Fourth Sunday of Easter (John 10:1-10)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

 Jesus says, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (vv. 1-5).

            Let’s test that out.  I’m going to read an excerpt from a sermon, and you tell me if it is the voice of the Shepherd, or of a stranger.  Here goes:

That’s the way it is with God. What we can accomplish on our own is hardly noteworthy. We try our best, but the results aren’t exactly graceful flowing music. However, with the hand of the Master, our life’s work truly can be beautiful…

Next time you set out to accomplish great feats, or small feats, listen carefully. You can hear the voice of the Master—the voice of our Mother/Father God—and feel God’s loving arms around you.  Know and trust that those strong hands are there helping you, helping us all, to turn our feeble attempts into true masterpieces. [1]

Was that the voice of the Shepherd?  I hope not! Unless you were baptized in the name of the some androgynous god.  The Good Shepherd does not call Himself a conductor, tuning and polishing what is beautiful in us.  The true Shepherd does not direct you to your best efforts, because even your best efforts are sin in the sight of God [Isa. 64:6]. This impostor preaches a so-called gospel of ‘you’re good enough and God accepts you as you are.’  She does not enter through the Door, which is Christ.  Instead, she speaks platitudes about a god (whatever “he” or “she” is), rather than giving Christ’s sheep what they need: the healing that comes only by His wounds [1 Peter 2:24].

Here’s another one, and this is going to be harder:

The Gospel that proclaims that we are, like it or not, let off scot-free… You’re washed. You’re forgiven. You’re free. No law condemns you. No celestial finger is wagging at you. You walk in the liberation of the Spirit, Who lives in you, is active in you, and works relentlessly to mute the voices of guilt that still growl inside you…

The Good News has nothing to do with us, but everything of the Gospel is given to us. We are like beggars on the street corner. Jesus pulls us and drops a million dollars in our outstretched hands. Just like that. Not because we’re excellent panhandlers but because he’s got the money and wants to give it away to those who would never have it otherwise.

All we have is His love. And that’s all we need. Because His love is who He is. When we have Him, we have everything.[2]

            This one is harder because it’s gushing with all the right-sounding stuff.  But unlike the first example, a not a matter of using the right words.  It’s in the application of the Gospel.  What this message says is that you should just mute the guilt that nags in the back of your head.  Write it off as the devil.  Why? Because you have been forgiven.  But it’s in that subtly that our weak and wicked flesh wants to plug its ears to the Law’s accusations, even when it’s right.  This is the creeping error of antinomianism, of the Gospel replacing the Law for a Christian. Where it gains the most traction is among Christians who have a checkered past, and whose on-going weakness—thorns in the flesh [2 Cor. 12:7]—haunt them.  They earnestly want to lead a godly life, but they keep finding nothing but sin and death in the mirror.  The answer, though, is not to silence the accusation of the Law, but to confess that God is right [Ps. 51:4] and seek the Lord’s forgiveness and the Spirit’s continued work in confession and absolution and the Body and Blood of Christ.

As children, we learn to be afraid of strangers, because we don’t know their intentions for us.  This is a good warning, because there are many strangers in this world who mean us harm.  False shepherds are no exception.  What they preach is not the voice of the Good Shepherd.  Instead, they speak in the voice of that ancient serpent, the Devil.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.”

Our Lord calls them thieves and robbers.  Thieves, because they come craftily, sometimes doing such a good job that it fools the sheep.  It’s easy to spot messages of empty platitudes, but Gospely-messages that are laced with cyanide are harder to spot. The thief, like the Devil, quotes Scripture, but through a theological funhouse mirror so that the original intent or full meaning is corrupted.  By a sham gospel, you are led to trust in a different shepherd—one who minimizes the seriousness of sin, or praises you for how much you “do for the Lord,” or who focuses you on how spotless your life is.  But all the time, he steals confidence in Christ’s work from you and replaces it with doubt in your own.  The more that Satan can turn your focus away from the cross of Christ, the better he has set you on the road to hell with him.

