Thought for the day

If all the people who suddenly show up at church in the middle of the week because someone died, also showed up on Sunday morning because someone rose from the dead,  the world would be better off.

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Hyperbole is Impossible

It’s just getting harder and harder to come up with analogies that demonstrate how ridiculous things are becoming in the world.

Last week, I used an analogy about airplanes sitting on the runway and showing travelogues, instead of flying you to destinations.

And then news comes out of Penn State (Motto: You can totally trust us with your kids, it’s not like we would cover up decades of sexual abuse to help our football team) that the school’s student led “Outing club” – which plans hikes and such – will have to confine itself to indoor activities, because of the danger of going outside of cell-phone range. In exchange, they are recommending that the club watch films about other places.

Seriously.

I’m sure the decision has nothing to do with the administrative sponsored version wanting to raise the cost of its own trips.

But either way, I suggest that vacations no longer involve travel, and our elite class suddenly make it policy. I’ll concede I missed the bit about airplanes. But otherwise, it seem rather unknowingly prescient of me.

To use another analogy, It would be as if the bank suddenly realized that, thanks to the new tax law, it would be better financially for them to just call my mortgage “paid in full” 20 years early.

(Well, it’s worth a try.)

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Sermon for Easter 4

For those who could not see through the fog(!), here is today’s sermon:

This morning we prayed that we – who have been admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s Church – would be given faithfulness. A prayer to remain faithful – it’s certainly a prayer that we need to pray. But it’s an odd prayer for today’s Gospel reading – Jesus doesn’t explicitly talk about faithfulness.

Todays’ Gospel reading is not the most well-known of the Gospel readings. But it’s the one that is easiest to remember the topic. What was today’s Gospel reading? It was the “A Little While” Gospel reading. John manages to include the Phrase “A Little While” seven times in four verses. It’s almost comical, or perhaps even a little bit obnoxious.

God wishes to use His holy word to teach us. And He is very good at it. That’s why he gave the words to the prophets, apostles and evangelists. That’s why he sent his Holy Spirit to them – so that they would write down the words that the Spirit would have them write. It’s why John includes “A Little While” so often in the first few verses of our Gospel reading. Because God wants you to remember the phrase “A Little While.”

There are actually two “a little whiles”. A little while and you will not see Jesus, and then after a little while and you will see him. After the first little while, Jesus goes away. After  the second little while, he returns again. He is talking of course about his own death and resurrection. Those are the two little whiles. He is preparing the disciples for what is to come. And he wants us to remember that phrase.

The disciples remembered that phrase, even if they didn’t understand it at first. They didn’t understand it because they didn’t know that he had to die. It just didn’t make any sense to them. Why would he have to die? He is God. God can not die. How would that work? How could God fulfill his plan for his people if his own son ended up dead. That just can’t be.

And yet it is exactly what happened. Jesus had to die for the sins of the world. Without his atoning death, there can be no forgiveness, so salvation, no life. He had to die for you. Sin brings death. Because of your sin, there must be death – not just death in this world. There must be eternal death. Separation from God, and the pouring out of God’s wrath over and against your sin. That is what Jesus had to do for you. And so he went to the cross and died your death for you. He suffered your punishment for you.

But the cross is foolishness to the world. The disciples, even after hearing him predict his death in plain words can not believe. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus tells them point blank that he will die and rise again on the third day. There response is either confusion or disbelief. “No” says Peter. Not going to happen. Who can believe that Jesus death leads to your forgiveness. To eternal life. And that only in that death can you find life.

It’s an offensive thing to say to someone. Because if someone needs forgiveness, it means they have sinned. And that’s not polite to say. It’s offensive. You can’t tell someone they sinned. That’s judging others. And the one thing that the world will judge you for is if they think you are being judgmental. The hypocrisy of that is lost on the world, by the way. That you need forgiveness from sin – that’s ridiculous. You just need to forgive yourself. Feel better about your own self. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Trying to please a god you have never seen – that’s foolish. But the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. The Weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. And the shallow self-love of the world does not lead to the things of God, it does not lead to peace.

