Posts Tagged ‘Good Shepherd’

Salvation Through a Dying Shepherd!

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

Easter 4A, April 30, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

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 suffering and death upon the cross) you have been healed.” [1 Peter 2:24] Jesus, our Good Shepherd laid down His life for us and now, He 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 Him as children of faith. Their teachers would not enter by the door, simply because Jesus claimed to be the door, and so they would not (and will not) follow His voice. Instead, they beat Him and hung Him on the cross, hoping to silence the very voice that would save them. But 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 provide. We who are gathered here are a fellowship, a congregation of healed and forgiven sinners simply because our Good Shepherd laid down His life and then took it back up again for wandering sheep such as us. Once we were lost sheep, but now we are called found sheep!

Another way to speak of the church, this fellowship of believers is to call it a sheep pen!

When Jesus used this metaphor in our gospel reading (John 10:1-10), He was of course speaking of His holy 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 His flock!

Let me ask you a question, how did you get into this pen that contains Christ’s 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, I am afraid that you may not be a true part of Christ’s flock. Now don’t misunderstand me, I am not making a judgment in regards to your eternal salvation, only your Good Shepherd can do that, but I am only speaking a word of caution along with a prayer that you will one day, hopefully soon, hear your true Good Shepherd call out to you and then surrender to His leading. In the meantime you may rest if that’s what you seek, but remember your time of waiting is growing short.

Time is running out, both for sinners and this sinful world. Soon our Good Shepherd will return to save His little lambs, and then He will call out to all who refuse to be His, and then cast them away with these Words, “Away from me! I never knew you!” And then they will find themselves in 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, Christ’s church, our congregation is a fellowship of lost and hurting sheep; sheep who were once lost but now found; sheep who finally find themselves following the Good Shepherd’s voice.

Here in this fellowship we who have been found, have also found peace and joy, but we still know pain and suffering. We are hurting people who are sometimes raw with emotion and pain. We still experience sickness, pain, disappointment, fear, and hard times. It’s alright to admit that; we all go through it. Our Good Shepherd knows and we readily admit that we either right now or in the past have been raw and beaten up by life, and we are also willing to testify to others that because we have turned to hear our Good Shepherd’s voice, we now rest safely in this fellowship with Him and other raw and hurting sheep of His flock; we have found rest!

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 are struggling with sins like lust, alcohol and drug abuse, anger and 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 the church, the flock of Jesus Christ exists only for 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. A business as usual congregation thinks that people who are part of the Good Shepherd’s flock are anyone who speaks like them, dresses like them, or worships like them. 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 to its number!

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 forgiveness and healing. How do we do this? By following our Good Shepherd’s 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 again: “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 Peter 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… well they 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 her the portrait I was copying! “Oh, of course it is” she replied. “Now I can see that. What a nice picture” she said!

Every day we follow the example of our Savior, walking the same way He did. We deal with the same disappointments and pain caused by raw and hurting people that He dealt with. At first we are just tracing His image, kind of going through the motions, but soon our faith deepens and our confidence in His voice strengthens, and we begin to add depth and nuances to our walk of faith 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 our 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 became a master in the art of tracking. 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 lying in the back yard of a residence, and found empty shell casings. After another hour, under a pile of trash he discovered the weapon that was used to kill the officer. 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. We are to watch and learn. 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 we are being taught by our Master, and it is by His stripes, by His wounds we are forgiven and healed of all of our sins, and as an added blessing, we are assured that God loves us and will never leave us. We are assured that because Christ has risen, 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 once found lost, hurting, and raw, Jesus wants to do the same thing for others within our community through us! How will he do this? The same way He did it for you, through His voice, through the living Word of God that is read every day and that will also live in them!

So when you leave this place of worship 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 Monday through Saturday, practicing the lessons that He teaches you each Sunday. 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 offer 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, as we live lives that declare, Christ has risen, He has risen indeed!

Our Relentlessly Pursuing God

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

Easter 4B, April 26, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us”. [1 John 3:16a]

What a wonderful text for us to be blessed with this “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  It speaks of God’s love for each of us as demonstrated through the giving of His Son; a Son who willingly laid down His life for lost little sheep such as we.  But, that’s only half of the verse isn’t it?  The other half seems to set a different tone, and then it is followed up with two more verses that seem even more challenging, listen:  “and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” [1 John 3: 16b-18]

This morning, if we read these Words without remembering who our Good Shepherd is, we may look at Him in a different way; a way that will cause us to flee from Him, instead of running to Him.  This morning we will look at two pictures of God, or two ideas of Jesus and then with the help of the Holy Spirit we’ll allow God to adjust the vision of who He really is within our lives.

This morning you may be receiving Jesus’ Words in our gospel reading (John 10:11–18) like this: I am the relentless hound of God, and I will hunt you down until you lay down your life for your brothers; until you are willing to share all of your goods with a brother in need.  I will hound you and find you and force you to love with not just talk but with deeds!”

Do you sometimes struggle with the sins of your past and your many failures to measure up to what you feel God demands of you?  Do you sometimes feel that this Christian life we are asked to live out might just be too much for you to bear; that the risk of falling short of God’s expectations seems to be more of a certainty than a possibility?  If so, you are not alone in your feelings.

