3rd Sunday of Easter
May 7–8, 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our time of rest, our lying down in green pastures beside still waters, though paid for and assured, has not yet come. We are still in the wilderness. We are still drinking from the Rock and being sustained by Manna. What is it? It is the Word of God in all its forms, the Word made Flesh, conceived in the Virgin´s womb who speaks through the prophets and apostles and His ministers, who stirs the water of the fonts all around the globe and heals sick souls, who gives Himself for food hidden in bread and wine, who hears the cries of His children and responds in compassion and in mercy.
But though we eat like kings, upon that for which we did not labor, quail and bread and pure water, still we have not yet arrived. We do not live in palaces but in temporary dwellings. Our rest has not yet come. And in our weariness, our baser desires seem essential. Our flesh deceives us. It remembers what it wants. It imagines all the fun of sin, though fun it never really is. Its vain thoughts of wealth, prestige, luxury, drunkenness, prostitutes, honor among men are but the equivalent of longing for Egyptian cucumbers back in the days of slavery.
Herein lies the totality of our problem: covetousness, which is really just idolatry, which is really just unbelief. We act as though God is holding out on us. We think we could be happier, more satisfied. We try to steal what God would give. We don´t want to be who God has called us to be. We despise our children when they need us. We like to play catch. We like to see them do cute things. We like their affection. We want to be the occasional uncle who drops by for rough housing and ice cream. We don´t want to be real parents. We don´t want to change diapers or discipline. We don´t want to do the real work, fulfill the actual office of mother or father. We just want to have fun.
When it comes to our spouses we are even worse. Self-sacrifice and service are the last things on our minds. We want to be served. We want her to clean the house, do the dishes, fix the meals, give the kids a bath, and run the errands. And we want credit for it. We keep score, hold grudges, and manipulate. Far be it from us to take the blame for her sins, to bear her burdens in our bodies, to wash her clothes after she betrays us to sleep with the devil - even thought that is what has been done for us. And thus the ancient problems of man: teen-age pregnancy, divorce, depression, unrest, war.
Repent. Give up the fantasy. The devil is lying to you. He never delivers. There is no easy way, no paradise on earth, no family is without trouble and hardship. They are not the cause of your uneasiness or difficulty. They are the solution. They are God´s gifts to and for you. Do not seek to escape through alcohol, pornography, violence, or even in extreme busy-ness or television. Those things only causes pain, division, and sorrow. Repent. Turn away from them. Embrace what God has given you to do in the place where He has put you. Rejoice and pray for your spouse and children, your job and co-workers, your country, and even your Church. Give yourself over to those things. Read your kids a book. Clean the living room. Mow the lawn. Do your job. Say a prayer while washing the dishes. That is how God rightly praised and believed - in service to the neighbor.
Now this day in the Church´s year of grace is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The symbol for it might well be a shepherd bearing a lamb on his shoulders. But for this day, I´d prefer for a symbol a crucifix. A crucifix is the symbol of Our Lord´s laying down His life. It is through that sacrifice that He shepherds us into the gates of heaven and the wolf that seeks us is defeated. For it is not scratching behind our ears and whispering sweet nothings that has made this Man born of Mary, begotten of the Father from all eternity, our Shepherd. His death and resurrection have done that! That is who He is and how He is know. The Good Shepherd is good not because He is cuddly, not because He is kind, but because He dies and rises again. He is the Christ, the long-expected Messiah, who redeems the world through His own bloody sacrifice. His Father loves Him because of this, because He has loved us to the end, laid down His life and taken it up again. He has forgiven us, restored us, called us to be new creatures in word and deed, in body and soul. And what He calls you to be, you are, whether the world recognizes it or not.
You are father, mother, citizen, and friend. He has placed into this world for the good of this world, to serve your neighbor, to bear witness to His goodness, to proclaim His death until He comes again. You are a Christian - baptized! God has called you out of darkness. He has placed His Name upon you. The perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are yours. In Him, you are perfect and you are free. For He makes it so. And there is no one to judge you, to accuse you, to point out your flaws. For they have been removed and forgotten on high.
Now you are free. You can´t make a bad choice. God will bless whatever you do because He loves you, He has died for you, He has purified you. You are His. To keep you safe from the wolf He gives you His Word in all its forms: in the Bible, in preaching, in bread and wine, in the Holy Absolution, in spouse, children, and the like. He gives you friends, brothers and sisters, those who love and care for you. He does not leave you or forsake you. He remembers you. He prays for you. He sanctifies you. He has laid down His life for you and taken it up again to give you peace and joy in your suffering, to give you freedom in your bondage to this flesh. Soon the day comes when He will complete what He has begun. You will be perfect inside and out, in the sight of both God and men. The victory already won will finally be delivered in full and every tongue confesses what all creation knows, Jesus is Lord. Then comes the rest that remains for you.
In + Jesus´ Name. Amen.