Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the third Sunday of Easter, 4/26/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 9am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Misericordias Domini Easter3 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the third Sunday of Easter, click here.
I’ve only met one actual cowboy in my life. It was March 2009, and I’d been trekking my way across Spain, when I encountered Martín Vega.
Martín was an old ranch hand from a small village outside of León. He was short with a weak build, a worn-out face, worn out clothes, and a big hat to keep the sun off his head. He didn’t fit the American image, but Martín was all cowboy.
As we sat in a small tavern near my hostel, remembering silly things we’d done, he mentioned that the worst job he’d ever had was tending to a flock of sheep for a summer.
Now, I’d passed several flocks of sheep as I made my way through the country. They looked harmless enough and I couldn’t understand what could be so bad about it.
Martín informed me that sheep are filthy, smelly, and stubborn, and even though they can’t see very far; they insist on going off their own way.
In addition to being smelly and stubborn, they’re also really bad at defending themselves. They’ve got no natural protection; no sharp teeth or claws, and so they’re easily stolen by robbers, or devoured by wolves. Which may be why they scare so easily.
At the first hint of danger, real or imagined, they scatter in every direction. Some fall down banks, and others head down blind alleys, where they stack up and literally suffocate on each other. Those who go off by themselves are easy meals for predators.
On their own they are hopeless, and so they are in constant need of care and supervision. Jesus calls us sheep. But this wasn’t the first time He’d done so.
Through His prophet, Isaiah, God made the comparison long before. We all like sheep have gone astray… Each to his own way… Some of you to the love of money… Some others to pride… Many to the lusts of the flesh, and all of us to the cares of this world… But no matter where we’ve gone… it has always been away from Christ…
Maybe Martín had the cards stacked against him. He was a cowboy at heart. And what sheep really need is a shepherd.
But who could possibly want that job? It seems to be a huge responsibility, paired with an unending list of things that can and will go wrong…
Some time ago, I googled the whole shepherding gig. The want-ads in Montana yielded a job description for a Shepherd. Without reading the whole thing, it went something like this:
Animals that congregate in herds require attendants to keep them together and away from hazardous terrain and regions with predators…
The shepherd is required to:
– Safely herd sheep to abundant grazing areas
– Rescue sheep that become lodged in between rocks and boulders or fall down steep embankments
– Care for wounded and sickly sheep
It may sound insulting or patronizing when Jesus calls us sheep. But it gets better when Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd.
He is the Good Shepherd because He does something that no rancher would ever dream of adding to the “duties” section of this job description. Jesus is the Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.
Even in the first century, the idea of a shepherd dying for sheep would sound as far-fetched as it does in 2020. So it’s not difficult to imagine the critics; rolling their eyes at Jesus for taking the whole shepherding bit too far.
But that’s classic Jesus… always taking things too far.
For instance, The Good Shepherd doesn’t merely watch over the dirty sheep. He cleans them. He started there, in the baptismal font, joining water and His Word. He cleaned you off, and makes your fleece as white and pure as snow. There He named you, and made you part of His flock. So you know His voice, and follow Him.
As you go, the Good Shepherd speaks to you with His Word, you hear His living voice, by which He reminds you that He’s still here; that He is always for you and never against you, and that trouble will come, but you need not flee and run away into the darkness…
He’s not going anywhere. Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He doesn’t run off when the wolf comes. He moves into action.
Maybe on the right day, you could see a shepherd taking a swing at a predator with his staff, or hurling a stone from a sling like David, but Jesus is never quite what we expect. He does what no other shepherd would do.
Jesus puts Himself in the way. The Good Shepherd is the One who becomes a sheep Himself. He offers Himself as the very Paschal Lamb, who dies as a sacrifice in the place of His own little lambs.
But as you know, that once and for all sacrifice is not the end of the story! Jesus says: “…I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”
The same Jesus who has washed you in baptism, and comforted you with His Word, knows that without nourishment, without food, sheep just aren’t very strong. They’re sick and wounded and can’t recover on their own strength.
So he feeds you. He feeds you with His Word, which the Christian hears, reads, marks, and inwardly digests.
He feeds you at this altar. Here, in this Holy Eucharist, Jesus gives to us His very body and blood, forgiveness for sins, nourishment for our faith, and strength for our journey.
This is beautiful Gospel for you, but it is good news for the world, too.
After all, healthy, well fed sheep are the chief source of delight to a shepherd. Through His sheep a shepherd can provide warm woolen clothing to those out in the cold. Through His sheep, a shepherd can feed the hungry masses. And if you’ve been to a petting zoo, you know a sheep that’s been cleaned and cared for brings smiles and joy to children and parents alike. And all this is what He sends you to do in the world as well.
After all that, when your Good Shepherd has led you through this life, when He’s called you home by the Name He’s given you, He places you right there, back at the font again; back to where it all began.
At your funeral, that’s where you’ll go. Back to where you died the first time in the waters of holy Baptism and where you sprang forth as a new creation.
Under the light of the paschal candle, the light which shines amidst the darkness reminds us that Christ, the Light of the World, our Good Shepherd, has made good on what He promised to you. And so you can rest easy…
Because with Jesus you are part of the one flock, with one shepherd… With Jesus you are in and not out… Always loved, and never alone.
He is your Good Shepherd who
And Feeds you
And who guides you and all of His flock back home again.
Back with Him. Back to Eden, where we will celebrate forever and sing praises to our Good Shepherd.