Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sermon On John 10:22-30, Good Shepherd Sunday

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text for this 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, is John 10:22-30. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Do you enjoy suspense? Novels, TV shows, movies, sporting events. We are surrounded by a world of entertainment, that draws much of its audience by the ability to keep us in suspense. Popular TV shows like “24” revolve around the ability to always keep you guessing about what’s going to happen next. I’ve always enjoyed good suspense, in books, in entertainment—the sense of something always hanging in the balance, the outcome is uncertain. Well, in entertainment, that might all be well and good, but how about life? We may know people who live their actual lives in constant suspense. How would you describe a life lived in suspense? Constantly worrying about what tomorrow will bring? How am I going to pay the bills? Am I going to be able to keep my job? That kind of suspense seems more like frazzled nerves and frustration than entertainment. But for some personalities, it might be an unusual sort of thrill or adventure.

But regardless, there is one area in life where we should not be living in constant suspense. The Jews in today’s Gospel identified that area: the matters of our salvation and belief. They complained to Jesus that He was keeping them in suspense, about whether He was the Christ. They insisted, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” But Jesus replied, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” His answer reminds us that He was not keeping them in suspense—they were creating the “suspense” for themselves by their disbelief. They were looking for hidden twists in the plot line, or waiting for the hero of the story to fit their own pre-conceived ideas. They weren’t satisfied with how the story of salvation was unfolding, and with whom God had chosen to be the hero of the story. Jesus didn’t quite measure up to their ideas of what the Christ would be like. “Christ,” remember, means the “Anointed One” or Messiah, the Savior who was promised of old, to deliver mankind.

For us, just as much as the Jewish listeners in today’s text, this is one area of life that should not be lived in constant suspense. We should not be in constant suspense about the most crucial matters of life—the matter of God, “in whom shall we believe?”, which leads directly to the matter of eternity, “what will happen to me when I die?” Sandwiched between these questions is the matter of “How do I become right with God?” In these matters, it’s not healthy to live in constant suspense. Today Jesus points us to Himself for these answers. Today on Good Shepherd Sunday, we are reminded of the words that Jesus spoke: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 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. I and the Father are one.” In those few words, Jesus answers all the three questions we just raised earlier. In whom shall we believe? The answer is in Jesus and His Father, who are one. What will happen to me when I die? The answer is that to the sheep that follow Jesus, He gives eternal life. And How do I become right with God? Apparently Christ has that taken care of too, because His love for us is so great, that He won’t allow anyone to snatch us out of His Father’s hand!

But let’s explore this a little further. Someone has wisely said that we shouldn’t ignore the 800-lb. gorilla in the room. (All the kids are now looking around to see what we mean J) I mean the thousands of people on Maui and elsewhere, who are in spiritual suspense, about who or what to follow. Some have heard the voice of Jesus, our shepherd calling, but now waver between two opinions—who to follow? (1 Kings 18:21) Others have never heard the voice of Jesus calling them, because no one has ever told them the story of salvation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again. But all of those who are caught in this spiritual suspense, whether they are Christians or not, find themselves in the midst of competing voices. Which is the voice of our true shepherd? Who’s voice shall we follow?

Over ten thousand flocked to hear the Dalai Lama this past week, many gathering to find some spiritual answers as they pursue their own path to enlightenment. They looked to him for answers about how we can find world peace and happiness. Certainly we as Christians also hope for these things. If he thinks that many of the problems in this world stem from a lack of love and compassion, we could even agree with that much of his diagnosis. But it is the solution to the problem, the Dalai Lama’s answer to war and suffering, which shows us clearly that he does not speak with the voice of our Good Shepherd.

The title of his speech, “The Human Approach to World Peace,” reveals his belief that we are the solution to our own problems. According to the paper, he told the youth, that “Whether it will be a happier world or whether there will be more violence, it’s up to you…All these problems we created, it’s up to them [the next generation] to solve.”[1] If we are the solution to our own problems, then we have no need for Christ. If mankind can cure itself of its own disease, then we have no need for a Savior. The disease of mankind is sin. And it has a 100% death rate! So am I trying to destroy optimism? After all, so many people have been on a spiritual “Cloud 9” since the Dalai Lama came. Why darken our thoughts with sin and death?

