Monday, May 5, 2014

The Good Pastor

The Good Pastor
Another Anglican Sermon

Gospel: John 10: 11-16 - pp. 195-96 Prayer Book
11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

McIlwain Memorial Presbyterian
Pensacola, FL
I grew up in a church with two large stained glass windows on either side. One of them depicted Jesus as the Good Shepherd. He was a European white man wearing a white robe. His face was pleasant, compassionate, and non-threatening. He had a staff in his hand, sheep gathered round him, and a little lamb on his shoulders. 

Jesus the Good Shepherd is one of, if not the most, popular ways of picturing Jesus. And when most people think of him as the Good Shepherd, the stained glass window is pretty close to picture painted on the canvas of their minds.

That window is misleading in some obvious ways. Jesus was not European, and he didn’t wear white clothes. But it is misleading also in not so obvious ways. I doubt many shepherds had non-threatening faces or personalities. They were strong and tough men who did hard and sometimes dangerous work.

This morning let’s look at Jesus’ own description of himself as the Good Shepherd.

1. Jesus is the Good Shepherd

  • Throughout the first 21 verses of St. John 10 Jesus calls himself the Shepherd. Twice in the 6 verses of this morning’s Gospel lesson Jesus adds the word “good” and tells us he is the Good Shepherd (vss.11,14). What does he mean? He means that he is the Shepherd who is everything a Shepherd should be - the Shepherd who has all the good qualities of a shepherd.
  • Jesus helps us understand what he means by contrasting the good shepherd with bad shepherds.
    • A good shepherd is not like A hired hand for whom caring for the sheep is a job. Unlike the shepherd who owns the sheep the hired hand has no attachment to the sheep except that they provide him with a way to make a living. The good shepherd is attached to the sheep. Each of them is his, and as a flock they are his. He cares about them. If a child missing, there is a difference between the anxiety you and the determination you have to find the child if the child is child in the community or your child. When even a dog goes missing there is a difference between the way you feel about and search for it if it is yours. It makes all the difference if the child or dog belongs to you.
    • The most important and revealing difference between the good shepherd and the bad is when danger comes. If a wolf attacks the flock, and the shepherd’s own life is in danger, the hired hand will desert the flock, leaving them to face the wolf by themselves. He will choose his own safety over the safety of the sheep? Why? They are not his sheep. He has no personal attachment to them. He does not care for them the way an owner-shepherd does. The hired hand will look out for himself first. 
    • Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will stay with the flock and protect it - because he owns the sheep, knows the sheep, and has a deep attachment to them. He cares about the sheep because they are his. 
  • Another English word that translates the Greek word for shepherd is “pastor.” A pastor is a shepherd of God’s sheep. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is also the Good Pastor. He is the model for those of us who are called to be pastors. We are called to care for God’s flock, not as hired hands who do the work as a job, primarily as a way to make a living, and put our welfare before the flocks’. We are called to be like Jesus, to care for God’s people, to protect them from the dangers to their souls, to lead them to the pastures of God’s Word that will nourish their souls, to warn them of dangers to their spiritual welfare, and to guide to God’s heavenly kingdom. This is what we pastors must demand of ourselves and what you may expect of us.
  • Jesus is the absolutely Good Shepherd and Pastor. The best of men will fail in ways big or small. Not Jesus. You can trust him to care about you, to protect you from spiritual wolves who will destroy your soul, to guide you in this life to green pastures and still waters where he will refresh your soul, to stick with you when it is necessary for you to go through barren and trying places, and to lead you through this earthly wilderness to the heavenly Promised Land. He will never turn his back on your or leave you own your own. Individually you are his. Together as a flock we are his. He will never leave us to the wolves who would destroy us.

2. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who dies for his sheep.
  • Twice Jesus tells us he is the Good Shepherd, and twice he tells us that the Good Shepherd will die for the sheep (vss. 11,15). Jesus is pressing this comparison of himself to a shepherd to the limit. 
  • You may remember that, when David wanted to convince King Saul to let him fight Goliath, he told Saul about his life as a shepherd. He told Saul that he had faced both lions and bears. If a bear stole a lamb to carry it off to kill and eat, David would pursue the bear till he caught it and saved the lamb from its jaws. If a lion attacked him while he was leading the flock, he would grab it by the mane and and kill it. David surely cared about the flock and demonstrated great courage caring for it.
  • But would an ordinary shepherd, even one who owns the sheep and feels an attachment to them, even a David, choose to give up his own life to a predator so that the sheep could live? That is doubtful. The shepherd might defend the sheep, but if he died in doing so, his death would not be intentional. But Jesus tells us that he lays down his life on purpose. Just a little beyond our Gospel lesson Jesus says, “No one takes it from me, because I lay down my life of my own accord” (vs. 18).
  • But this faces us with the question, why did he need to do that? What was the danger to his flock that led him voluntarily to lay down his life so his sheep would be saved? What was it about the danger that left no other way for his to save them but to die for them? Here we are confronted with one of the most important questions we can ever ask. Why did Jesus die? What is the significance of his death? What difference does it make for us?
    • Sometimes people say the death of Jesus tells us how much he loves us. That is true, for nothing reveals this love of Jesus for us as does his death. But the question remains, what was it about our situation that led Jesus in love to chose to die for us? No parent would die for a child to show his love unless the choice was between the parent’s life and the child’s. No husband would die to show his wife his love for her unless he had to die to save her life. 
    • There is no satisfactory answer to that question unless we face the truth about sin. Sin is the predator within us that attacks from the beginning of our lives. This is what we mean by original sin. It is a predator that will destroy our souls so that our end is eternal death. Our sin is against God. It renders us guilty before God’s perfect bar of justice. It offends him in his holiness. It alienates us from his fellowship and blessing. It places us under condemnation. It exposes us to judgment. It consigns us to hell. 
    • The meaning of Jesus's death is that he dies for us. He dies the death we would die if he did not put himself in our place. He takes our sin - our guilt, our condemnation, our judgment, our hell so that we may live. He gains our forgiveness, restores us to God’s favor and fellowship, makes us righteous before God’s bar of justice, and gives us eternal life. 
  • Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for us. He dies in the place of and for the benefit of the sheep. 

3. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep.

  • Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep.” 
  • There is more than one level of knowing. 
    • We know about some people. We know people in the news, whom we have never met, in a factual way. We know acquaintances, whom we have met, in a superficial way. 
    • But then we know some people in a personal way. We know them at the level of the heart and affection. We know them with understanding and empathy. There is the knowledge we have of our friends who open their hearts to us. There is the knowledge we have of our children whom we live with and observe to the point that we can anticipate what they are going to do. And there is the intimate knowledge we have of a husband or wife with whom we live, about whom we know the best and the worst, whose thoughts and feelings we can know when nothing is said.
  • When Jesus says he knows his sheep, he means that he knows them in deeply personal and intimate way. Jesus tells us it is like the relationship between himself as Son and the Father in heaven. The Father and Son know each other, and have known each other from all eternity, in a relationship of perfect understanding and love. Nothing has ever disturbed the intimacy and harmony of the relationship of God the Father and God the Son except when on the cross he bore our sins and experienced God's judgment on our sins. The relationship of the Father and the Son is the perfect relationship of knowing.
  • Jesus knows his flock. He also knows his sheep individually. He knows us by name. He knows us inside and out. He knew us before we ever knew him and set his love on us. He knew us with love, and so willingly came into this world of sin and suffering and willingly took our guilt, suffered our punishment, and died our death so that we would live.
  • Jesus knows his sheep and his sheep know him. They know his voice which they hear in the reading and preaching of his Word and the celebration of the sacraments. They trust him because they know he is in every way trustworthy and will never fail them. They follow him, because they know he will be with them wherever he leads them. They love him, because they know he first loved them and loved them enough to die for them. The true sheep show they are sheep by their response to Jesus and their relationship with him.
  • There is a mutual knowing between the Good Shepherd and his sheep - a personal, intimate, loving knowing. Jesus knows you and cares about you. You know him and so you trust him and follow him as he leads you through life and on to eternal life.

The King of love my shepherd is whose goodness faileth never.
I nothing lack if I am his, and he is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow, my ransomed soul he leadeth;
and where the verdant pastures grow, with food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed, but yet in love he sought me;
and on his shoulder gently laid, and home, rejoicing, brought me.

And so through all the length of days, thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise within thy house forever.

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