26 April 2015

The Pure Wisdom of Your Good Shepherd

Your primary and permanent vocation, to which you have been called by the Name of the Lord in Holy Baptism, as Katherine has been called this morning, is to be a sheep of the Good Shepherd.  That is also to be a disciple of Christ Jesus, a Christian anointed by the Holy Spirit, and a child of God the Father in heaven.  There are more ways than one to describe your relationship to the Lord who has called you, which is your true identity from the washing of the water with His Word unto the Resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul with the one true God.  But today the Lord has called you by His Gospel to be His own dear sheep, His little lamb, as He is your Good Shepherd; that you should hear His Voice and follow Him, and belong to His one flock in heaven and on earth, and learn from Him to live by His grace, to live and love as He does.

This is your vocation, now and forever: To be and to live as a sheep of this one Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, by faith in His Gospel, in love for Him, for His Father and His flock.  That is true for each of you who are baptized in His Name, whether you are barely a week old or already in your nineties, and at every age in between, even to the close of the age, and even forevermore.

But of course, what it looks like, and what it involves to live this vocation in the world, depends on your own particular station in life, which differs not only from person to person but through all the stages and seasons of your life on this earth.  Little Katherine’s vocation is the same as yours in Holy Baptism, but her own place and her duties of faith and love at this point are different than yours, and they are different than they will be in years to come.

Along the way, at every given point, both you and she will have shepherds who are given to care for you in the Name of the Lord, with and according to His Word.  There are pastors and parents, teachers, and other authorities, who are called to instruct you in the way that you should go, to lead you and guide you, to discipline you as love may require, and to protect and provide for you.

In much the same way, you are also given to serve and care for others who are placed under your authority, as Josh and Sarah, for example, are given to care for Katherine, and as I am called to be your pastor, a shepherd under the Good Shepherd in His Name and stead.  So are you called to love your neighbor, especially those who are entrusted to your care, in the way that Jesus loves you.  This, too, belongs to following your Shepherd, that you should thus become and act like Him.  Has not St. John made this very clear in his Epistle, that you are to do as the Lord Jesus does for you?

So, are you a shepherd, a good shepherd, to those neighbors under your authority?  Or do you act like a hired hand, a mercenary, for whom your place in life is merely a job or a means to an end?  Do you actually care about those you are to care for?  Or do you simply go through the motions, paying your dues and putting in your time, until you can punch the clock and go home?  Do you lay down your life in love for your little flock?  Or do you flee in fear at the first sign of danger?

You are frightened and tempted to run away from your responsibilities by the prowling wolf, who seeks to attack and devour you, to snatch you away from your own Good Shepherd and drive you away from the sheep you are given to protect.  The goal of that wicked wolf is to destroy whatever he can, and to scatter the rest of the flock in a thousand different directions through enticements to sin, threats of dire punishment, and the terrible fear of death.  All your laziness and negligence, all your selfishness and greed, and all of your anxieties and phobias derive from that fear of death.  For you know that you cannot escape it or defeat it.  Face it or flee from it, either way you die.

This is why the Gospel is such glorious good news.  For it is Christ Jesus, your Good Shepherd, who rescues and saves you from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He does not flee from the danger and leave you helpless, but quite the opposite, He races to help you, He runs to protect you.  He interposes Himself between you and the ravenous wolf.  He enters the breech and puts Himself in harm’s way, in order to keep you safe.  He lays down His life for you and all His sheep.

More than that, the Shepherd becomes the Lamb for the slaughter.  His voluntary suffering and death is a Sacrifice of Atonement, whereby your sin is all forgiven, death is put to death forever, and the devil is defeated; he is robbed of his fierce weapons.  The big bad wolf has swallowed up this Shepherd in sheep’s clothing, and he has broken his teeth on the Body and Blood of the Lord.  He can bark, but he can’t bite.  He can howl and moan and whine, but he’s got nothing left with which to hurt you or scare you.  The death of Christ has taken away all of your sins, and His rising from the dead has reconciled you to God in righteousness and holiness, innocence and blessedness.

In divine and holy love, the Lord Jesus, your Good Shepherd, has laid down His life for you, and in holy, perfect faith He has received it again from His own God and Father, in order to raise you up from death to life and gather you to Himself by the authority of His Cross and Resurrection.  And not only that, but to gather together one flock from all the nations by His Word and Spirit.

All of this Christ Jesus does in keeping and fulfilling the command of His Father for the sake of the salvation of the sheep.  As the Word made Flesh, He loves the Father, and He loves the sheep, not only with His preaching and teaching, but with His whole body and life, in deed and in truth.  For this good work of His, to be the Shepherd of the sheep, to save them, and to keep them safe, that is your dear Lord’s vocation and station in life, and so also His authority as the Son of Man to judge the living and the dead, to forgive sins, and to justify sinners with His own righteousness.

In diametric contrast to the howling wolf, this great Good Shepherd of the sheep does not snatch and scatter them, but He gathers them together into one holy flock; He protects them and provides for them whatever they need for both body and soul, for here in time and hereafter in eternity.