The world works against the things of God. Jesus tells the disciples this is the case: The world will rejoice, and you will weep and mourn. That’s not very comforting language. Lot’s of ads come into the church about how to cast a vision for the future, about how to really increase excitement about youth, or evangelism, or missions, or fellowship, or assimilation, or a hundred other things. There are even ads for programs to help people who struggle with pain and loss, to lessen the suffering. Not a single ad comes into the church that says, “Rejoice in suffering. Rejoice when the world mocks you and utters all kinds of evil against you falsely for Jesus sake.” That’s what Jesus is predicting here. The world will rejoice and you will mourn: Good thing!

It is a good thing. We may not think so – we may not like it. But it is good news. God does not want your sin to separate you from him. The Good news is, the idols that get between you and God – the things most likely to make you not be a part of his church – the things you love more than life itself (family, job, health, financial security) Jesus might just take those away for your own good, so that you have no choice but to hold onto him. It isn’t easy. It isn’t pleasant. It is hard. But it is good.

He even tells us that suffering is coming. We heard way back before Lent about the sower and the four-fold field. The seed that falls on the path gets eaten right away, the seed that falls among weeds gets distracted and crowded out by the world. And the seed that falls on the rocks. It springs up. If you look carefully, it grows up quickly, Jesus says “immediately”. But It also is the first to wither. Because it has no roots. No support. Plenty of initial excitement! But nothing to support that. It isn’t fed properly. Our faith in Jesus and the cross must be fed. We must return to the source – the Word of God. We must receive from his hand the sustaining gift of salvation.

The world mocks this. And that is part of the suffering, the hard time, we endure. How do we prepare for the crosses God will send us? By looking constantly, and only to his word. By binding ourselves to the promise he makes. He bound himself to you in Holy Baptism and made you his own.

So, cast aside your own thoughts and desires, and bind yourself to the Word and promise of God. It’s a short walk from faithful to unfaithful. It’s hard to see God’s hand in it all. Remember ancient Israel. They were at Mount Sinai – they had just been through the Red Sea and seen Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen drowned. They pledge to Moses that they will do all that the Lord commands. And then Moses goes up on the mountain. They don’t see him again for 40 days. And they get impatient. They have Aaron fashion for them a calf of gold, and worship it. 40 days. That was all it took for them to forget the one who saved them at the Red Sea, and to try and create in their own minds and with their own hands a god who will save.

In our Gospel reading Jesus tells the disciples point blank, I am going away, the world will rejoice, and mock you. There will be tough times. But it’s only a little while.

That’s the phrase we use to try to comfort impatient children. “Are we almost there yet?” A little while. A little father. Is it almost dinner yet? Soon, a little while. Almost time. Jesus tells the disciples – and us – It is a little while. I am here for yet a little while, and then I must go away. But that will also only be a little while. The world will rejoice, it will carry on with it’s eating and drinking, the world will rise up to play while you mourn. That’s not God rejecting you. It is how it must be. In the case of the disciples, it was God actually fulfilling the plan of salvation for the whole world in Jesus. Without the little while when Jesus went away to the cross, there would be no hope. No salvation.

Now, we are still here for a little while, and Jesus has returned to the Father. We mourn, while the world rejoices, makes fun of those who would hear the word of God and believe the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. That he is the one who saves us from our sins – yes our sins – we sin and daily stand in need of forgiveness. We must live daily by contrition – sorrow over sin – and repentance – that is, faith to grab hold of the promise – and so by that Work of God in us, we must daily put away the old sinful flesh and those sinful desires, and daily walk in the word of God, daily return to the Baptism where Jesus bound us to himself.

And then, we come together today and each Lord’s Day to hear the Word of God and be fed from the hand of his servant. We have opportunity to rejoice in the salvation that is ours even in the midst of our mourning, in the midst of our sadness. We have opportunity to be strengthened in the true faith so that we would not be burned up by the difficult times that lie ahead. That, in this little while before our Lord returns for a final time, we would remain faithful, humbly hearing the Word of God and submitting ourselves to that Word. Humbly receiving the forgiveness of sins and forgiving others for their own sins against us. Knowing that we have sorrow now, but like a women giving birth, that sorrow will turn to joy, that weeping will turn to rejoicing. And when the world and all it’s folly melts away, we will have joy in Christ, that no one will take from us. Our sorrow lasts only a little while. The joy that will be revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord, will never end.

