May 5, 2019
Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
“The hireling,” Jesus says, “does not own the sheep.” But the Good Shepherd—the true and perfect shepherd—sees the sheep as belonging to Him. “I know My sheep, and am known by My own.”
The sheep, Jesus says, are His – His own. Here Jesus expresses more than mere ownership. This hymnbook is mine; it has my name on it. But more is happening here than just possession. I suppose that’s at the heart of what we call sin – seeing possessions, positions, and even other people as ours, such that we are masters, and everyone else is there to serve us.
But not so with Jesus. When He calls the sheep His own, two realities are coalescing in that one little phrase “My own”: The first is creation, and the second is incarnation.
God created us. He did not make us for the kind of life we experience now, a life where people tell lies, are consumed with malice, a world where the people you love die, a world where some people cry and they don’t even know why. God made us for life, an undying life.
But as the world grew misshapen and corrupt, where love grew cold and old truths were forgotten – still that world, this world and us broken people God calls His own. He did not forget. So, by virtue of creation God calls us His own.
Then, the marvel beyond comprehension is that God enters the world He loves. The Creator does not just come to His creation, the Creator becomes part of creation.
The Second Person of the Trinity becomes man and says to His fellow men, “You are My own. We now share in the same nature, for I have taken your human nature into My person.”
And how was this received? St. John says in the prologue to His Gospel, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” Most of you have felt rejection. Someone you trusted turns on you. Perhaps even your own family member walks away, or becomes your enemy. It’s a bitter taste that burns in your soul like acid in your esophagus.
Such bitterness is multiplied beyond comprehension in the rejection God experiences. He is not some unfeeling Mind; again and again the LORD laments the rejection of His people, as a father yearns for the return of His lost son, as a husband longs for his wandering wife to come home.
So where do you stand? By this Gospel, Jesus comes to you and says, “You are My own. Listen to My voice.” Isn’t it easy to compartmentalize, so that being a disciple of Jesus is a set of propositions we agree to, and then keep certain segments of our life off limits?
So what will it mean for you to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd this week? The Catechism has a basic pattern for this. Each morning begins with thanksgiving to God. We all have our rituals and routines. It’s hard to break them. But it can be done.
I read an article recently about a man who was bothered by how much tech had taken over his life. He decided to stop keeping his phone on his nightstand, because it was the last thing he looked at each night, and the first thing he reached for in the morning. The device had changed his behavior, and for the worse.
But he didn’t just move the phone. He put his Bible back where it used to be, on the nightstand. Yes, the Bible is on your phone. But there are other things there too, some distracting, others evil. I don’t mean this to be corny, but the Bible is the text message that’s actually more important than the ones on the phone.
So we have to ask ourselves questions like these: What in my environment needs to change so the voice of the Good Shepherd is what drives my thinking? What in my habits needs to change? All these other voices are vying for your attention. Some of them are important – but to what extent are they making me miss out on what’s most important: hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice?
So the Catechism says, start with thanksgiving, thanksgiving for living through the night, thanksgiving for the goodness of the new day. And then, it directs us to a life of purpose. And your primary purpose is not to make money or accomplish your tasks. Yes, that’s important, but you’ll miss the whole meaning of money and work if this part is absent. The Catechism teaches us to go to your work singing about the Ten Commandments. That voice doesn’t keep us from our work, it shows us work’s meaning. The work isn’t god, the stuff we want isn’t god, God is God, and He sends us to our work having no other gods before Him. Our work then—and by the way, work here doesn’t mean a job that pays money, it means whatever God has given you to do that day: caring for your children, caring for your home, helping the neighbors God has thrown onto your path—all of that is sacred work.
So our work is shaped by the Commandments when it honors God’s name. The world is sanctified when, whether you change a diaper or change a tire, you do it in the name of the triune God. The Third Commandment teaches us that our work has to stop so God can work on us. He does that through His Word. When Jesus says, “My sheep … will hear My voice,” He means that His words will direct our hearts. His words will correct us when we go wrong, and guide us in the right thing to do.
These right things are in a life directed away from our own desires and towards our neighbors needs. So the sheep hearing the Shepherd’s voice honors father and mother (4th Commandment), respects our neighbor’s body (5th Commandment), respects our neighbor’s spouse and the gift of marriage (6th Commandment); respects our neighbor’s property (7th Commandment), and builds up our neighbor’s name (8th Commandment).
The last two commandments, on coveting, show us how are desires are always twisting back in on ourselves. In countless ways in our heart, along with our words and actions, we act like the wandering sheep who stops listening to the shepherd’s voice.
“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” But Jesus sees it through to the end. “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” Today’s Epistle explains what that means: “By his wounds you have been healed.” That’s forgiveness, which is what the Catechism tells us to ask for at the end of the day.
We started with thanksgiving, then went to our work with the Ten Commandments as our song. And where we wandered away and messed up, before the day ends we go back to the Shepherd and say, “In Your wounds, dear Jesus, is my healing. Forgive me, and protect me this night.”
You belong to Jesus. You are His sheep. You listen to His voice. The other voices are distracting you. Put them away. Send them out of your room, send them out of your mind, send them out of your life. “By his wounds you have been healed.”
Each day your life has its purpose in thanksgiving, work done according to God’s Law, then forgiveness, and commending ourselves into the hands of God.
And the resurrection of Jesus is the larger pattern of the whole life – Jesus is shepherding you through life to the day of resurrection, by the power of His own. When Jesus says He is the Good Shepherd, He is reminding us of the 23rd Psalm, in which He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death into God’s house. That’s another way of saying He is bringing you through death to resurrection. Your life today and tomorrow has meaning; and your life has meaning into the ages, because you belong to Jesus, He has made you His own. +INJ+
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!