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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A SHEPHERD HAS TO USE THE GATE FOR HIS SHEEP

5.7.17 Easter 4 Confirmation

Easter Season A

John 10:1-10

1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

 

 

EASTER GREETING: Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!
I have a confession to make. I don’t know much about sheep.  I know; maybe that’s not the best confession for the start of a sermon on Good Shepherd Sunday.  But I have a feeling that is a common thought among most Americans.

Here’s my experience: I remember a farm of sheep outside of Watertown, WI where I grew up. Whenever we would drive to Milwaukee or when I was on a longer run on that country road I always remember seeing those sheep.  There weren’t many, but I remember thinking sometimes how simple it must have been for that farmer.  There was a fence around a couple acres of grass.  That was it.  Maybe the farmer had to call in the shearer to cut the sheep’s wool once a year, but besides that it didn’t look that tough.  I don’t even know if I would call a present day farmer who has sheep under his care a shepherd.  Their job is pretty easy.

That’s the way we Americans think about sheep and shepherds, but that is not even close to the way people in Old and New Testament times thought about sheep and shepherds.  Lush grassy fields covering the landscape did not exist in Israel.  There were no places to put up fences outside of town and let the sheep eat their fill every day in serene safety. Judea was a dry, arid, rocky, and rolling place.  Shepherds had to take their flock out into the wilderness, over rocky and threatening terrain, where they would graze on hillsides for little pieces of grass here and there.  The sheep were exposed to danger and attacks could come from any direction so shepherds had to keep a watchful eye at all times. They had to protect the sheep from danger.  Shepherds back then had to work – hard.

No wonder the idea of a shepherd watching over sheep was such a beautiful picture for the people living in Israel.  No wonder the kings of the Old Testament were called shepherds over God’s people.  No wonder Jesus used this concept of sheep and shepherds to describe who is he and what he does.

Today, on Good Shepherd Sunday, it’s also Confirmation Sunday for Emmy.  What a fitting day it is for this celebration, where the Church rejoices in our Good Shepherd, Jesus. He doesn’t leave us alone in this wild world, but guards us, guides us in our journey, and leads us safely to his eternal home.  It’s such a good thing, because sheep need shepherds.

The interesting thing in this section of John 10, also known as the Good Shepherd chapter, is that Jesus is not yet calling himself the shepherd.  We are most certainly the sheep, but in the first 10 verses of this chapter, Jesus refers to himself as the gate for the sheep pen – the only way in to the safe place where the sheep could rest for the night.

Sometimes the shepherds in countryside nearby would keep watch over the flocks at night.  Does that sound familiar?  Yes, like on the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  But if the flocks were well watered, they had found enough little clumps of grass during the day, and they were close enough, the shepherd could take his flock to the sheep pen.  This isn’t like the that modern sheep farm I saw growing up in Watertown, WI.  The sheep pen wasn’t the place for feeding or drinking.  It had one purpose, protection.  It had high enough walls that kept out wild animals looking for a meal and safely kept the sheep in.  There was only one way for the shepherds to get their sheep in or out, through the gate.  And, as Jesus says, there was a watchman at the gate, who would only allow access to the shepherds of the sheep.

Jesus is the gate.  He’s the one who opened heaven to us by living in our place.  He took our punishment on himself to free us from the destruction of sin.  He rose from the dead to show us the victory was won.  Death holds no power.  We have life in the safety of the Father’s sheep pen forever.  The only way in – THE ONLY WAY – is through the gate, through Jesus, the Savior who conquered sin, death, and the devil for us.

All of this protection was necessary not just because of wild animals, but also because of thieves and robbers.  Sheep were valuable back then.  It was an agriculture, animal based economy. Their wool made clothing.  Sacrifices were a huge part of worship that God had set up for his people, and sheep were needed for those sacrifices.  Owners of flocks were always looking to add to their business.  If you had bigger, healthier flocks you were successful.  And so sheep and lambs were sought after.

We are sought after, too.  God wants us, but so does the devil.  And the devil has a lot of thieves and robbers looking to carry out his evil purposes.  They want your heart and your mind and your allegiance, but what they don’t want is Christ.  They won’t come through him.  They are trying to sneak over the wall and get you away from God and the safety of his sheep pen.

That can include friends or even family members, who don’t really think you need to hear God’s Word and praise his name that much.  “It’s not that big of a deal, you know all that stuff already,” they say.  The thieves and robbers can include your devices and the internet and anything else that is trending.  These things call for you attention, but they don’t use Christ.

