Sunday, May 26, 2019

Rogate - The Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 16:23-33; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:4-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A well-known bumper sticker reads, “Men make plans. God laughs.” This does not mean that God is capricious, but simply that what seems wise to men is often foolishness to God, and typically vice versa. Today we rejoice to recognize five high school graduates – Ada, Hannah, Sidney, Kennedy, and Emily; and one college graduate, Danika – who by God’s grace and their own hard work have achieved much. Undoubtedly, they have made many plans for their futures: What college to attend, what career to pursue, whether to commute from home or to reside on campus, etc. We hope and pray that their plans will all work out, all the while acknowledging that some of them most likely will not. In truth, it is quite likely that, in some cases, what the LORD has planned for these graduates will turn out to be something completely different than what they or anyone else could ever have planned or imagined. [I know a guy like that who ended up in seminary.]
Because, God does have a plan for you. The LORD once said to His people through His prophet Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” This is an important and comforting promise, for it acknowledges that, even when our plans seem to go awry, when it seems that nothing is working out, and when it seems that God is not in control or that He doesn’t care, that He is in fact still working all things for our good and according to His overall plan and design.
Indeed, in our Old Testament reading today, it certainly seemed to the children of Israel that God’s plan wasn’t working out. The LORD had led His people out of slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea to the promised land. However, their hearts sank when their spies discovered that the people of Canaan were strong, mighty, and fierce. They feared that they could not conquer them. They despaired that they would be conquered themselves. They failed to trust in the LORD that He would be with them. Because of this, the LORD caused His people to wander in the wilderness for an entire generation until Joshua would lead their children across the Jordan into the promised land. They had planned to go to Canaan, conquer the people there, and enjoy life in a land flowing with milk and honey. However, when things didn’t go as easily as they had imagined they became disillusioned and longed even to go back to Egypt and slavery rather than continue in the way of the LORD which seemed increasingly foolish to them.
In their wilderness wanderings shortly thereafter, the LORD actually sent the people in the opposite direction, away from the promised land, towards the land of Edom. It wasn’t long before the people began to grumble. What is the LORD doing? Does He want us to fail and not achieve our goal? Does He want us to starve? And, my favorite complaint of all, “There is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Sounds like my kids standing in front of the pantry stocked full of food claiming there’s nothing to eat! Then the LORD sent poisonous snakes to bite them, and many of them died – definitely, not what they had planned! The people cried out to the LORD and to Moses saying, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” And, Moses did pray. And, the LORD did not take away the snakes – definitely, not what they had planned. For, the LORD had another plan. The LORD instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and to raise it up on a pole. Anyone who was bitten by a poisonous snake could look up to the bronze snake raised up on the pole and they would live. Not – what – they – had – planned.
You can imagine that people bitten by poisonous snakes would think it foolishness to look at an image of snake raised up on a pole. I suspect that a great many refused and therefore died. This is not what they had planned! And yet, the LORD did answer their prayer. He provided a way out. Much later, St. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth saying, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” The LORD has promised that He will always provide you a way out – but take note that it will be according to His plan and not yours. Moreover, the LORD provides you a way out so that you may endure and persevere throughyour temptations, tribulations, and suffering.
You see, that’s really the trouble with us, isn’t it? We are not willing to endure and persevere. We want to succeed and conquer, always. We want our plans to succeed and winconquer and rule, always. The problem is that, because of our sin, our natural wills are set against the LORD’s will. Even our reason and wisdom, our vision and sight, are corrupted by sin so that we cannot think soundly or see clearly. For, there is only one will that is truly wise and sound, true and good, and that is the LORD’s will. Thus, we pray in the prayer Jesus taught us that His will, not ours, will be done. It’s a matter of whom you trust when it comes down to it – Do you trust in the LORD, or do you trust in yourself. Who is your God?
