08. May 2011
“The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. Alleuia.” Misericordia Domini. The name for each Sunday is taken from the opening line of the introit. Today’s name, Misericordia Domini, is translated in a number of ways: the goodness of the Lord, the tender mercies, the steadfast love. So, the psalmist says the earth is full of this love, mercy, and goodness.
Was the psalmist right? When you look at our world, do you see one full of love, of mercy, and of goodness? Or do you see even more a world full of hatred, of self-love, of evil? Our eyes see a world of gloom. The voices of the media paint a pretty bleak picture of our past, our present, and the future.
Indeed, there are many conflicting voices. Some say that the armageddon will be here in 2013 or 2011 or, in any case, soon. Others say that new and more dangerous strains of disease threaten to infect in epidemic proportions. The consumable resources for energy will run out shortly. Our protective atmosphere and ecology are going the way of the Dodo bird, leaving us defenseless against a rising global temperature and more deadly storms.
Even in our own land, we are being told that the economy may never recover. We hear some voices speaking of runaway unemployment, debt, and poverty.
It doesn’t help that our lives tell a similar story. Many of us are plagued by disease. Some have suffered cancer, others stroke. Our families are a struggle, where we hear hateful voices, with vicious barbs and curses from God.
Really, when we look at world and even our lives, does the good outweigh the evil? Even when we consider the church, does its members look like the saints of God? Or is it hard to tell the difference between Christians and the non-Christians?
Our lives, even as Christians, are marked or marred just like the wicked in the world. There are not two kinds of person in the world, good and evil, white and black. No, the world is covered by a thick blackness. Even when the white shines through its muted to a gray. Even the most saintly of the bunch has inner demons that mark their soul, tormenting them day and night.
So where is this misericordia domini, this steadfast love, tender mercy, and goodness? If its here, its certainly hard to see, difficult to know, and nearly impossible to experience.
That’s the tricky thing about the life of the Christian. It is most often described but not experienced, known but not felt. We move from one hardship to another, one struggle to another, never seeming to find the rest and consolation we so desperately seek.
If we look only to our lives as a testimony that God loves us, most of us see curses mixed with blessing. Our lives are not as we know they should be.
Plus, it seems God has left us out of his blessings loop. We aren’t getting paid what we deserve. Our children aren’t as innocent as doves. Then, we look at the world and we see poverty, sickness, and death.
The Word of God tells a different story. It says the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. Does this mean the Scriptures lie?
Many are led to think so. They think God is most concerned with their experience in this life. They think God is most concerned with their physical health, the material wealth, or their long-term prosperity. When things don’t work out, they blame God.
On one hand, they are right. God cares about these things. He grants daily bread even without our prayers, even to wicked people. He causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine, even without our asking.
God is so generous that sometimes our lives do not testify to the need for Christ. When we are healthy, well-to-do, and comfortable, we are like those sheep in Ezekiel. We are the fat and strong sheep our Lord will destroy.
Fat and strong sheep still see justice in the end. They still suffer and die. You may be plump and healthy now but that may be taken away from you in the blink of an eye. You may tomorrow suffer the same poverty as the next guy. You may be alive today but gone tomorrow.
Yet, this is not the main reason he sent his Son Jesus. Indeed, if all of Scripture leads to the promise and fulfillment in Jesus, we should ask how Jesus fills the earth with the tender mercies, the steadfast love, and the goodness of the Lord.
From the testimony of the Scriptures, this leads us to a different conclusion. Today’s epistle begins somewhat cryptically. “For to this you have been called.” Called to what?
According to St. Peter, we are called not to the perishable—that is—to envy, to hypocrisy, to slander, or to any of the evils of this world. Instead, we are called to the imperishable, the pure spiritual milk, that grows us into salvation.
We are called to be living stones built on the rock of Jesus Christ. He is the rock who speaks, who was struck so living water would flow forth for us to drink and be satisfied. This living water is the Word, the very will of God, Christ himself.
We are called to suffer. For this is a gracious thing, when mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly… this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
The calling of God is not to a life of comfort, ease, and pleasure. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. Like it or not, sometimes our Lord calls to follow him in a suffering like his.
The reality is that we are all like sheep, going our own way (Isaiah 53:6). We are often like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). We need the shepherd’s voice calling us back, returning us to fold. Our fleshly ears need to hear God and be sanctified once again through the Word of God, so that we follow him through thick and thin.
Following. By nature that’s hard to do. We would rather wander like sheep. But to follow we must have a leader, a shepherd. Our Shepherd is Jesus. His voice is the Word. Even when there is only a still, small voice in the midst of conflicting voices all around, we follow. We follow in faith and not by sight.
Faith is needed where experience is lacking. For in this live we experience both joys and pain, blessings and burdens. Faith trusts in God, even when the going gets rough. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
In the flock of God, hidden underneath our heartache, our weakness, our misfortune, is the ever-present love of the shepherd. Despite whatever evil we suffer, we always have our shepherd guiding us through the shadowed valley. We can fear no evil, nor be dismayed by poverty, or sickness, or even eminent death, for the Lord is with us, his rod and his staff to guide us.
Your foes may seek to hurt, harm, or even kill you, but your hope is in the Lord’s steadfast love, Jesus himself. In Jesus, you are kept alive from famine, both of the nourishment of the body and the nourishment of the soul. In Jesus, you are delivered from death.
In Jesus, you see a different kind of shepherd. For he identifies himself as one of the sheep. The μία ποίμνη, εἷς ποιμήν (one flock and one shepherd.) He knows you, like a good shepherd knows his sheep.
His knowing, is just as the Father knows him. God the Father and God the Son, two persons yet one God, with yet a third person, God the Holy Spirit. Three persons but one God. This is the most intimate knowing possible.
The closest we come to this intimate knowing is how a good mother knows her children. His knowing like the love of the mother, full of goodness, mercy, and unending love.
The loving of Jesus is just like the knowing of a wife to her husband, where the two are inseparably joined as one flesh. In this intimate knowing, more life is born, further flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. Mothers know their children like the Good Shepherd knows his flock. For we are flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone. The μία ποίμνη, εἷς ποιμήν.
Just as a good mother defends her child from every danger, so the Good Shepherd defends his flock to the bitter end. Jesus says: I lay down my life for the sheep.
Or as St. Peter writes: “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness— by whose stripes you were healed.
It is our Shepherd’s self-sacrificing love that redeems us from our wandering. It voice of declaration of this love that gathers us back to the fold. It is the tender mercy of God that caused the Father to send the Son for the wayward sheep, to bring the flock into the knowing embrace of God.
Those who lost, who are scattered by the wolves, are those who do not hear the shepherd’s voice. They are the unchurched and the dechurched. They are those who claim membership in this congregation but do not heed the voice of the shepherd. For there are many confusing voices in this world, seeking to lead you away from the flock, to be devoured by the wolf.
Jesus cares about the wayward, too. He goes after even the one who has wandered from the ninety-nine. He says: And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. Those who will hear, let them hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.
So was the psalmist right? Is the earth full of the steadfast love of the Lord, the misericordia domini? Maybe not by sight or experience. But the Word of God does dwell richly in many, in your fore-fathers and fore-mothers. In your children. In this church. Through the one, holy universal church on earth.
If we look for Jesus, who is the steadfast love of God in the flesh, the earth is truly full of him. The Word of Christ, the very lamb of God, who laid down his life for the flock, is here and extends to the four corners of the earth.
Many once strayed but have returned at the voice of the Shepherd. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! He is the good shepherd [who] lays down his life for the sheep. Because he died, you shall never die. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church