There are also the robbers, who like Barabbas [John 18:40], are brazen in stealing sheep away from the Lord.  The robbers work within the bounds of the Church on earth.  Here you find open attempts to undermine the trustworthiness of God’s Word, and being told that we all worship the same “god.”  Here it’s easier for the well-catechized sheep to spot something destructive going on, but the weak are tossed to and fro by these suggestions.

Any teacher who comes to you apart from Jesus can do nothing but thieve and rob.  Recognizing them isn’t a matter of choosing the right name.  Sometimes those who turn out to be thieves have the very best of intentions, be well-educated, and loving people.  They may have even been faithful shepherds in the past.  “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Ps. 146:3)  Put your trust your Good Shepherd and hearing His voice.  Even St. Paul put himself under this same strict judgment: “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8)  The message for the flock is to endeavor to hear only His voice through regular meditation and study of His Word and faithful witnesses to it throughout the centuries.  This is how we can be certain of hearing the voice of our Shepherd, and being cared for by Him.

Why is this important?  Because Satan cannot offer what the Good Shepherd gives.  Thanks be to the true God that He has sent us His Son, because in Him, we are not stolen away, killed, and destroyed.  To us, who have been smothered by evil and death, we bask in what our Good Shepherd gives His sheep:

“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep… If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

It is true, we can be confident of hearing our Shepherd’s voice, because He has called His Church with His voice.  He seeks us out, gathers us into His fold.  His rod defends us against our enemies and His staff guides us through this treacherous world.  And He will lead us out, calling us by name as He gave us His own in the waters of Baptism.  He is with us in the valley of the shadow of death, all the days of our life.  And in Him we have life that abounds beyond present sin and death, endures forever.

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


[1] http://www.newcastleucc.org/Sermons/20110213ReceiveTheSpirit-Womens%20Sunday-SusieCraig.pdf

[2] “Gospel Phobia” by Chad Bird. https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-phobia (accessed 5/2/20)

Fourth Sunday of Easter (1 Peter 2:11-23)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Fourth Sunday of Easter + May 12, 2019

Text: 1 Peter 2:11-23

Two words describe the Christian: a sojourner and an exile.

In the Old Testament, these were freighted terms.  The idea of sojourning in a foreign land began with Abraham who was a foreigner in the land of Canaan, meaning he had no blood or legal claim to the place where he was dwelling—the land which God had called him to and promised to his descendants.  He was a temporary resident.  As a sojourner, that status got handed down to his children, Isaac and Jacob.  Even though they had influence and great possessions, they had no lasting claim to the place where they lived.  When his wife Sarah died, Abraham even pleaded with the native people, “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; ggive me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” (Genesis 23:4)

This condition of sojourning expanded when the sons of Jacob went to live in Egypt.  Even though they were gifted the region of Goshen, it was clear they had no permanent claim on that.  After the favorable Pharaoh died, they became slaves.  “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, ewho did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, fthe people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 gCome, hlet us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them ito afflict them with heavy jburdens.” (Exodus 1:8-11)

Later, when Israel crossed the Jordan and received their promised inheritance, the Law of Moses reminded them of where they came from, and commanded, “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

Sojourners had a place near and dear to God’s heart because that was the condition of his people—temporary residents of a place, putting down tent stakes, but only for a time.

Then there’s “exiles.”  This isn’t exile with the sense of judgment that 587 BC brought with the destruction of Jerusalem.  The word used (parepidemos), which means someone who is “passing through” but who still makes relationships with the people they live along side.[1]  While sojourner refers to legal status, exile or pilgrim (1 Pet. 2:11 KJV), has the sense of destination.  You are here today, but one day you’ll move on toward your goal.

But there is a similarity to the Babylonian exile in what the prophet Jeremiah told the Israelites in chapter 29: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

nBuild houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and opray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare…

10 “For thus says the Lord: tWhen seventy years are completed for Babylon, uI will visit you, vand I will fulfill to you my promise vand bring you back to this place. 11 wFor I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare2 and not for evil, xto give you a future and a hope. 12 yThen you will call upon me and come and pray to me, yand I will hear you. 13 zYou will seek me and find me, when you seek me awith all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, band I will restore your fortunes and cgather you from all the nations and all the places dwhere I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jer. 29:4-7, 10-14)

To be a sojourner and an exile means belonging to God, even while you live among those who do not.  It would be natural to want to isolate oneself and wait it out, but that is not what God’s desire was for the Israelites living in Babylon.

