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Third Sunday of Easter

by pastorjuhl ~ May 5th, 2011

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

Did you know that shepherds in the Holy Land once led their sheep by walking in front of them? To our ears, this seems wrong. If a shepherd wants to keep an eye on their flock and lead them around, it would be best to do it from behind rather than from the front. Not so in Biblical times.

This explains a lot about the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, commonly known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”. Jesus leads, we follow. If Jesus allows us to lead Him, there’s no telling where we might go. If we had our druthers, we’d go nowhere He would want us to go. We would probably scatter in all different directions, looking for other shepherds. Those other shepherds are not shepherds at all. They are hirelings. Hirelings do not own the sheep. They have no stake in what they are hired to protect.

Hirelings allow the sheep to scatter because, as Jesus says, he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. The hireling is comfortable. He has his pay and his benefits. He has his task. If something happens that is off task, what does he care? He’s doing his job. Let the sheep take care of themselves. Going after lost sheep is above his pay grade.

Scattered sheep and hirelings give us a good picture of what the Christian Church on earth might look like. Sheep wander around from place to place, wanting to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. What sheep hear in many of these places is hirelings scratching itching ears.

Did you catch the article in The Daily Journal earlier in the week where a member of our Missouri Synod congregation near Bonfield talked about young people leaving their congregation because they were looking for something else than the pure milk of the Word? I wanted to hug this woman. She is now asleep in Jesus. She no longer has to worry about sheep wandering from the Word for entertainment. Nevertheless, we are still toiling here in the Church Militant, where Christian congregations are not always, what they seem to be.

Congregations that place entertainment and convenient amenities alongside the preaching of God’s Word believe they are doing the right thing. They are seeking lost sheep. They care about lost sheep. They are concerned about everyone who walks in their doors. However, there is also a concern about letting things of the world get in the way of delivering the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

The same can be said for congregations who don’t offer convenient amenities and use the time-tested orders of Divine Service and hymns. Congregations like ours can drive away lost sheep by not noticing them, by not greeting them, or by telling them to sit somewhere else than our coveted pew.

Comforts of home can get in the way of the Word. Impolite sheep can get in the way of the Word. So many things scramble the clear signal of the Good Shepherd’s Word, not to mention the things of the world that blur our vision of Him leading the way to eternal life.

Saint Peter’s words written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit cleans our eyes and ears. Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps. Not one of us can follow His steps and perfectly mimic Jesus in order to save ourselves. What Peter writes is the joy of the New Man, washed in baptismal water and forgiven in Christ’s death and resurrection. The New Man rejoices in following Christ’s steps. The New Man does not want to commit sin. He does not want deceit found in his mouth. He does not want to revile when reviled by others first. He does not want to threaten when first threatened. The New Man bears all things patiently, knowing that Jesus Christ first bore to the cross and tomb the suffering and death we deserve.

Every one of us was like sheep going astray. Nevertheless, we have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls. The Greek word for “overseer” is ἐπίσκοπος, “bishop”. The Greek word for “shepherd” is ποιμέν, “shepherd”, perhaps, “pastor”. There is only one Pastor and Bishop of our souls: Jesus Christ. This is why He calls Himself the Good Shepherd. Only Jesus leads us to streams of living water. Only Jesus gives us living bread from heaven. Only Jesus protects us from ravenous wolves. Jesus is the only Way to eternal life. Jesus is the only Savior from sin and death. When we follow His steps, as sheep rescued from peril and carried on His shoulders back to the flock, we are safe and secure. The Good Shepherd doesn’t use gimmicks or cunning fables to lead His flock. He goes before us, speaking the Word of rescue and joy, drawing His elect into the flock when and where He wills.

The Good Shepherd walks before His flock because we cannot walk before Him. Walking before the Good Shepherd goes against not only cultural norms during Bible times. It also goes against the way Scripture speaks. Note who runs the verbs in Ezekiel 34, 1 Peter 2, and John 10. The Lord God is the subject. He says, “I will” and “I am”. He acts on our behalf because we cannot act on our own behalf in our rescue from the wolf. That’s the way it is every time we are gathered in the sheep pen that is this church building. Our Good Shepherd acts on our behalf, using pastors as His servants, to feed us with His Word of forgiveness. We leave today walking behind Him, in His steps, as sheep under the Good Pastor and Good Bishop of our souls.

No wonder part of Psalm 33 is the Introit psalm today: The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord. The eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Blessed are those who are protected by the mercy of the Lord. We are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His Hand. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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

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