Around 1896, a celebrated English author by the name of Francis Thompson wrote what has been hailed as perhaps the greatest poem ever written in the English language; it was titled “The Hound of Heaven.”  It was revealed to be the story of the authors life; a life he spent running from God and pursuing the happiness of the world.  Thompson compared himself to a rabbit that had been flushed from its hiding place by a hunting dog, which caused him to embark on a life darting from one hiding place to another as the Hound of God relentlessly pursued him.

Listen to a bit of the poem and see if you can find yourself at times within his words: “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, down Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with un-hurrying chase, And unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat— and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet— “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

Can you feel the fear and the sense of despair within the author’s words?  Is that the picture of Jesus we have; as a pursuer, a great judge who will find us where ever we flee to either force us to “knuckle under” to his rule or be punished for our miserable failures in life?

Are we too, simply delaying the inevitable confrontation with our God and the coming to grips with our many failures to live up to the “Good Shepherd’s” standards?  Or do we have the picture skewed, and maybe we do not see Jesus rightly?

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  [John 10:14, 15]

After years of running, Francis Thompson finally met the real Jesus; he began to know Him as the Good Shepherd.  Listen to the words he puts in God’s mouth in the poem when God finally confronted him: “All which I took from thee I did but take, Not for thy harms, But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms. All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home: “Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”

Dear friends, the point communicated in Thompson’s poem is also the message of all of Scripture:  If we choose to shut out God and His Good Shepherd, then we are shutting out our only true shelter and Provider. God is the source of all things safe and secure so whomever chooses to shut him out will be shut out of all good things; we won’t find the love we are seeking in the world because we have rejected it from God. God is saying to us this morning, “You choose to drive love away from thyself when you choose to separate thee from Me.”

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” [1 John 3: 19-22]

God is not the overbearing task master, who sends His Son out to hunt us down like runaway slaves, but instead God sees us as His little lambs who have wondered off into danger; He sends His Son out as our Good Shepherd, who has given His life upon the cross to defeat our true enemy the devil, who prowls like a hungry wolf seeking to devour us.  He drives off the hirelings, who are the false teachers, by feeding us here in this place of pasture and rest with the living water of His comforting Word of gospel truth, which is received, taught, and learned as the purest of doctrine.  (Psalm 23)

It is this truth, which reassures our hearts that God does not condemn us, but rather He came to us in His Son to live with us and then die for us.  But ultimately He wants us to see that He also rose for us from death so that we would not fear our own death.  And all that He asks of us is that we trust Him and walk with Him as He continues to teach us, protect us, and yes even seek us when we wonder off into trouble.

What is the commandment of God that can either bring fear or comfort to you who are Jesus’ little lambs? “This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

What do you believe in?  Does any thing outside of the name of Jesus even compare with the eternal love and mercy of God almighty?  Can anything within the world give you the assurance and then the continued reassurance that you are never abandoned or forgotten by your Creator like God’s Word and Sacraments can?  Has anyone in the world ever died for you?  Would you even want them to?  No, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]  He died for us to bring us back into God’s love, where we can daily experience safety, mercy, and peace.  And all we must do is rest, feed, and then follow Him, our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ as He teaches us to live a life of sacrifice and service to other lost little lambs who need to find their way back to their Savior.

I will close with a children’s bedtime story, I call “The Lamb Who Wanted to Be Lost.”

Once upon a time there was a little lamb who wanted to run away from home.  So, he said to his Good Shepherd who loved him very much, “I am running away.”  “If you run away,” said the Shepherd, “I will run after you.  For you are my little lamb.”  Then the little lamb told his shepherd that if he runs after him, he will become a fish and swim away from him.  And the Good Shepherd smiled and countered that he would simply become a fisherman and fish for him.  The little lamb then decided to become a rock on the top of a tall mountain, and so the Good Shepherd said that he would become a mountain climber.  After a rock, he decides to become a flower hidden in a large garden, and the Good Shepherd says that he will simply become a gardener.  Whatever the little lamb wanted to become to escape from his shepherd, he countered with a person or thing that would find him.  And so the story goes until the end, when the little lamb finds himself exhausted trying to come up with more ideas, and finally says, “Aw shucks, I might as well just stay where I am and be your little lamb.”

Well… AMEN!

You Can Hear Him!

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 4C, April 20th, 2013

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My Sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [John 10:27]

As our nation gathers together to morn and sort out the events surrounding the terrorist attack against those gathered at the Boston Marathon, as our fellow country men, there and across this  great  nation gather for moments of silence and combined “all-faith” worship services, you have instead come here; to God’s house.  For most of you, this is not unusual, because you do the very  same thing most every Sunday.  For some who are visitors this morning at Trinity, or visitors to my website, you may be listening to or reading this sermon with the intent of trying to find some  comfort or perhaps find a higher purpose to all of the fear and suffering, let me repeat the Words of Jesus again: “My Sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Can you hear Jesus speaking to you in those Words?  If so, good!  Continue hearing; listen to His Words and you will find strength and comfort.  To those of you who may answer, “No” or  “I’m  not sure,” that is alright; you should continue to listen as well, because you see, it is only by listening to the Word of God that you will find faith and be able to hear the voice of Jesus’ speaking to  you.

