A Homily for Easter II
May 5, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: John 10:11-18
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
Today is commonly called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the readings center around God in Christ being the good shepherd, the good shepherd who knows his sheep by name, and not only knows us by name, but will seek them, risk his life, and as we know lay down his life that those sheep might live. Last week we learned about how God knows our name, knows every hair on our head, knows all the good and the bad about us, but yet still loves us. This week we will see how he cares for us.
Christ proclaims to his listeners that He is the good shepherd, but what does this mean? In order to be good one’s motives must be pure, the one who is good seeks the best out of the situation, seeks to do what is right, seek what helps those under his charge to flourish. Do not confuse goodness and kindness with niceness. The general ethical rule of our time is “do no harm,” which typically means do not offend, do not say anything that will cause others pain, do not step on any toes, but get along, and be nice to everyone around you. This is not goodness – goodness cares for the well being of others, even if it means removing something painful, even if it means saying something when no one else will, even if it means a gentle correction.
But let us be clear – when a good shepherd, when a loving friend says “this is wrong, let us repent and turn from this” it is not done in haste, nor is it done with a critical spirit, but it is done with gentleness, and love. Too often we mistake people getting offend at our ideas with people getting offended at how we present our ideas. Yes – if we follow Christ we are promised that people will hate us for it, and people will. But if we follow Christ and truly follow him in humility and kindness and people hate us for it – that is the credit to us. But if we claim to follow him and are brash, are harsh, seek to trip up our enemies not out of love but to win – then as we learn from St. Peter this morning – we should not be surprised that we face harsh retribution.
But back to goodness – Christ is the truest example of goodness that we know – he came, he taught with courage and love, he corrected wrongs, and loved the unlovable, he set his eyes on the will of the Father and did not back down from it, he will come again and in His second coming he will raise the dead from the graves, set the repentant free from their sin once and for all, and will judge the living and the dead that those who remain in their wickedness will see His wrath. All of this is good – all of this reminds us that the hardships of this world will not persist, all of this reminds us of the depth and breadth and magnitude of the love of God for His people.
But so does the fact that Christ is THE good shepherd. He is not a good shepherd, but the one and the only. We often like to think of our pastors and priests as being shepherd, and I think that I an particularly fond of that metaphor because agrarian metaphors remind me of home, and of quieter times. But – I am a hired hand, I hope I am a good hired hand, not like the ones that Christ describes, but ultimately Christ is my good shepherd, and he is your good shepherd. He guides and directs all his people.
We learn else where that he will chase the one down who has wandered off, that he will correct gently, and lovingly. We read in Psalm 23 this morning that his rod and staff comfort us. The rod is there to drive away the predators that might seek to devour the sheep, and his staff to keep the sheep from wandering too far. The crook in the classic shepherd staff was there to grab the sheep by the neck and pull them back. A good shepherd would not do this violently, but with love. But let us make no mistake, if we wander of Christ will grab us by our neck and pull us back into the safety of the flock, into a good and right relationship with God the father.
This won’t necessarily be a pleasant experience. We may see within ourselves a sin that we find unpleasant, or a way in which we have hurt others, and we will cry out for forgiveness, and God will hear us, and he will forgive us. He will draw us back.
But sometimes this drawing back can hurt – the closer we draw to God, the more furious the devil becomes, the more deeply we dwell in Christ – the more we become aware of His perfection, his incredible grace, and the hardness of our hearts. So we cry out for new hearts, for hearts of flesh, and he gives it to us. God is doing heart surgery on us, he is correcting us where we wander – and this can be a painful thing. The crook of the good shepherd – can feel painful at time – but friends – it is good, so let us lay our lives before the shepherd who laid down his life for us.
This of course is what ultimately makes the shepherd good – that he lays down his life for his sheep. Here we read this as though it has already happened for even before his crucifixion he knew what would come, he knew that he would be required to die for the redemption of the world. As painful as that was – it was not a surprise to Him, but he knew how much it would cost to redeem the world, the incredible pain and injustice of that Friday afternoon that we call good.
This is what makes Him good – that knowing the pain and agony that would come to him – in order to ransom his sheep he went to his death that those who would follow him would have life to the fullest. He laid down his life – that he would bear the sin of the world so that others would be made free.
Now, we get the comparison between the good shepherd and the hired hand. It is easy to put your trust and hope in other people. It is easy to think that this friend – this loved one – this associate would bring you to the place that you want to be – but people fail. Christ never failed. If we put our trust – especially our entrusting anyone other than Christ with our soul – we will find ourselves disappointed.
Time and again – scripture tells us to not trust men – but to trust God alone. It seems cynical – I know but we want to realize that people are sinful, and will disappoint. It may be on accident or of a malicious will – but let us remember that God will never disappoint – he may correct, he may convict but we trust in Him because it is Christ alone that can redeem us, that can direct us to the good pasture, that can turn what others meant for evil to good. So again, we receive the warning – trust Christ alone because he is the good shepherd.
Not only that – but he alone will always care for you. Others will leave, will die, will sin against us – but Christ who was without sin went to his death so that he could usher his sheep into eternal life. He knows us and loves us and will be with us through to eternity.
