The Shepherd Lives, Amen!

by The Rev. Eric Andrae

This sermon was preached at "Amen" in Scranton, PA.

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.”

In the name of + Jesus.

Jesus once spoke this parable to the Pharisees: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?”

Indeed, which of you would not do this? Well, I’ll tell you which of you would do this – NONE of you…none of you here…and no one else for that matter. I mean, are you kidding me! Let’s see. You have a hundred sheep. You lose one. After a thorough cost analysis and risk assessment, is there anyone, anyone at all, who would seriously consider leaving the 99 to go after the one?!?! Hello! Of course not, that would be very unwise, really completely unreasonable, totally foolish; it wouldn’t make any sense at all. No, take it easy, calm down, or, as we might say in Sweden, ta det lungt. You must be practical - You win some, you lose some, but you certainly don’t risk an excellent 99% A+ success rate to go after one lousy, stinkin’, meandering sheep, that one lost coin, that one missing article of clothing, that one forgotten CD on your last vacation – that risky one instead of preserving the sure 99. You just don’t. Everyone knows that.

Indeed, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?!” Well, of course, there’s always at least one fool out there. Truly, in this case, there is only one…, one fool. “We preach Christ crucified,” says St. Paul, “to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” There is only one man who would and does leave the 99 to go after the one which is lost until he finds it, and that is the God-Man Jesus Christ!

And, oh, what a fool he is. For, as we sing in Lent, the Shepherd not only seeks out the one, but

“The Shepherd [even] dies for sheep that loved to wander;
The sinless Son of God must die in sadness;
The sinful child of man may live in gladness;
Man forfeited his life and is acquitted, --
God is committed.”

This is an altogether otherworldly and radically countercultural foolishness. This is mercy and grace at its utmost. All we like sheep have gone astray. And counting not the cost, the Lord fulfills his mission, which is none other than to seek and to save that which was lost.

Oh and how lost in sin you are. Oh, of course, you do have all the right political and moral and social and doctrinal positions. If I were to take a survey of this conference, I’m sure we would have another 99% success rate, if you will, or at least close to it, on all the hot-button issues and others – abortion, homosexuality, sleeping around, violence, alcohol & drug abuse, cheating, and so on, not to mention the authority of the Bible, salvation, creation, the sacraments, and more. Well, you can have all the right positions, and that is truly great, even necessary, but…are you kind and humble, are you loving, patient, and forgiving….?! You can take a stand, and you can go to church every Sunday, and you really must of course, but, unlike Jesus, would you rather hang out with the Pharisees than the tax collectors and sinners, would you rather be with those like you – the middle-class cool Lutherans – and maybe even the VIPs, rather than the poor and the despondent, the outcasts and losers at your school? You can have the catechism memorized and quote a bunch of biblical verses, but do you love your neighbor as yourself, are you completely compassionate, are you totally merciful? In other words, are you as foolish as Jesus, or…as wise as the world?

For, indeed, it is Jesus who - in utter compassion and mercy - has sought you out, has gone after you, each ONE of you. The great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky maintains that the chief Christian idea is that of compassion, a compassion which is ultimately life-giving (The Idiot, 241), because it does not simply possess pity – for example, the “drop of emotion” (483) that might move you or even cause tears during a viewing of Titanic, Casablanca, or some other sad movie – but, rather, a compassion that is active in its sympathy and empathy – that is, actually DOING SOMETHING for the least of these my brothers, that is, meeting their various and unique needs. Sound like anyone you know….? “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but Jesus does give aid to the seed of Abraham,” it says in Hebrews. “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” and have even fallen. Jesus Christ doesn’t just regret and grieve over your sin, your lost condition, he outwardly shows his pity by knowing your need and meeting it; by actually going and getting you. Only he can do this, for only his heart is pure and only his heart is large enough to include love for those who were his enemies, for sinners without strength, for you.

“The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,” it says in the Psalms. “Slow to anger and great in mercy. The LORD is good to all, And His tender mercies are over all His works.” “Mercy is his attitude toward the law-breaker and the rebel; His attitude toward those who are in distress…. Mercy is the act of God” (Notes on Galatians, Hogg and Vine, 340, 341.)

And mercy is completely unreasonable, totally foolish; it doesn’t make any sense at all. It is reckless, for mercy does not make decisions based on careful, cautious calculations or the best odds. No, rather, divine mercy is mathematical nonsense – seeds sprayed out all over the place, more forgiveness than you’ve got sins, infinite love, and, yes, …even…1 out of 100…even YOU. Finding the one, while not losing the 99 - “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”

He goes and gets you and carries you home. Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains, “The burden of men was so heavy for God…that He had to endure the Cross. God [truly] bore the burden of men in the body of Jesus Christ. But He bore them [like] a mother carries her child, as a shepherd enfolds the lost lamb that has been found. God took men upon Himself and they weighted him to the ground, but God remained with them…. In bearing with men God maintained community with them. It is the law of Christ that was fulfilled in the Cross” (Life Together, 100) as

“The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander;
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
Who would not know Him.
The sinless Son of God must die in sadness;
The sinful child of man may live in gladness;
Man forfeited his life and is acquitted, --
God is committed.”
Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray;    We have turned, every one, to his own way;    And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.    But He was wounded for our transgressions,    He was bruised for our iniquities;    The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,    And by His stripes we are healed.”

If, then, “when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, and, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” For Satan and death could not devour him in the end, could not hold him. Christ was resurrected, the shepherd lives!

Likewise, “death cannot hold you, for He is the life.” Or “do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

So, then, you – you “people of His pasture and…sheep of His hand” – you live out of that “blessed flood,” out of the waters of your baptism daily – in being in the Word, in prayer, in confession, in confident faith – knowing that the old lost sheep in you, by daily contrition and repentance, is drowned and dying with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily comes forth and arises; who will live before God in righteousness and purity now and forever.

And there is only one – only one blesséd fool - who does this to you, for you –

“The LORD, The LORD is my shepherd;
   I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
   He leads me beside the still waters.”
Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Created: June 30th, 2008