Third Sunday of Easter – Misericordias Domini (Rite of Confirmation)
“The More Than Good Shepherd”
St. John 10.11-16
05 May 2019
The Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
Our catechumens will remember, I hope, that in our catechesis we listed many of the ways that the Bible pictures the Christian Church. The Church is pictured as a house or temple of living stones, based on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Christ being the Chief Cornerstone. The Church is the Body of Christ, Jesus being the head of the body. The Church is the Bride of Christ. The Church is the mother of every Christian, whose womb is the Baptismal font through which every Christian is born from above. Today’s rite of confirmation is simply another celebration of Holy Baptism, and of the Church.
Here’s another picture the Bible uses. The Church is a flock of sheep. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, leading His flock. This picture Jesus draws for us with His own words. Today, Christ still shepherds His flock through His Word, preached by His under-shepherds, the word for “shepherd” in Latin being the title we use in English, “Pastor” – all vocabulary words our catechumens have learned.
This Sunday is typically known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” – and that theme has been hit home via the Gospel reading where Jesus says of Himself, “I AM the Good Shepherd”; and our hymn based on the 23rd Psalm that was just sung.
Many picture Jesus being the “Good Shepherd” in the lovely, serene pictures of Jesus in the meadow with the trees and grass and the babbling brook, and He is feeding or carrying his cute little lambs. I even have such a picture in my study right now on the wall. That’s what we call “good” – Jesus is nice to us, kind to us, loves us, He’s not mean or bad to us.
Those things are true. But there is more to the Good Shepherd doing that work than being a pleasant person. Shepherding was not such a pleasant, serene, clean job. It is a dirty, demanding, and even dangerous job. Shepherds were among the lowest on the social ladder at the time of Jesus. The shepherd gets himself involved with messy, stubborn sheep, who go astray and get lost. There are thieves that come to steal and kill and destroy, hired hands who don’t care, wolves looking to devour. A real shepherd, a truly good one, goes to every length to save and preserve His flock, even to give His life for the flock.
The goodness of the Good Shepherd is about the steadfast love of the one, true, God, the great “I AM” – and Jesus uses that divine name to self-identify: I AM the Good Shepherd. Wrapped up in that name is His entire reputation. All His work is done in faithfulness. All His work is done out of His steadfast, never-ending love for you.
What are His works? By His word the heavens were made, and by His breath came about all the heavenly host. He spoke, and it all came to be, he commanded, and it all stood firm, says the Psalmist. The Good Shepherd has created, given life itself, and reading the story of God’s people in the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, He is the one who has always cared, always loved, always sought righteousness and justice for us, always been there for His people, always has been good to His Word – the word of the Good Shepherd, of the Lord, is upright – straight, always able to be trusted.
As opposed to everyone else’s word and works. The counsels of the nations and their leaders are not upright, they are nothing before the Shepherd. Before Him, all plans are frustrated – His counsel and plans alone stand forever. Kings are not saved by their great armies, the psalms say, the strongest warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope, it cannot rescue. Trust not in princes, they are but mortal. Earthborn they are, and soon decay. Vain are their counsels at life’s last portal, when the dark grave engulfs its prey.
Then there’s our sinful flesh. Left to our own sin-sick hearts and minds, we let God and our neighbor down all of the time, all of our promises and plans and counsels so often fail ourselves and others, doing much harm and hurt. We so easily go astray contrary to the will of God as He has taught us in the Ten Commandments.
That’s why we are sheep in need of a Good Shepherd. And that’s why being a shepherd is not so serene, can be downright dangerous. Sheep stray after false voices and hunt after the junk food of false doctrine. We so easily seek after that which is harmful, straying from God’s trustworthy Word – excusing and justifying our sin and seeking to wallow in that sin.
The thieves and wolves and hired hands attack and we sheep seem to even invite and seek after it. The world and our sinful flesh, masks of the devil, the thief and wolf of them all, make sin seem all so good. We warn our catechumens about devouring even a little false doctrine – it is like drinking the water straight out of the Wabash without treatment. You might live for a while, you will get sick, and it will kill you eventually. Do not read the books and listen to the sermons and teachings of those who deny any or all of Scripture. This includes those who “preach” from the movie and television screen too. Christians are to mark and avoid that which is of the false voice of the devil.
But we do have a voice to trust in and listen to in these latter days. God speaks to us through His Son. He says today:
I am the good shepherd. 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. (Jn. 10:14–15; ESV)
The Good Shepherd is noble, upright – this kind of goodness in ancient Greek society was used to describe gentlemen of good standing in the community, honest, upright citizens, who did their duty, who kept their household in order. A person to be trusted. A person to know. A person whose voice is known and can be depended upon now and always.
Good and noble and wonderful because He has created, known, saved, and even sacrificed Himself for the flock. Good to His Word given through the prophets of old, God chose to send His only begotten Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, as He promised to do from the beginning when our first parents first fell to sin, to get down and do the dirty job of redeeming those who were no good, the stinking, sinful flock of straying and lost sheep.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but [you] have now [been] returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Pet. 2:24–25; ESV)
God’s Son did the dirty, demanding, dangerous, demeaning, and humiliating job, and did it well, did it rightly, did it to the very death on the cross, laying down His life freely, did it for the sake of giving you and every sinner something not deserved – the righteousness and justice that He loves. He took that life back up on the third day, justifying the flock, becoming the one, good Shepherd who now rules His Church, shepherds and oversees His flock gathered from the four corners of the earth.
This Good Shepherd and Overseer of souls calls together His one flock of the one God and Father of us all, uniting us in one Baptism under His saving name, enlightening us with His saving and life giving Word, making us holy even as He is holy. This work He did for you, Juniper and Noah, and He will continue to do for you throughout your lives: In this temporal, earthly pilgrimage through this valley of the shadow of death, He prepares a table even in the presence of our enemies, an overflowing cup of His forgiveness to heal you and restore your soul, His own body and blood given and shed for the life of the flock, for your life.
We thank and praise God who has brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, who is in the world seeking the lost, seeking the harassed and helpless, seeking to gather all together into His one flock, under His one voice. He is your more than Good Shepherd by the blood that He shed to redeem and purchase the flock, to redeem and purchase you. God grant that we listen to His saving, trustworthy voice, and follow Him through death and grave unto life everlasting, where on the great Last Day we will see the one flock and one Good Shepherd in all His glory with our own eyes.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +