Wednesday after Misericordias Domini
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 10:11-16
April 14, 2016
Hirelings and Pastors
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
How many sermons that you’ve heard in your life can you actually remember? I heard lots of sermons and lots of preachers at seminary. I thought some of them were very good preachers, but I can’t remember what any of them said in any of their sermons. In the time I spent thinking about it, I could remember something that was said in about six sermons. Six. Out of however many hundred I’ve heard in my life—and of these I remembered maybe a sentence or a phrase, or even a couple of words.
But as I sat down to write, bits of two sermons immediately came to mind. They were both, I think, from sermons on Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
One was from the pastor who confirmed me. I thought very highly of him, but I don’t remember anything he preached, except one time he told an interesting fact about shepherds, which may or may not be true.
He said that when a sheep would wander away too much, the shepherd would break its leg. Then he would carry it around on his shoulders until its leg healed. Then the sheep would grow attached to the shepherd from being carried around on his shoulders for so long and not wander away anymore.
The other sermon I remembered right away—and this one I probably remember better than any of the others I mentioned. It was preached in Marseilles, Illinois sometime in the last ten years.
All I remember was that the preacher said very bluntly to us, “You are the hirelings!”
The preacher was saying we were hirelings because we all, in various ways, run away and seek to save our own lives instead of giving them up for Christ’s holy flock, the Church.
It was interesting to me that both of the sermons I remembered most readily were about Jesus the Good Shepherd, and also that they were preached by men who are no longer in the office of shepherd.
(How I wandered, and Christ carried me on his shoulders. How the pastor’s catechesis stayed with me. And how I found the book he gave me when my conscience was troubled. And the book said:)
Things like this: “Anyone who is troubled on account of his sins is a fool for not promptly taking refuge with Christ and for imagining that his evil conscience is proof that he may not come to God. No, this is what the evil conscience indicates: You should come to Jesus; He will give you a cheerful conscience, causing you to praise God with a joyful heart…For what does it mean that Christ died for you? Accordingly, when you have committed this, that, or the other sin and are perplexed about a way out of your sin, do not try to make a way yourself. Go to Him who alone knows a way—go to Christ.—It is a remarkable statement of Luther, but certainly true, that we are to find peace by wholly despairing of our own works. When a poor sinner regards himself, he does despair; when He looks at Jesus, he is made confident.” (Walther, Law and Gospel, p.111)
Then, one day, talking to my mother about him, she said, “You know what happened to him, right?” I did not. He had been called to another congregation across the country. A few years later he resigned when his adultery became public.
And the preacher of the other sermon on the Good Shepherd and hirelings now lives in another state after resigning his call at his second congregation. He has kids and a wife and, last I heard, no job. In both of his congregations he had made too many enemies; how much he was to blame I can’t say, though whenever a pastor is deposed other pastors usually form opinions. Maybe that’s because we want to assure ourselves that it was really his fault and that it will never happen to us.
Why do I bring these men up—to drag up their pain to make a homiletical flourish?
No. First to testify that the Lord worked through them, whatever may have happened to them later, whatever people say about them now.
Second, to remind myself and you that nobody remembers your preaching, except in very rare cases that have nothing to do with how great a pastor or preacher you are.
Yet you really want them to, don’t you? To remember your sermon, to think you’re a good—shepherd. Just like a hireling, as Pastor Anderson said, or rather, as the Lord said through him? Harsh or not, it was true. Admit it or don’t. I know it’s true of me.
And isn’t that the mark of a hireling? The hireling seeks himself, his reputation, his honor. Yet if the sheep are shepherded through you, it isn’t your skill as a writer or an orator, nor your reputation as a theologian, nor your compassionate, gentle nature, your “pastoral-ness”, nor really anything about you. All the glory belongs to the Good Shepherd, who shepherds his sheep through the office of shepherd. We always say this, but I for one seldom get it.
If our ministry appears successful we may rejoice in what we think we see for the sake of the Good Shepherd and His sheep. And if it appears to fail, we may rightly recognize our sins and failings by which we have deserved to be rejected as unfaithful hirelings. But at the same time we shouldn’t doubt that the Good Shepherd is quite capable of gathering His sheep with shepherds who are weak and who fall into sin. Shepherds who whether deservedly or not, are later removed from the ministry. Even shepherds who on judgment day Christ will reject as hirelings.
