“On Flock, One Shepherd” Misericordia Domini 2013 – John 10:11-16

14. April 2013
Misericordia Domini
John 10:11-16

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! In the name + of Jesus.

“There will be one flock, one shepherd.” There are not many churches but one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic church. There are not many shepherds but One Shepherd. Our confession of the church is bound to our confession of Jesus. Today’s religious landscape is marked by many different Lords and as many or more church bodies to match. This is not the Lord’s doing. For Jesus says, “There will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Such religious chaos is not of the Lord but of the lord of chaos. Only the devil would want to see churches rent apart by schism and division. Only the deceiver would lead mankind to think it acceptable to tolerate error and false teaching. Satan rejoices when Christian congregations fight within and amongst each other.

His task is easy. First, we are a fickle people, easily distracted and enticed by our own imaginations and hopes of what the God, church, and faith should be. As the prophet Isaiah said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way” (Is 53:6). The deceiver tempts us to look within. He would have us devise our own ideas of God, creation, sin, and salvation. Like wayward sheep, all we need is a little shove off the path, a little lie whispered in the ear, a little encouragement to follow our own passions. Thus we put a God of our own devising onto the throne of our heart. We substitute His righteous decrees for our own laws and commands. We reject salvation in God the Son, Jesus, and look for salvation in ourselves. We wander all the while thinking ourselves faithful members of Christ’s flock.

Second, the Great Liar is a copycat. He knows that sheep need a shepherd. Lost sheep are anxious to be found. They desire to hear the voice of a shepherd and to be led again to cool waters and fertile pastures. Thus, he appoints himself shepherd (not good). Unwittingly, they hear a Shepherd but do not distinguish his voice from the truth. Indeed, Jesus calls him a wolf who snatches them away from the truth and scatters them apart from Jesus and His church.

Therefore, Satan’s great deceit is to draw you away from Jesus, the good shepherd, and away from His flock, the holy church. “Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zech 13:7). The devil loves to see little flocks guided by hired hands. He cannot abide by one flock with Jesus as its one shepherd. He loves to hear sheep bleet: “I’m a Christian” all the while going their own way or following false shepherds. he loves to see churches confess their love of Christ while rejecting the very voice of Jesus in the Holy Scriptures.

No one born of flesh has escaped this wandering. Even after being found by Jesus, washed white in the cool waters in Holy Baptism, we, like sheep, wander. We bathe ourselves in the filthy muck of this world. We are so covered in it that our restored radiance is tarnished or even unknown. After idling munching of the rich grass of God’s green pastures, we wander out of the fold to see what sort of other delectables we might find. We discover the poisonous food of the world, devil, and flesh is quite enjoyable and learn to crave it. We wander from the Shepherd’s care willfully, even if it would lead to our death.

Jesus knows our nature. He knows our flesh, having been born of flesh himself. Thus, He knows our weaknesses and still provides for us. “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” He calls to you and brings you into His fold. Not just you but all those who believe in Him. Jesus promises, “There will be one flock, one shepherd.” How does He keep this promise? How does He gather us into one flock under one shepherd? First, Jesus goes after the lost sheep and brings them home. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” He is the Good Shepherd who relentlessly pursues the wayward sheep until all whom He has chosen are gathered into his fold. The history of this world and the saving work of Jesus are not complete until the all the elect of God have been gathered into the Shepherd’s embrace.

Notice how Jesus goes about this gathering. “I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” Where the Good Shepherd speaks, there is the true church. You can be confident that you are in Christ’s fold when you hear His voice. The voice of the Good Shepherd is the Word of the Scriptures. Where the Holy Word is preached and taught in truth and purity, there Jesus is speaking.

The opposite must also be said. Where the Word of God is distorted, confused, sidelined, or hidden, there Jesus is no longer speaking. Simply proclaiming, “the Bible says” does not mean you are hearing the truth of Jesus. If the Word spoken does not give you Jesus Christ crucified, then it is not of the Good Shepherd. If the church speaks in error, then it is not within the Good Shepherd’s fold.

Those who follow after false Words and gather with flocks in error are in serious danger. Among them is the Deceiver with his hired hands, seeking to snatch them, devour their faith, and bind them forever in their sin. Therefore, when someone says to you, “I’m a Christian” do not assume they follow the voice of Jesus and are in His flock. So they same for the multiplicity of other Christian branding, including “I’m a Lutheran!”

As family, friends, neighbors, or even fellow Christians, we are duty bound to follow only one voice and to speak this voice truthfully. We boldly proclaim that there is salvation in no one by Jesus only. This salvation is received by faith only, through His grace only, a it can be heard only in His living voice, the Scriptures. Set the branding aside and speak this truth. Therein only do we have confidence of our salvation and the salvation of our neighbor.