First of all, I am certainly not opposed to optimism—just misplaced optimism! The optimism that the Dalai Lama preaches is a confidence in the inherent goodness of the human heart, and it’s ability to overcome the evils and suffering of this world. If history has taught us anything, it is this: that what the Bible teaches of our hearts is absolutely true: and I quote from Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick, who can understand it?” Or as Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” History shows again and again that the best efforts of mankind to transform itself have failed over and over. We cannot cure ourselves, because we are desperately sick! We cannot be the solution to our own problem! What would you think of a person who optimistically walked down the corridors of a hospital cheerfully telling the sick, “Heal yourselves! You can do it! The power lies within you!” We would rightly scorn that sort of optimism as being a mockery of the sick. Yet many would give a pass to the same sort of optimism when it comes to the far greater task of bringing about your own spiritual and also moral transformation, or that of the world!

This is where the teaching of the Dalai Lama, and the voice of our Good Shepherd Jesus are worlds apart. And it brings me to my “second of all.” Our genuine optimism as Christians is not found in ourselves, or in our hope that we can transform the world into a peaceful and happy place by determination and a will to love and respect each other, though we certainly also strive for these things. Rather, our real and lasting optimism rests in Christ Jesus as the true cure, the true answer, and the true solution to our fatal sickness of sin. We look outside ourselves to Jesus, not inside ourselves to find this cure.

All the optimism in the world can’t bring an end to war and suffering, if that optimism is trusting in human ability. And neither does Christianity promise that somehow we can bring about a total change to utopia here in this world. Rather, we recognize that as the Bible teaches, in order for this pattern of evil in the world to end, the whole sinful order of creation has to come to an end, and everything will be recreated in perfection. Jesus has planned for us a new heavens and a new earth, the home of the righteous. God will restore perfect peace and harmony, not in this life, but in the life to come. And in order for us to survive this radical upheaval of the sinful world, of which we are a part and are contributors, Christ had to die for us on the cross. The only way for Him to rescue us from the death penalty of sin, was to take that death penalty on Himself at the cross. There at the cross, Jesus erased our debt of sin. He is the antidote for our fatal sickness of sin. Our optimism is rightly placed in Him!

Truly, the sheep, the people of God, hear the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Amid all the competing voices and noise in our world, we hear the gentle voice of our shepherd calling to us through His Word. And what a blessing that He knows us! That we have been called by name to be His own and receive His blessings. Today Jesus calls another little lamb to be His own—Kayden, who is about to be baptized today. Christ, our Good Shepherd, leads us by the quiet waters of baptism, where He restores our soul. Here in Kayden’s baptism in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he is joined to Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6), so that he is now dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. So were we also united with Christ in our baptism. By being joined to our Good Shepherd we are spared from the Judgment that is coming on this fallen world. We are in the hands of our loving Father, and Jesus will defend us with the watchfulness and care of a true shepherd, who guards the sheep from any danger or attack. In our baptism we are privileged to be joined with Christ in all His richest blessings—the forgiveness of our sins, and the promise of eternal life. We shall never perish.

In our reading from Revelation we got a glimpse of that eternal home, and how it is filled with a “great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” It tells us how they got there: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” In a wonderful mixing of metaphors, Jesus is both our Good Shepherd and also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And believers who have gathered in heaven will wear the white robes that have been washed clean in the blood of Jesus—the forgiveness of our sins. Surely, we who have followed the voice of our Good Shepherd will have “Goodness and mercy…follow [us] all the days of [our] life, and [we] shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23:6). I will end with those fitting words from Revelation, that describe that eternal house of the Lord:

they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev. 7:15-17)

Praise be to our Good Shepherd! Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Now the peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.

[1] Maui News. “Dalai Lama: Compassion at the center.” Wednesday, April 25, 2007.

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