You have plans. So do I. But the LORD has plans for you too, plans for your welfare and not for evil, that you may have a future and a hope. So, make your plans, but make them in consideration with the LORD’s Word and Commandments. And pray. Pray to the LORD that His will be done, not yours, but that He would guide you by His Spirit through His Word, illumining the path you should go. There will be times when your plans do not succeed, when you fail, and when you feel conquered and defeated. Do not despair. It may well be that the LORD has other plans for you – good plans to give you a future and a hope. Take these opportunities to reexamine and reflect on the way you are going, the choices you have made, in the light of His Word and Commandments. Pray, and the LORD will guide you in the way you should go.
This Sixth Sunday of Easter is called Rogate, which means “Ask.” Your Lord Jesus says to you, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” You do not have to ask Moses, or your pastor, or even Jesus, but Jesus says that you can ask His Father directly, even calling Him your Father, with the promise that whatever you ask the Father in Jesus’ Name He will give to you. Those words, “In Jesus’ Name,” are important words, however. They are not some magical incantation that prompts God to give you what you want, but they refer to the content of your prayers, to what you ask for. What you ask for must be something that is “in Jesus’ Name.” What sorts of things are “in Jesus’ Name?” Well, the sorts of things that Jesus Himself would ask of His Father in prayer: love, mercy, compassion, patience, forgiveness, healing, guidance and wisdom to serve others and glorify the Father. Ask, and you shall receive, in Jesus’ Name.
Dear graduates, – Ada, Hannah, Sidney, Kennedy, Emily, and Danika, – and all of God’s people, make your plans, but make them in accordance with the LORD’s Word and Commandments, and in Jesus’ Name. And, when your plans do not work out, pay special attention, for you just might discover that the LORD has another plan in mind, a good plan that you might have a future and a hope. Continue to listen to His Word. Avail yourself of the opportunity to take rest in Him from all your labors. Consult Him in prayer. Ask, that you may receive, in Jesus’ Name. Your LORD has plans for you, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Cantate - The Fifth Sunday after Easter

(No Audio Available)

John 16:5-15; James 1:16-21; Isaiah 12:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There is but one will, God’s will, and His will alone is good. Likewise, your enemy has but one goal, that you do not acknowledge, believe in, or follow God’s will, but that you recognize another will, your will, his will, instead of God’s. And, from the look of the world today, you may be convinced that he is winning, or that maybe he has already won. For, the only recognized good and truth today is tolerance – that is, tolerance of the many and varied wills of anyone and everyone in this fallen and broken world. However, the definition of tolerance has been changed, for it no longer means to bear withor to endure, which is God’s will, but today it means to acceptand to bless as true and good. Therefore, you are no longer free to hold and practice God’s will and truth, because it does not tolerate, according to today’s usage, it does not accept or bless as true and good the will of another, the will of the flesh, the will of Satan. And, to be sure, following God’s will is going to put you at enmity with the world. It is going to separate you from the world and from the masses. It is going to divide friends and even families. For, to walk in accordance with God’s will, God’s Word, God’s Truth, is to consider all other wills, all other truths, and all other gods to be lies. And, I assure you, this will not go unnoticed by your enemy and the world.
Last week you heard Jesus’ teaching that you will suffer and mourn while the world will rejoice, and He wasn’t kidding. However, Jesus also taught you that it will be only a little while before your sorrow will be turned into joy, joy that no one can take from you. Therefore, so that you do not become too comfortable in this world, in this flesh, He has gone away. Jesus has ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven. And, though you may long that He were here with you now, thinking that it would be so much easier to believe and to persevere if only He were here, He says that it is to your advantage that He has gone away, that He might send you the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide you to Jesus, and to what is true, and to what is truly good – His Father’s will.