A truth that is even sadder than the Boston carnage is the fact that there are many people in this world who will not not hear Jesus speaking to them.  They demand new proofs and evidence all  while dismissing the great proofs that have already been recorded for them.  It is as if they are calling out with unbelievers in our gospel lesson (John 10:22-30): “If you are the Christ, tell us  plainly.”  And as Jesus answered the unbelievers then, so He answers them today: “I (have) told you, and you do not believe.  The works I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” [John 10:25, 26]

Why don’t they believe?  Because they are not among Jesus sheep, so they don’t hear His voice.  But their lack of hearing; their lack of believing isn’t Jesus’ fault, it is their own.  Jesus speaks to them; He desires them to hear, but they will not.  They choose instead to hear many other voices that call out to us through out the world.  For instance…

They will hear the voice of Hedonism.  A voice that discourages higher learning and critical thinking, and instead encourages a generation of Reality T.V. to “Party on… eat, drink, and be merry!”  Or…

Then there is the voice of Materialism, which constantly pressures us to buy things.  “Buy, buy, buy” it says, “until you find contentment.  You deserve to be happy and experience the good life.”  And as we follow that voice, we become so caught up in acquiring more possessions, that those left in need, suffering in poverty go without, and finally die because we would not help.  And …

Then there is the voice of Narcissism—Self-centeredness that constantly encourages us to join in singing the hymn of all fallen and sinful creation: “It’s all about me; it’s all about I; it’s all about me oh my, oh my!”  Within this voice, are the various word of faith leaders and “possibility thinking” hucksters and philosophers who want us to “Tap into the great potential that is you!”  This voice really makes the voice of Christ unneeded, because if you believe their message, you can be your own savior!

And finally, there are the voices of the religious fanatics.  Their voice is perhaps the most dangerous, as they teach that change, their kind of change, must come from outside of a society, and it must come by force, fear, intimidation, and death if necessary.

So what voice are you really hearing?  Which voice has won your attention; has peeked your interest?  If it isn’t Jesus’ voice, then again I repeat, it is not Jesus’ fault.  He has spoken to you repeatedly, but you will not hear; you will not believe.  His works, His suffering and death upon the cross and His resurrection from the dead verify that He is the very Son of God.  The lives of Christians living in peace and seeking peace from others, with no fear of death is also proof that this Jesus is the risen Son of God.  He truly is the Good Shepherd who can provide mysterious gifts of comfort and security in times of turmoil.  The lives of Jesus’ little lambs proves that He really does care for His sheep.  All of this proves that…

His sheep really do hear His voice.  Jesus tells you this morning that: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” [Vs. 27]  Jesus sheep always hear Him speak.  While it is true that they don’t always listen, or follow, they do always hear.  And when they wander, for we sheep of Jesus are prone to wander, He leaves the secure and safe 99 sheep to bring His lost little lamb back into the fold, which is His church.  He brings us back in the same means that He first saved us, with His voice.  And within that voice, we sheep hear the content of that voice, we hear the gospel Word, you are forgiven; come home.

To those this morning, who are not His sheep, either because they never have been or have chosen to wander away, Jesus speaks the gospel call this morning to become one of His little lambs.  This morning Jesus tells them who and what they really are without Him, “You are not my sheep.  You have not been saved from the coming judgment.”  But He also tells them who they will become if they listen; if they allow the Words and the voice to give them faith.  To those sheep who are caught up in the sound of another voice, Jesus promises that if they will hear Him speak forgiveness of sins and new life, “I (will) give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father who has given them to me, is greater than all (other teachings and voices), and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” [Vs. 28, 29]

“But how can this be true,” some may ask?  And to this Jesus speaks Words of mystery, but Word’s that also give faith: “I and the Father are one.” [Vs. 30]

Do you hear the mystery that is God?  God exist as One, yet in a very intimate and close relationship of persons—Father, Jesus the Son of God, and Spirit, and you have been or are invited to be brought into that relationship through baptism.  If you have wandered away, you are invited back into the church.

Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God you are guaranteed that not only does God the Father know you but He loves you; He becomes your Father.  You are recognized and you will always recognize Him because you will know the voice of your Good shepherd when He calls.  You need never be alone or afraid in this world, because God is with you.  And with the rod and staff of His Word, He leads and protects you.  With that same Word He gives you cool drink and green secure pasture.

In His Word He invites you to His banquet table, where you feast on His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, where he satisfies a hunger and thirst that can only be satiated at His table; it is a feast of complete forgiveness and strong faith in your God Who alone is your Good Shepherd.

Imagine that you are walking on a street within our community and there in the driveway of a home are three little children getting ready to climb inside the family’s mini-van.  The van is packed with luggage and coolers.  The father is just about to close the rear door for departure and the mother is locking the front door of the home.  Obviously, they are going on a trip.

You walk up to the little children and you ask: “Where are you going?”  Wide eyed they stare back at you, silent.  They don’t know.  “What highway will you take?”  Again, no answer.  Where are you going to have dinner tonight?”  No response.  Then you ask what in their minds is the only question that matters: “Who are you going with?”  Now there eyes light up, their faces break into smiles.  “With Mommy and Daddy!” they exclaim.

Dear friends, your life lies ahead of you.  There are many unknowns, even many dangers that are ahead of you.  For many of the questions you have in life, like the whys and how comes, you for now, will get no answers.  But you do have “The Answer” with you always.  Jesus is with you and He has already called out to you with the Words “Follow Me!”  He has promised to be by your side every step of the way.  And because of this truth, for you His little lambs, eternal life isn’t something you enter when you die; no, you are in it right now!  And His means of grace, His Word and Sacraments are what sustain you every day in this world of uncertainty.