This is a great consolation when we think our labor in the Lord is in vain.
But by itself it’s no cause for rejoicing. Balaam’s ass spoke, and God spoke through Balaam. What good did being a prophet do Balaam? Saul prophesied too.
We have all sinned and sought our own profit at the expense of the Good Shepherd’s sheep. Some of you are sanctified men of whom Paul perhaps could say, like he did of Timothy, “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for [the] welfare [of the Church]” (Phil. 2:20), and not what he said of most other pastors: “For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 2:21) Regardless, there are plenty of times when Jesus could have said of you, “He flees” and seeks his own well-being “because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (John 10:13)
But Jesus doesn’t say that about you. An honest appraisal of yourself may tell you this: you care for yourself a great deal, but it’s hard to find real, unselfish love for Christ’s sheep in yourself. Wasn’t it the same with St. Peter? Jesus forgave him and sent him to feed His sheep, and then said, “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (John 21: 18) We know Peter didn’t want to die on the cross on Thursday night. But even after Jesus rose he still lacked that love for Jesus and His Church. And unless God miraculously expunged all Peter’s self-love sometime before his martyrdom, he went to the upside-down cross with his flesh still desiring something other than the glory of God and the good of Christ’s sheep. Neither you nor I nor Peter can save the sheep from the wolf by our death, but our deaths can benefit the sheep if nothing else in providing an example of faith in Christ.
But the Good Shepherd’s death does save the sheep from the wolf. It saves them because it silences his accusations. Christ does not accuse Peter of being a hireling. All Peter’s unfaithfulness disappears under the red blood of the Good Shepherd. Joseph’s coat of many colors became one color when it was dipped in the ram’s blood—red. Joseph wasn’t dead, but his father thought he was. And so in God’s eyes you look like the Good Shepherd who died and not like the hireling who ran away. What He sees is the blood of His Son in which you were dipped in Baptism.
That blood takes away condemnation from you. You are not condemned for your sins before God. The blood of Jesus speaks for you. Listen to the voice of the blood of the Good Shepherd. It pleads to God for you. You hear it speak in your own voice when you preach the Gospel. It declares you a righteous man, and also a faithful shepherd, not a hireling. If Satan or your conscience disputes that, let them argue with the blood of the Shepherd in which He drenched you in Baptism and which will soon be poured into your throat to cleanse your insides as well as your outsides.
Only faith in this blood of the Shepherd allows us to go on preaching and not despair over our sins or the unthankfulness of the world. We go on preaching and, despite our failures, we go on dying until our dying is perfect.
As long as Jesus sees fit to keep us in this office that is called after the name of the Good Shepherd, the office of pastor, we should rejoice not only that He works through us, but also in us. To believe that when He carried the cross He carried us and that when He died He saved us from the accuser. Not only to preach Him, but to believe in Him, and believing in Him, to die with Him until we are perfect.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 10:11-16
April 19, 2015
“And They Will Listen to My Voice”
And they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. St. John 10:16
There’s a fact that is kind of unpleasant to most of us that the Gospel reading takes for granted. The fact is that we are sheep. This is an unpleasant fact for most of us. Everything we see on tv and the internet, everything we read in newspapers and magazines, even what we learn in school pretty much tells us another story. The story our society tells us is that we are individuals who choose for ourselves and our choices are really important. You are really important, says your television. Just think. Candidates for president court your vote. Giant corporations spend millions convincing you, the all-important consumer, to buy their product. According to the messages you’re constantly being fed, you and what you want are the most important things in the world. If you are a girl but you feel like you’re a boy, even nature itself has to bow down before your feelings. The universe owes you happiness in whatever form you think your happiness will take.
Jesus says something less flattering in the Gospel. He says you are a sheep. That’s right, a helpless, nearly senseless animal whose entire life depends on listening to the voice of a shepherd and remaining part of a flock. An animal shorn and slain for food. A sacrificial animal.
