I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…Our baby boy Noah is going on 26 years of age, and I don’t know what his favorite song is. But when he was a little over 3 years old, his favorite song was “Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird / if that mockingbird don’t sing / Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring/ and if that diamond ring turns brass / Mamas’s gonna buy you a looking glass / If that looking glass gets broke/ Mama’s gonna get you a billy goat / If that billy goat gets bony/ Mama’s gonna buy you a Shetland pony / and if that Shetland pony runs away /Mama’s gonna buy you another someday.”
Virtually every day of his first three or four years of life, Debi sang him that song, and almost always he would fall asleep in her arms listening, listening to her tender and full of affection voice. At nighttime she would sing a different song that started out “all night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord.” On at least one occasion he stopped her from singing the evening lullaby and said, “No, mom, don’t sing lullaby, sing mockingbird, and then he held up ten fingers and said, sing it this many times.” Woe be to anybody else who would try to lullaby Noah Lee to sleep.
So also on this Good Shepherd Sunday, woe be to any other voices which would try to lead the flock of Jesus Christ into the green pastures or near the still waters. Earlier in John 10, we hear the voice of Jesus speaking of himself in the second person “After He has gathered His own flock, He walks ahead of them, and they follow Him because they know His voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from Him because they don’t know His voice.” Our sermon theme today is “One Flock, One Shepherd.” I invite you to think with all of your mind /heart/soul about whose voices you are listening to these days and which paths you are traveling. Two lessons the Spirit of God would teach us today.
The first is (Sheep) Always straying, (Good Shepherd) always nearby. The prophet Isaiah said it this way, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Sheep experts tell us that sheep generally stick together in a flock for protection, but that when they do not feel threatened, they are likely to stray. In other words straying is not necessarily a sign of rebelliousness. So also do Church experts tell us that many who have grown up in the Christian faith may have wandered away from the visible church but they are not necessarily in open rebellion against Christ. They just may not feel the need for what He is offering. Which is pretty comforting, if you think about it. To know that not only does our Lord not give up on us when we stray, His eye is on us wherever we go and no matter what kind of trouble we are getting ourselves into. And even more than that – He’s not just watching us from a distance, He’s following us around. He is actively and equally focused on each one of us. As a grandpa would follow around his 4 year old grandson at a church function, trying to keep him out of trouble, so does our God pursue us in all the circumstances of life, trying to keep us out of trouble!
What a privilege it is to remind you today that whether or not you have been following in a close way your Savior, He has been following you around with goodness and mercy. He pursued us even as we (crucified Him), and He pursues us today even as we (close our hearts) to our neighbors in need. In Acts 4, Peter is explaining that they had healed the crippled beggar in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – the one you folks crucified! The stone you rejected, you who were supposed to be building the church, this stone has become the cornerstone! Even as those early Pharisees and Sadducees and ruling elders chased down and arrested and trumped charges against and beat Jesus to a bloody pulp, until He was dead and buried, even then He was in fact chasing them down and laying down His life on their behalf.
To this very day, He is pursuing this little flock in this little town, even when and especially when we stray. Even on those days we live for ourselves and close our hearts to our neighbors in need. John writes to the early Christians in our Epistle lesson for today that “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” It seems to me that we do a pretty good job in this place of loving those who are easy to love, but the Bible says that even the pagans can do that. It’s easy to be kind to those who are grateful for our kindness and it’s easy to be patient with those who are not testing our patience. But what is our attitude towards those who keep on digging their own holes and making their own beds with bad decisions and horrible habits and lousy attitudes? Oh how often and how seriously we stray by the way that we think and speak and live!
Thanks be to God that He keeps on pursuing us in the preaching and teaching and remembering of His Word in this place. Thanks be to God that He keeps on pursuing us in the waters of Holy Baptism and in the bread and the wine of the Holy Supper in this place! Thanks be to God that His desire to show mercy is so much stronger than our desire to go our own ways and do our own thing! His rod and His staff, they keep on comforting us. His table keeps on getting prepared for us in the presence of our enemies. Our heads keep on getting anointed. Our cups keep on overflowing. Our souls keep on getting restored. We keep on straying and He keeps on staying close. More than that, He somehow finds a way to lead us in the paths of righteousness.
He leads us as often as we (listen to His Voice), and He follows us around as often as we insist on following the (wrong leaders) Sheep have a reputation for being not that bright. A few years ago, a true story came out of eastern Turkey, where hundreds of sheep followed their leader off a cliff. They plunged to their deaths while their shepherds looked on in dismay. The newspaper reported that four hundred sheep fell 15 meters to their deaths in a ravine in Van province near Iran. The good news was that the four hundred sheep that died actually broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived. The report also includes the footnote that “Shepherds from Ikizler village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free… The loss to local farmers was estimated at $74,000.”
In Old Testament days and in Jesus’ day, the shepherds, the religious leaders had a reputation with God of being not at all faithful. They were the hired hands who every time they saw the wolf coming they would leave the sheep and flee. They saw their work as a job to do and they cared little or nothing for the sheep. They fed their own fat stomachs instead of the sheep under their care. They slumbered and they slept on the job in contrast to the one true God who never slumbers and never sleeps. The One Who stays awake and speaks truth with a sure and a steady voice. The One Who frequently whispers and once in a while He shouts not what we want but what we need to hear. The One Who promises in simple fashion, “blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.”
Dear friends, by nature we listen to the wrong voices and we are drawn to follow the wrong leaders. You know who I am talking about. The ones who say that there are many different roads that lead to heaven and that in the end pretty much everybody will be saved. The ones who say that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere in what you believe. The ones who say that God is love and that He really could never stay mad at you for any length of time and why can’t we all just get along. The ones who say that the church ought to follow popular opinion on issues like the sanctity of life and definition of marriage. Even worse than those who would not preach the Law in all of its severity are those who would not proclaim the good news with every bit of its sweetness. The ones who say that certain sins are so serious they cannot be forgiven. And that some sinners have wandered so far from the faith that they are a lost cause.
To which Jesus would reply, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Our second and final truth to remember this morning is Apparently divided, in reality united. The Holy Christian Church is in fact divided and united at the same time. Although the church is divided in terms of how the Bible is to be interpreted and applied to life (Lutherans call that concord), she is united in terms of being called to one hope, belonging to one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Unity). Although we are divided in terms of how we practice what we preach in this place (harmony), we are united in terms of what we believe, what we confess, and what we preach.
Apparently divided, in reality united. With that in mind, we keep on trusting / keep on doing what we have been called to do / keep on preaching. As we do so, we should remember that The preaching of the Risen Christ greatly annoyed the (hired hands) of Jesus’ day, and still does so today. The scribes and the Pharisees and the ruling elders were hoping they could be done with this Jesus of Nazareth, but it wasn’t meant to be. They weren’t all that interested in making room for new people in the fold of God’s love, but God was and is and ever shall be wanting it to be known there still is room. Church people are inclined to go only so far in terms of laying our lives down for brothers and sisters in the faith, but Christ knew and knows no such boundaries. And so we keep on trusting, we keep on doing what we have been called to do, we keep on staying close to a shepherd in a class all by Himself. And to the extent that we stay close to that one and good shepherd, His Spirit helps us to be a flock where people are loved not just not just with pious words and polite conversation, but with actions and habits that see all the way into eternity. A flock where hospitality is deep, forgiveness is real, and to which strangers are drawn. Drawn to a path that seems really easy some days and almost unbearably difficult other days, where two paths are regularly cautioned against.
Two paths to avoid. The first is the one where we are content with our (differences). This is the path where we fall prey to the idea that the church should just tolerate pretty much every new idea that comes along. The path where sinful behavior is ok and God is love and therefore we should not judge. A pastor named Erick Anderson said it this way, “tolerance and narcissism are very closely related. After all, we expect others to treat us as we treat them. Tolerance these days is rarely about sticking up for the marginalized. It’s a self-serving, quid pro quo arrangement. If we refrain from judging the behavior of others, what right do they have to judge ours? “Live and let live” is about securing for ourselves the right to live however we please, judgment-free……Absolute tolerance is a myth. The unforgivable sin of postmodernism is to tell someone they’re wrong…..The rhetoric of tolerance is appealing, but it’s often just narcissism in disguise.
A second path to avoid is the one where we forget what we have (in common). This is the path where we magnify our differences and do not remember the unity we have been given in Holy Baptism. The unity we express in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed. The unity we celebrate at our Lord’s Supper. The unity we are to guard with every fiber of our being and enjoy in every moment of every day. To guard with every fiber of our being and enjoy As our Good Shepherd guards this flock with every fiber of His being and enjoys in every moment of every day, and into the evening. As a good mother would guard her baby boy with every fiber of her being and enjoy in every moment of every day, and into the evening.
All night, all day – that’s the song Debi would sing to Noah at night –as often as he was too sleepy to ask her to sing the song he preferred (Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird)…..All night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord. All night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord. Now I lay me down to sleep, angels watching over me, O Lord. Pray the Lord my soul to keep, angels watching over me, O Lord. All night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord, all night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord.
The kingdom of God is like a little child feeling safe in his mother’s arms and listening to her sweet and familiar voice. The weather outside if frightful, but you couldn’t tell by looking at this picture. All night, and all day, all is well with his soul. His mother is doing all the worrying for him, and he doesn’t have a care in the world.
Worship Sermons & Letters