The sign of the cross at the beginning of our service helped us recall our baptism, which is a “spring of living water” for us.  Therefore we “hunger and thirst no more.” [Revelation 7:16]  And at His Holy Supper you again will receive life giving food, which for us, is a foretaste of the feast to come.  Therefore, we join in with all of the company in heaven robed in white praising our God around His throne.

You are forgiven.  God has raised Jesus from the dead and your redemption is assured.  Now Christ calls you—His sheep and His witnesses—to follow Him.  You do hear Him!  Now, what shall you do?  AMEN!

You’re one of Jesus’ little lambs?!

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Easter Sunday 4B, April 29, 2012 (Good Shepherd Sunday)
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” [John 10:16]

So you’re one of Jesus little lambs are you?  You’re a Christian?  Really?  You guys are just as messed up as I am; why would I want to  follow you?  What have you got to offer that’s better than what I already have in this messed up life?

Have you ever had someone say something similar to you, or have you ever been afraid that they would say something like that if you  tried to share Jesus with them or invite them to church?  Did you know that fear of rejection and humiliation are two of the biggest  reasons Christians give for not sharing their faith?  Did you know that not sharing your faith is a lot like being a fruit tree that won’t bear  fruit?  And what should we do with a fruit tree in our yard that takes up space, uses valuable resources like water and fertilizer, but year  after year it refuses to do the very thing we bought it for?  That’s right, we’d  chop it down, dig it out, and plant one that will give us  fruit!

Did you know that every day you give a witness to your neighbors, family, and friends, whether you want to or not?  The real question  is what kind of witness are you giving?

Let’s look at the hypothetical questions that I started our message off with and see if you could give an answer and a witness to our antagonistic neighbor.

“So you’re one of Jesus little lambs are you?”  Yes, I suppose I am a lot like a lamb, or maybe even a goat.  Neither one of them are very smart.  They are dirty and not the brightest animals in the world.  They wonder away from the group and their shepherd whenever something catches their eye or draws their attention.  And that’s not a good thing, because the wolf is just out of their line of vision, waiting to kill them and eat them.  Oh yeah, and like me, sheep don’t see very well either.  But that’s just talking about sheep when they are outside of the sheep pen.  You see, I’m also a lot like a sheep who is supposed to be resting safe and sound within the pen.  Their shepherd is standing at the gate protecting them.  He’s the door and will never let any wolves enter and hurt the sheep while they are in the safety of the pen.  But their pen has little escape areas in it, and a dumb sheep could be tricked by another dumb sheep to think that it would be cool, fun, entertaining, and exciting to sneak out and try something new, without the care of the shepherd!

Yeah that’s me.  I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.  You see, I keep doing the very things that I know I shouldn’t do, that’s called sin by the way.  And the things that please God, well that’s called keeping His commandments, and they’re the very things I can’t seem to do consistently.  Because of that, I can get into a whole lot of trouble; I can get dirty, sinfully dirty, just like a sheep.  If it wasn’t for my Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, I would wander away from His love and the love of my family at church, and I’d end up just like the sheep who gets eaten by the wolf; I’d be destroyed by the devil who hates Jesus and all of His little sheep.  You see, as I told you I don’t see very well, and what I mean by that is, I can’t see and recognize all of the dangers that are around me because, well they’re spiritual dangers.  There are spiritual threats in this world that can destroy my faith and love for God and my neighbor.  But Jesus sees them, and if I stay close to Him, He’ll protect me from those things I can’t see.  And that brings me to how I follow Jesus and stay close to Him.  You know, just as the sheep hear their shepherd’s voice and follow Him, I also hear Jesus, my Good Shepherd’s voice and I follow Him.  I hear His voice in the Word of God; in my Bible.  Every day I try to find time to read His Word and listen to Him speak.  I hear Him, but thank God, He also hears me, and that’s why I talk to Him every day; we call that prayer.

Now let me tell you a little something about the flock that I’m resting in.  That flock is simply the church, and the fence that protects Jesus little lambs is simply the Word of God that tells me how I should live my life.  Now remember, I told you right up front that like the sheep I just can’t seem to do what’s best for me.  I am prone to wander away from God, so He gives me commandments that guide how I live my life as I am following Jesus my good shepherd.  The only problem is, like I said I am prone to wander off; like those dumb sheep, I am really good at finding holes in the fence and following false teachers, or as Jesus calls them, hired hands.  Those false teachers act like pastors and well, they can really fool you, but when trouble comes, when the devil comes, boy they’ll light out of there real fast, because they are only in it for the money.  Yeah, those kind aren’t real pastors because they don’t hear the Good Shepherds voice, and if they can’t hear it, how are they supposed to lead and teach me?  No thanks, I’ve learned that new and exciting things aren’t always what they seem to be.  I’ve learned to find rest by staying in the flock, where I listen to and follow Jesus voice as He preaches and teaches through my pastor, who is a real under shepherd, loved and led by the same Good Shepherd that I follow, Jesus Christ!

So there you have it, a way to witness without arguing or backing down.  If someone asks you if you’re really a Christian, one of Jesus little lambs, don’t get intimidated by the question, just answer it.  Now I know that many times those questions can be a little more like accusations; like they’re calling you a hypocrite and that very possibly is what they’re saying.  But that’s alright, because you see, they’re right!  We really are hypocrites in the world’s eyes; God calls us saints and yet we still sin.  So if they ridicule your faith, simply agree with them and say you really are a lot like a dumb sheep doing the things and going to places you shouldn’t.  You really do get angry and say hurtful things sometimes; you do think about yourself more than others; even more than God.  Agree with them, but tell them that you still hear your Good Shepherds voice teaching you and changing you.  He speaks through His law and tells you what you did was wrong; that it was sinful.  That voice, that Word from God causes you to confess your sin and ask for His forgiveness.  But then you hear Him speak again, you hear His good news, that says that He still loves you and forgives you.