The best thing a sheep can hope for is to have a good shepherd. If a sheep has a good shepherd it will be guided into rich pasture and have enough to eat and drink. It will be safe and protected from the many predators, like wolves, that seek to prey upon it in its helplessness.
That’s true that that’s the best thing for a sheep—to have a good shepherd. But there are all kinds of voices in the world that call out to sheep like they are shepherds. Many of them tell us, “Look, you’re not a sheep at all! You can roam wherever your heart desires and you’ll find happiness, and we’ll show you how to do it.”
Then there are other voices that call out, “No, you are a sheep, but if you just follow these rules, you’ll be safe. Follow these rules that this shepherd has laid down for us.”
How our sinful flesh loves to hear that we are not really sheep and that we can chart our own course to the green pastures! Why do we love hearing that so much? Because “we all, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way,” as Isaiah says (Is. 53). Ever since the first man listened to a voice that did not belong to his Shepherd that said, “If you eat from the tree that has been forbidden you, you will be as God” (Gen. 3)—ever since then we have been partial to the lie that we are not sheep and do not need a good shepherd.
And so we have listened to the voices of our flesh and the world, voices that are not the voice of the good shepherd. They have told us that in sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman we will find life and pleasure and happiness, and we have believed it. These voices told us that children didn’t need to honor their parents and parents didn’t need to guide and discipline their children, and we listened. These voices told us that our own internal sense of who God is and what is right and wrong is enough for us to know God, and our society listened and stopped coming to church. We heard that we were really not in that much danger fr4om the devil and our sinful nature, and we believed it and started coming to divine service only occasionally. We heard that we don’t really need the rest of the flock, Christ’s Church, that we can have our own relationship with God without having to put up with the rest of the sheep. And we believed it, and our love for the other sheep of Christ dried up.
We listened to voices other than the voice of the Good Shepherd. He does not say, “Be as good as you can.” He says, “You shall be perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5). He did not say, “Do the best you can.” He said, “You shall not covet anything that is your neighbor’s—“ that is, you shall have an innocent, pure heart. He said, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” that is, you shall have a tongue that speaks no bitterness or slander. He said, “You shall have no other gods,” which means, you shall not love or fear anything more than Me. You shall trust Me in all things and follow my voice even when it seems to lead you where you do not want to go.
That is the voice of the Good Shepherd. Repent and hear His voice. Admit that He has called you and would have led you, but you did not want to hear. You wanted to follow a shepherd who would at least let you act like your own shepherd sometimes, not one who required of you nothing less than that you love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.
But the voices of other shepherds lead to death. The voice of the Good Shepherd leads to life.
In this world, we can’t expect much more of a good shepherd than that He protect His sheep and care for them until the time comes for them to be sold. But in the end sheep are used for their wool and milk and their meat. A good shepherd will put himself at risk to protect his flock from the wolves, but he does not want to have to die for his sheep. Ultimately the sheep die for their shepherd, so that the shepherd can eat and provide for his family.
Jesus is a different kind of shepherd. “I am the good shepherd,” He says. “The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Jesus did not come into this world so that we could give ourselves for Him. He needs nothing that we have. He came into this world to lay down His life for us. He came here to die so that the great wolf, Satan, would have no power over us.
Satan comes to scatter Jesus’ flock and to slay individual sheep, to destroy the faith of Christians. He is a bitter foe, filled with nothing but hatred and desire to kill and slay us. He comes into the flock of Christ with lies to seduce us from listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd. He tells us we can sin and get away with it and he tells us we can fix our sinfulness on our own. He tells us that we don’t need to be a part of the flock of the good shepherd, that we can listen to His voice without having to be one sheep among many others. Then he turns on us and condemns us in our conscience, sometimes in this life, more often as we are dying. He says, “Look at how you have violated God’s law! Look at how you have not listened to the shepherd! Now you’re mine!”
This is why it is so necessary that we be sheep gathered in the flock of Christ, gathered around His word and sacrament. Because there, among the other helpless, nearly senseless sheep, we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd that saves us. “I have laid down my life for you,” says Jesus’ voice. “I have atoned for your wandering with my blood. Your failures to heed my voice in the law are atoned for. Indeed, the sin in which you were born that inclines your ear to other shepherds who are thieves and robbers, that original sin is also covered by My blood.”