Jesus says it this way, “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” This is how you know your Shepherd. He is the one who took on your flesh and all its weaknesses. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the paschal lamb who sets us free. He knows us because He became like us. He is both the lamb of the sacrifice and the Shepherd of our souls. He did not run or flee when Satan sought Him. He willingly went to death like a lamb to the slaughter. Upon the cross, the Shepherd died for His sheep, so that sheep would never die. And He rose victorious from the grave and thereby leads all His sheep from death unto life.

Jesus must gather His flock. Even one who has wandered is still His. He rescues the scattered and calls them by His voice. Indeed, there is no way to become part of the one holy church apart from the one Shepherd. Jesus also says, “I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:7-10).

The Good Shepherd is not speaking in empty words. The church is His sheepfold, where His voice speaks and His hands work. He has placed in His stead undershepherds—pastors—to continue His work. They speak in His name. They proclaim His Word. They forgive sins on His behalf. St. Paul instructs us to consider the church in this way. He told the pastors of the church in Ephesus, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” There can be no lone Christians. Salvation in Christ’s blood comes by the church who continually holds to the Word of the Good Shepherd.

The answer to the religious chaos of this world and Christianity is Jesus alone. He promises, “There will be one flock, one shepherd.” There is only one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic church. There is only one Good Shepherd. Our confession of the church is bound to our confession of Jesus. Where you hear Jesus’ voice in truth and purity, there you are hearing the Good Shepherd. Where the Good Shepherd is laying down His life that you would have life in Him, there is His true sheepfold. Where sheep are gathered to receive their crucified Shepherd for their forgiveness, there is the true church.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

“The Apostolic Will” Trinity 8 2012 Matthew 7:15-23

29. July 2012
Trinity 8
Matthew 7:15-23

I believe in one, holy, Christian (that is, universal or catholic), and apostolic church. We say this each week as we confess the Nicene Creed. You might notice that rather than rush through the creed, we give each phrase and word weight. Why? Not a single word or phrase of the creed is incidental. The confessors chose their words carefully, seeking both clarity and precision. They sought to confess the doctrine of the Scriptures with brevity and accuracy. And in many cases, they died rather than give up a word of the Creed.

One word in particular should catch your ear: apostolic. We are saying that our faith is the same faith as the apostles. Our church is the same church as the apostles. Our Lord is the same Lord as the apostles. Our doctrine (teaching) is the same teaching as the apostles. We are confessing with one little word apostolic that our altar and pulpit are in full agreement with the apostles, just as Jesus taught them, who then handed it over to the church.

It is a bold claim and not one to be taken lightly. What we believe, teach, and confess is nothing less and nothing more than what Jesus has given us in his very own Word. Unfortunately, there are those who confess the creed and yet have abandoned the doctrine of Jesus and the apostles. Some of them even call themselves Lutheran. One obvious example is that they reject Jesus’ prohibitions on adultery, homosexual acts, cohabitation, and other sexual sin. And while this is easy to recognize, it doesn’t stop there. The doctrines of faith, grace, justification, sanctification, and the church are also corrupted. These are poignant rejection of God’s holy Law.

Jesus said to His disciples: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Ouch. Some people who call themselves Christian will not enter into heaven. Some who call Jesus Lord will be cast into the lake of fire. By what standard? By the standard of the Father, that is, the one who does the will of the Father.

Want to know what God wills of you to do so that you may enter the kingdom of heaven? The Father gave His will for you on two tablets of stone, inscribed with ten holy commands. The will of God is that you love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. That means you cast of everything you trust in more than Him, whether it be your cushy home, your love of the internet ladies, your trust in the bottle. You cannot love stuff and love God.

It also means that the Father wills you pray without ceasing, casting all your cares upon Him. He will answer them as He has promised. And finally it means you come to church to hear his Word preached. You receive the Word in your mouth. And you don’t bolt past me and the rest to avoid Bible study. You rejoice at every opportunity to study is available and you attend. You frequent the pastor’s study with your tough questions of faith and life. That’s His will. Have you kept it? No, not one has. The prospect of the kingdom of heaven is looking dim.

Then the Father reveals more of His will for you. He demands you love your neighbor as yourself. You honor your parents, obeying them and cherishing them. You help your neighbor preserve what He has. You love your neighbor, casting off all hatred of him. You do not lust after other who is not yours, married or unmarried. You protect your neighbor’s reputation. You are to be content with what God has given you, whether family, property, or the like. The Father’s will screams for righteousness. His demands are like the amplifier that goes to eleven. If you thought you cut the mustard, think again. Not one one of you has treated your neighbor completely in the way the Father would have you.

Faced with the gates of heaven and the unattainable Father’s will, you have two options. One, admit defeat or two, get creative. The first way is the apostolic way. The second way is what you see too often in Christian churches. Let’s get creative! Jesus loved everyone, right? Are we to say to our neighbor “you were born that way” even if that way is immoral and contrary to the expressed will of the Father? That’s what we hear from churches. Love becomes the excuse for ignoring the law. Creative but wrong-headed.