The Holy Spirit does this by convicting the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. But, that word convictneeds some explanation. The word convict is a judicial term, most often heard in the setting of a courtroom. To convict someone in court requires the presentation of evidence, or testimony, from which the proof of a man’s guilt or innocence is established. Hence, it is often said that a person was convicted of a crime. The convicted man, as well as others, may maintain that he is not guilty, but the evidence of testimony tells what is really true. The word convict in this passage concerning the work of the Holy Spirit carries both the connotations of convincing and announcing a verdict. When it is said that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, both of those realities are meant. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convince the world by announcing the verdict of God concerning such things as sin, righteousness, and judgment. Even if no one in the world believes the testimony, it is no less true.(Lutheran Catechesis, Peter Bender)
Dear Christian, you must not make peace with the world. You must not simply go with the flow and accept what the world accepts and reject what the world rejects. Therefore, thankfully, this is precisely how the Holy Spirit can help you. For, the Holy Spirit, working through God’s Word of Law and Gospel and the Holy Sacraments ever continues to preserve and to keep you in faith, trusting in God’s Word, exposing the teachings of the world as lies. Often you experience this as your conscience telling you what it right even if the worldly doctrine you are hearing sounds reasonable and good according to the wisdom of men.
The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin, showing that the way of the world is the way of unbelief, making you uncomfortable in following its path. Now, you must understand that this will not always be pleasant. Holding to the Word and to the will of God will not increase your popularity among men. Your own flesh, reason, and wisdom, which are corrupted by sin, will war against you, being used by your enemy to deceive you into believing good to be evil and evil to be good. This is why St. James exhorts you saying, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”However, the Holy Spirit works through the vehicle of the Word of God. Therefore, you must hear that Word, and read that Word, and be in that Word regularly. If you distance yourself from the fellowship of the faithful, become neglectful in your prayer and study of the Scriptures, and entertain and accommodate the godless things of this world, then you will gradually find yourself on your own, with your only counsel being your own deluded thoughts and wisdom and the counsel of the enemy.
Likewise, the Holy Spirit also convicts the world concerning righteousness by showing that the righteousness of the world, which is works, and tolerance, and preaching “Peace, peace!” where there is no peace, is a lie, and that Jesus Christ crucified, died, risen, and ascended alone is true righteousness. It is necessary that men be turned in repentance to faith in Christ, for the world has been judged, guilty, and all men are guilty sinners judged righteous only through Christ, who’s sacrifice the Father has accepted as full atonement for the sins of all mankind so that Jesus is the righteousness before God by which men must be saved.
And, the Holy Spirit also convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. The judgment of God that the sinner is righteous for Christ’s sake sets men free from the judgment of the Law that the devil uses to condemn the world. Since God forgives us all sins and declares us righteous for Jesus’ sake as a gift of His grace, the devil cannot accuse us of sin or damn us to eternal death.(Lutheran Catechesis, Peter Bender)
However, while you must not make peace with this world, neither must you seek to Christianize the world by force, coercion, or political maneuvering. Your purpose in this world is as leaven, salt, and light. It is by your own love and obedience to God and His Word, and the love of God for you, poured out upon you in Jesus and overflowing out of you in love, mercy, grace, charity, and compassion towards your neighbor in word and in deed, that the Holy Spirit will open deaf ears and blind eyes, break up hardened hearts, and raise the dead to new and abundant life. Therefore, again, St. James exhorts you, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
This is to say, the best way to get people to love the Lord and His Word is for you to love the Lord and His Word by keeping it and doing it. And the best way to get people to honor marriage and sexuality is by you honoring marriage and sexuality as God’s Word has honored and blessed it. And the best way to get people to love true tolerance and peace is to live peaceably and with tolerance in humility, meekness, and selflessness in the world, but not of the world, in service to your neighbor, be he godly or ungodly. For, a little leaven will leaven the entire lump; a little salt will make savory the entire pot; and wherever there is light, there is no darkness at all.