We have a Good Shepherd who does an incredible thing. He lays down His life for the sheep. Earthly shepherds don’t do this. They protect the sheep only so that in the end they can take their lives. Jesus came and laid down His life so that we, His sheep, will live. We have life because He gave up His life for us on the cross. He now feeds us, His sheep, on the rich pastures of eternal life. He douses us in the water of life in Baptism and makes us clean. He feeds us on eternal life as He gives us His body and blood in the Sacrament.
How good it is to be a sheep in the hands of such a shepherd! This is why we should not be afraid to listen to His voice and not the voices of the world and our flesh. The voices of the world and our flesh promise us freedom in seeking ourselves, but they leave us to be torn apart by the wolf when the test comes. The voice of Jesus does not flatter us. It calls us sheep who don’t know their own way. It rebukes us and makes great threats against our wandering hearts. But the voice of Jesus does this only to call us to life. “You can’t find life in your own efforts and striving or in the things of this world,” it calls. “But you have life in Me, for I have laid my life down for you. I have rescued you from Satan the wolf, having atoned for all your sins. And when I lead you along thorny, difficult paths, I do it as the Good Shepherd who died so that His flock might have safety and everything good.”
So let us return to the voice of our Good Shepherd who has laid down His life for us. Let us receive the life He laid down for us, for it is given freely to us today in His Word and His Holy Body and Blood. And let us continue to hear His voice as it calls out the assurance of our sins’ forgiveness.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 10:11-16
April 14, 2013
“He Is Our Meat and Drink Indeed”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Most of us have been served by pastors whom we considered good at one point or another. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine how we would still keep coming to church.
But it turns out that there is only one really good Shepherd. All of the other ones, strictly speaking, are bad. Even the ones who preach the true Word of God and labor to be shepherds to the sheep given to them to tend. Even the great saints were bad shepherds. Even David. Even Moses.
The good shepherd is known by this: that He lays down His life for the sheep.
In our time there are many people who talk as if they are more compassionate than God. They teach other people this hypocrisy. They tell kids that it is just as wrong to kill animals as to kill human beings, or to raise animals for food as it would be to raise human beings as food for animals.
It is true that we should not be callous toward the suffering of animals. The Bible teaches that too.
But there is a difference between humans and animals. I wonder if there are any animal rights activists that would really be able to say with a straight face that it’s no different raising sheep for wool and meat and milk than it would be to do the same to human beings. It would be absurd.
But that is just what Jesus says the good shepherd does.
People could accept that the Lord and faithful prophets and kings would serve God’s people. It made sense that God would be merciful toward His people, bear with them, even love them. It made sense that the Messiah would be a servant, rather than a tyrant barking out orders.
But Jesus is saying more than that. There is only one good shepherd. And He is the One who lays down His life for the sheep.
If a father wants to train his son to take over the family farm or business, he starts him at the bottom. Maybe he makes him shepherd the sheep. But he doesn’t have his son take care of the sheep forever. He moves him up after awhile. He doesn’t ask his son to take care of the sheep by giving up his life for them. He doesn’t say, “Son, clothe the sheep with your own clothes. Feed the sheep with your own flesh.”
That is what Jesus is saying, though. “I am the real good shepherd, the only one that has ever been and ever will be. I not only lead the sheep and am patient with them and make sure they are taken care of. I lay down my life for my sheep, the way sheep throughout the Bible lay down their lives for their shepherds. Shepherds shear sheep of their wool, kill them and sell their meat, take their milk, offer them as sacrifices to God. But I am the good shepherd, and I lay down my life for my sheep. I clothe them with myself. I feed them with myself. I nurse them with the milk of the word. I offer myself as a sacrifice for the sheep.”
That’s why, instead of everyone saying, “What a pretty thing for Jesus to say,” there was division when he preached this sermon. Many people said, “Jesus is demon-possessed. He is insane.”