You could get even more creative and start to make new laws in attempt to get off the hook from the Father’s expressed will. Maybe its the law of eco-friendliness, or social justice, or gay rights? Maybe you’ll make the law of big churches, saying that a church like ours is silly? Maybe the law of powerful ministry, boasting in how many people “you worship” each week? Or maybe the law of the food bank and the Habitat for Humanity homes, taking comfort in all the good things you’ve done in the community? Surely that is the Father’s will and will get you your golden ticket into paradise?

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

On the surface this unnamed “many” will look pretty good but inwardly are ravenous wolves. They do everything for Jesus and in His name. They preach boldly, cast out demons, and do mighty big stuff. Everyone knows who they were, where they are located, and what good services they offer. And in the end, none of it matters a lick for heaven.They weren’t workers for Jesus but are workers of lawlessness. Why? They had abandoned the will of the Father. You can tell the corrupt tree by its evil fruit.

No one escapes this condemnation, even those who know the will of the Father from the Ten Commands—that’s you—even you are workers of lawlessness. Everything you do is filthy rags, filled with the blood and sweat of your attempts to follow the Father’s design. That’s what Paul the Apostle said and its true, like it or not. Whether you’re the creative type who makes new laws or you’re like most of us and simply ignore what God has said, when it comes time to standing before the judgment seat, we’re all workers of lawlessness, equally damned.

Yes, you may have ignored the Father’s will. You may have come up with alternate ideas of what the Father has in mind. You may be slumped down in your chair, defeated.  You’ve probably listened to every false prophet, clothed in glorious mantle of wool. You are dead. As a matter of fact, the Father’s will is that you be dead. Dead to your self-righteousness. Dead to your self-made laws. Dead to thinking your good enough, holy enough, or lovely enough. Dead to your boasting in your church and your mighty deeds. And you might think dead is wrong.

That would be the case if you cease to follow the dogma of the apostles, cease to be apostolic. As I mention often in Bible class, the sermons of the Apostles in the book of Acts and the epistles written to the churches by the Apostles all have a particular someone as their center and a particular event as their central focus. Crack open your Bible sometime and read through Acts. You’ll probably be shocked. No self-help sermons, how to get ahead sermons, how to get rich sermons, or even how to be the better you in forty days sermons.

Every sermon of Acts has Jesus Christ crucified at their core. The bulk of content of Peter or Paul or even Stephen’s sermons are entirely abou Jesus. Ah, but that is not enough to be apostolic. The sermon must have as its focus the apostolic message, summarized as St. Paul said it: “we preach Christ and Him crucified.” Every sermon recorded in the Scriptures see Christ at the center and the cross as the focus of the apostolic message. Why? We’re dead in our sins, utterly unholy and unrighteous. We need the perfect lamb of God to redeem us. Dead to the flesh and made alive in Christ.

The Spirit by the will of the Father puts to death the deeds of the body. From this grave, He calls you to a new life of sonship, children of the Father, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven entirely through the work of Christ. There is no one who has done the will of the Father in heaven but the perfect son of God. He is the righteous one who obeys all the Father’s commands to the bitter end. Yes, Jesus prophesied, cast out demons, and worked mighty things. But unlike the false prophets of this world who do such things to puff their egos in misguided attempt to gain a stronger hand with God, Jesus Christ did these things only to benefit you.

Jesus prophesies to you a bold word that calls you to repentance, a change of mind. He has not abandoned any of the Father’s good and gracious will but fulfills it himself. He loves both the Father and his neighbor perfectly. Jesus casts out demons, first at your Baptism, when the bonds of slavery to the devil were broken and you were named with Him. He still casts out demons that haunt you by His Word. Even when we are tempted to fall back into fear, He gives us himself—the Bread of Heaven and the blood of the once-for-all-passover-lamb.

The fact that any of us are still Christians is the mightiest of works and a work still being worked in you. Indeed you may have been or still struggle not to be a wolf, ravenous to devour. Hear Jesus! You are forgiven and now clothed in the wooly flesh of Christ. You have received this as a gift of his perfect obedience.

We might be tempted to listen to our own inner false prophets or others in churches far from apostolic. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. The means of the Spirit to call, gather, and keep you as members of the body of Christ are not immaterial or secondary. They are the very gifts that slay the wolf and call forth lambs for the Shepherd to tend. Sheep don’t boast, not in power, or miracle, or even in might. Sheep follow their shepherd, clothed in Him, and content with His Word and His gifts. Let us graze joyfully in our Lord’s green pastures, rejoicing not in ourselves but in the perfect son of God who was obedient to the Father’s will for us, even unto death on the cross. Thanks be to God.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana