“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 Breath of Forgiveness – Quasimodogeneti – John 20:19-31

07. April 2013
John 20:19-31

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

In the beginning God breathed. His ruach hovered over over the face of the deep. And then God said. Breathing and speaking. What hovered over the elements of Creation? God’s Spirit which is His breath speaking. Since God’s Spirit is truth, His speaking is truth. When He breathes, His Spirit is sent. When God speaks, truth is uttered. Therefore, when God said, “let there be,” there was and is. Without God’s Spirit speaking, nothing would be that is. Without His divine breath, all die.

Breathing is essential to life. Without breath, all creatures die. Plants must breathe in carbon dioxide or their life is strangled. Even fish inhale through gills, breathing oxygen from rich waters. If those waters become polluted or lack oxygen, the fish cannot breathe and die. No different for mankind. Without the breath of life, we are lifeless lumps of clay. Without breathing, we die and decay.

At the cross, the final words Jesus spoke were “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. For God, Word, Spirit, and life go together. When God speaks, there He breathes. Where God breathes, there is life. Thus, at the cross, the Word was silenced. The Spirit departed. And the breath of life ceased. This was shown by the earthquake, the darkness, and the lifeless corpse of the Son of God. The breath of God left the World.

This is why the disciples hid themselves on Easter evening behind locked doors. The Life had died and so their hope with Him. His exhale would no longer be heard. They feared their death at the hands of the Jews as their Lord and master was just crucified at their hands. The breath of life had departed. Without this voice, their hope for life was gone. The hope for humanity was dead. All creation was doomed to destruction.

We don’t always think about our condition this way. Violation God’s holy commands eternally separates us from God and His life-giving breath. Apart from the breath of God, His Spirit, His Word, we are dead in trespasses, condemned to become inanimate dust and food for worms. As we keep our sin to ourselves, refuse to acknowledge sin as wrong, or even downplay the seriousness of this corruption, we are doomed to death. As a matter of fact, we’re dead already. Anyone, innocent though he may seem, is dead to God in trespasses even though he may breathe now.

What can dead people do about their condition? Nothing. They are like the bones Ezekiel saw. Dry, dead bones. There is no hope, no future, and no possibility of self improvement. We might as well bury ourselves like the disciples in the tomb with locked doors—scared of our enemies—terrified of our sin—fearful of death—mortified by God’s Holy Law. God doesn’t soft pedal our condition. We are Lazarus buried and rotting.

But Good Friday could not remain but continued in the a breathless sleep of Holy Saturday. Then the Holy Week of death ceased. The old passed away and the new has come. After Jesus rested from His Holy Week labors, he breathed in again and rose. And with His breathing in also came His breathing out. He breathed out upon Mary Magdalene, comforting her with her own name. He breathed out the Scriptures, opening them to the two disciples on the way to Emmaeus. He breathed, He revealed Himself in the breaking of the bread, and they believed.

The Psalmist said: “When you hide your face, [all creatures] are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:29-30).

There is nothing more terrifying than to think that God has stopped speaking. Without His breath, we die and return to dust. But with the Spirit of God, we are recreated and renewed. This is why the first thing Jesus did when appearing to His disciples is speak to them. But He did not speak any Word but the particular: “Peace be with you.” God breathes upon you the same peace by saying “your sins are forgiven.”

How does life and hope come from such simple words: “you are forgiven”? Christ took all your sin into Himself at the cross. He buried it forever in the new tomb of the garden. But because Christ is risen, death is defeated. Therefore you who are in Christ will not die. Your sins are removed and sin’s wage is removed forever. This Word takes away your sin which is the cause of death. Where this forgiveness is proclaimed, there is the Holy Spirit breathing life into dead things.This Word is His breath and therefore gives life. Where there is forgiveness there is peace in the promise of life everlasting.

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63-64). Therefore, Jesus breathed on His disciples—His pastors—His church and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” God wants you to hear the preaching of His Word, thereby also receiving His Holy Spirit and the breath of life in the forgiveness of sins. The call to repentance and the proclamation of forgiveness of sins are the means that the Holy Spirit, through the Word, uses to bring people from death to life. God wants you to know your condition not for to despair but to receive His salvation.

