Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Easter (May 7, 2017)

JOHN 10:1-10


M: Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     In Jesus’ day, shepherds were a familiar occupation.  Although being a shepherd was not an honored profession, it was a necessary one.  It was common for families to have sheep.  Sheep provided your winter clothing and, if necessary, food.  Few families owned many sheep, but most families owned a few.  A shepherd was given charge over the sheep from a combination of households.  Multiple flocks would be kept in a large sheep pen.  Every morning, the shepherd would go to the sheep pen to call out the flock under his care.  The sheep knew their shepherd’s voice, and only the sheep from that shepherd’s flock would come out of the pen to follow their shepherd.  He would then lead them to the place where the flock would find grass and water.  There were always predators to be concerned about, but as long as the sheep stayed near their shepherd, they were safe.  And in order to keep the flock near him, the shepherd continually spoke to the sheep.
     Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  He has spoken to you words which not only comfort you, but also save you.  By his word, Jesus reveals God’s everlasting mercy.   By his word, Jesus give eternal life to all who believe his word.  Jesus is the door through which you enter into the kingdom of God.  And he is the shepherd who keeps you close to him and gives you peace in a world where many enemies long to seize you and destroy you.
     The shepherd speaks to the sheep, and the sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  Of course, that also means that the sheep will keep on listening to the shepherd’s voice.  There are many other voices which sound attractive to us.  Perhaps you have heard that voice which says, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe, just so long as you believe.”  And similar to that is this: “All religions are basically the same.”  When you are talking with other people, it sounds very tolerant, open-minded, and loving to say these things.  It promotes a sense of acceptance and gives a feeling of unity.  All people, no matter what they believe, like such words.  But let me ask you: Are these the words of Jesus?  Does Jesus ever say, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe, just so long as you believe”?  Or would Jesus really say, “All religions are basically the same”?  That is not Jesus’ voice.  It is a common sentiment, and it is what people want to hear, but it is not the voice of your Shepherd.  Jesus assures you that doctrine matters and that false doctrine kills.  If it didn't matter, Jesus would never have warned of thieves and robbers.
     The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  Every time your shepherd speaks to you, he is speaking for your eternal well-being.  For that reason, not everything Jesus says sounds nice.  When a sheep sees something that looks good, he will wander off to get it.  The shepherd knows that leaving his side means danger for the sheep.  So, the shepherd will pull out his staff and give the sheep a knock on its side to pull it back.  When the Lord gives us a knock on the side, we will not like it.  We don’t want to hear a rebuke or a call to repent.  Our pride gets hurt.  Our feelings get hurt.  We would rather pursue that craving that gives us a thrill or makes our life happier.  We even have friends who tell us to go for it.  Our friends don’t care if we give ourselves into sin.  They just want us to be happy now, even if that means ignoring Jesus.  But the Good Shepherd does not leave you to wander away.  He continues to speak to you.  And if he has to knock you on the side and call you to repent, he is not doing it because he is mean, or even because he is angry.  He is doing it because he loves you.
     The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  And the shepherd delights to comfort, care for, and protect the sheep.  In the shepherd Psalm, King David wrote what we still confess: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (Psalm 23:5)  You will notice that he does not say that the shepherd makes the enemies go away.  Sin, death, and the devil will always surround us, and they will not leave us alone.  Since we are sheep, we have no defense against them.  No matter how strong or how smart you are, you cannot overcome your enemies.  You still commit sins.  The devil still taunts you with temptations and accuses you of your guilt.  And death will finally claim us.
     Sheep cannot escape their predators.  They do not outsmart them, they will not overpower them, and they cannot defend themselves.  If the sheep are to live, they need their shepherd.  And you have the Good Shepherd.  Jesus stood between you and your enemies.  He gave his body to be mauled by the evil predators so that they could not have you.  The Good Shepherd laid down his life to save the sheep.  As you know, a dead shepherd is not an effective shepherd.  But your Good Shepherd is not dead.  He is risen.  He lives to speak to you, and tells you that your sins are forgiven.  He lives to assure you that even though you walk through the shadow of death, you will rise to live just as he has.  He silences every accusation of the devil.  He has broken the fangs of the roaring lion, and he keeps you safe from all your enemies.  By his resurrection, Jesus has overcome all your enemies.  He lives to keep you safe from them all.
     The sheep hear their shepherd’s voice.  The enemies still surround you, but as long as you are with your shepherd, you are safe.  He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies.  Here, he feeds you his own body and blood which have paid for sin and conquered death.  By eating and drinking from his table, you receive his forgiveness and share in his salvation.  Here, you have peace and even rejoice in the midst of dangers.  The enemies can only watch as we feast with our Good Shepherd.
     The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:3-5)  The strange voices will always try to draw us away from Jesus.  That is why it is imperative that we keep on listening to Jesus.  The more we listen to Jesus, the better we will recognize his true word versus the word that tries to mimic his.  Those strange voices are very popular.  And we will not be popular for turning away from them.  But the seductive voices do not really care for you.  They may promise a moment’s pleasure and the world's praise.  They might even tell you that their way will provide you a good life.  But they cannot promise you an eternal life.  Any word apart from Jesus’ leads to death and slaughter.
     If you fear being seduced by a stranger’s voice, good!  That means you know that you need to be with Jesus.  We are all sheep who are dead meat if we do not stay near our shepherd.  While the world considers it an insult to be called a sheep, you and I rightly know our place.  We are defenseless, and we need our Good Shepherd if we are going to be saved from our enemies.  Jesus not only supplies us with a life of peace and comfort here in the presence of our enemies, he also promises, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)  The day will come when Jesus will finally deliver us completely from all our enemies.  Jesus will take us from this world to the green pastures and quiet waters of heaven.  There, we will never have to fear temptation, endure frustrations, or face pain, sorrow, or death.  We will rest and feast with Jesus.  He will shepherd us and dwell with us.  And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.