Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Easter (B) 2012

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

Text: John 10:11
Theme: The Matchless Shepherd

Dear friends of the Risen Lord,

Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. How can this truth be to our ears anything more than an affectionate but obsolete analogy of the biblical past? Is it an image of the Saviour that’s gone past its use-by date? Perhaps we’ve done well to emphasize the providential aspects of Christ’s shepherding- His bestowal of stability and sustenance represented by “green pastures and quiet waters”1- but what of His role in defending us from danger? We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from evil,”2 that is, [also] the evil one- Satan.

Every age is subject to heresies and false teaching which, though not new in their essentials, take on different guises. The church stands as a sentinel, alerting all to the dangers that confront the human race. Truth cannot be safeguarded without defending against the opposing falsehoods that undermine it. It’s no simple task. And it’s na├»ve to think that conflicting claims of truth can be harmonized. Some will be subjugated and others will capitulate.

There’s no shortage of false teachings prevalent in society today. Some are brash and clamor out with loud voices. Others are more subtle, cloaked in plausible-sounding propositions. The church and the individual Christian who fail to identify and assess them do so at their own peril. One of the more influential philosophies which has for some time been making inroads from the intellectual elite into the general populace is the teaching of relativism.

The idea is that one possibility is only more or less true (or real) than an alternative-perhaps depending on the individual circumstances. Reality is your own construction. Absolutes are absolutely unallowable. A philosophy of relativism relies on uncertainty. It preys upon lack of conviction; absence of certitude. “Whatever works for you,” is a catch phrase. Undoubtedly some relativity in thinking is the result of the desire for personal rights in society. But the deeper implication here is not just a matter of personal freedoms, but the skepticism that there is any one right answer or solution even to fundamental questions. How much do we cower in fear of political correctness in society today!

Again, what we mean here is not the self-contradiction or loss of perspective that is a general liability of sinfulness. As sinners we are always subject to inconsistency and unfairness. What we are considering here is the idea that truth is not definable. Life is approached basically from an ad hoc perspective based on how people feel or react to any given situation. Why is it so difficult to get clear support for the sanctity of life or for the biblical definition of marriage even among Christians? In short, because they doubt whether God’s truths apply to all people. The certainties of Scripture become only guidelines or possibilities. The individual becomes the judge, not the word of God. This is the mindset of relativism.

The heart and centre of the gospel and its implications become disconnected not only from the social and ecclesiastical activities of the believer, but even from their worldview. The perspective on time and eternity becomes imbalanced- disconnected from creedal foundations. More than a logical inconsistency it either signals a double-minded, duplicitous approach to God, or betrays a nominal connection with the faith. In Western society there is a rapidly diminishing correlation between peoples’ church affiliation and their actual belief about truth and morality.

It’s not a new problem. It’s as old as the first sinner, Adam, who tried to justify himself before the Almighty. The moment we adopt an attitude of relativism towards our status with God we are in grave danger. Yet it’s easily and commonly done because it is a painless way to excuse and justify our sins in general and ourselves as sinners in particular. We want to believe God will be more lenient with us than He will be with other, more serious sinners. Our rationalizations are better and isn’t it all relative anyway! The call to repentance rings out against all such efforts. The last thing we would want to be relativized is the amount of compassion God shows to one person as opposed to another. We each need the fullness of His grace.

Obviously two mutually exclusive propositions cannot both be true. For example, at death a person either enters into some type of afterlife, heaven or hell, or he or she ceases to exist. It can’t be both. Jesus Christ spoke with conviction, not to give otherwise ignorant and despairing people a false sense of hope, but because He embodied truth. He lived it. He ratified it. He clarified it. He made it clear that though people may go on living aside from truth or in denial of its existence this is only a temporary situation. One which will be completely resolved at His Second Coming.

Some claim that truth and morality can only be defined within practical circumstances and Christianity is too dogmatic in this regard. But these claims are misguided. Jesus Christ appeared alive after His crucifixion showing Himself to more than five hundred at one time. What could be more tangible, more practical, than that for a foundation for Christianity? Christianity is immanently practical because He lived truthfully in the real world and He bids us to do the same. The more mysterious teachings of the Scripture should not detract from that realism. St. John said today, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”1 John 3:18

The believer is declared justified before God on the basis of Christ’s atoning death on the cross. St. Peter reminds us, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”3 He or she is then freed to live selflessly by virtue of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. These are the ramifications of baptism through which we are incorporated into the life of the triune God. This life of cross-bearing is sustained by the Spirit through Christ’s gift of absolution and body and blood of the Lord’s Supper. The Office of the Ministry was instituted to attend to these matters. Three times did the risen Lord direct Peter to take care of His sheep4.

Satan will take no holiday from his schemes against the faithful. If he cannot break down your trust from without he will try to do it from within. He would like us to stand self-condemned. But here is the good news: God is greater than your heart. Your tendency to self-condemnation cannot carry more weight with God than the condemnation of His Son for your sins. Your anxiety and worry cannot wield more influence on the heart of the Father than the peace achieved by the reconciliation of the Son. All of your inconsistencies and contradictions, all of the conflicted tensions and emotions that beset the heart and mind will be resolved in the light and clarity of the resurrection to eternal life. We have a foretaste of this peace already.

It may seem redundant, even irreverent to ask in what sense Christ is the Good Shepherd. Yet it is an opportunity to comfort anxious hearts with the truth of the gospel. He is not tending the sheep for personal gain. He is not driven by self-interest. He never expresses ill-will, impatience, or malice towards His flock. His compassion is so complete He sacrifices His own life that theirs might be spared. Finally, Jesus is not simply one good shepherd among a host of many others in that category. He is the Chief Shepherd, the guardian and curator of souls. He is the only protection from the wolfery of Satan and the only refuge from the fires of hell. The Holy Spirit Himself is His staff. Heaven is His holy pasture. We are His redeemed people. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday of Easter
29 April 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 See Psalm 23
2 Matthew 6:13
3 Acts 4:12
4 See John Ch 21