Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Easter 4

The Shepherd and the thieves

John 10:7-10

May 7, 2017

Good Shepherd Sunday

Today is the Sunday of the Good Shepherd. This should be an easy sermon to preach because we all know who the Good Shepherd is. Maybe we need to take another look at the Good Shepherd and ask the Lutheran question, "What does this mean?" What does it mean when Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd? What our Lord says about Himself doesn't always jive with what others say about Him.

John 10:7-10 So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Yes, we all know that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We have pictures and images of Jesus carrying a lamb surrounded by sheep walking in a pastoral scene. Let's rethink this a bit. Why a shepherd? Shepherds had no social status. They were thought of in the same way we think of cowboys of the old West. They were often uncouth, smelly, and rowdy. No self-respecting mother wanted her son to grow up to be a shepherd. So, why a shepherd?

Perhaps we need to look at the shepherd not from human perspective but from the sheep's point of view. Sheep know that the shepherds care about them. Shepherds look out for their best welfare. Sheep will trust the shepherd to lead them to good pastures, protect them from danger and take care of them.

Not all who claim to be shepherds are. Look over there! See that guy. He doesn't exactly look like a shepherd but he's gutsy. Yes, you might even describe him as dynamic and cutting edge. He's waving you over to join him on a real adventure. He's going through some rough terrain and uncharted territory. He's not into boring pastures and placid water. Let's have some fun here. So, there are a few predators. It's no big deal if some of the sheep get eaten, you've survived. As the going gets harder, the new guy applies peer pressure to keep you with the group.

Maybe, this adventure was more than you bargained for. The Good Shepherd is nowhere to be seen. The new guy is leading you and your group into the wilds. He's really lost but refuses to admit it. Suddenly, there's some sort of chaos that sends your group blindly stampeding over a cliff into the abyss. The new guy watches from the sidelines. All of his new followers have destroyed themselves. However, he has no remorse. They are more where they came from.

Jesus warns us to be aware of the thieves. What about those thieves? Who are they? How can we recognize them? Some are easier to recognize than others.

The thieves that are easiest to recognize are those who actively set out to persecute the church and destroy the faith of its people. The church over the centuries has experienced persecution from governments and other outside forces such as Islam. The Romans, the Nazi's, the communists, and a myriad of dictators have tried to kill off the church. Today the social progressives and Muslims are doing the same number on the church.

The church is being challenged by political correctness, which will not tolerate any dissenting points of view. This world view has claims the Gospel of Jesus Christ is both obsolete and obstructionist. Why? The Gospel opposes the claim that there is no truth. The Gospel of the Good Shepherd establishes boundaries. It recognizes that we are all sinners. It flatly states that repentance is required before forgiveness is received. To the world this is an outdated morality that needs to be shouted down and swept into the dustbins of history.

There are other thieves. The sneakier ones are harder to recognize. They don't look or even act like thieves. Who are they? They are those in the church who are trying to reinvent the Good Shepherd to make Him more modern and hip. Perhaps, they make Jesus sound more like The Good Therapist or the Good Buddy or the Good Sugar Daddy. The thieves want to make Jesus into something that will serve only to enrich themselves.

The Good Shepherd is not a Good Therapist, who simply listens non-judgmentally. At the end of the session, you are reminded to try to be a nice person but it's with one of those "wink, wink, nod, nods." Everyone silently snickers, "yeah, like that's going to happen." The therapist may hear your confession but there is no demand for repentance. Without repentance there is no forgiveness. Jesus is not your Good Therapist.

If Jesus is reinvented as your Good Buddy, He becomes your pal. While it's true that our Lord calls us "friends," He is still Lord and God. We are friends as opposed to enemies. We no longer need to be afraid of Him but we must always retain an awe-filled respect for Him. Yes, we may come to Him in every need but we dare not reduce Him to sort of beer buddy. Jesus Christ is not your Good Buddy.

Then, there's our Lord reinvented as the Good Sugar Daddy. He promises to give you stuff. Here's where so many false teachers gain their biggest audiences. They tell people what they want to hear. What's that? People want to be told that they are so loveable that God can't help but reward them with all kinds of wonderful prizes. All they have to do is sign up for His team. It's interesting that Jesus reminds us that in this life we will have tribulation. The good news is that He has overcome the world. No, Jesus is not your Good Sugar Daddy.

What's the danger of trying to make Jesus more accessible by bringing Him down to our level? The problem is that we distort who Jesus Christ is. If we portray Jesus as the great, lovable, cosmic teddy bear, how are we to reconcile this image with the statement in the creed that says He will come again to judge? If He's my therapist, He doesn't judge me. If He's my buddy, He won't judge me. If He's my Sugar Daddy, He just laughs and gives me more stuff.

Don't listen to these people. They are thieves who come only to steal, kill and destroy. Sadly, many Christians are unprepared for the coming of the thieves who want to snatch them from the care of the Good Shepherd. In order not to be deceived and suckered by them, you have to be well grounded in your faith. You need to know who the real Good Shepherd is. Jesus is the Christ. He is God incarnate, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. He was spoken of by the prophets. He came to live the perfect life we could not live. He died on the cross for our sins and was raised again for our justification.

Jesus did not come to soothe your self-esteem. He did not come to assure you that you're ok and everything will be just fine if you just try to live a good life. He is NOT your therapist, buddy or sugar daddy. He is your Lord and Savior. He is the Good Shepherd who calls His sheep by name, guides them to safe pastures and gives them life abundant. No that doesn't mean you'll have lots of stuff. It means that in Him your life will have meaning, purpose and be filled to overflowing with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It means no one will be able to steal, kill or destroy His love for you because He is your Good Shepherd, now and always. Amen.


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