And then, after you’ve gotten the hypocrite accusation out of the way, it’s time for you to demonstrate that you really are a Christian; ask them to forgive you for anything you’ve done or failed to do that has hurt them.  And if they have hurt you, well then it’s time for you to tell them that you forgive them just as your Good Shepherd has forgiven you.  Now, I know it can seem a little intimidating doing these things, but just keep reminding yourself that it is Jesus speaking and acting through you.  You are simply hearing and following His voice!

So now, the scariest part of witnessing is over.  You’ve identified yourself with sinners, even sinners like the one who is calling you a hypocrite; so now all that is left is to extend the offer to that person to become a saved sinner like you.  How?  Invite them into the safety of the flock!  Invite them to come to church with you.  Explain to them that what you experience every week, they can experience too!  They can know real safety and peace, even joy and fulfillment by getting to know the Good Shepherd’s voice.  Tell them right up front that at church, it is God’s Word, preached and taught, that saves and changes everyone equally; tell them that in that Word they too will hear the Good Shepherd speak. And if you like, you can let them know that God takes that same Word and applies it with water in baptism and he converts sinners into Christians.  Why you could even tell them that God’s care doesn’t stop there; He also feeds and nourishes our spirits with His Holy meal, where He combines simple bread and wine with His Word as He feeds us His very body and blood, all so that we will by faith know that we really are forgiven.

Oh, and don’t forget to tell them that there is safety in numbers!  If they will come into God’s flock, they won’t be alone.  Not only will the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ be with them, but so are all of us!  Make sure they understand that each of us knows that we’re no better or worse than they are.  We’re just lost sheep who’ve been found and are trying ever day to love each other as the Good Shepherd loves us; tell them we are learning to forgive each other too, just as God forgives us.

Now, I suppose you might still be a little nervous about this witnessing thing.  You might be worried that they’ll laugh at you and ask how all of this can be true.  And if they do, then all you need to do is point them to the very thing that saved you… the power of God!  Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life (for my little lambs) that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority (and power) to lay it down, and I have authority (and power) to take it up again.” [John 10:17,18]

Where do you point them to see the power of God?  To the love of God, Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected for them.  Point them to Jesus who is God in human flesh, come to save us; Jesus who paid for the sins of the world, even their sins, so that they would not have to pay; Jesus, their Savior who like a Shepherd wants to lead them along with us to life everlasting.  Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! AMEN!

By His Stripes!

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 4A, May 13 2011
Click here for audio of this message

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!

A Ministry of Sheep!

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Friday Night Gospel Celebration, May 8, 2011
 
Click here for audio of this message

Dear friends, I am not the Good Shepherd, I am just a called sheep from within the flock.  St. Paul is not the Good Shepherd, he is simply an inspired sheep from within the flock.  But Jesus is “the Good Shepherd,” [Jn. 10:11], because He alone is “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [I Pet. 2:25] 

Tonight we remember that Jesus as our Good Shepherd is the author and perfector of our faith.  We remember that Jesus is still very much in control of His church, even this little congregation that we call Trinity.  In all of our readings we are reminded of this.  In our Gospel reading Jesus Himself reassures us with the words: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” [Jn. 10:27-28]

We are Christ’s flock; sheep in His pasture.  We are His church, a united flock, and not a large number of individual sheep. We are a fellowship of believers who commonly share in our Good Shepherd’s Gospel And the means through which we share this gospel is also common among us, it is called faith. As His sheep we also share in other spiritual gifts. God the Father creates this common fellowship by calling us into a partnership with His Son so that we share in all of His works, blessings, glory, and goods. This fellowship, this flock is a union of believers which transcends race, politics, social status, and even death.  And it is a fellowship that is to be ever growing and expanding. 

Because living in this fellowship within Christ’s flock, is living in the very body of Christ, Paul warns all of us sheep who are called to be pastors to “Pay careful attention to ourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made us overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 

You know, when you call a pastor to serve your congregation, you are really calling him to serve with you and among you as one who has been equipped and trained.  It is another of our Lord’s great mysteries; a sheep equipped by our Lord to shepherd other sheep.  My ministry here is in fact, your ministry… it is our ministry together. 

Paul’s ministry and our ministry here within our community, must be completely transparent; it must be subject to the judgment of friends and enemies alike. So like Paul, each pastor’s ministry must be centered on working tirelessly towards building up the saints within his own congregation and then together with the saints, focused on working towards gathering other lost sheep within the community.  As Christian members of this community, each of you have been called to work beside me here in our community as God has equipped you.  

