St John 10.11-16 Miseracordias Domini/Good Shepherd Sunday
St John's Ev LC, Victor, IA 2013.4.14
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Only God is good. Only the eternal, invisible, unapproachable God ' is good. Therefore good / was unapproachable, invisible. / Until / in Christ, God approached us, / so that, in Christ, we might know / and come in contact (encounter) That Which is truly Good.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Well that's pretty dumb, isn't it? If the shepherd lays down his life, if He dies, / then the sheep are left alone. Wolves are out there; cliffs around every bend; and how will they know where the good pasture is, if their good shepherd has laid down his life and died? / Dying doesn't seem so / “good”.
Unless, of course, He takes His life back up again, He resurrects His life.
And He does. And it is in this / that He proves His goodness: not only that (on a certain Friday that we call Good) He died for the sake of the sheep, but more impressive, more “good”, / that same shepherd (three days later) had the power to take His life back up again.
No one forced Him to lay it down, He did that of His own accord, in perfect obedience and submission, because it was the will of the Father, because He loved the sheep so much. Likewise, by the same perfect love, He broke the seal of the tomb, and lived. Through death, He brought life back to this dying world.
That is good. That is love. That is God.
And God loves you. The stories of Holy Week and Easter Sunday are not just stories. We don't just replay historical events that happened a long time ago and (from our perspective here in Iowa) far, far away.
God gave His divine life into death, that we who were once dead, might actually participate in His divine life. This was the plan from all eternity, before the foundation of the world. God would join Himself to His creation. The first part of John 3:16 was already in the works, even before the fall into sin, for the Father would show His love to the whole world in sending His Son to unite creature with Creator in the most intimate of relationships.
But our first parents failed to love. And we are still no better. They went astray to their own desires, they loved the creation more than the Creator. And we, like them, have all gone astray, every one to his own ways and wishes.
We are only two weeks past Lent, and I don't know about you, but I'm back to my old ways again; I need the discipline of Lent again already. I am the sinner, the hypocrite, the gossip; I fear, love and trust what God has given more than I do God Himself. I must repent / again.
But I must not bow my head in defeat. For this is what Easter is all about: that my sin, my death, my idolatry and hypocrisy; / it has all been defeated. I am a sheep in the fold of Him who alone is Good. And He has died, and He is risen! Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
And because He lives, I too shall live. I do live. His good death is my death. His good resurrection is my resurrection, His good and holy and loving life / is my life. Wretched man that I am, God has saved me. He washed me in the holy waters and made me a participant in His divine life.
This is what Blessed St John says (Epistle Lesson):
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
It cannot be just a story. The death Christ died must affect me now. The life He lives, must permeate me and all of creation. The goodness of the Good Shepherd must be more than just an idea of good, / God must effect goodness in me also. Otherwise, it doesn't matter. If Christ's resurrection is just some doctrine written in a book which we just have to confess with our lips, then it really doesn't matter. But it's not (empty words). / And it does matter, because it God's life, and He matters.
God matters. That is why we bother with all this; with all this preaching and blessing and bowing and singing and preparation and praying. We bother with it because it is our life, too. We are more alive when we are listening to the Holy Reading of Scripture than at any other time because we are listening to the very words of Him who alone gives life. We are closer to true Life when we are attending the Lord's Supper, than at any other moment, because we are feasting with Him who is Life.
And that is good. And it is good, because it is from God, who alone is good.
So even when you act like me / and are a poor, wretched sinner, a straying sheep, / yet you must also learn what I, too, have learned: that Christianity is not a religion, and it is not a faith, / Christianity is a life. It is a calling. It is dying to sin and living to righteousness over and over again as you follow in the steps our Shepherd and Overseer by laying down your life for one another throughout the week, only to pick it back up again every first day of the week on Easter-Sunday mornings.
It is in this way that we participate in the Divine Life that Christ came to bring us from the Father. This is the life of love, / and love drives out fear, / so that we might say with the Psalmist: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
You are here. You are in the Lord's house. Come next week when His table is also prepared. And there, find the goodness and mercy that you need. There, / your cup overflows. There, Christ is never some doctrine in a book. There / He matters, for He is real life, true life, the divine life / of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.