But friends – did you know that if you confess to follow Christ that you are his – not in a sentimental sort of way – but that he owns you? Have you thought about what this means? If I walk up to you in coffee hour and take a muffin off your plate – it would be rude and you would be annoyed – but if I walked up to you in coffee hour and took the keys to your car and drove off with it – that would be theft and you would be mad! If we own something, we have a right over it, and we get indignant when someone violates that right.
Christ owns our souls, he is our shepherd and we are his sheep. He possesses us and will defend us when the devil or his servants try to steal us away. What a great comfort that is? We should not be dismayed about such strong language about how we belong to God – but let that be of comfort to us, let us rest deeply that.
Now Christ says that he knows the Father and the Father knows him – we must remember that after the fall that for a person to look upon the face of God meant death. Not as some extreme punishment but because the sin which all have inherited from our first father Adam would be so painful to bear in light of the holiness of God it would mean death. We see this rule broken at least once when Jacob wrestles with God, but all in all, a division between God and man is the reality.
So Christ is saying something extreme here – saying something that could only have been imagined at the time. That He had laid his eyes upon and is known by the Father. So, it is that we can know the Father, that we can pray the lord’s prayer, and approach God, that we can cry out to God – “abba – Father” that is cry out with the deepest affection for the God who has adopted us through his son, and know that when we cry out – he hears us, and knows us.
Friends – how beautiful is this? Christ possesses us – and in that God the Father knows us – loves us, and has said – I know you come to me weary, broken hearted, sinful, but I love you deeply. I will mend your wounds, I will rub oil on your dry skin, I will make you well – and not only that but I will make you mine – you are my child and I am your Father.
Let us rejoice and be glad in this! God knows us and we are His and he is ours.
Now, we come to a confusing part – I want to be sure that we understand it. When Christ says “I have other sheep that are not of this fold,” he is not talking to us – well he is – but we need to understand what he means first. This phrase has often been used to justify universalism – that there are many hands on one elephant giving us different pictures of God. This is not what Christ is saying.
He is not saying that I redeem people through various religions – but that he redeems a variety of people. Here he is speaking to His people – here he is speaking to the Jewish people. In his ministry he makes it imminently clear that he was sent first to the Jewish people, but eventually there would be ones sent out from there to spread His gospel to every tribe and tongue. So he is saying here – that not only Jews but gentiles too would be saved.
So to us today – he says – I have many who do not look like you, or think like you that I will redeem too. A little while back I was talking to a friend about a difficult situation I found myself in. A pain involving another person who had sought to do something wicked to a loved one and my friend from whom I was seeking advice said “you know, one thing you need to be doing is praying for that person, the first group of people on my prayer list is ISIS.”
God desires that even the most wicked would turn from their sin and come to dwell in Christ. In our fear of being hurt – we often forget this – we often forget that God created our enemies, that these people bear the same image that we bear. So we pray – we send missionaries – we seek to make Christ known to those who are like us and those who are different. This is what Christ says to us today – the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
I know this is a radical thing – to seek to love those who would do us harm – but that is what we are called to – so we pray for those who hate us, we pray for those who want us to die – we recognize that God will redeem those whom turn to him, even from the darkest of situations. So let us pray in earnest for our enemies, let us pray in earnest for those who do not know goodness, but only darkness, let us pray for those who might do something wicked and trust them to God’s hand.
Now as we reach the end of the Gospel lesson we learn something important. A few weeks ago – a young man claiming to be Christian and coming out of a very orthodox Christian church did something wicked – he sought to kill practicing Jews. Friends – let us be incredibly clear – this was not a Christian action – this was an incredible evil.
Unfortunately – anti-semitism has popped up throughout the ages. A part of this – and a part of this young man’s confession was that Jews killed Jesus and bear the blame for it. Okay – we know that historically there was a crowd of Jews and a crowd of Roman solders who physically lead Christ to his death – this is a historical fact. However, we also know that it is our sin that nailed him to the cross. We know that he went to the cross and took the punishment for our rebellion so he took upon Himself our sin, and even more than those historical people lead Christ to his death our sin lead him to his death.
But now we learn something else as Christ proclaims “no one takes it (that is his life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Friends – ultimately Christ chose to lay down his life – it was Christ’s life to give, and so he gave it willingly. If Christ did not wish to lay down His life – he would not have. There was no Jew nor Gentile that had the authority to do this. It is wildly inappropriate and a profound underestimation of the sovereignty of God to hold a repugnant view such that the young man held. Ultimately – it was God who crucified Christ.
So, let us now be clear – there is no room in the church for any form of racism – Christ laid down his life for Jews and Gentiles alike – he laid down his life for Anglos, Africans, Arabs, and Asians. He laid down his life for those who are incredibly wealthy and heartbreakingly impoverished, he laid down his life for those who struggle with sexual sins, drug addictions, hard hearts, and racism, he laid down his life for those who have been abused, and those who have been tenderly cared for.
Friends, the art of being in the church is a messy business – for God has called us to love those who are different than us, called us to love those may wish to hurt us, called us to love those who hate us. And why is that – because Christ is the good shepherd who has laid down his life for the redemption of His people – and in that he has bought us, and owns us. We are His and He is ours. Let us therefore be bold for His sake, be bold in loving even those whom we see as the worst in the world, that those who see this love would be captured by it and driven to repentance and join the flock at the end of ages that sing with us “holy, holy, holy!” To the Lord God almighty.
IN the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.