the one about the good shepherd
April 18, 2016, 9:00 AM

Sermon from April 17, 2016

Text: John 10: 22-30

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, since I was a young boy, I have always loved video games. As a somewhat awkward and shy child who found it difficult to make friends mostly because my family moved a lot; video games were a way for me to escape to far off lands and worlds. I helped save princesses from giant lizards, fought off robots with a blaster arm, and wielded magic to bring peace and justice to an oppressed people. Much like with books, I became mesmerized by these worlds and I’d like to think that I was pretty good at them too. Living in Italy, 30 minutes away from my friends and from school, I guess I would become pretty ‘accomplished’ at video games. I didn’t really have anything else to do.

However, unlike today’s games where they are hooked and connected to the internet, where you receive ‘achievements’ and ‘trophies’ based on your accomplishments, for the entire world to see, when I started playing video games, we didn’t have such ‘luxuries.’

So, if I nailed a 30+ hit combo in a fighting game, or threw a no-hitter in the latest baseball game, or even beat a game on the highest difficulty in record time, I was the only one who knew. Usually my little brother too. After accomplishing what I considered a superhuman feat, I’d tell my friends, and they would scoff and ask for proof. But, much like taking your car into the shop, it is sometimes rather difficult to ‘re-do’ or prove what you say you saw, heard, or accomplished. Of course, with the advent of technology that allows people to watch truly gifted players; I’ve realized that as good as I was and am… well… let’s just say there is a wide gap between what I’m able to do and what others can do.

Anyways, no matter how hard I tried to convince them with my words, no matter how plainly I spoke, some would not believe me. If you were my parents, grandparents, or even now with my wife…well… You’d just get a little annoyed.

The Jewish leaders in our gospel text today were annoyed. They were annoyed with Jesus. The Greek in verse 24, literally says, “How long are you taking away our life?” This ‘suspense’ as the translation that I read and which is in your bulletins is not the suspense that you or I are familiar with. These are not individuals waiting in bated breath about what will happen next. These are individuals who wanted Jesus to leave because they were tired of what he preached. They wanted for him to go away because they found what he said annoying… The Greek idiom used in verse 24 can then essentially mean… how long will you continue to annoy us?

They ask Jesus to speak plainly about his identity, about who and whose he is. As you read the Gospel of John, you read of Jesus, who is not secretive about who he is or who he comes from. The previous nine chapters of John’s gospel are filled with Jesus saying, “I am…” in response to many questions regarding his identity. Yet, as Jesus states, despite this ‘plain speaking’ they, the ones questioning him, do not believe.

Jesus preaches that the works that he does, healing the man born blind, walking on water, healing on the Sabbath, turning water into wine, are all signs that testify to who he is. Jesus’ identity is together and is one with the Father. Yet they, the Jewish leaders, do not believe. They say to themselves that they cannot believe. It is too good to be true. There has been some miscommunication. There has to be a reasonable explanation for all that has happened. That and they continue to be annoyed by the one who faithfully claims he is the messiah, the son of God, one with the Father through his words and actions.

Today there are many who don’t believe, they call themselves Atheists, agnostics, and more. Some even call themselves Christians. They hear the words of Christ through scripture, yet they don’t believe. They ask for proof. 

“Show me this Christ, this living Lord, and I’ll believe.”

When we are asked for proof we respond in one of two ways, but really we must do both. We state that belief without tangibly seeing or touching is faith. We believe because, well we believe. But, we also show ‘proof’ of Christ, the living Lord, through the works of our own hands.

I love the imagery to which Christ speaks regarding hands in our gospel today. We are in his hands; he encloses us in his promise of eternal life through his sacrifice and love.

As we are safe in Christ’s hands, we are also safe in the hands of his Father, our Father. No one can snatch us away.  I love knowing that we reside and live in our Lord’s hands, and it is through hands, our hands, that we prove Christ is alive and living in the world today.

Think about that for a minute. We are held in God’s hands, safe and secure. Through our own hands we show the thankfulness for the grace through our works. Hands are indeed so important.