 

 

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Slip Sliding Away

As the Facebook meme used to say, “You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” But that appears to no longer be true. Since November of 2016, Facebook has made a number of changes to the algorithm to combat “fake news”, and to help you connect better with friends. Each time they do, the feed gets a little bit less interesting to me. Less of my friends lives come through my feed. Instead I am getting a steady stream of fear-inducing headlines – from left and right. Simultaneously, the level of discourse on FB has declined dramatically. Facebook has a vested interest in activating dopamine production. One of the ways to do that is by inciting rage.

Of course, you can’t yell on a computer, but I was certainly chastised with much vehemence four times yesterday, and my integrity was made suspect each time. There were arguments I tried to get out of, without success; a statistic I published followed by my fidelity to scripture being questioned (the data is what it is); and my favorite, the time I was attacked IN A PRIVATE MESSAGE TO MY WIFE BY SOMEONE I HAVE NOT MET.

The time has come to step away from Facebook. I’m not leaving entirely, because I have a fair number of members who use FB, and who enjoy reading my sermons, which I post here on the blog, and then link from the FB page. I will still do that. My blog posts will show up on FB. But for now, that’s about all I will be doing. I won’t be checking messenger on my phone. (I have never had messenger on my phone.) I won’t be scrolling the feed as much. I won’t be spending every instant of the day plugged into the the thoughts and aspirations of my 750 closest friends (only about 100 of which I have ever met). Facebook isn’t real life. It’s a diversion. But lately it’s become a distraction. And the level of discourse has now reached what I think are dangerous levels of paranoia and anger.

So, if you need to reach me, you can do it on the blog. Comment on a post, and I’ll be happy to respond. You can call or text if you have my number – which every member of my parish should have by now. You can email me through the synod’s church worker locator. You can send me a letter via USPS.

But Facebook will be rather hit and miss for me for a while. It may not last. As Mark Twain used to say, Quitting smoking is the easiest thing there is; I should know, I’ve done it a thousand times. I may be back before the end of the week. But I’m writing here to try and steel my resolve. I’ve been on FB for nine years. I’ve spent hundreds of hours scrolling. I don’t seem even slightly happier. That’s not a very good return on investment.

I may blog a bit more. I may take walks with the dog, or play the occasional game of chess with one of my kids. I may get back to work on Catechetics, which has been stalled in doctrinal review by circumstances outside of my control (Not for doctrine). It’s hard to say. I have already started designing a new Stained Glass window for my kitchen. And I would like to resume work on the “Isaiah” window for the church. With an extra 30-40 minutes a day, I can probably get at least some of those things half-done.

So, if you message me and I don’t answer, I’m not ignoring you. If you tag me and I don’t respond, I’m not trying to be rude. A lot of my friends are actively leaving FB, looking for a better social media platform. I’m not doing either of those things. I’m redirecting my energies entirely. We’ll see how it goes.

 

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Will another fall?

More impressive titles must mean more important positions. So, the President is more important than the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense is more important than the under-secretary for defense, who is more important than the guy that mops floors in the Pentagon.

The same sort of mentality holds in the church. I have seen a number of men – among our synod’s best pastors – receive and accept calls to serve the “wider church” at the synod’s International Center. It is important work, we are told. Work that must be done. You can have national impact, instead of just affecting your congregation.

But in a synod that is trying to convince men and women that being home to raise children is important and godly work, such calls seem a bit disingenuous. There is one divine office of the Holy Ministry. It involves a font, a pulpit and an altar. It involves a congregation – with all the messiness that sometimes entails. It is, as Walther correctly observes, the highest office in the church. It is the office that is given the authority to forgive sins. District President doesn’t have that. Synod President doesn’t have that. And “Director of the Office of National Mission” does not have that.

