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Sermon - 4/22/18
2018.04.23 22:01:16

EASTER 4/B (2018): Acts 4:1-12; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18  

 

Good,            “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11). 

 

Today’s Gospel begins in the middle of a self-revelation by Jesus. Apart from engaging the circumstances in which Jesus teaches, it is difficult to understand what Jesus means when he says, he is “the good shepherd” of the sheep. 

 

Whenever we unhinge Jesus from the circumstances in which the Evangelist places him, the result is usually misleading. In the case of shepherding in general one conjures the image of fluffy, hapless sheep grazing on hilly meadows under the protection and guidance of Jesus. 

 

One might even be tempted to relate such imagery to Jesus feeding the 5,000 and the 4,000 in the wilderness. The problem is that those feedings do not provide the specific context for Jesus’ claim of being “the good shepherd”.  Such a pastoral picture may carry abstract truth; still by itself it is hardly worthy of an Easter sermon that must encompass the gathering storm of cross and resurrection. 

 

We need to get this straight, sheep are not pets; just as Jesus is Lamb of God, we are his sheep destined for slaughter. The only question about us sheep is, whether we are killed in Christ and so sacrificially offered with him to God, or we die from sinful participation in an unbelieving world, destined as food for demons in eternity.  There is no third choice; sheep are for slaughter and consumption. 

 

Early in his ministry (according to St. John) Jesus stood in the old temple effecting the image from Ps. 69, “Zeal for [the Father’s] house will consume me” (Jn. 2:17) portending his body as coming new Temple of God.  The picture anticipated Jesus as holocaust offering of himself to God on the cross. 

 

Now from the Father’s new dwelling place in Jesus’ crucified body, his sheep obtain the Father’s food. Jesus is our bread, our meat, and drink; that so joined in him we also might be Christ’s sustenance for brothers and sisters.

 

Jesus instructs of being “the good shepherd” on the last, eighth, “great day” of the feast of Tabernacles.  In the midst of the temple’s Water ceremony Jesus declared, that out of his heart would flow “living water” (7:37-39) for the sheep.  During the festival’s nighttime ceremony of “Lights” Jesus announced, “I am the light of the world” that the sheep might follow him in a new exodus on the coming Passover sacrifice of the lambs (8:12). 

 

Then Jesus proclaimed himself equal to God, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am.” (v. 58), at which “the Jews” (as John calls the religious establishment) picked up stones driving Jesus out of the temple, proving themselves blind guides and hirelings of God’s sheep.  Jesus was on the outside looking in.

 

As Jesus departed from these rejecting “Jews”, he and his disciples came upon a man blind from birth. The man received Jesus’ ministration through spit, mud, and washing.  Like Adam, he was begotten to a new humanity out of the earth, fully sighted, and hearing Jesus as Word and seeing him as Light.  In this manner “the works of God [were] made manifest in him” (9:3).  Ironically, on the one hand stood a converted Jewish man who once was blind but now in faith sees; on the other hand were the unconverted old temple Jews, blind shepherds.  

 

The blind shepherds investigated the newly sighted man, and concluding he was a disciple of Jesus, they excommunicated him from the synagogue. For hatred of Jesus these blind shepherds would murder a brother, for outside the community of God there is no life, only death.  Parenthetically we observe today that for the most part excommunication from the family of God is a self-imposed condition. 

 

Before we can discern Jesus as “the good shepherd”, we must look upon God’s first “good shepherd” and witness to Jesus as “the Good Shepherd”.  Abel sacrificially brought the best of his sheep to God; that God was pleased engendered Cain’s hatred toward God and the murder of his brother Abel. 

 

God counted Abel’s spilt life-blood to be an acceptable sacrifice and so heard its cry from the ground. Once again the ground (Gen. 3:17b-19; 4:11, 12a), on account of sin toward God was cursed in man’s place.  Cain was banished from the community of God but graciously received a mark of God’s grace, that he not be mistreated for his sin. 

 

Like Cain, the man born blind, was left by the false shepherds to wandered outside the community; and like Cain was desperately in need of grace. It is in this context during the in-gathering feast of Tabernacles that Jesus reveals himself to be “the good shepherd”. 

 

Jesus had heard that the man, like himself, was cast out of the church. Jesus as true and good shepherd sought out this one lost sheep, sought out the condemned and discarded man at the hands of “wicked shepherds” to receive him into his fold. 

 

The way of the Good Shepherd was to be sacrificial Lamb of God in the spring Passover.  At the cross his blood would be poured into the earth for the life of the world, which would cry out in love to God, “Father, forgive them…” (Luke 23:34).  By Baptism’s marking under the sign of the cross we receive God’s grace for sin. 

 

Jesus is Good Shepherd on the cross. There also, he is the Gate or Door that the Father opens (Jn. 10:3) calling those who will hear him who is Voice of the Spirit.  None of this originates from a mountain meadow grazing imagery; rather it is all sacrificial temple talk; important because Jesus is Good Shepherd precisely as he is God’s new Temple in his crucified body and so our Way in coming to the Father, “I Am the door/the gate; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved…” (Jn. 10:9a). 

 

The OT temple consisted of ever-restrictive courtyards leading finally to the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, each court was connected by gates admitting fewer and fewer Israelites, until only the High Priest on the Day of Atonement could come into the presence of God. The gate that allowed access for the priesthood to offer prescribed sacrifices before the Sanctuary was the “Nicanor Gate”. 

 

On the cross Jesus is God’s new Temple and dwelling place. Jesus having laid down his life for the sheep is Good Shepherd in his crucified flesh and shed blood; he is the new Nicanor Gate for our priestly entrance before the Father, who only receives our eucharistic sacrifice, our hearts made new for love in Christ. 

 

What then is the Way of entrance to the Father? St. John in today’s Epistle says, “Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer…  By this we know love, that he has laid down his life for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 Jn. 3:14b-18). 

 

In laying down his life for us Jesus has shown us love. Jesus is love and as such is our Nicanor Gateway before the Father who with his Son and the Spirit is love.  We are Jesus’ disciples as we hear and attend to the Good Shepherd’s instruction to love as he has loved us.

 

By the incarnation, cross, resurrection, and ascension we increasingly know love in the truth of Christ. Love is not an abstraction or mere feeling, rather it descends upon us, first as God’s unmerited grace for Christ crucified and then in faith we recognize our sin, what by nature we have in common with Cain, murderous hearts.  

 

By grace God marks us by water, blood, and Spirit issuing from Christ, the Crucified One. In this Baptism we abide in fellowship with brothers and sisters and in that communion we grow to maturity in love.  In Jesus’ crucified love we are made sighted to discern the needy among us, listen to their pain and trouble in the world and all who are distained for their faith. 

 

In Christ, his body and blood, we grow to sacrificially love each other. As for the world, we give what is the church’s to give, inviting all to Jesus’ true instruction.  Our love is as it must be, not just so much talk but deeds of Truth (1 Jn. 3:18) directing all who will hear to Jesus, the I Am who is the good shepherd of men who will receive him.  Amen.

 

pem.




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