As a pastor, Paul challenges me and all pastors to lead each flock “with humble-mindedness and tears and trials.”  These three traits marked Paul’s own “work for the Lord” and they should be the marks of every pastor who has been called to shepherd Christ’s flock!   In regards to tears, Paul withstood many trials and attacks without so much as a quivering lip! So the tears that Paul speaks of were tears that were drawn out of a heart wrenched with pain over people who were dying without the grace of Jesus Christ! Just as Jesus wept over the sinful and continuous rejection of His grace by the people of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), Paul shed many tears for those from within his community who refused to be saved!  We, too, by the work of the Holy Spirit will also find ourselves moved to tears, by the continual rejection of God’s love and forgiveness from those within our community where we have been placed to seek and save the lost.  And yet we are continually moved to keep offering our best efforts to ensure the proclamation of God’s love and forgiveness continues here.  We are moved to proclaim the gospel and support the ministry of its proclamation no matter the cost!  

The entire gospel, which we are to proclaim is centered entirely on “the repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”  You must never let anyone teach you that God’s favor and grace can come in any other way!  There must be an actual turning to Jesus alone for salvation and life.  This turning to Jesus then means a turning away from a life of sin!  Only then can God’s forgiveness and love come and save a person.  So, repentance includes all of God’s law, and faith includes His entire gospel.  

Now Paul in v. 27 adds one more trait of a true pastor who is being led by the Good Shepherd… he must not shrink from proclaiming the full counsel of God! (vs. 27)   If Paul was looking for an easy ministry, he would have focused on the rich and influential.  He might have placed his best efforts on things that would have served his own personal needs.  He might have kept back some parts of his teaching, because they seemed to run against what the community thought was best, and he would have accepted cultural practices or the narrow mindedness of fellow Christians so that his “congregation building” would have had easy sailing. But Paul always remembered who he must give an account to on the last day. So he proclaimed “the full counsel of God,” the entire will of Jesus Christ.  

Paul spelled out every doctrine and every Holy truth, and he never altered or toned down a thing. He had no hidden agenda or any strange personal views. He never neglected a part of God’s Word because it seemed to be out of step with the spirit of the times. He put justification by faith into the center of his teaching because that’s right where God puts it!  Tonight, in this reading, God calls each of us to examine ourselves and to ensure that we are each contributing to support and protect this ministry of repentance and faith.  Paul did it with confidence.  He could say confidently that he was innocent of the blood of any man, because He had obediently declared the full counsel of God. [v. 27] I pray that we will be as bold!   

Now, in verse 28, Paul moves from using his ministry as an example for future ministries, to addressing current and future threats that each congregation must contend with.  “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” [v. 28]  You know, pastors who have been tasked with caring for others must first be mindful of their own sinfulness.  Paul is telling those of us who are pastors to be clean ourselves before we try to cleanse others. We must remember that we too are sheep who are prone to wonder.  And because we are sheep we must remember that we have also been justified by grace–God’s  own blood. The blood of Christ was and is the price of our salvation.  Pastors and all of the Lord’s sheep have been bought with a great price.  Because of this price we have truly become His own! 

Why must pastors pay so close attention to their own living; to their own beliefs?  Why must congregations be so careful in how they call their pastor?  Well in verse 29 we get our answer: “Because there shall come fierce wolves (from) among you, who will not (spare) the flock.”  But that isn’t all; Paul warns us about yet another attack of the enemy.  In verse 30 he writes: “And from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”  Yes friends, the enemy, the devil, will attack from outside and from within the body of Christ; our enemies are even within the Church!  Oh yes, Paul sees the wolves coming and he knows how easily people can be misled and he knows the times. But he also remembers Jesus own warning to the church: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits.”  [Matt. 7:15-20] 

Paul is stating a certainty.  There will be wolves in sheep’s clothing who will invade the church. In fact, this has been the greatest battle throughout the history of the church.  Each generation brings its own false doctrine that must be defeated.  Every one of these false teachings tears at the very fabric of Christ’s body. But Paul wouldn’t have us become paralyzed with fear; He would remind us that neither he nor your pastor are the good shepherd; Jesus Christ is the only Good Shepherd, and He Himself has built and protects the church.  This is a promise of protection that even the combined efforts of Hell and every demon cannot defeat. 

And yet Christ calls us to join with Him in the work of building and protecting His kingdom.  So, like Paul, we are moved by God’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit to pour our whole soul into God’s ministry here and throughout the world.  The love of Christ and the presence of God’s Spirit compels us to not only believe in His Word, but to ensure that it is proclaimed to as many of our neighbors as possible. His living Word wells up from within our own hearts like a living stream. We don’t have to put our hearts into it; it comes out of our hearts. This is the very power of our ministry here within our community.  And this is only possible through the mighty working of God’s Spirit.  God is with us, and He is protecting us!  Through His Word and Holy Sacraments He feeds us and teaches us.  He blesses us and leads us out into His mission field; out into our community.  

In order to help us remember this truth Paul shares with us the Words of our Lord Jesus Christ which are only found in this address of Paul: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  Dear saints, through God’s work among us and within us, these Words amazingly become our heart’s desire.  Do you want to be truly blessed?  Then God says give!  Whatever the Lord has equipped and moved you to do for Him is your ministry! At the very least, and certainly this is not the least of works in ministry, you can and should be praying for the physical work of this congregation and others that are involved in ministry here at in this community.  Remember, your ministry includes both your time and your talents.  But what about your treasure?  Certainly we must dedicate our money to Christ’s ministry here in our own community!  Do you see what a great calling you have in our own community?  Speaking of our community, I would like to explain a little something about what God is doing here at Trinity.  We have begun a new music and art school here at Trinity.  We are building God’s Kingdom by raising up, training, with the hope of sending out new Christian artists, musicians, and dancers for the glory of God and the furthering of His Kingdom.   