Yes, it is to your advantage that Jesus has gone away, for He has sent you the Helper, His Holy Spirit, just as He had said. The Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. He daily and richly forgives you all your sins. And, on the Last Day, He will raise you and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
Jesus told His disciples that He had much more to teach them, but that they could not bear it at that time. But, on Pentecost, Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit upon them, and they began to understand the inexhaustible fullness and depth of God’s Word and the mystery of faith so that they could not contain themselves, but bubbled over in joy and the desire to share this Good News and proclaim it to the ends of the earth. How is it that you come to learn the deeper mysteries of faith? Is it not through living in this world, but not of the world, through suffering, persevering against temptation, being subjected to mocking, ridicule, persecution, and even death? Through these things, the Holy Spirit is honing and sharpening you, carving you back into the image of God in which you were made – a work that will not be completed until the resurrection of your body on the Last Day. He is making you to be of one mind and one will – God’s will – that you may love what He has commanded and desire what He has promised, that among the many changes of this world, your hearts may be fixed where true joys are found.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Jubilate - The Fourth Sunday of Easter

(No audio available)

John 16:16-22; 1 Peter 2:11-20; Isaiah 40:25-31

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A visit to the Holy Land isn’t a vacation, it’s a pilgrimage. I’ve never been so aware of being a stranger in a strange land as I was in Israel. It was a great place to visit, indescribably inspiring and awesome, but it was not home, not even in a miniscule way. It was utterly foreign, from the languages and dialects spoken by the masses who throng there from all over the globe, to the extreme differences in culture and custom, to the food, and even the elevators in the hotels on Shabbat (they are programmed to stop at every floor so that the religious Jews do not have to push any buttons!). And, as I packed my bags for that trip, I packed lightly, carefully, and judiciously so that I would have only what I needed and nothing that would unnecessarily weigh me down and make my pilgrimage more difficult.
And, this is the Word of the LORD for you today: You are pilgrims here, strangers in a strange land, just passing through. This earth, this life, this is not your home, but you are citizens of the heavenly kingdom where Jesus Christ reigns over heaven and earth. And, because this earth, this life, is not your home, you must pack lightly, carefully, and judiciously so that you have only what is needed and nothing unnecessarily weighs you down. That is what St. Peter exhorts you to saying, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Not only does Peter consider you travelers, pilgrims, and sojourners, but he considers you as outcasts and exiles. No, this earth, this life, this is NOT your home! Do you feel this?
Do you feel uncomfortable and out of place? You should. You need to! Otherwise, it is quite likely that you have permitted yourself to get a little too comfortable here; maybe a lot too comfortable! If you are not waiting and watching in hopeful expectation for the Lord’s return on a day and at an hour you cannot know, then you might be caught by surprise and unprepared like the foolish virgins in our Lord Jesus’ parable, or you might be caught looking longingly back at this world’s pleasures and possessions like Lot’s wife, or like the children of Israel after their Exodus from Egypt, or like the rich young man whom Jesus told to go and sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor and then come and follow Him.
I believe that the Church, and our little Lutheran corner of it, enjoyed a long period of time in these United States and its culture when we were generally accepted and thought well of. During that time our congregations grew, rather effortlessly, and we built great institutions, and our pews were filled with families and children, and it was great and wonderful and awesome and… not at all the way our Lord, or St. Peter, or any of the Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostles describe our Christian pilgrimage here in this life and world. I believe that, during that time of plenty, we grew content and complacent, we became weighed down with worldly and fleshly cares and concerns, and we became less vigilant and aware that we are truly pilgrims and exiles here, and that this is not our home, but that we are children of the heavenly Father and citizens of His heavenly kingdom.