This breathy Word is not merely a generic announcement of forgiveness. It does what it says. When you hear those words, “I forgive your sins” they actually deliver Christ’s forgiveness to you. And where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation. Where the forgiveness is spoken, the Holy Spirit is given. The Holy Spirit is breathed out upon you when your pastor says, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

St. Thomas wanted more than words spoken. He did not believe that the speaking of His fellow disciples “We have seen the Lord” was the breath of God the Holy Spirit. He resisted the Word of testimony. And so he made demands to touch and see the risen body of Christ. On the octave of the first Easter, they were gathered together again and Jesus entered their locked tomb and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Despite Thomas’s unbelief, the Lord came to him to give him the very same life-giving breath.

“Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and thrust it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Seeing, though, is not believing. To believe to to know without seeing. Believing only comes from the voice of God, the Holy Spirit, breathing His Holy Word into your ears. You cannot feel forgiven. You do not see Christ’s wounded hands and side. You believe you are forgiven, because the Spirit of Jesus has given you faith, hope, and life through His Word. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Yet, like Thomas, Jesus helps your unbelief by combining His Word with earthly, tangible means. When you hear that your sins are forgiven, you are plunged again into your baptismal waters where sin was washed away and death drowned. There the Lord touched you with his holy name, placing it on your forehead and heart, thereby naming you as sons of God though faith in Christ. As coheirs with Him, you were declared righteous, all sin cleansed, and given the Holy Spirit for faith.

So also in the Holy Communion: “Peace be with you” comes after the words “given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.” After you eat and drink the body and blood and are thereby forgiven, Christ’s Spirit proclaims “The peace of God which passes all understanding… [and] Depart in + peace.” Christ thrusts His own body into your mouth with the words: “given for you!” Forgiveness and peace flows from the chalice into your mouth, just as it flowed from his pierced side at the cross.

When you hear the pastor speak, Christ himself is forgiving sin and breathing forth His Spirit upon you to revive your faith and renew you in Christ’s righteousness that covers all your sin. Receiving forgiveness is the reason we gather. “The Spirit of God has made [you], and the breath of the Almighty gives [you] life” (Job 33:4). Your faith desires to have sin exposed by the Law and forgiven by the Gospel. Your faith desires the breath of God, the ruach, the Holy Spirit to bring you to life again as a redeemed saint and child of God. “Peace be with you.” Your sin is forgiven.

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
Dyer, Indiana

Sexagesima 2013 – Isaiah 55:10-13; Luke 8:4-15

03. February 2013
Isaiah 55:10-13; Luke 8:4-15

Another week. Another parable. Last week learned how outrageously generous our Heavenly Father is to us. He brings us into His vineyard without work or merit of our own and gives us His son’s merit and righteousness as our own. Even more, He gives this same gift of Christ’s salvation, life, and forgiveness to all, regardless of when and how they were brought into His kingdom. Thus, the kingdom of heaven is given to all with unbelievable generosity.

This week we continue with another parable of God’s kingdom. Again the earthly setting, characters, and actions defy logic. They don’t make any sense. Just as with the vineyard owner so also with the Sower. Just as with the workers so with the soils. Just as with the denarius wage so with the seed. To those without eyes of faith, the God in His kingdom is reckless, wasteful, and downright idiotic. The goodness of this flagrantly wild behavior is for those with eyes of faith. We see in these parables a God who is loving, generous, and superbly good.

Last week was about God’s call and gracious gifts. Today is about His Word and its work. By Word, we mean the Holy Scriptures. We usually call these writings the Bible. But this is misunderstood. Is the Bible information to be stored away and saved for the next time you play Bible Trivia Pursuit? Is it a manual of dos and don’ts for how to be good Christian boys and girls? Is it a handbook for life giving instructions to give you a better marriage, increase your riches, or being successful in business?

The problem is that the Bible can provide all these things. It’s full of historical details, strange facts, crazy stories, and catchy sayings. There are plenty of helpful lessons that can help form kids into moral people. The Bible is full of wisdom that will help in you in all areas of life. This is all found in the Bible. But is this the Word of God? Is this God’s purpose in speaking? He says, “It shall not return to me empty, but shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

The difficulty we have with God’s Word is not its length, its sordid tales, its difficult lessons, or its grand scale. Only by knowing the purpose which God seeks to accomplish can we understand His speech. When we look for earthly wisdom and stumble upon the Sower, we pause and wonder why anyone would waste seed on obviously unfruitful soil. No right-minded farmer would chuck his seed on the road, the rocks, and in the weeds.