It’s with this in mind that St. Peter addresses us: 11 Beloved, I urge you has sojourners and exiles ito abstain from the passions of the flesh, jwhich wage war against your soul. 12 kKeep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, lthey may see your good deeds and glorify God on mthe day of visitation.”

As sojourners and exiles, Christians are resident aliens in the present world.  We do not have any lasting claim on it (in fact, we know that any such claims will be superseded by the Day of Christ’s return).  All buildings of stone, contracts among men, nations and wonders, even the stars of the heavens—are passing away and will one day be laid waste.  As for us, we have no permanent claim even upon our place in this world that we work so hard to sustain.

So, while the people of the world around us scramble and fight and toil to get every last penny they can, we know that what we have, we have today, but our present and future belong to God.  As the Apostle encourages us, Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

We are just “passing through” this world.  And like the Jews in Babylon, we are to make homes, take spouses, multiply and live.  We are to pray for the welfare of the nation in which we live, even while our benefit from it is only for a time.  It’s not that we live fatalistic lives, unmoved by the evils around us, focused only on escaping this evil world in the end.  Together as the people of God, we live lives that are built on the bedrock of promises from the almighty, eternal God.  When the world suffers, we suffer with it.  When our fellow human beings suffer tragedy, it’s right to feel it with them and to walk alongside them.

In fact, this is the witness that we still have to our family and friends who have drifted away from their faith to follow the course of this world.  They go without the means of grace God gives in this place, because their friends told them retirement was about finally living for yourself; because the basketball coach told them their kids wouldn’t qualify for a scholarship if they didn’t dedicate everything to the team; because someone told them “nothing happens in Church” and it was all empty ritual and after all you only have so much free time on the weekend.  But the hope of the world is empty, and its rewards are fleeting.

Sometimes in our status as sojourners and exiles, Christians are reminded of how little we belong to this world.  Just as Abraham had no legal right to the place where he was dwelling, and just as the sons of Israel had their freedom taken from them, so it sometimes happens to Christians that they are mistreated—even though they belong to the God who desires the salvation of all people.  Case in point is the bombings on Easter which took place in Sri Lanka (which is featured on the front of the bulletin).  These Christians were celebrating the triumph over sin and death of their Lord, and yet they were treated like enemies.  And that’s just one particularly bloody and gruesome example of the world’s rage against those who belong to Christ (one that happened to make it on the news).

St. Peter writes to us because he doesn’t want us to be surprised when we are treated unjustly, discriminated against, or hated for our faith.  When we are (and it will happen more and more in our own borders), Peter reminds us that this is the calling of one of who follows Christ—“For to this you have been called, because 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. 23 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.”

When persecution happens, it is wrong, it’s not fair, it’s painful.  But if the Lord is your helper, what can man do to you?  “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife,

Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.”[2]  Persecution tests the genuineness of our faith—do we believe that our hope is not in this world, but in the world to come?  It’s a palpable way that God is teaching us to renounce the things of this life and look forward to eternity.  As our Lord said in Mark 10, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)  May God preserve each of us in the true faith unto life everlasting! Amen.


[1] Strong’s Greek 3927 – https://biblehub.com/greek/3927.htm

[2] “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (LSB 656:4)

Fourth Sunday of Easter (John 10:1-10)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fourth Sunday of Easter + May 7, 2017
Text: John 10:1-10

Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd in this section of John’s Gospel.  Typically, we picture the Shepherd standing in endless green hills, leading His sheep.  However, right from the top of this discussion, Jesus describes a sheepfold.  The sheepfold is a walled enclosure for keeping the sheep safe through the night.  The Sheepfold for our purposes is the Christian Church.
 
Why the walls? Because there are both predators and there are dangers for the sheep that wanders.  By setting up these walls, Jesus teaches us—His sheep—why this must be.
 
You see, we are not just the Lord’s sheep that He’s gathered as He walked along the dusty roads of Palestine.  We are sheep who were caught in the thicket of sin, teetering on the brink of going off the cliff of death, and chased by coyotes like the Devil and his demons.  We are sheep who have been saved from many things, washed in pure water of Baptism,[1] and given a place where we may safely graze under the loving eye of our Shepherd, Jesus.
 
So there’s  a place inside the Sheepfold (the Church) and there’s a place outside the Sheepfold.  Inside the Sheepfold, we have peace with God, we call on Him as our Father, we have His help and consolation through trials and griefs, and the hope of eternity with Him.
 
Outside the Sheepfold, there is only doubt and despair.  There’s no peace with God, so we must always look to our works to see if our life measures up against those around us.  There’s no certainty of God being our Father, so people are afraid that he’s only an angry judge toward them, or that he’s an impotent bureaucrat who runs the universe.  Outside the Sheepfold, when scary times come, it’s up to you.  Even if you have a spiritual belief, it’s up to you to master it so you can find serenity and maintain purpose and hope—nevermind any promises of a blessed afterlife.
 
Inside the Sheepfold, you have a Shepherd who loves you.  His every aim for your life is that you endure many trials and remain steadfast in a Spirit-worked faith.  His goal in everything for your life is your salvation—“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
 
Yet, those on the outside of the Sheepfold still try to force their way in, so that they can destroy the Lord’s sheep.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.”
 
Outside are thieves and robbers.  The thieves steal from you the treasures that belong to a child of God—your faith, a clear conscience before God, love for God and your neighbor, a calm confidence in God’s fatherly care during trials, an open ear with God through His Son.
 
The boldest of these thieves will use biblical language, but rob it of its pure message of Law and Gospel.  They might insist on the King James version, or use many obscure translations to make their point.  But their work is clear: instead of proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins, they make God’s Word into an almanac to predict the future, make divisions between levels of salvation, or claim that simple faith in Jesus isn’t enough to be a good Christian.
 
The more subtle thieves make their way into Christian circles and replace Scripture with counterfeit attractive sayings.  “With the temptation God will provide a way out that you may endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13) is replaced with the common but unbiblical concept, “God never gives you more than you can handle.”  They substitute firm statements of God’s love and faithfulness with platitudes.  Instead of “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:39) you hear the measly “God has a plan in this” when someone you know takes their own life.  “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3) is covered over with the idea that because God is love He would never send such fine people to hell.
 
Robbers, on the other hand, are those who make personal attacks on your salvation.  They call into question your being a Christian because your life isn’t pure and you struggle in weakness to overcome your sin.  They fill you with false guilt about things that are not Commandments of God.  They hold up their own example of good works—their devotional habits or all that they’ve done for the church—and subtly imply they’re a better class of Christian.
 
However, inside the Sheepfold of the Christian Church, the only voice that matters is God’s.  “The sheep hear His voice, and he calls His own sheep by name and leads them out.”  In this Sheepfold, the Lord through His Word and Sacraments gives you abundant life—not prosperity, health, and wealth—but a rich life of faith.  With that faith come all the blessings of the Kingdom of heaven.  You have a heavenly Father to call upon in need and praise for His goodness to you.  You have a High Priest in heaven, who sympathizes with your weakness and interposed His blood for all your guilt.  You have the Holy Spirit, who not only works this faith, but also comforts you with the assurance that though heaven and earth pass away, you have believed the right Gospel.
 
Jesus is the Gate who opens to His sheep so that they have this abundant life.  He laid down His life for the sheep so that this treasure would be theirs.  Therefore, He also jealously guards you against any who would try to steal you away.  The Holy Spirit He has given you gives you ears to recognize His voice and flee from the voice of strangers.  When His sheep hear the voice of strangers, they’re not afraid to turn off the TV, walk out of whatever service, or abruptly end the conversation.  The strangers can’t deliver on what they say, but can only take what you have from the Lord.
 
But your Good Shepherd loves you and gives you shelter against them in this Sheepfold of the Church.  He is ever faithful, and may He preserve you from every temptation to wander outside of His watchful care.  Amen.
[1] Hebrews 10:22