If God says that He will be the shepherd of His people, how can Jesus then say, “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep”? Is Jesus saying that God will die for His people? That He will give Himself as their food, take His hair and make it into clothes for us?
Who ever heard of anything so ridiculous?
If you had a son and put him in charge of sheep, and he proceeded to put his own clothes on the sheep and feed them with his own flesh, you would say to your son, “Are you crazy?” Even if such compassion for the sheep were praiseworthy, it would still be a foolish thing to do! They’re sheep! Even if they could live on human flesh, they wouldn’t like it. And what are they going to do with human clothes? And what would sheep be if they were not kept by human beings to give wool and meat? Could they make it on their own in the wild? Even if you loved sheep more than you loved yourself, you can’t make a sheep a man by dying for it.
And wouldn’t your son be crazy if he didn’t have any bigger goals in life than to serve sheep? Much less die out of love for them?
That’s why many who listened to Jesus said He was crazy and demon possessed. It was crazy for a shepherd to die for his sheep. It was blasphemous to suggest that unless God and His Messiah died for the sheep, they were not good shepherds.
What Jesus said is just as crazy today. It’s just that we have a hard time hearing it because there is so much Hallmark-card distortion of Jesus.
If we didn’t misunderstand the message, we would also be unsettled by Jesus’ words.
How could it possibly be that God, all-powerful, all-glorious, all-wise, wants to suffer instead of His flock, when they are rebels against Him, despise Him, don’t appreciate Him? How could it be that He wants to be the lamb who dies instead of them, and be their food and drink and clothing?
It is more crazy than if I took my only son, killed him, had him made into livestock feed. The distance between me and my son and animals is not nearly as great as the distance between God’s glory and us.
No wonder people are always amending the Word of God so that somehow, some way, human beings do something to make themselves worthy of salvation. Surely it’s ludicrous that God would do such a thing. Surely, it sounds blasphemous to say that we, who should serve and honor God, are served by Him in this way, where He is the slave and the “butler”, as one catechumen said to me, and we are the lords and masters.
Jesus is indeed our Lord, Master, and God. He is greater than us, far greater than we are compared to sheep. But He laid down His life for us. He feeds us with His body. He gives us His blood to drink. He gave up His Spirit and put it within us. He covers us with His crucified and risen body as our clothing.
He dies so that His Father is our Father; He dies so that His inheritance is our inheritance.
And what does Jesus get out of this? Nothing. He was of one substance with the Father from eternity. He was already God. He did not rise any higher when He ascended into heaven. He only brought us up. As amazing as it would be if a sheep was made a human, He has done what is more amazing; He has made sinners against God, rightly condemned to hell, into sons of God.
No other shepherd would do this or could do this. Not even faithful kings and pastors. Not even Moses. Jesus alone is the good shepherd, and the Holy Christian Church belongs to Him only.
He alone does not run when the devil comes to condemn the human race to hell. He lays down His life for the sheep.
Why does Jesus lay down His life for the sheep? Because they are His. He knows them and they know Him, just as the Father knows [Him] and [He] knows the Father.
The Father knows Jesus inside and out. Jesus is His only begotten. There is nothing hidden between them.
And there is nothing hidden from Jesus about you. It is all open to Him. He knows it all better than you do. The truth of our sin and its condemnation which hides in the darkness was publicly exposed on Jesus’ body when He gave His life for the whole world.
But do you know Jesus?
In our sinful nature we do not want to know Jesus. We want to write Him off as crazy, demon-possessed. You would like to believe that things are not so drastic as this.
But they are. God’s judgment is so strict and drastic that all sin must be paid for and taken away. And God’s love is so drastic and immense that the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep—for you. He is your food, drink, clothing, bodyguard. Your Lord and Master and the one who serves you as a slave. We come to His table and feast as lords on His body and blood and receive eternal life, and Jesus is the servant and the meal.
What punishment so strange is suffered yonder?
The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander.
The master pays the debt His servants owe Him
Who would not know Him.
Then let us feast this Easter day
On Christ the bread of heaven.
The word of grace has purged away
The old and evil leaven
Christ alone our souls will feed
He is our meat and drink indeed
Faith lives upon no other! Alleluia!
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.