To our amazement, God has raised up many people from within our community who have become energized with a desire to help make this vision of ministry a reality.  The classrooms have been renovated and the workers to share in this ministry have been raised up from within the harvest just as we prayed for.  There is just one challenge left to overcome; we need your support, you the people of this community!  I say this is a challenge, because it is not a problem.  God will provide!  I ask for your prayers.  Pray that God will provide all that is needed to complete His work here.  Pray and ask God if you can afford to donate towards this ministry above and beyond what you normally give.  

I know that however God leads you to support this ministry you will be blessed.  If you decide to pray for those of us who are here speaking and demonstrating God’s Word and love here in ministry, you will be blessed.  If you are led to volunteer and get involved with our ministry here, you will be blessed.  And if you decide to give towards this ministry above and beyond what you normally give you will be blessed, because “It is more blessed to give than to receive! 

In Jesus name… AMEN!

Pay Careful Attention!

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Fourth Sunday after Easter, April 25, 2010
 
Click here for audio of this message

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (V. 28)

Dear friends, I am not the Good Shepherd, I am just a called sheep from within the flock.  St. Paul is not the Good Shepherd, he is simply an inspired sheep from within the flock.  But Jesus is “the Good Shepherd,” [Jn. 10:11], because He alone is “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [I Pet. 2:25] 

This Sunday we celebrate “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  Today we remember that Jesus as our Good Shepherd is the author and perfector of our faith.  We remember that Jesus is still very much in control of His church, even our own little congregation that we call Trinity.  In all of our readings we are reminded of this.  In our Epistle reading we are comforted with these Words: The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” [Rev. 7:17] And in our Gospel reading Jesus Himself reassures us with the words: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” [Jn. 10:27-28]

Friends, we are Christ’s flock; the sheep of His pasture.  We are His church, a united flock, and not a large number of individual sheep. We are a fellowship of believers who commonly share in our Good Shepherd’s Gospel And the means through which we share this gospel is also common among us, it is called faith. As His sheep we also share in other spiritual and mutual gifts. God creates this common fellowship by calling us into a partnership with His Son so that we share in all of Christ’s works, blessings, glory, and goods. This fellowship, this flock is a union of believers in Christ which transcends race, politics, social status, and even death.  And it is a fellowship that is to be ever growing and expanding. 

Now, because living in this fellowship within Christ’s flock, is living in the very body of Christ, Paul warns all of us sheep who are called to be pastors to “Pay careful attention to ourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made us overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 

Dear friends, when you call a pastor to serve this congregation, you are calling him to serve with you and among you as one who has been equipped and trained.  It is another of our Lord’s great mysteries; a sheep equipped by our Lord to shepherd other sheep.  My ministry as your pastor is in fact, your ministry… it is our ministry together. 

Paul’s ministry and our ministry here at Trinity, must be entirely open and known to all.  It must be subject to the judgment of friends and enemies alike. So like Paul, each pastor’s ministry must be transparent and centered on working tirelessly towards building up the saints within his own congregation and then together with the saints, focused on working towards gathering other lost sheep within the community.  Dear friends, each of you have been called to work beside me within this ministry as God has equipped you. 

 As your pastor, Paul challenges me and all pastors to lead each flock “with humble-mindedness and tears and trials.”  These three traits marked Paul’s own “work for the Lord” and they should be the marks of every pastor who has been called to shepherd Christ’s flock!   But friends, don’t be fooled into thinking that the tears that Paul is talking about were tears related to his trials or the attacks of men.  Paul withstood these things without so much as a quivering lip! No these tears that Paul speaks of were the tears that were drawn out of a heart wrenched with pain over the repeated rejection of the grace of Jesus Christ! Just as Jesus wept over the sinful and continuous rejection of His grace by the people of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), Paul shed many tears for those from within his community who refused to be saved!  We, too, by the work of the Holy Spirit will also find ourselves moved to tears, by the continual rejection of God’s love and forgiveness from those within the community which we have been sent to seek and save.  And yet we are continually moved as a congregation to continue on with our best efforts, the proclamation of God’s love and forgiveness.  We are moved to proclaim the gospel and support the ministry of its proclamation no matter the cost!  

The entire gospel, which we have been commissioned to proclaim is centered only in “the repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Friends, you must never let anyone profess or teach within the walls of this sanctuary that salvation, God’s favor and grace can come in any other way!  There must be an actual turning away from a sinful life and a turning to a life of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Only then can God’s forgiveness and love come and save a person.  So, repentance includes all of God’s law, and faith includes His entire gospel. 

 Now Paul adds one more trait of a true pastor who is being led by the Good Shepherd… he must not shrink from proclaiming the full counsel of God! (vs. 27)   If Paul was looking for an easy ministry, he might have easily placed his best efforts on the rich and influential.  He might have focused his best efforts on activities that would serve his own personal needs.  He might have kept back some parts of his teaching, because they seemed to run against Jewish bigotry, accepted cultural practices or the ignorance and narrow mindedness of fellow Christians. But Paul always remembered who he must give an account to on the last day. So he proclaimed “the full counsel of God,” the entire will of Jesus Christ. 

