Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 8, 2011 - The Third Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday - St. John 10:11-16

If you work a job that requires running a cash register the boss will usually tell you, and it's the same advice the police will give: If you're being held up, don't resist or fight back. Give them the money and don't do anything to provoke them and get hurt. Sometimes they do fight back. More than one store clerk has lost their life when they tried to save the bit of cash in the drawer. Why would you do that? Just so, why would you bother getting torn to shreds by a wolf or lion who came after the sheep? They're just sheep! Run! But when they're the Lord's sheep, it's different. Unlike every minimum-wage earning convenience store clerk or shepherd, the Lord doesn't let His sheep get eaten. He doesn't run when the wolf comes. No, this shepherd, the Good Shepherd, lays down His life for the sheep. Better this Good Shepherd get taken down by the wolf than He let the sheep be attacked! And that's what you need to know about your Good Shepherd: He lays down His life for you.

But don't be fooled! He doesn't lay down His life for us because we're worth it! Ezekiel and Peter nail it: The sheep love to wander off. God takes care of us and provides for us and we wander off. Go away to do our own thing. To live how we want. Do what we want. Worship the gods we want. Go after the things we want. Put ourselves first. All that is sheep wandering away. The Lord has given us the sheep pen of His Law, to guide us and corral us and we just find a way over it or around it or out of it. Never mind God. Never mind our neighbor. Off we go, wandering away, happily doing our own thing even when we wind up in the tangled branches that are the consequences for our sins. Or even when we are suddenly all alone, away from the Lord and the wolf, that devil, is right there ready to pounce! If sheep are really that stupid, they deserve to get eaten! They deserve to starve to death while they're all tangled up. We sinners deserve what we get! There is no reason the Lord should come after us. But He does. Because He's the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd knows His sheep. He knows that they go astray. He knows what you think and say and do that is your wandering from God. The Good Shepherd also knows His Father. That's why He lays down His life for the sheep. Don't think He did it because we deserved it or were worth it. He did it because that's what His Father wanted Him to do. It's as if He said, “Son, the wolf will come after our sheep. And the only way we can keep that wolf from tearing up the sheep is if you lay down your life for them. That will save them.” So the Good Shepherd does. He baits the wolf with Himself. He lays down His life by being lifted up on the cross. And that protects the sheep. The death of the Good Shepherd on Calvary is what rescues you form the wolf, the devil, whose one desire is to devour you! You see, the Lord doesn't just come looking for you, He lays down His life to protect you and rescue you. Yeah, the Good Shepherd knows you are a wandering sheep. He also knows His Father wants you back. And so He does what only the Good Shepherd does: He lays down His life for you and takes it up again!

And so He knows His sheep and is known by His own. There is one flock and one shepherd. That one flock is the holy Christian church and that one Shepherd is Jesus. It's HIS flock. The church doesn't belong to the pastor. It doesn't belong to you or the Voters or the Council or any Christian. The church, the flock is the Lord's. So what goes on here is what the Good Shepherd gives and does. And so just how do we know our Good Shepherd? Well He told us: He laid down His life for us. Any preaching or teaching which isn't about that, about the Good Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep, isn't the Good Shepherd caring for us. Any church where the sheep are not led to the still waters of their Baptism and the green pastures of Christ's Word is no church where the Lord is the shepherd. And where the overflowing cup of Christ's blood is not rejoiced in and given out, there the Good Shepherd is absent is well. But where those gifts are given, the gifts that deliver to us the life that Good Shepherd has for us, there we can be certain and confident that Jesus our Good Shepherd is caring for us and bringing us back whenever we wander away.

No, the cash in the drawer is not worth dying over. But neither are the sheep that love to wander. Christ lays down His life for us not because we are worth it but because He knows His Father. But now that Christ has died for you, laid down His life for you, know that you are precious in His sight. You are His little lambs. When you wander, He finds you and forgives you. In the pastures of His church He feeds and cares for you. And When the wolf comes to get you, He's got to get past your Good Shepherd! Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He has laid down His life for you. And He is the Good Shepherd because He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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