Perhaps the cultural change in our nation is for our good? Perhaps the LORD means to call us back to the one thing needful, His Word and Sacraments? It wouldn’t be the first time that He permitted His people to be displaced and on the outs with the world that they would repent and return. Indeed, the history of God’s people is replete with such examples. The chief story of the Bible is the Exodus, where the LORD placed His people in a new land, a land already occupied by others, as a test to see if they would trust Him and obey Him and not succumb to the worship of false gods and idolatry of the culture they were set in the midst of. Of course, they did succumb, and the sorry history of Israel recorded by the Prophets is the result. Indeed, the history of the children of Israel, and the history of the Christian Church, demonstrates again and again that the Church grew, not in times of popularity and acceptance in the world, but in times of persecution and exile. Indeed, the 2ndcentury Church Father Tertullian stated that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Peter’s counsel to you this day concerns how you are to live and conduct yourself in this life and world that is not your home. Peter says to keep your conduct among the Gentiles, among the unbelievers, honorable. That means, do not act like the unbelievers. Do not take pleasure in the things they enjoy. Do not consider glorious or virtuous the things they consider glorious or virtuous so that, when they speak evil against you – and they will – they may condemn you, not for doing evil, but for doing the works of God. You are to submit to the rulers and authorities the LORD has placed over you, be they good or evil, “for it is a gracious thing, when mindful of God, one endures sorrow while suffering unjustly.” The way of the disciple of Jesus is the way of Jesus Himself, and that is the way of the cross. However, you do not get to choose the crosses you bear, nor do you need to seek them out, but the Holy Spirit will select them for you and place them upon you. They are God’s gift to you, for your good and for His glory.
And, if you think your crosses too difficult to bear, then hear this word of comfort today from Jesus: It is but for a little while. Oh, that doesn’t bring you comfort? Well, let me add some color to the image. Truly you are able to bear and endure many things in life if you know how long it will last before you will be relieved. For example, if you are undergoing a root canal, you can get through it if you know that it will end, and when it will end. Well, the Lord does indeed promise you that it will end, even if He doesn’t reveal to you when it will end. There, He calls you to trust in Him, that He is good, that He loves you, giving the example of His own suffering and death for you as proof of His love and faithfulness towards you.
But, what does He mean by “a little while?” In answer to that question your Lord Jesus offers the example of mothers – and how appropriate is that on this Mother’s Day! “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come,” Jesus teaches, “but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” You mothers know that this is true! In my years as a pastor, not to mention the experience of the birth of my own children, I have witnessed mother’s cry out in agony in the midst of labor some form of “Never again!” who then, after the birth of their child, overcome with tears of joy, would gladly go through it all again. In truth, many do, fully knowing what suffering they will face. So, Jesus teaches, you will have suffering now. Did you hear that? You WILL have suffering now, there is no doubt about it! “But,” Jesus promises, “I will see you again, and your hearts WILL rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” In fact, Jesus followed His own advice in taking up His cross and suffering and dying for your sins;“for the joy that was set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame.”
We are pilgrims and sojourners in this life and world, even exiles. This is not our home. We are children of the King and heaven is our home. You must view your life in this world in this way and so follow your Shepherd King Jesus through this valley of the shadow of death into His Father’s house where His sheep may safely graze. Jesus has already blazed the trail for us, and even now He accompanies us as we make our way. Along the way He guides us, chastens us, feeds us, and protects us. However, we must not look back or become encumbered with the cares and concerns of this world, with the passions and desires of our flesh, and with the material and worldly things the world and culture value, lest we become weighed down, complacent, and stop watching and waiting for our deliverance, and so miss our heavenly goal. Therefore, take heed of your Shepherd’s Word and Voice and of that which is truly needful throughout this little while.
Christ is risen! Christ is coming! May you be found faithful, watching, and waiting, O little flock.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Christian Funeral for Henry Donald Heine

John 14:1-6; Hebrews 2:14-18; Revelation 22:1-5

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“My name is Henry.” That’s what Henry told his first-grade teacher when she called roll and called him Hank. “My name is Henry.” There was already a Hank in Henry’s life, and Henry was not Hank. Henry was unique, independent, different. And, that’s what you, and all his friends, and all who had the privilege to know him loved about Henry. Henry was unique, independent, different, and our world and our lives are better for it.
