Monday, May 16, 2011

The Great Good Shepherd (Ezekiel 34:1-16)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Dear Brothers and Sisters Redeemed by our Good Shepherd:

There is the Good Shepherd of the Scriptures, and then there are the good shepherds that the world and our old, worldly nature have cooked up. Do you know the difference?
There is the Good Shepherd that God provides for his own harassed, lost and helpless sheep, and then there are those who masquerade, who pretend to be a shepherd of the Lord’s sheep. Do you know the difference?
As I have mentioned before, even demonic leaders of religious cults claim to be the voice of the good shepherd — and, sadly, some poor soul follows their siren call and ends up being pushed off a steep cliff or being pulled into a black hole of despair and death.
There is the Good Shepherd that is set before our eyes and ears by the inspired prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New, and then there are the false shepherds, the imitation shepherds, the un-faithful-to-the-Lord’s-calling shepherds. Do you know the difference? Are you sure you could spot an impostor shepherd — even if one would appear in a church that calls itself Lutheran? Even if that false shepherd could quote passages from the Bible and even the Small Catechism?
Because everything is riding on which voice you listen to and follow. Everything, your very life and being and soul depends on which shepherd you will pay attention to. Will you pick up after the shepherd that calls to you to fulfill your destiny by pursuing self-fulfillment and the comfortable, got-it-made-in-the shade, take care of your own desires first and then everything else will follow life?
Or will you listen to another shepherd who calls with the message that if you would only conquer sin and temptation, if you only live the holy life cut off from the evils of this physical world, then you will earn for yourself (and for your loved ones) the highest level of heaven?
Everyone has to believe something. And everyone has to have a shepherd, even if they don’t walk on all fours and produce a nice coat of wool.
We all were created to have a shepherd, to be directed and guided and watched over. We were wired to follow a shepherd. And that instinct, that desire, that condition of needing a shepherd was not snuffed out when our first parents forsook the guiding word of the Lord in order to follow another voice, a voice who gave the empty promise that we didn’t have to be sheep under a shepherd. We could take matters into our own hands and mouths and become our own shepherds — and enjoy the pleasures of calling the shots and telling even the Lord what should be done and what should be left undone.

We yearn for heaven, but in this life it seems nowhere to be found. We cry out for blessed relationships with our family and friends and loved ones, but it seems impossible to secure. We long for an end to pain and disease and disappointment and loneliness and chaos, but it seems to have the last word in so many situations. We hunger for the death of death and sin and the consequences of our neighbor’s sin and our own, inexcusable transgressions.
And so the Lord called some to be under-shepherds, his under-pastors, his caretakers, his servants to care for the sheep. But too many called to take care of the sheep, to tend the sheep, to nourish the sheep, to defend and protect the sheep had, what they believed, more important things to do: secure their own comfort and power and prestige and position in the world.
And the poor sheep suffered under the neglect of the false shepherds. Especially those sheep that the Lord took special attention of — the young, the helpless, the sick, the abused, the forgotten. Those who cried out in despair: “Save us, good Lord. Spare us, good Lord!”
So the Almighty Lord sent out his Word of judgment through his inspired, faithful, say-it-like-it-really-is prophets.
The Word of the Lord from the prophet Ezekiel, the 34th chapter:

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.” (Ezekiel 34:1-16 ESV)
The Lord himself will be the shepherd of his sheep. The Lord himself will do what a truly good shepherd does — all for the sake of the sheep. And did you hear what makes the Good Shepherd good? Charismatic personality? Works well in front of a television camera? Is the media darling of Hollywood and Washington, D.C.? Knows how to manipulate the law to get what he wants?
What makes the Good Shepherd truly good? Good looks? Good ratings? Good grief, no!
What did you hear? The Good Shepherd feeds the sheep with the Word — with himself. He does not neglect the flock in order to fatten himself and his wallet. The Good Shepherd does not slaughter the sheep for his own pleasure.
The Good Shepherd strengthens the weak lambs, he heals the sick ewes, he binds up the injured sheep, he seeks and brings back those who have strayed and are lost. He does not shepherd the flock with a harsh hand that only scatters God’s sheep and makes them prey for the forces that would devour them forever.
The Good Shepherd give all as he seeks out the scattered sheep and gathers them back to his fold and feeds them upon the choicest of pastures. Under his merciful care they will lie down in safety. Under his gracious shepherding they will be provided the best of grazing lands and be defended from all who would come and scatter and maul them.
I myself, the Lord says. I myself will be their shepherd forever.
This is what makes the great Good Shepherd the great Good Shepherd. This is what makes our hearts sing, “The Lord himself is my Shepherd, I shall lack nothing.”
For Christ himself reveals what the 23rd Psalm and Shepherd-King David and Shepherd Amos foretold.
Why is Christ the great Good Shepherd?
[Jesus said,] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15 ESV)
Hear the voice of the one true Shepherd sent from heaven , the very Son of God who picked up his life after laying it down for you, his straying sheep.
Hear the voice of the great Good Shepherd as he leads you to the waters of the Baptismal font there to cleanse you wounds and bind up you heart.
Hear the voice of the great Good Shepherd as he leads you to the rich pastures of his eternal, life-giving Word through the prophets and apostles.
Hear the voice of the great Good Shepherd as he calls you to his holy Table there to feed you and forgive you and strengthen you with his very body and blood, in, with and under bread and wine.
Forsaking all other voices, hear in faith the voice of the great Good Shepherd and feed upon his Word.
Luther says:
God’s Word is all-powerful. Faith and the Spirit are always active and restless. They always need something to do. They need to fight and defend. This is why the Word of God does not have small enemies but the most powerful enemies of all, such as our sinful flesh, the fallen world, Death and the Devil. This is why Christ is called “Lord of Sabaoth” — the Lord of the heavenly armies who is always fighting for us, his sheep.
He also gives us his Body and Blood, which is not just a symbol of grace but is food that gives strength to those in the church militant. This food of his Word is, in fact, the wages and provisions he provides his church under attack. And he will continue to feed us until he wins for us the final victory.
Under the gracious rod and staff of the Good Shepherd, feast upon his redeeming Word, this day and forever more.
A blessed Good Shepherd Sunday to each of you.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit