Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Easter

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen. +

Text: John 10:22-30
Theme: The Shepherd and His Sheep

Dear worshippers of the risen Jesus,

God is found in the midst of struggle. More specifically, God enables us to recognise Him most clearly in the midst of trial. Faith is conceived in the conflict between accepting who we really are and trusting Christ as He truly is. It is the battle between clinging to the illusion of self-reliance and coming to terms with our dependency on God. The very meaning of life is tied up with the nature of our dependence on God. The person who thinks they possess a God who grants unlimited freedom for self-determination possesses only a construction of his own imagination. At the hour of death, if not before, it will all come crashing down. It is the very lie of Satan. But repentant sinners find in Christ a Saviour who, through His own suffering, binds their lives to His for eternity. This is true freedom.

The Bible depicts human nature as it really is, not as it only appears. We are born hopelessly self-centred and without true love or reverence for God. We are helpless to correct the situation or even recognise it on our own. The reality of sin, and all of its effects and consequences, can never be lost sight of without the risk of undermining the need for the gospel. The unbridled will is powerful. It relentlessly seeks to serve its own desires. When it is not satisfied it will undertake every possible means to accomplish its goals. We know ourselves the deceptions we employ, the unkindness we practice and the impatience we display. We know how easily we are filled with jealousy, overcome by anger, or crippled by fear. Our sin is never to be denied, but always confessed.

We are reminded today that Jesus, our Good Shepherd, knows His sheep. Nothing can be hidden from Him and He is the only human that really knows humanity. Today we find Jesus in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication also known as Hanukkah. Hanukkah is a Jewish festival that began in 167 B.C. It celebrates the rededication of the temple after it was desecrated by a Roman ruler hostile to the Jewish faith.

As Jesus was walking in the temple area built by Solomon the Jews gathered around Him. They pressed Him regarding His own self-understanding. Jesus told them, “I and the Father are one.”1 The validity of Christian teaching rests on the deity of Jesus Christ. The Son of God is of the same essence as the Father. The man Jesus possesses and fully exercises divine power. This truth is critical to the accomplishment of our salvation. The Jews understood what Jesus meant. The very next verse says they tried to stone Him for making Himself out to be the Son of God.

Jesus makes a claim about saving His sheep that only God could make. You will not find stronger or more reassuring words in all of Scripture. Yes, the Holy Spirit says it many times and in many ways throughout the Bible from the first word until the last. But this is as direct as it can be said. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”2 On the basis of this promise you can face death itself.

Jesus Himself lays down His life for the sheep. He is the Lamb that is sacrificed. Christ purifies the believer with His blood. There remains no trace of the filth and stain which blackens the sinner’s soul. The water of baptism washes it clean. Your garment of righteousness is made white by the blood of the Lamb. Though God knows you are a sinner, in Christ, He treats you as a saint. The crucified and risen Jesus keeps His promise: The sacrifice of His life frees us from our sins.

Those who don’t have this promise don’t have the essence of Christianity. They don’t have the gospel. They may know the historical information of the Bible; they may be well-versed in the commands of God’s laws; they may be steeped in ethics and stringent morality; they may live exemplary lives of service to others; they may be prosperous in all their worldly endeavors- always healthy and wealthy; but all this means nothing apart from salvation by grace. The Good Shepherd tends to you not because you are an adorable lamb or even tolerable in your own right. Christ loves the unlovable.

