Jesus, the Good Shepherd, Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 26th 2015
Fourth Sunday of Easter April 26th 2015
Acts 4:5-12 Psalm 23 1 John 3:16-24 John 10:11-18
Jesus, the Good Shepherd
You often may hear me using a blessing after communion that includes the word “faith.” “The body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his precious blood preserve you in true faith unto everlasting life.” In our bulletin, the blessing goes: “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen you and keep you in God’s grace.” I do not do that to underscore “true faith” as in being a “true believer,” but because of my Luther studies. Luther defines faith as
“a mighty, active, restless, and busy thing, which immediately renews the person, gives a second birth, and leads the person into new ways and into new being.”
Even though our word “grace” captures much of what Luther understood by faith, I like to emphasize Luther’s old meaning. Faith according to Luther is not like a good work of ours. Faith commands and generates all our works: bad faith makes for evil ones, and good faith, good ones. But ultimately for Luther faith is the power of God working through us — and that gets to the bottom line: there is nothing we need do to be saved. Because of our faith God is doing everything through us. All we need do is get out of the way, so God can be with us and can accomplish God’s mighty acts through us. It is just like we read about the apostles in Acts and just like what took place of old.
Shepherding a congregation is something far beyond my maturity, capability, and “skill-set” as we like to say today. But when we gather together in faith, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd is really present with us and pastors you and me. That is why we are named Christ Lutheran Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd is the wonderful pastor of this precious congregation, because he laid down his life, so that we could have life and receive it more abundantly, because God raised him from the dead.
Christ is risen!
He is risen, indeed, Hallelujah!
Now there is a lot of bad faith and bad blood among us in our society. We need merely read the newspapers. Police shooting Black men left and right: an article recently explained that 1.5 million Black men between the ages of about 25 to 54 are missing from our communities. Those are fathers, husbands, and brothers who are killed, die young, or sit in jail. In Ferguson there are only 60 Black men for every 100 Black women. It is 99/100 for White men and women. So when another young man is killed, it touches a nerve. Racism is just one example from the news. It is bad faith and causes bad blood.
Because faith is the power of God at work in us it is transformative. We become the flock of tender lambs and sheep of Christ’s fold. Of course we can be wolves in sheep’s clothing and all of us have to be on guard and take responsibility for our shadow side. I knew a fellow who was a sheep in wolves’ clothing. He was really gruff and I was afraid of him, until I discovered he was covering up being a lamb which he was really hiding. It’s hard when there are wolves around: but Christ calls us by name, to become the sheep of his flock dressed in sheep’s clothing as well.
Love entails laying down one’s life for one’s friends. There is no greater love than this. Recently, realizing that I was getting older, I asked myself, “Why am I afraid to die? Why do I think it is the end? Where is my faith?” I’ve been translating a Luther writing on “How to Prepare for dying.” Luther writes the death of saints is called natale, a new birth, now into eternal life. God raised Jesus from the dead, so when we depart from this life, the Good Shepherd will guide, watch over, and help you and me through the dark valley of the shadow, through the straight and narrow passageway until we arrive in heaven with him, with God, and all the saints and angels. They are all watching over us and waiting for us on the other side.
Our risen Good Shepherd makes the sunshine of life with God drive away the dark clouds and the shadow of the fear of death hanging over us. Thus we can follow Christ by laying down our lives for others, becoming spent, and pouring ourselves out for others. Faith is the power of God at work in us. The power of God is love. By way of God’s almighty love, we can participate in the friendship that Christ taught us.
The materialism and naturalism that we believe in today has eclipsed, indeed, it has blotted out the whole spiritual world, and all the wonders that God could do among us, if God’s will were done here on earth as it is in heaven. The miracles done by science have bewitched us. We fly in airplanes, shoot astronauts to the moon, fly in the space station where astronauts experience a sunrise and sunset every 49 minutes; we have TV sets, smart phones, computers and the Internet. And science has more miracles up its sleeve as well.
But what do we do about the deterioration of our race and culture even as our technology becomes more and more advanced? ISIS is busy beheading Christians and Yazidis (an ancient Zoroastrian religion of the Kurds), our drones like lightning bolts can kill our enemies from the sky, a pilot steers his plane right into a mountain killing all his passengers with his suicide. There are 10 million refugees fleeing all the wars and so many unwelcome immigrants are dying in the graveyard of the Mediterranean Sea. Countries are disintegrating; Chernobyl and the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdowns are disasters that may require centuries to overcome.
Faith is the answer. (Science is of course important, but it can be positive of negative.) We need God’s almighty love and forgiveness so that the abundant life that our Good Shepherd brings can spread around us. I like to talk about angel power. My son Josh is changing the camshaft of the engine of his truck so it gets 400 horsepower. What is our angel-power? What about bringing healing and wholeness to others with it? Doing it in the name of the risen Christ, the way Peter did in Acts?
Don’t you wonder about the spiritual world? The Old Testament describes how a whole army was gathering against the Prophet Elisha and his servant, while they sought refuge on a mountain. The servant grew very afraid. Elisha comforted him “Don’t be afraid; there are more with us than are with them.” Then he prayed, “Lord, open my servant’s eyes.” Suddenly the servant saw a host of fiery horses and chariots between them and the army preventing their advance. That’s also why Jesus did not have to die on the cross. He had legions of angels at his beck and call. He did it willingly for us.
May the Good Shepherd open our eyes and show us all the saints and angels around us, especially at communion, ready to minister and serve all those whom God is saving. By faith may we continue on our pilgrimage here on earth under the rod and staff of our Good Shepherd, who leads and guides us from death to life, from darkness into God’s marvelous light.
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. Hallelujah!