don’t like the idea that they are sinners in need of a Savior.  The Jews in our text were in this category, and according to the sinful nature in which we were born and which still clings to us, we’re all in that category too.

But Christ has given you a new birth through water and the Spirit.  You have been given a new life even as He Himself now lives anew, having died to your sins.  You now are among those who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him.  You are able to distinguish His voice from a crowd, which is why He allows you to live in the world and lead perfectly ordinary lives in service to your neighbor rather than being separated from family and friends like cult leaders often try to do to their followers.  You are given eternal life.  You shall never perish; no one shall snatch you out of His hand.  In fact, you have been given to the Good Shepherd by His Father, and no one shall be able to snatch you out of the hand of the Father, since He and the Father are one.  These things that Jesus says about His sheep in today’s Gospel lesson are said about you.  You who were among the lost and wandering sheep who did not have a shepherd have become part of the flock of the Good Shepherd, whose spiritual needs are cared for here in His sheepfold.  St. David, Jesus’ ancestor, King of Israel and Psalm-writer, elaborates on this in Psalm 23.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Our Good Shepherd guides and guards us throughout our lives, gives us all we need to sustain us through this life and especially everything we need to give us the eternal life He has earned for us.  We are His sheep.  We hear His voice and follow Him.  Through the green pastures and quiet waters of  His Word and Sacrament He protects us from those who want to harm us and to lead us to eternal damnation.  You have heard the voice of your Good Shepherd, and now He has prepared a table before you.  Your cup runs over.  Come and let us join in the feast of the Good Shepherd’s victory.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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