By His Stripes!

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 4A, May 13 2011
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Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!  “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree (on the cross) that we might die (that is cease to exist) to sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds (by His many stripes from all of the crucifixion) you have been healed.” [1 Peter 2:24]  Jesus, our Good Shepherd is calling out to us this morning to follow Him!  We should follow Him, because we are His sheep; we hear His voice and we follow.  The Jews, children of Abraham were His sheep by blood, but they refused to hear His voice; they refused to follow His as children of faith.  They would not enter by the door, because Jesus claimed to be the door, and so they would not follow His voice.  Instead, they beat Him and hung Him on the cross, hoping to silence the very voice that would save them.  What they meant for evil God used for good, our good.  You see, by the same suffering of the whip and cross God brought salvation, healing from sins, and complete forgiveness.  This is the true healing that Jesus wounds, His stripes provided.  This is a fellowship of healed and forgiven sinners; lost and now found sheep!

Another way to speak of this fellowship is to call it a sheep pen!  When Jesus used this metaphor in our gospel reading He was of course speaking of the church, His body which is made up of true Christians.  I trust that by faith in your Good Shepherd, you have heard His voice in His Holy Word and Sacraments and you are resting in that flock!

Let me ask you a question, how did you get into this pen that contains Christ flock?  Was it because you are wise and prudent?  Was it because you wanted to simply cover all of the bases concerning the afterlife, so you simply entered just to be on the safe side?  Maybe you just followed your parents, family, or friends here and you have learned to be comfortable among the other sheep?  If so, you are not part of our flock; you may rest if that’s what you seek, but soon our Good Shepherd will find you out and cast you away with these Words, “Away from me!  I never knew you!”  And then you will be cast out into the complete darkness where there will be only eternal misery and pain!  But if you are here because you heard His voice through His Word and you followed, then by His stripes you are healed!  If you are here because in His Law you heard your shepherd call out to you and prove that you were lost in your sins, and then you heard in His gospel promise that He found you and forgave you, healed you of your many sins, well then you are found and you are certainly part of His flock!

You see, this is a fellowship of lost and hurting sheep; sheep who were once lost but now found.  Here in this fellowship we have found peace and joy, but we still know pain and suffering.  We are hurting people who are raw with emotion and pain.  Don’t pretend that you don’t still experience sickness, pain, disappointment, and hard times.  It’s alright to admit that; we all go through it.  Admit that you either right now or in the past have been raw, beaten up by life, but also be willing to testify to others that because you have turned to hear you Good Shepherd’s voice, because you have entered into fellowship with Him and other raw and hurting sheep of His flock, you have found rest!

You know, raw is a word that I find hard to like!  Raw rice is too hard and raw oysters are too slimy!  Raw humor tends to be too dirty and raw skin is too painful!  As a matter of fact, anything that’s raw and centered around people tends to be disgusting!  But the truth is friends, we live in a world that is full of raw people; they’re all around us!  Have you ever wondered how many people in our community or even in this congregation are struggling with sexual lusts, alcohol and drug abuse, rage and the effects of rage?  Think for a moment and consider just how many people have been or are victims of these terrible things we call sin!  Do you think they will ever find help with their raw human needs, needs that surround us every day?  They will, if they hear the voice of “their” good shepherd!  How will they hear?  They will hear through the bleating of fellow raw and hurting sheep!  They will hear through you!

We are our Good Shepherd’s flock, sheep of His pasture and pen!  We cannot afford as a church to simply live out a “business as usual” mindset when so many raw and hurting people are dying without Jesus Christ!  What is a business as usual mindset?  It is thinking that church, the flock of Jesus Christ exists only for you the sheep of His pasture.  It’s thinking that the business of the church, the mission of the flock is to hold Sunday services, which satisfies only the needs of the flock.  Who are the flock?  Anyone else who wants to speak like us, dress like us, or worship like us.  These kinds of congregations are only living to die, and soon they will do just that!  But as the Good Shepherd’s flock, we know that we do not exist for our own glory and comfort, but instead we exist for God’s glory.  And we know that God is glorified when other lost sheep are brought into the flock and the flock grows by adding more and more hurting and raw sheep!

