GUARANTEED SAFETY

Eater 2019

Ezekiel 34

25 “ ‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. 26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. n I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. 27 The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. 28 They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. 29 I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. 30 Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.’ ”

 

 

What makes you safe?  Locks can work.  You lock your house up at night.  You lock your car.  You lock your computer and all sorts of online accounts with a password.  You lock up your bike at school.  You have a fireproof lockbox with important documents.  Locks can make people safe.

Knowledge and skill make people safe.  You learn from movies that you shouldn’t go down a dark alley in a big city at night.  You can go to personal defense classes and martial arts classes to learn how to defend yourself from attackers.  You can watch shows and study survival skills if you like to explore the great out of doors.  Summer is coming and you know that means to wear some sunblock to protect your skin from sunburn. Knowledge and skill can make you safe.

The right equipment can keep you safe.  Athletes need the right kind of pads and helmets to stay safe for the kind of sport they are playing.  Without the right equipment injuries can occur.

Weapons make people safe.  If you do happen to find yourself in a dark alley in a bad part of town at night, then a taser, pepper spray, nunchucks, or a gun might make you feel safer, as long as you know what you are doing with them.  People sometimes keep these types of things by their bed or in their car in case it would be needed.  Again, I would say it is very important that you know how to use these weapons, but they can make people safe.

There’s one more thing we haven’t mentioned, Mom.  When little kids come into church here and they haven’t been here much, they aren’t smiling and jumping and playing.  They’ve got that “what is this place and who are you” kind of look on their faces, and they are holding on to Mom’s leg or wanting her to hold them in her arms.  Parents make a kid feel safe.

Being safe is important.  On a Sunday in the Church Year that has the title of Good Shepherd and on a holiday that celebrates moms, safety is a pretty good topic.  All these different things try to help people to be safe, because there are a lot of things that work to prevent safety.

Turns out there are people who can break a lock or a password.  That doesn’t mean you should not use locks, but it does mean that locks are not 100% guaranteed to work at keeping people out.  Knowledge and skills can do a good job, but you can walk down the wrong alley and run into someone who has more skills and knowledge than you do. I once put on a whole bunch of sunblock before going to a waterpark, but I forgot to reapply in the afternoon and paid dearly for it.  I could go out camping with all the necessary items and skills and still die from a bear attack. I can put on a helmet and pads but if I skate on to the ice of an NHL playoff game or catch a pass in an NFL game, there’s not even a question in my mind that I’m going to end up in the hospital with life-threatening injuries.  Sometimes you forget the self-defense weapons, they malfunction in some way, or the weapon can be turned against you.  Finally, sometimes mom can’t stop her child from falling off a chair or getting to close to a hot stove.  She’s not omnipresent.  She’s not all-powerful.  She’s not perfect.  She’s not eternal.

So, here’s the issue. We want to be safe, but we cannot guarantee it for ourselves.  Maybe that’s because of what we are doing or not doing.  Maybe it’s because of what others are doing or not doing for us.  The result is that safety is not a given for me or for you.

That is the picture God paints through the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 34.  He was saying that his sheep, the Israelites, were not safe because they were stubborn wandering sheep and because they didn’t have good shepherds.  Both of those things are not good for safety.  And so, they had lots of danger.  There was danger from other nations.  There was danger to their crops.  There was danger from wild animals.  And they needed safety from all of that.

But there is a much bigger danger that we haven’t talked about yet that can affect a lot more than my house, my online accounts, my camping trips, my ability to compete, my feelings, and my health.  This danger can do a lot more damage than an army or a drought.  Do you know about the dangers that faces you?

It’s the danger of sin. It’s the danger of the devil.  It’s the danger of hell.  And far too often these things have been the wolf that carries us sheep off.  See, there’s a few problems that make me and all of us easy targets.  I’m too ignorant to realize the danger.  I’m too foolish to realize that I cannot handle the danger.  I’m too proud to perceive that the what could be dangerous to others could also be dangerous to me.  What happens is we think we can make ourselves pretty safe.  We think we’ve got it all covered.  In reality, we are sheep sitting there with no shepherd or the wrong shepherd, which is really no shepherd at all.

