Last Sunday of the Church Year-November 23, 2014
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
Yes, you are Jesus little lamb and further He gives you every reason to be glad at heart as He leads you through life as a gentle shepherd. And as you follow, you are assured by faith that He knows your every need and that He provides for those needs in your life. Since all of this is true, then why do you sometimes act as though it isn’t true? Why do we as people seem to have this insatiable desire to be first and best, even at the expense of other little lambs around us? Why is it that we never seem to have a shortage of good ideas in our minds on how to do things better, but we seldom are willing to offer our own efforts in order to accomplish those ideas?
I submit to you that the reason is very simple, and it looks back at us every day in the mirror. While we may indeed be Jesus little lambs, we live our lives as if we are Jesus mighty and powerful rams, pushing and shoving trying to be the shot caller, trying to get the best seat, the best place in line, and the most important position available. And while we congratulate ourselves for living as a strong sheep and not some helpless little lamb, Jesus warns us in our gospel lesson (Matthew 25:31-46) that we are acting more like a goat.
Now, we should be clear from the outset that this kind of sinful behavior is nothing new; God had to deal with this same issue years ago through the prophets, and this morning in our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 34:11-24) we hear him speak about this very issue through the prophet Ezekiel. Listen: “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture, and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet. And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?” (Vs. 17-19)
This morning God is speaking to us just as He did the Jews who were in exile in Babylon. He is speaking in a way that calls attention to the sinful practices that He observed in the lives of His people then, and in the lives of His children of faith today. He sees Christians acting like the godless goats and beasts around them and not like sheep. And he isn’t just talking about how we act in church, but how we act in our families and within our communities. He is warning us that if we insist on being someone of importance, that is a leader and not a follower then He will hold us to a much higher degree of accountability.
This morning, you may find yourself thinking that you are more equipped to lead the church, your family, or community than others, and because your superior abilities have been underused or gone unappreciated, you find yourself pushing and shoving others so that you can be heard and recognized. God sees, and He is not impressed. And what He sees is that through your pushing and shoving, you are teaching through your actions an incorrect faith or false teaching; you are teaching that your way is better than God’s way; you are muddying the waters of true doctrine, and you will answer for what you are doing. Every time you exert your personality over another sheep, in church, at home, or within our community, and you take away their ability to enjoy God’s provisions for joy and peace in their lives, you are going to pay; Jesus says you will be judged as a goat and not a sheep; you will be cast out into darkness, never more knowing the care of your good shepherd. In other words, “If you want to act like a goat and not a sheep, then go for it. You are a goat; so go to the place of goats!”
This morning, God promises to do two things: First He will personally remove the false shepherds who push, shove, and take advantage of the flock, and second, He will personally provide for the needs of His sheep. He will seek out His sheep who are lost in the church, in the family, and in the community, and bring them back into the fold. How will he do this? By reminding us that…
We are His little lambs. We are not mighty rams or wild goats. We are his little ones that so badly need His care; we need His Son, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, because without Him, we will become lost; lost in our communities, lost in our families, and even lost within our church.
Dear friends, this is a truth that each of us must hear, whether we are in leadership or simply part of the flock. We are all being led by only one Good Shepherd, and the voice of another we must not listen to.
In a world in which it is increasingly difficult to find Christian leaders in any area of life, isn’t it comforting to know that the Lord has promised to become personally involved in caring for the needs of his people, even when those who should be providing leadership aren’t doing their jobs. When you think about it, that’s much better anyway, isn’t it?
Jesus is a faithful Shepherd. It is more comforting to put yourself in His care than in anybody else’s. Jesus is the only Shepherd who has not only laid down His life for His sheep, but He took it back up again when He rose from the dead. Jesus is your good shepherd who suffered as you suffer, but even more His sufferings were for you; not only for your eternal salvation, but also so that you might have joy and peace right now, even though you see people in positions of authority over you abusing their high callings of leadership.
Now to those of us who are in positions of authority or desire those positions, God has this Word for us: If we fail to be Christian shepherds in our families, in our community, in our congregation, we can expect those under our leadership, to start trampling the pasture, muddying the water, and shoving and taking advantage of the weak. Sinful human beings do such things if they are not constantly pointed to the Lord Jesus, our true Good Shepherd and his way.
So how do we correct our sinful tendency to push and shove others at the expense of cutting them off from the peace and joy that Jesus provides? By remembering that we too are only Jesus little lambs.
When we remember that we are Jesus’ little lambs and not some big shot ram or wild goat, we will also remember that we follow our Good Shepherd. “For He grew up… like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” He was born in the humblest of births, born in a manger. Even though He was the eternal Son of God, He was known simply as the son of Mary, and the son of a blue-collar carpenter. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced (upon the cross) for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.”
“(And) All we like sheep have gone astray (like lost little lambs who think they are powerful rams or wild goats, we are lost in our families, our communities, and even within our church); we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on (Jesus) the iniquity (the sin) of us all.”
(And as they took your precious Jesus, the Good Shepherd away to the cross to die for your sins, He modeled the life of a little lamb; a trusting sheep who follows its shepherd. “He was oppressed and He was afflicted (for you), yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” [Isaiah 53:2-7] And neither did He push nor shove, but instead He simply trusted His God and Father. And just before His final moment of life upon the cross, He experienced something so horrible that it troubled His soul and caused Him to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But that was His human flesh crying out only; you see Jesus, the begotten and eternal Son of God knew why He must be forsaken at the ninth hour; He was forsaken so that His little lambs could trust that He would never forsake or leave them. He suffered in their place so that each of us would know for certain that nothing and no one can ever pluck us from His hand nor the hand of His father. For we rest as sheep in His pasture.
So how do we remain sheep within God’s flock? How can we be protected from the ambitions of being a ram or the irresponsible living of a goat? By remembering that not only are we sheep in God’s flock, but even smaller than sheep, we are simply little lambs who know nothing of the dangers ahead nor how to avoid them. And as little lambs, we simply follow the voice of our Good Shepherd trusting in His guiding way. He guides us with His rod and His staff, which are His Word and His sacraments. His law warns us when we are wandering astray, and His gospel seeks us out, cleans us up, and nuzzles us back into the fold as one who was once lost but now is found, nestled safely in the love of Christ, back in the fold. He has cleansed us in Holy Baptism, and He nourishes us through the sacrament of the Altar. And together with the other sheep, we sing in peace and joy these true words: “Who so happy as I am, even now the Shepherd’s lamb? And when my short life is ended, by His angel host attended, He shall fold me to His breast, there within His arms to rest.” AMEN!