The truth is friends, only churches that are serious about rescuing the lost and hurting sheep will survive and make a difference… and friends that must be us!  It must be us because it is God’s will!  How can we remain a flock, a congregation that pleases our Good Shepherd?  By continuing to be a healing fellowship where hundreds, maybe even thousands of lost and raw sheep can find rest and a home of healing.  How do we do this?  By following our Good Shepherds example; we must learn to trace His example and make it our life’s calling and passion.  Listen to St. Peter’s words in our Epistle lesson: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you and example, so that you might follow in His steps.”[1 Pet. 2:21]  Let me illustrate this point with a couple of examples.

When I was a child, I wanted to learn how to draw portraits.  I tried and tried, but my portraits always looked like a little child drew them.  Then one day, I found some tracing paper in my father’s desk.  I put that paper over a picture of my great grandmother, and I began to trace every shape and feature that made up her face.  When I removed the tracing paper from the portrait I discovered that I had a perfect outline of the face, but it lacked dimension and depth.  So I began to add shading and definition the best I could.  Now when I was done, my mother saw the picture and commented on what a good job I had done, and how it resembled someone, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.  “Its grandma” I responded, somewhat disappointed as I showed here the portrait I was copying!  “Oh, of course it is” she replied.  “Now I can see that.  What a nice picture” she replied!  And as far as I know my mother still has that traced picture put away with here valuable and important pictures.  And friends, that is what we do every day.  Every day we follow the example of our savior, walking the same way He did.  We deal with the same disappointments and pain that He dealt with.  At first we are just tracing His image, but soon our faith deepens and our confidence in His voice strengthens, and we begin to add depth and nuances that begin to look more like Jesus.  And if people aren’t quite sure what to make of our lives, we will simply point out who are Good Shepherd is and why we are following Him.  In that way, our lives will become attractive to others.

And speaking of following, let me close with one last story.  When I was a young Border Patrol Agent, I was assigned to work with a living legend in the Border Patrol.  He was famous for following sign or evidence that is left behind by a person.  In essence he leaned the art of following footprints and other things.  One night I was assigned to go with him to downtown San Diego and meet up with San Diego Police officers who were looking for some gang members that killed a San Diego police officer.  I knew nothing about the art of tracking, so he told me to stay out of the way and simply follow him and learn.  I stayed very close to him, as he explained what he was doing and what he was looking for, finding and following!  It took a very long time, and I was cold and hungry, but He said that we must keep going.  After several hours, to my amazement, he moved a piece of plywood and found empty shell casing.  After another hour, under a pile of trash he discovered the weapon that was used to kill the officer.  And one hour after that, he followed the sign to a back door of a residence.  Our job was over; the police officers took over, and later that night on the news I heard that they had arrested three gang members for the murder of that police officer.

The point of this story is this friends, we are to follow the way that Jesus went.  It is a way that was full of pain and sorrow; it was the way of the cross.  As we follow our Good Shepherd we too will know pain, suffering, sickness, sorrow, and even death.  But we will encounter all of these things with the confidence of knowing that by His stripes, by His wounds we are healed of all of our sins and assured that God loves us and will never leave us.  We are assured that because He has risen indeed, so shall we.  We are assured that as we are tracing our Masters portrait and looking more like Him every day, one day we shall be just like Him!  Because we hear His voice in His Word we are assured that just as He has overcome the grave so shall we! 

But we also must understand that just as we were found lost, hurting, and raw, Jesus wants to do the same thing with others within our community through us!  How will he do this?  The same way He did it for you, through His voice, though the living Word of God that lives in you!

So when you leave this place this morning knowing that you are forgiven and loved, don’t just live a life that only looks forward to next Sunday, but live a life that follows your Good Shepherd Jesus Christ.  And when you follow Him, be prepared.  He is seeking out people who do not want to be found; not to punish them but to give them pardon and forgiveness!  In this way, you are like I was long ago following behind that living legend looking for the bad guys.  You must stay out of the way with your prejudices and self-interests and simply learn from the master; you must learn that even those “raw” people who are straying away like sheep, are called to return to the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls, Jesus Christ!”  May God equip us to do this very thing.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

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