Henry’s uniqueness and independence was shown forth most explicitly in his art. Henry was a gifted artist, with the brush, with the hammer and saw, with his voice, and so much more. He created beautiful paintings of rural Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and other places Henry knew and loved. He painted landscapes from his days in Bemidji at the German Institute. He designed and built and painted props and sets for high school plays and community theater, some quite ingeniously designed so that they would collapse for easy rollaway between scenes. Henry acted and sang in plays and shows with the Chickasha Community Theater. He even designed costumes. Henry’s uniqueness and independence demonstrated that he saw the world differently, in a way that is better shown and seen than described.
I think of the Book of Revelation that way. What St. John has presented in the Revelation was what he was granted to see in a vision, a vision of heaven. Often, John struggled to find words to describe what he saw. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.” Sounds like the Garden of Eden, paradise, but on steroids! “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more.” The joy and peace of heaven will never end! “They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Yes, I believe that an artist could appreciate the picture that St. John has painted for us.
But there was much more to Henry than his art. Henry was an honorable man, a man of his word. He was selfless to the point of self-sacrifice, willing to help anyone at his own inconvenience or cost. Not surprisingly, his wallet was found well-worn and empty save a single credit card. He was good with his hands and always willing to help with a building or repair project, a jack-of-all-trades, and always ready to use them in service of others. And, Henry was an excellent cook and chef. His pancakes and French toast were the delight of his family, both young and old, on Saturday mornings, just as was his bread and doughnuts by his peers back in his 4-H days. And, still there is more to say about Henry. Henry was a motorcycle enthusiast. He loved animals, especially his two canine companions Hagrid and Emerson. He was intelligent, thoughtful, and well-educated, able to speak German, Russian, and French.
However, as nice and enjoyable as it is to remember these qualities which represent why you loved Henry and why he was loved and appreciated by so many others, they do not really give you comfort in a time like this. No, when a loved one has died, now that Henry has died, there is only one place and one person that you can find true and lasting comfort and peace, and that is in our God, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who purchased Henry in His own innocent shed blood upon the cross, and who has purchased you and me and all the world as well. As the Preacher to the Hebrews says, “Since the children share in flesh and blood, he himself partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who were subject to lifelong slavery.” Jesus died for all that all might live, and Jesus named, claimed, and sealed Henry as His own in Holy Baptism long ago, and Jesus’ promise to Henry was never revoked and it never fails. Jesus says that those who believe and are baptized will be saved. And, St. Peter also has said, “Baptism now saves you.” Therefore, we are not comforted in knowing that Henry was a good person – though he surely was – or that he did good deeds – though he surely did – but we are comforted by Jesus’ promise to Henry, and by Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead, the first fruits of those who believe in Him. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. But, all who trust in Him He has promised to raise upon on the Last Day.
Henry’s theater friends have said, “The curtain has gone down and he has taken his final bow.” But, our Lord Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” And so, we have a reason for hope, not because of Henry’s goodness, but because our Lord Jesus never breaks His promise. Therefore, let us say with Henry’s friends in German, “Halles und beinbruch!” That is, “Break a leg, and a neck!” Farewell dear Henry. God keep you in His grace.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Misericordia Domini - The Third Sunday of Easter

John 10:11-16; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Ezekiel 34:11-16

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The words of our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel are beautiful and comforting. The LORD describes Himself as a shepherd seeking out His lost, confused, and frightened sheep that have been scattered by the enemy, feeding them in green pastures and giving them clean water to drink, binding up the wounds of the injured. Surely this is our God, and this is His loving, gracious, and merciful work for us in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. However, that beautiful passage and image concludes with words of judgment, with the LORD saying, “and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”
Indeed, as the passage continues beyond today’s reading the LORD says, “Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey.” Here the flock is beset by external enemies – lions, dogs, serpents, robbers, and the like – while there are also enemies within. Truly, often the most dangerous threats are within the flock itself, within the Church. It’s not our place to judge who’s a sheep and who’s a goat, that’s the LORD’s to judge and the LORD alone. Our own eyes and hearts are so clouded and corrupted by sin that we cannot see clearly enough to do that. We have to have the logs removed from our own eyes before we can remove the specks from those of our brother. Still, there are goats, and the LORD will judge them when He returns as King. Still, there are wolves in sheep’s clothing, pretenders, hypocrites who feign to be one of the flock, doing the LORD’s work, who instead “push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with their horns till they are scattered.” Still, there are sheep who make themselves fat with self-concern, selfishness, and self-righteousness, having no concern for other sheep, for the weaker sheep, so that they grow weak and thin and become prey for the enemy. The LORD will judge them, and the LORD will rescue His flock.
