+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 10:11
Theme: The Necessity of the Shepherd
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The valley of the shadow of death will give way to the light of immortal existence with the triune God, angels, and all the saints. The final goal, the beatific vision of God, the marriage banquet of the Lamb, is nothing short of astonishing- inconceivable in our current fallen condition. Yet, that is precisely the promise and the future for the baptized people of God. The One who knows has said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”1 He says, “I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.”2 Thanks be to God for His immeasurable love to us in Christ.
There is but one good Shepherd. God alone is good for only He is sinless; only He is immortal and eternal. Many things are good in life and goodness is a fruit of the Spirit along with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control3 Yet all the goodness that we observe, and invest in, and cultivate in ourselves and others is but a dim reflection of the divine. Christ alone is truly good because only He was selfless without fault. His desire was never for the glory of self but for the glory of the Father and the well-being of the sinner. That may be a mantra which elicits little more than an approving yawn from the faithful (perhaps because they think they have heard it too many times) but it remains the core of Christian truth.
The contrast between the selflessness of Christ and the inborn selfishness of the sinner will always be a point of departure for proclaiming the truth of Christ to an unbelieving world.
In the current climate of our culture the desire of self is something to be indulged, not curbed. We live in a culture that believes in entitlement. The stimulus towards egotism is pervasive. I am entitled to be happy nearly all of the time. I am entitled to have a stress-free, well-paying job. I am entitled to receive more government benefits and pay lower taxes. I am entitled to pursue my personal interests at the expense of others. I am entitled to have the nicest clothes, the nicest car; the nicest house. I am entitled to be me. And I am entitled to believe that others should mostly concur with and support my pursuits.
When the veneer of civility is removed the seedier side of the indulgence of self is revealed for what it really is: first rate idolatry. The consequences are serious and such idolatry is expressed in many ways that clash intensely with the values of society. Homosexuality, abortion and sexual promiscuity transgress God’s will precisely in this way: they are forms of self-indulgence, pursuits of idolatry, unchecked and even fostered as desirable.
The corruption of our nature runs deep, down to the core. Luther describes this corruption of sin as being curved in on oneself. Here is an interesting sociological example. According to a study by Dutch psychologists, restaurant servers who copy their customers’ behavior get double the tips of servers who don’t. In an American style restaurant in the south of Holland, the researchers told half of the servers to repeat their customers’ orders, while the other half were instructed to say something positive, such as, “Coming right up!” The copycat servers average tip was double that of the servers who just said something nice. In commenting on the experiment one researcher said good salespeople know the value of copying the customer. “A good salesperson knows from experience that people like to hear and see themselves.” How readily our actions show that we believe we are entitled to curve in upon ourselves.
But the Spirit lifts the believer to higher and holier things. He tunes us in to the voice of the Shepherd. It is a voice we can only know from His word. Therefore confidence in the Scriptures is crucial for the faith and life of the believer. The early church father, St. Augustine once said, “Faith will falter if the authority of holy scripture is shaken; and if faith falters, love itself decays. For if someone lapses in faith, he inevitably lapses in his loves as well, since he cannot love what he does not believe to be true.”
You cannot love what you do not believe to be true. Yes, you can show a strong affinity, perhaps hedging your bets, keeping your options open. You can pursue the outward performance of deeds which encompass the tangibles of showing love. Through such actions you can seek to acquire praise or avoid chastisement. But true love is a motivation of the Spirit from the heart. Dear friends, we love because we believe. We believe to love is to honour God. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.”4
This is not a time-bound message limited in scope or application. Christianity is not just a mitigating force in a world of ungodliness and unbelief. Christianity is not just a moral platform upon which to base the ethics of individuals and societies. Christianity is not just a medium for personal religious devotion. Christianity is not primarily about therapeutic remedies, moral convictions, social improvement, or individual empowerment. All of these things are involved, but belief in Christ is more profound still. The gospel is about the all-encompassing work of the triune God through the person of the Son. The doom of eternal hell has been turned aside. The devastations of Satan are laid to rest. The consequences of all evil, wickedness and unrighteousness are made null and void. Life is pulled from jaws of death. The crucified One has risen and He lives and reigns to all eternity.
Perhaps you’re wondering sometimes where the Shepherd is in your life? Perhaps you feel He’s left you to fend for yourself or has been inattentive to your needs. Trying circumstances always test our faith. Our Shepherd is not merely a well-meaning but strategically incapable minder. He is not a remnant of an obsolete ideal in which Jesus is cast as a personal religious attendant. He is not an honourable but otherwise uninterested Deity. He is here for you in His word of forgiveness. He is here in His body and blood given and shed for you. He tends to you when you are truly in need. He lifts you on His shoulders and carries you when necessary. He shepherds you through this vale of tears and bears you through the portal of death into life. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fourth Sunday of Easter
26 April, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 10:11
2 John 10:18
3 See Galatians 5:22
4 1 John 3:16