Now, of course, as Christians who view the world through a Lutheran lens, we know that we are not saved by our works. So, in many ways, we have been taught to not really talk about our works. But, through our faith, our belief, we are saved; we are secure in our Lord’s hands. But what does that faith produce? It produces, it should produce, good works, signs that Christ in in us and that we are in Christ.  Through the works of our hands, God can be revealed to the world. We give, we praise, we serve, we are thankful, all with our own hands. It is no wonder that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – our governing church body – has adopted the motto of “God’s work, our hands.”

So, it is interesting that those Jewish leaders approach Jesus and say, “Tell us who you are.” Yet, Jesus’ response isn’t, “I am who I am.” Instead Jesus’ response is, “Look what I’ve done. The works that I do point to who I am.”

So, we think of those works and signs that Jesus did as we celebrate this day – this Good Shepherd Sunday. And, as we celebrate this day, we think about what makes a shepherd good.

Is a shepherd good because when the shepherd calls – the flock hear his voice and listen? Kind of, if the shepherd was not good, I imagine that the flock wouldn’t listen to him. But, that’s not what it is; not quite.

Is a shepherd good because as our psalmist writes – the shepherd’s rod and staff comfort, they protect me? I suppose that could give a little insight into what makes a shepherd good. And if we are honest, that is the kind of Jesus we like isn’t it – or at least the Jesus we want. We want Jesus to shelter us and protect us. To keep all harm and evil from us – to not lead us into dangerous places. In many views, Jesus is the good shepherd because Jesus keeps us safe.

And Jesus does. We are told that in the hands of Jesus – in the hands of God – we cannot be snatched away. We are protected. We are safe. Nothing can take that away from us. Nothing will ever snatch us away from our Lord’s embrace.

But, I’m not sure that’s the only thing that makes a shepherd good.

There’s an interesting thing about that shepherd’s staff. Yes, it is hooked to keep the flock from going to places that wouldn’t be good for them – for us. Jesus’ words, life, and presence keep us and remind us of where we should go and what might lead us away in sin.

Caring for others. Not hurting others and creation in so many ways. Loving God and loving our neighbors.

But, the shepherd’s staff does something else as well. The crook of the staff is used for drawing the sheep away from danger, but the staff also has a ‘blunt’ end. The blunt end for prodding them toward places they would rather not go.

A good shepherd both protects and agitates as needed, the good shepherd both gathers the flock in for shelter and leads them out to graze in new pastures.

So too is it with our Good Shepherd. It isn’t always the words of Jesus that remind us who he is. But, it is the actions and the work of Jesus that show us God’s goodness. Yes; God draws us in to comfort and protect but, God also knows something of our potential and urges us toward that vision.

The Jewish leaders who come to Jesus in our gospel this morning seek the easy answer. It is easy to ‘discredit’ someone because of the words they say. It’s easy to deny that you’ve done something when others only hear that you did it and only because you told them. But, it’s another thing to see the works of what someone can do and then deny their gifts.

Jesus – our good shepherd – points to what he is doing in the world and proclaims that his works of justice – not his words – are what causes the flock to hear him, know him, and follow.

So, we celebrate this Good Shepherd Sunday knowing that it is not the words we use that ultimately show someone the love of God.

It isn’t just saying, ‘I’ll pray for you. Or I’ll feed you. I’ll tell someone of your troubles.’

Doing that is good.

But the goodness of our Lord and the comfort and safety we have in God’s hands – that safety of knowing that we are firmly in God’s embrace – that compels us to act in our love and in our faith.

Where we are able to say, I’ll feed you and then as one of our young friends mentioned last week during the children’s sermon – I’ll have dinner with you too. And in that action we see where God is ‘prodding’ us into pastures that are unfamiliar, but where the feast is grand. Being with and in relationship with those around us – who are potentially different from us – may initially make us uncomfortable. But it is there that we can see Christ at work – in the meal we eat, in the stories we share, in the relationship that grows.

We know Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He protects and comforts. But, he also pushes us to live into the faith and renewed life that we have been gifted in his resurrection. We are nudged and prodded into new places as well.

Where we too might be confronted with those who pose the same questions as those who approach Jesus in our gospel today. And our response? “I’ll show you – join me in this.” Amen.

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