Sheep are sheep, and sheep do sheepy things. Sheep are willful and stubborn. Sheep are prone to wander in search of whatever they think will fill their bellies, whether it is good for them or not. Sheep are not unintelligent as many seem to think, but on the contrary, their intelligence is often what gets them into trouble. Unsurprisingly, sheep are the perfect analogy for you and me. The Prophet Isaiah says of us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” Left to our own fallen natures, that’s what we do: We go astray. We pursue our own selfish wants. We are concerned only with what serves us and makes us happy, what we want, rather than what is true, what is good, and what best serves all. We are sheep, and we need a shepherd who will guide us and lead us and protect us and feed us, and, yes, a shepherd who will use his rod and his staff according to God’s Word and tell us the truth about ourselves and sooth and heal those broken by the Law and their own sin.
Sheep are sheep, and, therefore, not the shepherd. The job, the vocation, of the shepherd is to call and gather the sheep in one flock, to feed them, care for them, and to protect them from the enemy, and from their own stubborn willfulness. To be gathered into one flock means that you simply cannot go your own way, you cannot insist upon your own way. Such self-concern and selfishness is the very opposite of the selfless and sacrificial love of the Good Shepherd that unifies us. Such behavior is the pushing and the thrusting with side and shoulder the LORD denounces through His Prophet Ezekiel. In contrast to that, St. Peter describes the behavior of the LORD’s sheep when they follow their Shepherd Jesus: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.”
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd in contrast to the bad shepherds who, like the sheep, have only their own self-interest in mind. They are hired hands who work for a wage and not out of love for the LORD and for His people. Therefore, they will not defend the flock against the wolves and the enemy. They will not feed the sheep with what is good for them, but will give them what they think they want, what makes them feel happy so that they will not cause him any grief. Jesus is the Good Shepherd; He lays down His life for the sheep. And, He sets an example for us that we should lay down our lives for one another – that we should lay down our selfish wants and desires for the truth and for the good of all – and thus become one flock, having one shepherd.
Ultimately, it is the enemy, the wolf, the devil who snatches and scatters the LORD’s sheep. He delights in pitting sheep against sheep so that they “push with the side and shoulder, and thrust at the weak with their horns,” growing fat at the expense of others. He delights in pitting the sheep against their shepherd so that he either capitulates to their fleshly desires and worldly demands, or is forced out of the flock altogether, leaving them defenseless. It is said that wherever a church is established in the Name of the LORD, the devil builds a chapel right next door. The only defense against this enemy is the Word of the LORD. The LORD’s sheep hear the voice of their Good Shepherd and they follow Him. They know His voice, and He knows them, and He calls them by name.
Your Good Shepherd calls you today. Here in His pasture, His Church, His sheep may safely graze. Here He gathers you and feeds you in rich pasture. Here He binds up the broken and strengthens the sick. Here He restores your souls in the still waters of Holy Baptism. Here He leads you in the paths of righteousness by the voice of His Gospel. Here He prepares the table of His Holy Supper before you, that you may dwell in the house of the Lord forever. “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.