God as sower and His Word as His seed doesn’t behave like agribusiness of this earth. It does not purpose to give advice to the farmer or lessons about sowing seed. This shouldn’t bother you. You have ears to hear. For you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God. Only to those who are looking for something from the Word other than what it purposes to give will hear this as a crazy story.

What does God purpose to give by His Word for you today? First, the Word of God is purposefully sown upon the whole world. This Word is Law and Promises of God, their attached curses and blessings, damnation and absolution, threats and forgiveness. This is the purpose of the word that goes out from God’s mouth, and it shall not return to Him empty. It will succeed in the thing for which He sends it. This Word is preached to the ends of the earth and works despite coming from sinful mouthpieces. It calls to repentance and forgives for the sake of Christ. It binds the sin of those who do not repent.

Second, the Word is recklessly cast upon paths, rocks, thorny brush, and fertile soil, that is, people who may or may not receive it unto salvation. From the our perspective God is wastes His preaching of the Word by scattering it where it is snatched away by the devil, it can’t take root, or is choked by the cares of this world. It is not for us to say. We aren’ to judge who, when, and where the Word will work. Nor are we to judge its result. We preach. We teach. We forgive. We baptize. We feed with Christ.

Jew or Gentile? Black, red, white? Wealthy suburbanite or low-income south-sider? Immature child or gray-haired curmudgeon? Irrelevant. We didn’t create the soil. We don’t know what days, years, or decades of God’s persistent sun, pelting rain, or annual freeze and thaw will do to those hearts. Nor do we make the Word effective. No need to dress up God’s breath into digestible portions or attractive packaging. No need dummy God down for the young (or the old). Speak what God has said. It shall not return to Him empty. That’s His promise and you can take it to the bank.

But Jesus warns us to be attentive to ourselves. While we can’t tell who will receive God’s Word nor when, we can consider our own hearts. We should consider God’s description of the soils not to judge the potential of others but to be on our guard.

It is true that you can harden your heart to God and stop being receptive to His Word. You can refuse to hear preaching. You can stubbornly avoid teaching from the Word. You can hear in one ear and let it out the other. This makes your faith easy pickings for the Devil. He comes like a raven and snatches that Word away from you. Continued resistance to the Word can make your heart so hard that it becomes like stone. Stone that cannot receive the Word nor the rain and sun of God needed to nourish it. You can let other gods grow up like thorns, distracting you from the truth, and eventually strangling God’s Word with the errors of the world.

Faithfulness is not in vogue these days. People jump around from one church to another assuming it doesn’t matter. Lutheran or Roman Catholic? Baptist or no-name non-denom? Reformed or Bible church? We’re all Christian, right? We need to ask a deathly serious question. Do all these confessions share the chief purpose for which God gives His Word? If we don’t agree why God speaks do we share the same faith?

This is a serious matter. It affects many of you in this congregation. It probably touches every family in some way. If we can profess to be Christians together ought not we preach and teach the Word of God truthfully together? Go church shopping sometime. Consider the words of their singing. Listen to the preaching. What is the chief aim of the Word coming from the congregation and preacher’s mouth? Is it consistent to what comes from God own speech in the Holy Scriptures?

You’ll discover how easy it is to be trodden by false doctrine and become resistive to the truth. You’ll see how some are hardened completely to the truth of the Word. You’ll find some churches more concerned with the cares of this world than what God says in His Word. And the greatest sadness is that many or even most have lost sight of the purpose for which God sent His Word. God sent His Son Jesus to reconcile the world unto himself. The Word of God is the good news that in the cross of Jesus Christ you are given forgiveness of all your sins. In His resurrection you see the first-fruits of your own resurrection on the day of His return.

This is the purpose of God’s Word. He will accomplish the terraforming of your heart of soil into a fertile ground for salvation. His Holy Spirit will fall like rain and His Son shine like the sun to crack open the hard path, pulverize the rocks, and scorch the thorns. You can’t make your heart any more ready for the Word than God has already. The good work He has begun in you will reach its completion in the day of Jesus Christ.

After the Holy Spirit prepares you by the Word, that same Word takes root. It is nourished by the gifts of the Spirit. The springs of eternal life water that seed until it takes root and grows in you. It is fertilized with absolution. It is nourished with heavenly food. And Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, shelters His tender shoot from the pecking of Satan’s beak, from the suffering rays of the midday sun, and from the encroachment of the thorny cares of this world. This Word came forth from the Father’s mouth to forgive, to give life, and to take you into eternal salvation. All this He will do. He will accomplish it. He will succeed in it. Amen.

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

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