Since President Harrison has taken office, much has changed at the IC. He has a call to a parish as an assistant pastor. That is an excellent first step. The synod is now organized around the themes “Mercy, Witness, Life Together.” The staff is smaller, leaner – so I am told. But there is a sadness about it nonetheless.

One of the best liturgical scholars in our synod was taken out of his parish, where he regularly did the liturgy, and was put in an office, where he plans conferences to talk about it. One of the best campus pastors in our synod was taken out of campus ministry, and now tours the country talking about campus ministry and planning conferences about it. Don’t get me wrong. They were both replaced with faithful men who are doing a great job. I rejoice at that. But, the men who used to do the work of the ministry are now doing paperwork. To borrow an analogy, imagine if airplanes stopped flying people to different places, and just sat on the tarmac showing travelogues.

Now, another one of our synod’s most faithful and loving pastors has received a call to leave the Divine Office and work in a cubicle. Oh, it’s an important position. One that needs to be filled, I am certain. But when our Lord told us to pray to the Lord of the Harvest that he would send workers into the harvest fields, I can’t help but think “cubicle in the IC” was not what he meant. He meant pastors in parishes. And part of that prayer is that God would keep godly men in those positions, and away from the temptation to seek other, more impressive worldly offices. That is my prayer right now.

I’m speaking publicly about someone else’s career and ministry. It’s undignified. It certainly crosses several boundaries of propriety. But I think as a synod we need to publicly re-examine the mentality that has led us here. As C.S. Lewis once observed, “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”  And I think this call, this moment, is as good a time to start the public conversation as any. It’s certainly a better time than tomorrow.

 

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Slouching Toward Nuremburg

I’m so old, I remember reading CCM minutes that are no longer on the synod’s website. For all our preening about our return to confessional leadership in 2010, no minutes exist online from the Barry administration. Perhaps it is not intentional – just an oversight. But back in my early days as a pastor, there was a decidedly different attitude about the role of the CCM. That changed after September 23, 2001. Which, by a very strange coincidence, also marks the first minutes to be found online.

In my early days, the CCM minutes were amusing for number of times they refused to answer the questions they were asked. Anything that touched theology was referred to the CTCR without further comment. Anything that was unclear in the bylaws was referred to the Commission on Handbook – without a ruling. Anything that was not the constitution or bylaws of synod (Board procedures, etc.) was referred to the Board that created it, again without further comment. All of this was for a very good reason: The CCM had the limited function of interpreting the synod’s constitution and bylaws. They were not tasked with interpreting theology – that was the CTCR. They were not tasked with writing bylaws – that was the Commission on Handbook. They were not tasked with interpreting the Procedures manual for LCEF – that was the Board of LCEF.

And so, meeting after meeting, people would appeal to them, as if they were some sort of Supreme Court of the LCMS, and meeting after meeting, people would be reminded that the LCMS had no Supreme Court. It was messy. But people had to deal with problems themselves. Matters had to be worked through. The Word of God decided doctrinal matters, not popes and councils.

Things have changed quite a bit. After Yankee Stadium, the synod needed a reason to pardon someone who had clearly committed idolatry. The CCM was called upon to deliver the fatal blow. They did not disappoint.  Suddenly, the bylaws of synod could not conceive of personal responsibility. If you had permission from an Ecclesiastical Supervisor, you could not be charged with false doctrine or practice. This was plainly hogwash, and demonic hogwash at that. But, something was needed to justify our idolatry and get this off the front page. It worked. Thanks to the CCM abruptly finding powers they never knew they had, the idolater justified himself in true Pharisaic fashion, and now, when it is brought up at all, pastors are told, “what can be done after all this time?” (For the record, The Lord waited 210 years to punish the Northern Kingdom of Israel for the sins of Jeroboam, her first king. His memory is longer than 17 years.)

The record since then has been… uneven. It is hard to match outright idolatry. But we are doing our best. And there is significant evidence that we are succeeding. Now, to be clear, I think that the men who serve on the CCM are honest, upright men. They want to do a good job. And they are only doing as they believe they have been instructed by the bylaws. But therein lies the problem.