Here’s a really simple way to see if you have the wrong shepherds in your life: if it cannot make you safe from sin, hell, and Satan, then it’s not what you need.  Locks, knowledge, equipment, weapons, even Mom cannot prevent sin from destroying me.  They cannot stop the devil – that prowling lion and menacing wolf – from carrying me off.  They cannot hold up to the destruction of hell.

We are so good at thinking that we have it all figured out.  We are so good at proudly prancing around thinking that nothing can touch me.  We are so good at being so foolish.  I think I can provide the safety I need in life, but the fact that I cannot guarantee it, should probably tell me that I am in desperate need of a real shepherd.

That’s what God was telling the Israelites. They couldn’t protect themselves.  They could not rely on shepherds who were just looking out for themselves and cared nothing for the sheep.  The people back then and all of us right now need a shepherd who doesn’t have the ability just to protect me from nature but actually controls nature.  I need a shepherd who doesn’t provide some things that work for some people’s safety, but he knows me better than I know myself, he knows the tendencies I have and the problems that I wrestle with, he knows it all and he knows how best to handle me firmly but carefully and compassionately.  I need a shepherd who doesn’t just give me the right skills and tools for battle, but one who fights and defeats the enemy for me.  I need a shepherd who says this: “You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.”

That’s not a shepherd who is just looking out for himself.  That’s not a shepherd who is looking to be famous.  That’s not a shepherd who is looking to get rich.  That’s a shepherd who cares, who protects, who loves me.  That’s a shepherd who cares, who protects, who loves you.  He says “my sheep… my pasture…”  He personally cares.  Look through the first reading again.  It’s not the second person “you” that is doing the action.  It’s not the third person singular “he” or the plural “they” who are working.  God steps in and says “I.”  For his people looking for safety God says “I will make peace…I will get rid of the wild beasts…I will bless…I will send showers… I will provide for them…I am with them…” This is how God takes care of you, personally with his own hands.

Jesus says in the Gospel, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them…”  Jesus does not take a general role in being a shepherd for his sheep.  Jesus does not say, “Try this or that; it works for most.”  Jesus says, “I know you.  You are my sheep in my pasture.  No one can come in and hurt you.  No one can take you away from me.”

And then Jesus does the only thing that guarantees our safety from sin, Satan, death, and hell.  He doesn’t give you a lock, some knowledge and skills, or some proper equipment.  He takes all of them away from us.  Sin lures us away into traps and leads us to places where we shouldn’t be.  So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, takes sins away from you.  He forgives them all.  Satan lurks behind every turn and lunges for us, constantly causing anxiety and fear.  So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, went to battle that old evil foe.  He took on the devil and crushed his head for us.  He has no bite any more.  Death and hell hang a dark, unavoidable cloud over us.  So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, faced death in our place.  He allowed our punishment to take him, so that it wouldn’t take us and then he came back.

Yes, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, rose from the dead for you.  He gives you resurrection.  He gives you eternal life even after death takes you from this world. That is the only thing that can guarantee safety for us, a place in our Shepherd’s eternal fold.

Can you hear that in this promise of God from Ezekiel?  Listen again, “They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’ ”

Brothers and sisters, this is the safety we have now and for eternity from Jesus our living Shepherd.  There is no other voice we need.  There is nothing that gives us the safety that Jesus does.  So, there is no reason to take a day or a week off from him.  There is no reason to search for a different kind of shepherd. There is no reason to rely on yourself for safety.

Moms, if you want to provide what is really best for your children, they don’t need all the best toys and clothes.  They don’t need the newest technology.  They don’t need someone who they can gossip with and all that.  They need a mom who shows them, who talks to them, and who takes them to the safety of the Good Shepherd, the one who rose from the dead so that all of our enemies would live in defeat for the rest of eternity while we enjoy the victory of heaven.  If you want to really enjoy your children and the gift that God has given you, then show them, talk to them, and take them to the safety of the Good Shepherd, because then you can enjoy them forever in the eternal pastures of heaven.

Safety can hardly be guaranteed in this life, even by a mother, but that is exactly what God gives you today.  Through the prophet Ezekiel he says, “You will live in safety.”  Life forever is yours because you have a Shepherd who rose from the dead.  It’s guaranteed.  Amen.

 

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YOUR EYES ARE OPENED

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John 9

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.