You belong to that one flock, because you belong to that Good Shepherd: You are His, and He is yours forever.  For you are baptized into Him.  You share His Cross and Resurrection.  You are a member of His Body.  You are named with His Name and anointed with His Spirit.  So, indeed, is dear little Katherine a sheep of the same Shepherd: She belongs to you, and you to her in Christ.

Little lambs and sheep of the Lord Jesus, hear and heed His Voice to you.  Hearken to His Word.  Follow Him, stay close to Him, and do as He commands, according to your vocation and within your own proper station in life.  As you know Him and love Him, so love one another in His Name.

Beloved of the Lord — Katherine Sophia, so newly baptized, and each one of you, both young and old, both great and small — this love is not an optional endeavor; it is your calling as Christians.  This is the Pure Wisdom of the Lord, in contrast to the foolishness of sin and death; that you should live by faith in your Shepherd, and so lay down your life in love for His lambs and sheep.

Is this not what your Baptism indicates?  That you should die and rise each day by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not that you could ever atone for the sins of the world, nor even for your own sins, but that, by faith in His Atonement, in the confidence of His Resurrection, you live as Jesus does.  You die to yourself and to your sin, and you live unto God and for your neighbor.

It is, again, the same vocation to which all of you are called, and at the same time it is different for each one of you within your respective stations in life.  If you are a soldier, a police officer, or a firefighter, you may well be called to put yourself in harm’s way and die for your neighbor.  But for most of you, and for all of you most of the time, you are called to lay down your life, not by dying, but by living for your neighbor instead of for yourself.  Which is to say that you not seek your own safety, satisfaction, or success, but invest yourself and your skills in serving others.

It is not about making a name for yourself, but honoring the Name of the Lord which you bear.

Do not snatch and scatter like the wolf, but gather together and protect like the Good Shepherd.  That is to say, be concerned and zealous for the well-being of the entire flock, for all the lambs and sheep, and for their unity in Christ.  Do not be driven by greed or selfish desire, nor flee from your neighbor in fear, but speak and act in love for others.  Follow your Shepherd in caring for His own; for in loving His sheep, you love Him; nor can you love the Shepherd without loving His sheep.

It is certainly not by your own reason or strength, as you well know.  By the nature of the case, you cannot become nor can you live as a sheep of the Good Shepherd except by His calling and His care for you.  But so it is, that He not only was, but He is and remains your Good Shepherd.  Not only did He give His Life for you in His death upon the Cross, but in His Resurrection from the dead He also now gives His Life to you by His Ministry of the Gospel; and in this way, He receives His Life back in you, in your body and soul, raising you up through His forgiveness of your sins.

It is to this end that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, raises up shepherds after His own heart to care for His Church on earth in His Name: To teach the people, to proclaim the Resurrection, and to forgive sins by the special authority of the Gospel.  Thus are you raised up and made healthy, whole, and strong, in order to live by the grace of God in Christ, by faith in His Name, as a sheep of His fold.

By the preaching of His Word by men like Peter and John, and by your pastors even to this day, the Voice of your Good Shepherd calls you and gathers you from the ends of the earth to Himself.

He leads you to and from the living and life-giving waters of your Holy Baptism, and alongside those peaceful waters day by day, so that you are cleansed and refreshed in body, soul, and spirit — as He has done for Katherine Sophia before your very eyes and in your hearing this morning.

He abides in you by the Spirit He has given you in this washing of the water with His Word.  He lives and abides in you with His Word, and so do you live and abide in Him by faith in His Word.  You begin to keep His commandments, to live within your vocation as a sheep of the Shepherd, and thus to love your neighbor as you are loved by the Lord Jesus Christ.

You do begin to see the evidence of His Life and His Love for you in your own life, in spite of your sin and death, and notwithstanding the fact that you are by no means perfect in yourself.  Your heart and mind, your body and soul, your words and actions begin to resonate in harmony with the Body of Christ, crucified and risen, with His flesh and blood, given and poured out, and with His Word and Holy Spirit — because you are called and cared for by this Lord Jesus Christ.

He feeds you on the green pastures of His Word, His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  There is no other name in all the earth by which you could ever be saved, but this holy Name of His, this divine Name above all names in heaven and on earth, truly is given to you: In Holy Baptism, in the Holy Absolution of your sins, and in the remembrance of this Jesus who laid down His life for your sins, whom God the Father raised up again for your justification.

And this is your Life and your Salvation: To be a sheep of this great and glorious Shepherd, to hear His Voice and follow Him, and to belong to His one flock forever and ever.  This is the Feast of Holy Love, which He has prepared for you at His Table in His House, to which He calls you by His Gospel, and to which He brings you in peace and joy and safety.  Here indeed are you gathered together as one Body in Him — as one flock with one Shepherd — as you are fed from His hand, as you all together eat of His one Body, and as you drink from His overflowing Cup of Salvation.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, in all your going out and coming in, even forevermore

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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