During the previous administration, the CCM and the BoD were weaponized against each other in a proxy fight between the President and his opponents. As is usual, the convention sided with the President. As a side effect, the CCM’s absolute authority was established. Then the convention went further. The bylaws were changed so that, in cases where pastors could be removed from office, the opinion of the CCM or CTCR “must be followed.” Rome reserves that level of authority only for ex cathedra proclamations – a power rarely used, and then with fear and trembling. The CCM and CTCR have and use that authority as a matter of course. We are trying to out Rome Rome. And we are succeeding.

At one point, about a decade ago, the CTCR was told by the synod in convention to provide further guidance about a report they issued that encouraged idolatry. They refused to answer the synod in convention. The CCM meanwhile, has taken it upon itself to not only interpret the bylaws of the synod in light of the constitution, but then to tell the synod in convention what those bylaws must be. Now the cart is driving the horse. No more does the CCM merely interpret the bylaws. They get to write them, and then interpret them as well. The potential for mischief is so great in such an arrangement that the danger should be self-evident.

For the most part, I can ignore what happens at 1333 S. Kirkwood. I have it on good authority that their influence only extends about a half-mile or so. But I do attend the district convention in Wyoming. Every three years, the CCM reviews all district bylaws. Twice. Before the convention, they tell the District what changes need to be made. After the convention, they look at what changes were made, and tell the BoD what changes to be made to those changes. Last time, they told the BoD what changes to make, even though there were no changes. It matters not that the our District Board of Directors can only make those changes “upon the express direction of the district in convention.” The CCM, fulfilling their duty to review the bylaws, told them to make changes. The BoD, fulfilling their responsibility to the synod, made the changes in violation of the bylaws they were attempting to uphold. Three years on (today) the Floor Committee is tasked with presenting those changes to the convention for ratification. And the convention has the responsibility to ratify them.

You see, we are all just doing our jobs. Fulfilling our constitutional duty. No one is at fault for any of this. (See above re: idolatry.)

But three years ago, something strange happened. I wrote my tri-ennial rant against the CCM. I got a phone call from a member of that august body. We had a cordial conversation in which I heard good logical arguments for why the bylaws, having created confusion, required us to move further away from scriptural words in order to clear up the confusion. I argued, quite irrationally, that it mattered not what the bylaws said, it mattered not how little sense they made sense as they were written. We had to stick with scriptural terminology. And then, a strange thing happened. The convention agreed with me. The change was voted down. The District in Convention looked at their duties under the bylaws, looked at the logic of the request (which logic was ironclad), and said, “No.”

The CCM responded by ordering the Board of Directors to delete the entire offending section, which they did. They also added something about the convention acknowledging that they could not tell officers what to do if it conflicted with the bylaws of synod. The BoD dutifully submitted that change to the floor committee for this convention. The floor committee has (so far at least) dutifully submitted that to the delegates for consideration.

But once again, a little no-account country parson will stand up to say “No.” It doesn’t matter what the bylaws demand. It matters not that, from a legal perspective they have us dead to rights. It matters not that, legally we may be yielding needed legal protections. The bylaws of synod require our DP to follow judgments of the CCM and CTCR in his extra-district duties. Our district – on more than 20 occasions – has declared the bylaws of synod to be in error against the Word of God, and we have admonished the DP that he must follow God’s Word, not synod bylaws, as he carries out his office. And agreeing to the CCM-ordered change would be to agree that we can not speak the truth to him any more. It’s just a few words. Merely a pittance. As easy as picking up some incense and tossing it in the fire. As easy as raising the hand in salute.

Last night, I sent my comments to the Floor Committee. I told them that we could not agree to this change. They are now considering their course of action. I do not expect them to change course. After all, they are required to present it to us. The Bylaws demand it. And, because the CCM is not the federal government, they can require that board and committees say certain things, even if those statements are offensive to the Word of God. Even if those statements offend the conscience of the members of the committee in question. Everyone here is just doing their duty.

And (assuming they do their duty) one little parson will stand up and say “No.” Will the convention once again be the final check against ignoring and violating the Word of God?  I pray they will be if called upon. Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things in our synod? Probably not. The few words will not change anyone’s course of action in the slightest. It will not change how the synod views our ongoing Quixotic crusade of declaring bylaws void for the sole reason that they violate God’s Word. It will not change our habit of doing so.