These thieves and robbers can even come from religion.  That’s the point Jesus was making to the Pharisees.  They weren’t shepherding God’s people; they were trying to steal them.  Any religious man or church that tries to lead people to God by good works, acts of penance, or through their pockets isn’t using the gate.  Anyone who says you can choose your own god or that all paths lead to heaven, is trying to get people away from Jesus.  Anyone who denies the Spirit’s power in baptism and communion isn’t trying feed you the way God does.  Anyone who uses some but not all of the Bible or adds their own ideas to it, is not using the voice of Christ.  These thieves and robbers come “only to steal and kill and destroy.”

Today, is a good day to remember just how much sheep need a shepherd.  There are so many voices out there and even coming from within these sinful hearts of ours who want to steal us from Jesus and destroy us for eternity.  The sad part is we have to often listened to the voices of the thieves and robbers.  We have gone astray.  We have wandered from the safety of the sheep pen.  When God says, “watch out” and “keep away” we don’t listen.  Like dumb lambs we go our own way.

But there’s one voice that will always be different.  There’s one voice that will always call us.  There’s one voice that will rescue us from the dangers of the thieves and robbers.  Jesus says, “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

That’s the interesting thing about sheep.  They might be dumb, they might wander, but there is one voice that will always get them back on track.  It’s the voice of the shepherd.  Now, if Jesus is the gate, the only way in to the sheep pen, then who is the shepherd? Well, it’s certainly not the one who tries to get your attention away from the gate, right?  The shepherd is not the one who promotes your own way.  The shepherd is not the one who lets you follow the path to destruction.  The shepherd points in the right direction, the right way; the shepherd uses the gate.  And sheep know that voice.

I get to be that shepherd.  Only by grace, Jesus can use a man like me, not because of some special skills that I have, not because I’m so exceptional, but because I go through the gate.  For a shepherd of God’s flock, that’s the single, most important factor: do the sheep hear the voice of Jesus when they listen to me?  Do the sheep hear the familiar warnings of God’s law?  Do they hear the soothing comfort of God’s gospel?  That’s what matters.  Does the shepherd take the sheep through the gate, week after week in sermon after sermon, bible study after bible study, counseling session after counseling session, visit after visit, meeting after meeting?  Does the shepherd use the gate and only the gate of Jesus?  Because there is only one gate for the sheep pen.  There is only one voice for the sheep.

That’s what Jesus’ sheep are listening for.  That is the voice the confirmation students are getting familiar with during their classes.  And that is the voice the sheep constantly are listening for.  It’s not just for a couple years.  It’s not just during the really dangerous times.  It’s not just when they are looking for food or water.  Sheep listen to the shepherd all the time, in every situation, because only the voice of the shepherd is familiar and comforting.  Only the shepherd knows them each by name.

That voice is not mine.  I am not the gate to heaven.  I am not the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep only to take it up again in victory.  That’s Jesus.  But the gate lets me be a part of the shepherding.  He allows me in because I use the gate.  It’s not my voice that is necessary, it’s his.  When I speak, I don’t want you to hear my voice or my style, I want you to hear the life-saving comfort of Jesus.  I am not perfect.  I cannot make everyone happy.  But Jesus is and Jesus will fill you with eternal joy.  He can do that because he lives now and forever.

Brothers and sisters, and especially you, Emmy, never forget his voice.  He calls your name.  He calls your name in his Word and Sacrament.  He tells you just how much he cares and how he doesn’t want you to get hurt by wandering off.  Those other voices might sound popular, sensible, or even exciting, but I can guarantee that they will be strange at the beginning.  Don’t listen.  Don’t let the voices of this world, of the devil and all his temptations, of your own sinfulness become familiar.  Listen to the voice of your Savior.

He has a promise for you that nothing and no one else can give.  He says, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”  See, Jesus doesn’t tie you up with rules and guidelines.  He sets you free from sin and guilt with his promise of life.  He doesn’t want to keep you from experiencing things, he wants to keep you safe in his sheep pen.  His voice calls to a full life through the only gate to heaven.  That’s the only place where life can be full.

So listen to him.  And when you hear him, you’ll know.  It’s the voice that he used to get you out of danger and darkness into his flock.  It’s the voice he used to build you up.  It’s the voice that he will continue use to feed you and lead you until the day you are safe with him forever.

In his name, Amen.