17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

34 …they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

 

 

Darkness is dangerous.  Just the other night, the kids were asleep and everything was dark in the house when I was heading to bed.  You can probably guess what happened.  I walked down the hallway and crashed into a toy that was left out.  Luckily, the kids didn’t wake up.  But darkness can be dangerous.

And that is true psychologically or emotionally.  When there is no light, your mind can play tricks on you and give you that uneasy feeling.  When it’s dark, you don’t have certainty about your surroundings and it can cause your blood pressure to rise.  What’s that sound when you are camping?  I know a couple weeks ago when it was really windy, Issy was a little tense a bedtime when she asked, “What’s going on outside; what’s that noise?”  Darkness can be dangerous.

That is also the case spiritually.  When there is no light shining for your soul, what do you do?  Where do you find comfort and hope when the dark cloud of guilt is engulfing you?  What happens when the fog of sickness or loss rolls in and cuts out the bright rays of Jesus?  Darkness can be dangerous.

That’s why Jesus went to battle against darkness in this next field of battle.  It takes place on the Sabbath day in Jerusalem. Jesus is with his disciples and they come across a man who was born blind.  This wasn’t someone begging because they were foolish and loss everything because of poor investments or a gambling problem.  This isn’t a beggar because he is too lazy to work or because times are tough and he just can’t seem to get his feet firmly under him.  This is a man who was born to be a beggar.  There were no social services back then for the blind, no community homes.  If your family was gone, your best-case scenario was to find a friend who would lead you out to the roadside where you beg and hopefully you get enough money for food.

Nobody walked by that man without thinking, “He got a raw deal.”  And the popular idea of the day, even what rabbis were teaching, was that sin caused that kind of suffering.  The very logical question that the disciples had for Jesus is, “Who sinned? Was it something that this man did, even before he was born? (That was one of the real arguments that people made.)  Or was it something really bad that his parents did?”  The common misconception was all part of the self-righteous attitude of most religious teachers. “I am not blind, so that means there must be something better about me or something worse about that blind man that made God want to get even.”  It’s a misconception that naturally still comes up today.  When tragedy or heartaches comes into your life or someone close to you, we’re tempted to think God is getting even.

So it’s really important what Jesus says next.  “This isn’t about sin. This man didn’t sin in the womb and it wasn’t his parents either. This happened so the God can work in his life.”  Jesus says God doesn’t get even with people.  Bad things don’t happen to people because they have been bad.  Sometimes “bad” things happen so that the Lord can show his mercy.  Sometimes people have difficulties, really bad ones, so that God has a chance to show his gracious heart.  Jesus explains it kind of like this: sometimes there is darkness in this world that was ruined and covered with sin so that the Light of the world can shine with the only brightness there is.  Then Jesus shows them what kind of Light he is.

The next part sounds a little weird, where Jesus spits on the ground to make mud with his saliva and then puts it on the blind man’s eyelids telling him to wash in the Pool of Siloam.  And when the man listens to Jesus and does what he tells him, his eyes are opened.  Blindness doesn’t have a chance against Jesus. How amazing for a man who had never seen anything to open his eyes and see that water, the sky, people – to see everything like nothing had been wrong.  For decades he couldn’t see; he didn’t have a life.  Jesus changed all that, displaying the work of God in his life.

As amazing as this miracle is, it’s the rather simple miracle in this section.  How about the way this man reacts when he is brought to the Pharisees later to tell his side of the story?  He tells the truth, when it’s pretty clear the Pharisees were not big on Jesus.  Two different times he tells this hostile room that Jesus opened his eyes, that Jesus was a prophet, and that he wanted to learn more about Jesus.   God’s work was on display in his life.

When Jesus hears what had happened, he goes to find the man.  It probably wasn’t hard to find the guy who was wide-eyed and so excited about seeing such normal things.  Jesus gets right to the point and asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man (the Messiah, God’s chosen one to bring the light of life to a world that is lost in darkness)?”  The man responds, “Who is he, sir?  Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

The Light of the world then shines for the man who was born in the dark.  Before this, the blind man didn’t see Jesus, but now that his eyes are working, Jesus says, “You have now seen him; in fact, the one speaking to you is he.”

Now, here is where the real miracle happens, in verse 38: Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.  It’s true that the work of God was done the day that man’s blind eyes saw their first views of this world.  But the real amazing miracle happened days later when his sin-blinded soul was given faith to see and believe his Lord and Savior.  That’s when those eyes didn’t just see a prophet or a traveling rabbi from Galilee but the Son of Man who was here to win the war against sin, death, and hell.

Now, it’s time to ask one of those important questions when reading the Bible: where do I see myself in this section?  It’s pretty clear.  I was born spiritually blind and so were you.  We were born not seeing Jesus.  We were born not knowing a thing about our Savior and what he has done.  And when you can’t see Jesus, then you don’t know God very well.  You’ll end up thinking he is the kind of God who tries to get even with people who are bad.  When you don’t see Jesus you may even think that you can make up your own god, and that everyone has the right to choose what they want their god to be.

If you don’t know Jesus, then you don’t know God, and if you don’t know God, you have no idea why you exist on this planet.  You have no idea how to handle guilt.  You have no idea what to do about death.  When you don’t know Jesus, it’s like you are walking around blind in this world.

It reminds me of a story I’ve heard before about 3 blind men.  A guide took them to experience an animal they had never known before. The first blind man was brought to the animal and he felt something that seemed like a big rope.  The next blind man was brought to the animal and he felt a snake like creature.  The final blind man was brought to the animal and he felt a big wall.  So, thee three blind men had three different views of the same animal.  The one said, “It’s like a rope.”  And the other two said, “You’re crazy.” The other said, “This animal is like a snake moving all around.”  And the final man said, “You’re both wrong, it’s like a big wall on tree trunks.”   They were all wrong.  The animal was an…elephant.  They couldn’t see the whole picture.  Each grasped on to what they experienced, but they couldn’t see the whole elephant, and so none of what they said was true.

That’s exactly what people in this world are like whose eyes have not been opened by the Light of the world.  They go around grasping for truth, grasping for knowledge, but they are like blind men touching parts of an elephant.  They don’t see the whole picture.  They can’t.

They try.  They try to come up with explanations.  They write books and blogs.  They teach seminars and classes.  They say life is about self-fulfillment.  They’ll say things like, “The point of suffering is to make you stronger.   When the going gets tough, the tough get going.  If it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger.”  And like three blind men talking about an elephant, it’s all a bunch of nonsense because they can’t see the whole picture.  The answers that people come up with don’t begin to win in the battle against sin and evil.  They leave people in blind unbelief.  They can’t see.

But we can! God’s work through the Word and Sacraments opens our eyes.  The gospel light pierced the blindness of our hearts.  God’s grace makes us see our purpose in life plainly.  We get to walk the path of God.  We enthusiastically praise our God and Savior, just like the man did when Jesus opened his spiritually blind eyes.  We speak his name in worship, not just in this place but in our lives out there.  We don’t have to walk around in blindness anymore

So the question is, my brothers and sisters, the important question to think about is why in God’s green earth do we keep acting like we are still blind?  …We?  Would members of Our Saviour’s do that?  Would leaders and pastors do that?  Yeah…we do.

We are living in the dark when we think pain and suffering in my life isn’t fair.  We are living in the dark when service for Christ is a burden. We are living in the dark when worship interrupts my weekend plans.  We are living in the dark when the Christian life is carried out grudgingly.   We are living in the dark when we treat others as those Pharisees treated this man.

Do you know how Jesus dealt with our darkness, our blindness?  He loved you so much that he refused to let you stay in the darkness of unbelief.  He found you and me. He poured on us the water of life in baptism.  He opened your eyes so that you could see your Light.  Now he lets you see things for how they really are.

That’s why we can say things like, “I never would have seen how forgiving God is, but Jesus opened my eyes to see the love of the cross and the glory of the empty tomb.  I never would have made it through this rough patch, but Jesus opened my eyes to see how God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  I never would have known what a fulfilled life is, but Jesus opened my eyes to see the satisfaction of serving in ministry.  I never would have seen the blessings God gives in worship, but Jesus opened my eyes to see worship as the food my faith yearns for and the place where God keeps the blindfold of sin off my eyes.  I never would have seen the joy of the Christian life, but Jesus opened my eyes to see how following his ways is such a benefit to those around me.”

Jesus opened your eyes so that you see it all.  You see everything he has done for you and all that he continues to do for you.  You see that there is still daylight and the night hasn’t come yet, so you can shine with the light of Christ.

God grant it.  Amen.