But this little parson refuses to concede that he does not have the authority, under the word of God, to call the synod to repent. And he refuses to concede that the District in Convention is not only able, but bound by God’s Word to do the same, and to instruct or officials that they are not to follow bylaws that violate that word. And he thinks its important that the district continue to do so, and refuse to admit it is wrong to do so. And so, once again, with lance in hand, he rides against the windmill.

But maybe, just maybe, this time the floor committee will also say “No.” Maybe next time the Board of Directors will say “No.” Maybe eventually the CCM will see that they may be carrying out their duties, but that is no defense. The Word of God must reign supreme. And as long as they are constitutionally obligated to work against that Word, and as long as their word can be used to bind consciences against that Word, they are a part of the problem, not the solution.

“There must be a final authority,” I am told. That is true. But that authority is the Word of God, not popes and councils. It makes for a messy church life. We can’t just appeal and say, “What is the official answer?” We have to dig and struggle. It looks like anarchy to the outside world. But it’s all we have. And making the CTCR or CCM a replacement for that struggle does not help. It leads to idolatry – in our case, early, often, and rather obviously. At some point, men have to stand up and speak for themselves. I know I am fighting against windmills. I am told it is useless to resist. Perhaps that is why I do it. But when we get to the judgment, and have to give answer for whether we followed the laws of God or the traditions of men, I know which one my record will point to.

 

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Sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday

There are few Gospel readings in the church year more filled with words of comfort than this one. The image of the Good Shepherd goes back to the Psalms – The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. That Psalm has been providing comfort for the people of God when facing death for almost 3000 years. It is a wonderful image – the shepherd taking care of the sheep, protecting them from danger, providing bountifully for them. King David was a shepherd in his youth. He faced down a lion and a bear with only his slingshot. He uses that imagery of a loving shepherd to describe the work of the Lord God. Jesus is that shepherd. When he says I am the good shepherd, he doesn’t just mean a scenic and quiet life of green pastures and still waters. He means the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus faces down Satan, sin death, and hell with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. He sheds his own blood to protect and save the sheep from the wolf. That’s why Jesus says, “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus dies to protect them.

The word for Shepherd in Latin is pastor. Saint Paul says “he sends some as pastors and teachers, for the work of ministry, for the equipping of the saints.” We call the ones whom Christ sends to preach and administer the sacraments pastors – shepherds. Serving under the good shepherd, Jesus Christ. Baptism is how Jesus calls his flock, the still waters that refresh and save us. The Lord’s Supper is how he feeds his flock – he prepares the table before us, our cup runneth over. When Jesus, through the church, appoints shepherds, he wants them to serve as good shepherds under THE Good Shepherd. Jesus does not appoint hirelings. The hireling cares for himself, not the sheep. When the wolf comes, the hireling runs away. He does not confront the wolf he does not stand up for the sheep – he cares nothing for them. Where there are hirelings, not real shepherds, false teaching is brought into the church. And the wolf scatters and destroys the people of God – that is what false teaching does. It seeks the good of the individual in this world, not the true word of God given in Holy Scripture. And it leads astray into all manner of dangers – enough to destroy souls, lead them away from the shepherd until they depend on themselves for their own salvation. Sheep can not survive on their own. And so the true pastor follows the example of Jesus, and continually fights for the sheep, protecting and defending them from the wolf – Satan.

How do we get faithful pastors in the church? Certainly the congregation, circuit, and district work together to make sure that pastors sent to our churches in the Wyoming District are faithful. But the number one thing we do is “pray to the Lord of the church that he would send faithful laborers into the harvest.” We pray for our pastors and leaders in the church. That they would rightly preach the word and administer the sacraments according to his institution and mandate. You have a responsibility under God to pray for your pastor, just as your pastor is responsible to God to pray for you regularly.

