A Sermon Preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter
at Christ the King Lutheran Church
Hear the Shepherd’s Voice and Raise the Dead!
Good Shepherd Sunday. This is a day when we and most who gather in worship in developed nations around the world, far from livestock farming, hear that the Lord is their Shepherd. We think about bucolic green pastures, cute white sheep and a strong attractive shepherd. If these images are hard to relate to, go into the church office following worship and look at the Good Shepherd painting there. You will see the classic image of Jesus standing tall with a little lamb draped across his shoulders in a beautiful landscape. And it is in the context of these images and comforting words that we gather in worship.
So what do we do in worship each week and in particular on this Good Shepherd Sunday? We come to worship for many reasons, but the central one is to hear the shepherd’s voice and to raise the dead. Okay you may be fine with hearing the shepherd’s voice, but raise the dead… really? Really, it is the dying and rising experience of each one of us, sinners all who come into God’s house each week, broken and dirty from our walk that is the core of worship.
Sometimes we come aware of our hurts and the messes we created or experienced, but often we come in a bit of a fog, weary if not down right exhausted from the stress of relationships, workplaces, and expectations we and others place upon us. We come worried about shaky or lost employment, bankrupted economic realities, and coughs and sneezes that may blow into a global pandemic.
We come needing to hear comfort, healing, the shepherd’s calm voice, and words of unconditional love. We come with ears to hear and hands outstretched to the house of the Lord for the table that is prepared. We come longing to experience green pastures and peace in our world, still waters and calm economic indicators, right paths and trustworthy leaders. We long to hear God’s voice and for God to shepherd us. We long for life, for new life, and for goodness and mercy to follow us all the days of our lives.
Good Shepherd Sunday. Take a moment and look at the image on the CtK News bulletin for this week…
The sheep are not particularly cute. Jesus is standing between the sin and evil of the world, represented visually as a lunging wolf. Notice Jesus is standing with arms outstretched. Notice Jesus is in the shape + of the cross.
Death, dying is what Jesus came to do, for the flock in today’s gospel and for us. A shepherd, who goes after the lost sheep, lays his life down for those in his fold and those outside, who will also hear his voice. Shepherding was a noble calling in the Hebrew Bible. Moses was a shepherd, King David was a shepherd and Ezekiel framed God’s reaching out to the scattered as shepherding in chapter 34. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God seeking the lost and bringing back the strayed. God has shepherded God’s people throughout scripture.
We Are All Sheep
Good Shepherd Sunday. Let’s think about this sheep imagery for a minute. Like us sheep can be stupid followers… or incredibly self centered, oblivious to what’s going on all around them. Like us sheep can stand around… or wander off on their own, oblivious that they are part of something bigger. But like us sheep are part of a fold and larger flock. We are bound together by our shepherd as one body. And just as there is no separate singular form of sheep in the English language, theologians like Karl Barth have pointed out that there is no such thing as an individual, or singular form of Christian.
Our world doesn’t value sheep. We value individuality and desperately want to break out on our own. Yet our world is full of sheepish people like you and me who often wish we weren’t passive followers, and at times are lost, stupid sheep. But God never promises life that is cuddly, peaceful or perfect. God’s promises and love are all about Jesus, the good shepherd God sends to us. In the midst of all the messiness of life, Jesus understands what being a sheep is like. Jesus as the “Lamb of God” is the one who by dying and rising from death, saves us from all our sheepish ways and shear sinful stupidity.
So here we are, bound together to worship. We come as individuals, turned in on ourselves, mired in the stinking mess of our lives. Now take a deep breath, look around this space… we are all sheep. We sit together, collectively turned in on this assembly, mired in the stinking mess of our lives together. We sit as Christian sheep with no separate singular form, so that through the shepherd who lays his life down, we may be turned outward, the stench cleaned away, and our old fearful, sinful selves left to die.
Jesus the Good Shepherd
Good Shepherd Sunday. On our bulletin cover we see Jesus as shepherd standing between his sheep, sin and evil. What we don’t see is the graphic way in which Jesus lays down his life.
- We don’t have a bulletin graphic where Jesus uses his staff to keep the wolves at bay.
- We don’t see Jesus fighting for our lives.
- We don’t see the wolves of our lives bite into Jesus our protector.
- We don’t see the wolves of sickness and disease ravage the body of Jesus, the one who shepherds us.
- We don’t see the wolves of our selfish and evil nature that can devour us, rip the very life from Jesus.
We don’t see these graphic images because Jesus, our good shepherd doesn’t have his life violently ripped apart and taken from him. Rather Jesus lays his life laid down voluntarily and deliberately. We see through the very real appearances of Jesus to the Christ followers in our post-Easter readings, that the crucifixion wasn’t the last graphic image. It wasn’t some gruesome and violent final defeat of Jesus, because Jesus chose the way of the cross. Look at that bulletin graphic again and you see Jesus standing with arms outstretched + in the shape of the cross.
Through the shepherd who was condemned, died and rose again, we recognize God’s voice. Through the shepherd who was condemned, died and rose again, we are welcomed into the eternal sheep fold as new and beloved people of God. Through the shepherd who was condemned, died and rose again, we gather as an assembly in worship each week where we experience dying and rising here in this place through:
- Communal confession and forgiveness
- The drowning of our sins in the baptismal water and Word,
- Hearing the Word of God’s mighty acts, love and mercy,
- And, eating and drinking the Word.
Through the shepherd who was condemned, died and rose again, we graciously experience Easter each and every time we gather in worship.
The Lord Is My Shepherd; I Shall Not Be In Want
Beloved of God,
You are filled with God’s love, whether you believe it or not.
Beloved of God,
You are gathered together in this place by God, whether you feel it or not.
Beloved of God,
You are raised to new life each time Jesus is stuffed into your ears and mouths, whether you experience it or not.
Beloved of God,
You are all sheep—a priesthood of believers who all are called to share the good news, whether you got the message or not.
Beloved of God,
As we’ve heard throughout these weeks of Easter:
- Death on a cross… is not too good to be true, it is true.
- Rising on the third day… is not too good to be true, it is true.
- Done for you and for me… is not too good to be true, it is true.
Done for you and for me… why? So that we might be free. Free from the bondage of sin. Free from the lies of salvation, thinking we must have to do something through…
- Our good works,
- Our political correctness,
- Our trying to be a better person,
- Our spending more time serving others,
Or for that matter our choosing to do anything, even choosing to accept Jesus. For the good shepherd has done it for us. He chose us, and He saved us, through grace on a tree that Friday afternoon in Jerusalem.
Grace is what God gives and does for us, despite all we do in sin and selfish rebellion. But the good news is that it has been done for us. It has been done in the grace that we hear from the Word… read and preached, given and tasted. It has been done in grace here in this place through Sacraments where we receive the living Christ. And it continues to be done as the Word washes over and into and through all of us gathered as the body of Christ.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.