 Paul spelled out every doctrine and every Holy truth, and he never altered or toned down a thing. He had no hidden agenda or any strange personal views. He never neglected a part of God’s Word because it seemed to be out of step with the spirit of the times. He put justification by faith into the center of his teaching because that’s right where God puts it!  This morning in this reading, God calls each of us to examine ourselves and to ensure that we are each contributing to support and protect this ministry of repentance and faith.  Paul did it with confidence.  He could say confidently that he was innocent of the blood of any man, because He had obediently declared the full counsel of God. [v. 27] I pray that we as a congregation can we be as bold! 

 Now, in verse 28, Paul moves from using his ministry as an example for future ministries, to addressing current and future threats that each congregation must contend with.  “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” [v. 28] Pastors who have been tasked with caring for others must first be mindful of their own sinfulness.  Paul is telling those of us who are pastors to be clean ourselves before we try to cleanse others. We must remember that we too are sheep who are prone to wonder.  And because we are sheep we must remember that we have also been justified by grace–God’s  own blood. The blood of Christ was and is the price of our salvation.  Pastors and all of the Lord’s sheep have been bought with a great price.  Because of this price we have truly become His own!

 Why must pastors pay so close attention to their own living; to their own beliefs?  Why must congregations be so careful in how they call their pastor?  Well in verse 29 we get our answer: “Because there shall come fierce wolves (from) among you, who will not (spare) the flock.”  But that isn’t all; Paul warns us about yet another attack of the enemy.  In verse 30 he writes: “And from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”  Yes friends, the enemy, the devil, will attack from outside and from within the body of Christ.  Paul sees the wolves coming. He knows how easily people can be misled and he knows the times. But he also remembers Jesus own warning to the church: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits.”  [Matt. 7:15-20]

 Dear friends, Paul and our Lord are stating a certainty.  There will be wolves in sheep’s clothing who will invade the church. In fact, this has been the greatest battle throughout the history of the church.  Each generation brings its own false doctrine that must be defeated.  Every one of these false teachings tears at the very fabric of Christ’s body. But Paul wouldn’t have us become paralyzed with fear; He would remind us that neither he nor your pastors are the good shepherd; Jesus Christ is the only Good Shepherd, and He Himself has built and protects the church.  This is a promise of protection that even the combined efforts of Hell and every demon cannot defeat.

 And yet Christ calls us to join with Him in the work of building and protecting His kingdom.  So, like Paul, we are moved by God’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit to pour our whole soul into God’s ministry here and throughout the world.  The love of Christ and the presence of God’s Spirit is compelling us to not only believe in His Word, but to ensure that it is proclaimed to as many of our neighbors as possible. His living Word wells up from within our own hearts like a living stream. We don’t have to put our hearts into it; it comes out of our hearts. This is the very power of our congregation’s ministry here within our community.  And this is only possible through the mighty working of God’s Spirit.  God is with us, and He is protecting us!  Through His Word and Holy Sacraments He feeds us and teaches us.  He blesses us and leads us out into His mission field; out into our community. 

 Dear friends, if we keep our hearts and minds centered on God and His means of Grace, then our Good Shepherd promises that we will not only be a congregation centered in His love, but we will also be a healthy and growing congregation.  Here is a divine truth: Heavenly-mindedness does away with earthly-mindedness. It is the thought of our heavenly inheritance that waits for us, which continually leads along with Paul to regard all material things as simply a tool to build God’s kingdom of grace here within our community.  With this common heart and mind, we will regard our time, talents, and treasure as a means to take care of the weak and the poor, and seek and save the lost!  And in order to help us remember this truth Paul shares with us the Words of our Lord Jesus Christ which are only found in this address of Paul: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

 Dear saints, through God’s work among us and within us, these Words amazingly become our heart’s desire; the desire of a congregation that is diligently working within the Lord’s kingdom.  Do you want to be truly blessed?  Then God says give!  Whatever the Lord has equipped and moved you to do for Him is your ministry! Are you a prayer warrior?  We all can pray, but some have that ability as a special gift.  If so, then give.  Be continually in the spirit of prayer for our ministry!  Do you have time and talents that would benefit our ministry?  Then give!  But what about your treasure?  Certainly God moves us to dedicate our money to ministry here in this church!  Do you see what a great calling you have in the ministry of this church?  Maybe you are wondering about the guitar case that has been leaning against the communion rail?  I put it there to make a point.  What is that point?  Well, we have begun a new ministry here at Trinity.  We are close to opening a community ministry school that will focus its time and talent on raising up new Christian artists and musicians within our community for the glory of God and the furthering of His Kingdom.  We also will concentrate on working with God in restoring broken families and at-risk-youth. 

 To our amazement, God has raised up many people from within our community who have become energized with a desire to help make this vision of ministry a reality.  We are just weeks away from our grand opening which has been slated for June 6.  The classrooms have been renovated and the workers to share in this ministry have been raised up from within the harvest just as we prayed for.  There is just one challenge left to overcome.  We are short about $5000.  I say this is a challenge, because it is not a problem.  God will provide!  I ask for your prayers.  Pray that God will provide all that is needed to complete this work.  Pray and ask God if you can afford to donate towards this ministry above and beyond what you normally give.  

 I know that however God leads you to support this ministry you will be blessed.  If you decide to pray for those of us who are here speaking and demonstrating God’s Word and love here in ministry, you will be blessed.  If you are led to volunteer and get involved with our ministry here, you will be blessed.  And if you decide to give towards this ministry above and beyond what you normally give you will be blessed, because “It is more blessed to give than to receive!  In Jesus name… AMEN!