Jesus knows his own, his own know him. How do the sheep know the shepherd? The voice. The sheep recognize the voice of the shepherd. We often talk about how sheep aren’t that smart, how they are easily fooled, how they are easily killed. Scripture uses the image of sheep, not as a bad thing, but as a good thing. They hear the voice of the shepherd, the shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Scripture never talks about sheep as stupid. It does talk about wandering sheep. “All we like sheep have gone astray and each one turned aside to his own way.” Jesus talks about finding the lost sheep and bringing it home. He doesn’t complain about the sheep. Today he tells us that not only does he defend the sheep with his life, but that the sheep recognize him by His voice. That is how it is. The sheep know the voice of the shepherd, and they will not listen to any other. Real sheep can identify the voice of the shepherd, the pitch, the inflection, the sound. We recognize Christ and his word as he speaks to us not by the sound produced. Jesus speaks through his pastors his shepherds in the church. And they recognized because what they say is what the good shepherd says. Pastors are obligated to speak the Word of God. They are bound to that word – to bring that word, all of that word, only that word to God’s people. The holy lambs of his flock who hear the voice of the shepherd.

Luther uses this Gospel reading as an chance to explain the difference between Law and Gospel – because we are talking about the voice of the shepherd, it makes sense that we would also discuss the two ways scripture talks to us in the Word of God – Law and Gospel.

In the Law we hear what God demands of us, what he requires if we would stay in his grace, and avoid the sin that so easily entangles. The Law is God telling us how to live, what to do. The Law is not merciful. It is requirement. It always demands. Promises of the law require obedience. And failure to follow the law means threat of punishment. Scripture tells us – and our own experience in the world confirms it – that we can not keep the Law, not even in the smallest part. We are destined for the grave because we are sinners.

This is where we must then hear the voice of the Gospel. God would not have us be condemned, and so he sent his only begotten Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem us who were under the Law. The Gospel is the promise of salvation for all who believe on His name. In the Lutheran Confessions when it speaks of Law and Gospel, it often calls them Law and promises. That is what the Gospel is – the promise of grace and mercy for Jesus sake. The promise that, for Jesus sake, because he kept the Law for you, your sins are forgiven. Nothing more is required of you. You are freed and given salvation without effort, merit, or worthiness on your part.  All of the work is accomplished by Jesus on the cross. It is His effort, his merit his worthiness that save you, not your own. That is the wonderful gift we have been given by God. The Law says if you keep all the law perfectly all the time, without ever committing sin, then and only then you can be saved.

Gospel says, Jesus has done all the work for you. Nothing more to do. Your sins are forgiven you, and you are not only declared righteous by God, but you are made holy by him – set apart to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

It is the voice of Jesus speaks to us in the Law and the Gospel. We recognize that voice because it says the same thing as holy scripture, says the same thing that God, through the prophets and the apostles have been saying since beginning of world.

And when we hear that voice of the shepherd, who speaks clearly to us through Holy Scripture, we are fed by that word. There are those who come into the church as wolves, who take that clear and certain Word of God, who declare that we can not know for certain what it means, that it is on obscure word, and we must each give it our own meaning based on our own thoughts. And there are those hirelings who speak lovingly of the Word of God, but who refuse to oppose the false teachers who would obscure the word of God. They refuse to warm against the wolf, thinking that, by just having a positive attitude, we will be all right. But happy thoughts do not defeat wolves. It takes shepherds who are willing to stand up and call a thing what it is. Those who will not speak against false teaching, those who try to obscure the sure and certain word of God with the traditions of men, are either wolves or hirelings. They speak with a voice that is close to, but not quite the voice of the shepherd. God’s sheep are not fooled. We hear the voice of the one shepherd, who created us from the dust of the ground on the sixth day, who promised a savior to our first parents, who sent Jesus to redeem us from our sins, who declares us holy and righteous through his sure and certain word.  The voice of Jesus rings out, “Your sins are forgiven you.” “Take Eat, take drink, the body and blood, Given and shed for your for the forgiveness of your sins.” That is the clear and certain word of God, declaring that you are his. He has redeemed you. You are a part of his flock, under the one shepherd, Jesus. And no one can snatch you out of his hand.

May God grant it for Jesus sake.

Amen.

 

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