The Fourth Sunday of Easter

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“The Voice of the Shepherd”

John 10:11-18

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Knowing that the wolf is on the loose is bad enough.  But what if the sheep are in on it?  What if the sheep offer up their own to the wolf?  What if they give him their young on the altar of unplanned pregnancy and do not hear the voice of the Shepherd calling them to return to His merciful arms?  What if they give the wolf their old, or the old give themselves, on the platter of intolerable pain and an uncertain, covered in the thin marinade of dignity and control?  What if sheep of all ages fatten themselves for the kill on the pleasurable delicacies of an individualistic, instant gratification, on-demand culture?  What if they do not even know that it is the low growl of the wolf that beckons them because his voice is so smooth and soothing?  The more the wolf whispers that his way is the normal, the easy, the pleasant, and the wide, and the more the sheep believe only what appears in their limited vision, the more unattractive, difficult, narrow, and irrelevant the voice of the Shepherd begins to sound.  It is impossible that the sheep could listen to the voice of the wolf six days every week, and the voice of the Shepherd one day (or less) every week, and not find appealing the prospect of wandering further and further from the Shepherd’s loving care.  You and I can sit in the pews of this building and nod our heads in pious attentiveness—and go right back to the wolf’s lair at 10:00/12:30.  And the only possible explanation is that we do not really believe in the wolf, we do not believe death is coming for us, and that, in the midst of life, it influences us.

Dear, fellow sheep, among whom I serve as an under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd, I would be nothing but a hired hand if I saw the wolf approaching, and did not warn you often that the wolf has his eye on you; if I did not prepare you as much for death as for life.  Know that he will, one day, snatch you from the flock.  But hear the voice of your Shepherd, for whom I am but the gatekeeper (John 10:3): the wolf of death cannot devour you eternally if you lock your ears on your Shepherd’s voice; if you learn its cadence and its timbre and its tone; if you can, by listening long and hard, distinguish your Shepherd from the smooth and soothing syllables of the wolf; if you open your mouth to the Food which the Shepherd will not fail to put on your tongue; if you follow so closely in the footsteps of the Shepherd that there is no room for the wolf between you and Him.  And when you are separated from the flock, as happens to every sheep at one time or another, simply return to the place where the Shepherd promised He would be, and there you will find both the Shepherd and the flock.  He said, “I am with you always, to the completion of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  Even though you cannot see the Shepherd, listen to His voice: He says, “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” (John 10:14-15, ESV).  The Father of the Shepherd is in every way the opposite of the father of the wolf.  The Father of the Shepherd is called Love, and we know what love is because of Him who laid down His life and took it up again.  Only He had control over His own life to lay it down, because only He could take up His own life again.  He knows and loves the Father, who gave Him the charge to lay down His life for the sheep; and the Father knows and loves Him, who obeyed the charge He had received.

All this great love for us, who were once sheep in wolves’ clothing.  It was the part we played as hired hands, running away and leaving the weak and the defenseless to be eaten.  We ignored the Shepherd when He asked us to serve the least and the lost; we plead ignorance though everyone could see what was happening.  After all, we didn’t want to interfere or offend.  We said it wasn’t any of our business.  But that could be true only if we are no longer the one Body of the Shepherd.  It could be true only if we cut off the weak member rather than weeping when she weeps and showing mercy when he needs mercy.  How many opportunities to do good to all, and especially to the household of faith, have we sidestepped?  We are, every one of us, for ourselves and our own bellies.  Dear God!  We have crucified the Lord by sinking our murderous teeth into His Body.  The sheep are in on it.  We not only offer up our own, we offer up our own Shepherd.  It was your teeth and my claws; you and I delivered Him over to the wolf and He allowed Himself to be devoured.  And if the Shepherd is not who He says He is, if He is not risen from the dead, then we would eventually devour each other and ourselves—what else would you expect from wolves who see each other as sheep?  But “let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead”—by Him alone does any one of us stand healed.  “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10, 12, ESV).  The Shepherd, murdered by the sheep, has become the salvation of the sheep, your salvation and mine.  All this great love for us, so that when the Shepherd calls you and me from the dead as He was called from the dead, we might hear and know His voice and be His sheep forever.

But He is not done gathering His sheep, not yet.  “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” (John 10:16, ESV).  For reasons that I do not understand, the Shepherd chooses to speak through His sheep.  He calls the other sheep through the sheep of this fold, through those who already know and follow the voice of the Shepherd.  And as many as hear the voice of the Shepherd in the words of the sheep, Jesus gathers and leads home: one flock, following one Shepherd; the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, but who has taken it up again in order to give it freely to bind the sheep to Himself.  The Good Shepherd, who never tires of leading His holy flock to the still, deep waters of His Word, where He restores not just your soul, but your life, because He laid His down.  It is His rod and His staff that guide you down the narrow, rocky path, sometimes firmly, to keep you from the wolf who lurks in the shadows of death.  Come to the table that He has prepared for you, and eat in the peace of the Lord, in the midst of enemies who cannot harm you because the Good Shepherd keeps watch.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you your whole life long, until you dwell in the House of Yahweh forever.  “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever” (Hebrews 13:20-21, ESV).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/30/09

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