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.

No comments: