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.

 

LIFE WITHOUT IGNORANCE

4.15.18 Easter 3B

 

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John 10:11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

 

They say, “Ignorance is bliss,” but I’m not so sure.  Is it really bliss to not know what turn to take when you are in a new place?  (running in Miles City, MT) Is it really bliss to not understand what is causing your sickness or pain?  Is it bliss to not have all the information that was covered in the last unit before the test?  Is it really bliss to not know what is causing problems between you and your spouse or your children?  Is it really bliss to misunderstand the real problem in your life?  Is it really bliss to not recognize that the biggest, most soul-crushing, most peace-removing, most fear-creating, most life-draining problem has already been completely taken care of for you?  Is ignorance bliss?

Turns out that it’s not.  And so, we try to convince ourselves that we are not ignorant.  We try to make sure that we have it all figured out.  If some questions arise, then we make sure we have good places to find the answers that we want.

This is exactly the way the Pharisees operated during Jesus’ day.  They were the religious gurus.  They knew all the laws and had all the answers.  So, when they heard that a man who was born blind was healed on the Sabbath, they had some questions.  And when they heard that it was Jesus, they were more than upset.  “Healing? On the Sabbath?  What is this world coming to?  This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath…We know this man is a sinner.”  No ignorance there.  They knew it all, supposedly.

But later when Jesus finds the man he healed, he says, “…I have come into this world so that the blind will see and the those who see will become blind.”  His point is that those who are ignorant of Jesus will be brought into the know, and those who think they have it all figured out, in reality, have no spiritual insight at all.

Some Pharisees hear what Jesus says and thought it was absolutely ludicrous.  They retort,  “What? Are we blind too?”  They didn’t see it, couldn’t see it.  They were ignorant of Jesus, thinking that they had all the answers.

This is the context that leads Jesus to start talking about sheep and shepherds.  Sheep have the reputation of being stubborn, ignorant animals, and that can lead them into dangerous situations.  That’s why they need a shepherd.  They need one who knows them, knows their wayward tendencies, knows their foolishness, and knows how to care for them.

It’s great that sheep like us have a good shepherd.  Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

I absolutely love to hear how much Jesus loves us and cares for us.  How about you?  This section of Scripture is so comforting that way.  But this next line is one that makes you stop and think: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me –  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…”  There is no ignorance with Jesus.  He knows us.  He knows EV – ERY – THING about us.  He knows …all of it.  You cannot hide it.  He also knows his love for you and how he saved you from your ignorant, dangerous sin.  He stepped in for you.

But then there’s this line “my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…”  Sheep do have the reputation of being dumb and ignorant to their surroundings and any kind of danger.  But when it comes to the shepherd – there is no ignorance – they know their shepherd.  You can look up YouTube videos of it.  Strangers call the sheep and they don’t even look up from grazing, but when the shepherd calls…they look up, they bleat, and they start running toward the shepherd. The shepherd did the work to get that close familiarity.  He brought them into his flock or he reared them and made them accustomed to his voice.

So, I guess it makes me wonder, how’s that going for you?  Do you know your shepherd?  Can you tell when it’s him or someone else?  Can you answer questions people have about Jesus?  about the Bible?  about faith and spiritual life?  Can you talk about Jesus and the Bible with the same familiarity that you talk about your family, your work, and other passions you have?

Or is it possible that sometimes we say, “Ignorance is bliss?”  Have you done that before?  Have you made excuses for not knowing your Good Shepherd the way you should? Sometimes we come up with some doosies.  Maybe you have tried some of these:

“I did that already.  Isn’t that what catechism class is for?  I studied a lot back then, but that was my graduation from studying passages and reading God’s Word so much.”   Does that work for your job?  “Oh, well I studied that type of stuff in depth when I was 13.  I don’t need to study the new developments in technology, laws, code, systems.  I’ve got it all from when I was 13.”  Yeah right!  The same is true for Catechism class. It is just the beginning.  The problem is laziness, apathy, ignorance, prioritizing or just plain old stubbornness.

The Good Shepherd responds, “Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

“I get it.  I should study what Jesus says so that I can hear his voice better, but there are a lot of voices.  It’s hard to make sense of them all.”  That’s not really a good reason to neglect the place where your Savior’s voice is heard. If anything, that is a huge reason to get into his Word even more, to hear what he says and not what others say about him.

The Good Shepherd calls, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  He says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,  now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” 

“But I’m so busy with kids, work, and all the stuff that goes on.  I’m so drained. I try to make it to worship, but that’s the best I can do.” During the business of life is exactly when we need the Shepherd.  He’s got the right perspective for us.  He’s got the right goals for us.  He’s got the nourishment that sustains us.

The Good Shepherd says, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

“Pastor, I just don’t think it’s my job to know all this Bible stuff so much.  Isn’t that your job?  I’ll call you if I need anything.”  I hope you realize that God did not write the Bible just for pastors.  He gives his law and gospel to everyone.

The Good Shepherd reminds, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

These kinds of excuses prove that we are sheep who are lacking – whether we want to admit it or not.  Too often, we live as ignorant sheep, and it is not bliss at all.  It’s dangerous.  It’s destructive.  It’s leading right to the open jaws of the wolf, who wants nothing more than to munch on lamb chops for eternity.

Jesus is not ignorant of all this.  He knows the situation, that sheep wander, that sheep are helpless, that sheep without a shepherd will die.  So, the Good Shepherd put himself in danger.  He paid the price for our ignorance.  He laid down his life, so that we would never know that kind of pain.  He gave himself up so that we would be unfamiliar with sin’s real punishment.  You and I will never know what hell is like because we have a shepherd like Jesus.  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

But if that’s all he did, we would be left alone to our selfishness and pride.  Our sin would fracture the flock.  We would be constantly harassed by the victorious wolf, who felled the Good Shepherd and foiled his plan.  We would still be lost in eternal ignorance.

But we don’t just have a Good Shepherd who took our death.  This is the continuing celebration of Easter.  We have a Good Shepherd who gives us his life, his victory over death.  “I lay down my life—only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.”  The wolf thought he could creep in among ignorant sheep with no shepherd, but he was wrong.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN, INDEED! The Good Shepherd lives.  And because he does our hopelessness, our excuses, our ignorance – all of that is rolled away.  Instead, God reveals everything he does for us.  The Good Shepherd washed us clean and brought us into God’s flock.  His refreshing spring of Baptism is an ongoing reminder of who we are.  He gives us the comfortable pastures of his Word where there are no enemies who can come in and snatch us.  He nourishes and strengthens us with the green pastures of his Supper.

“I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”  Easter is the end of our ignorance.  Jesus knows us and we know him by the means he has given us, his Word and Sacraments. Easter is also the end of selfish ignorance, thinking that you are all alone with your Good Shepherd.  No, there are more sheep in this flock. “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

Sometimes you might not know it, but there are wandering sheep who are watching you and listening to you.  They see how you are well fed and cared for.  They see how you have peace and joy.  They see how protected and safe you are in the face of enemies and even death.  These frightened, lonely sheep might just ask you about your shepherd.  They might want to know him, too.  Brothers and sisters, your ignorance is rolled away. Don’t ever think that you don’t have what it takes to talk about your shepherd.  Don’t ever think you don’t know enough.  Don’t ever think your words won’t work.  Your Shepherd knows you and he will guide you.  Don’t be surprised that he can use you to reach more sheep.

They say ignorance is bliss, but I don’t think so.  Jesus knows you and he says that you know him.  That means ignorance is rolled away and in it’s place you have life in the Good Shepherd’s flock forever.  Amen.