God accounts you righteous, acceptable in His sight, welcomed into His kingdom, freed from sin’s condemnation, released from death’s power, and spared from Satan’s accusations purely by the grace of His Son. He loves unconditionally. He gives freely. You cannot earn His love, merit His grace, or even prepare yourself as one who desires His mercy. The Scripture says you, “Are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”3 Faith is the vehicle which receives this gift of life. Faith is not even something you can do; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. But it changes your perspective on everything. It helps us to see what is really meaningful.
A teenage boy lost a contact lens while playing basketball in his driveway. After a fruitless search, he told his mother the lens was lost. Undaunted, she went outside and in a few minutes returned with the lens in her hand. "I really looked hard for that, Mum," said the son. "How'd you manage to find it?" "We weren't looking for the same thing," she replied. "You were looking for a small piece of plastic. I was looking for $150." And so it is with us. How often very small are our valuations of spiritual things? No wonder Christians often lack enthusiasm for God’s kingdom and the work of Christ’s church. We don’t correctly see the value in it. The Scripture says, “Where your treasure, is there your heart will be also.”4
But the true nature of God is shown precisely in the fact that He searches, seeks, and pursues us though, in and of ourselves, we are no more significant than the small piece of plastic. The Good Shepherd leaves the 99 and goes looking for the one lost sheep. He joyfully carries it home on His shoulders, leads it, protects it, and nourishes it.
Where do you get strength, the energy, and the motivation to go out into the fray each day? How will you combat the temptations of Satan, seek to mend broken relationships, bring healing to those suffering affliction, or offer hope to those in despair? If you are doing this by any other strength than the forgiveness of sins, the power of the Holy Spirit and the firm promise of God’s unconditional grace in Christ then your efforts will eventually fail.

Dear friends, you don’t know whether you’ll harvest a crop this year or whether you’ll even plant one. You don’t know if the economy will collapse next month, or whether you’ll loose your job. You don’t know if your health will fail next week or if tragedy will strike. But this much you do know: No one can snatch you out of HIS hand! Not the most persuasive skeptic, not the shrewdest opportunist, not the most influential evildoer, not Satan in the flesh or hell itself have the power, the cunning, or the skill to wrest you from the hands Him who had those hands nailed to a cross for you. He still bears the scars in His resurrected body

The imagery of the Shepherd and His sheep is some of the most beautiful in the Bible. Lambs cannot be snatched or stolen from Christ’s flock. He will not abandon them. He will not forsake them. He will not betray them. His protection of them is unwavering and unfailing. In His most blessed Name! Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday of Easter
25 April 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 10:30
2 John 10:28-29
3 Romans 3:24
4 Matthew 6:21

ANZAC Day, Loxton War Memorial

Dawn Service
25 April, 2010

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things…and the God of peace will be with you.” The Apostle Paul, Philippians 4:8, 9b

The dawn of April 25th on the shores of Gallipoli marked the beginning of a time of tragedy and valor, grief and courage, struggle and honour. Ideals were defended, friendships were forged, families were shattered, lives were lost. For those who battled, the outcome was far from certain. But they fought for the benefit of others. Through their toil, and that of many who endured the conflicts that followed, our present way of life was secured.

God calls us to remember. He calls us to remember the efforts of those who were willing to pay the highest price. Many sacrifices went unheralded. Many acts of bravery were unnoticed. Many stories were never told. God alone knows the unseen acts of heroism in faraway lands. But we need not know the details to remember. Remembering is not merely a passive activity but the motivation for imitation. We are called to imitate everything that is noble, excellent, and admirable.

In war there are no insincere prayers, no half-hearted pleas to God, no trivial cries for safety, no meaningless moments of peace. Efforts at thankfulness are purified. Life is cherished in a way never imagined important before. In war people see the face of evil and experience the forces of darkness. But they are also drawn near to the presence of God and come to a profound understanding of what matters most.

We honour those who died in sacrifice, not to glamorize their persons but to immortalize their commitment. Of their own personal fears, doubts, dreams or hopes; their struggles, thoughts or misgivings, succeeding generations can only guess. But we can be certain of the price they paid. This gift to us we cannot forget. We cannot know the future but we have been taught by those who shaped the past.

Those who do not learn the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. So too, those who do not cherish the liberties passed down from others risk losing them. Generations come and go but the stability of a free society rests on the shared commitment to the values which govern it. The past is not forgotten when it lives on, not only in memory but in the active maintenance of what has been given. Let us not merely live off the capital of their investment but defend the freedoms which they secured. Liberty brings with it both privilege and responsibility.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things…and the God of peace will be with you.” Peace is a gift easily taken for granted. God alone can give it.

As we remember them this day we are thankful for the freedom to worship our gracious God without fear. May the Almighty God, for the sake of His Son, grant us the courage to use this freedom wisely, the ability to defend it honourably, and the generosity to extend it to others!

Pastor Darrin Kohrt
Concordia & Outlying Lutheran Congregations