Abundant Life

Text: John 10:1-10
Date: Easter IV + 5/15/11
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

The Fourth Sunday of Easter every year in the three-year lectionary is known as Good Shepherd Sunday as our Easter rejoicing begins to grow from the facts and the accounts of the resurrection of our Lord to the implications of that fact for our new life as resurrection people. And the first thing that needs to be said is that Jesus, the risen Christ, is the eternally living Shepherd of His sheep. As we heard St. Peter today in his First Epistle he calls Jesus “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” You could translate that as “the Pastor and Bishop of your souls.” What an appropriate day, therefore, for this afternoon’s Rite of Installation of the first called pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word! For the ministry is but the pastoral shepherding of Jesus through His Word and Sacraments faithfully preached, taught, administered and delivered through the mouth and ears and hands of certain men set apart, ordained, sent and called to serve Christ’s sheep as His under-shepherds. In fact the Gospel for this afternoon’s Installation Service is the continuation of this morning’s reading, namely, verses 11-16 of John chapter ten. So it is appropriate for us to consider the first words of this chapter with special attention to the Office of the Ministry.

In this text Jesus introduces His coming, His purpose and ministry with a warning against all false claims of religious authority and truth. Using the analogy of shepherding sheep the people of God are the sheepfold. A person becomes one of the sheep and is counted as one of God’s people who has faith in the promises of God. In both the Old and New Testaments a person is born into this family of faith. The sign of circumcision and sacrament of holy baptism are God’s seal and testimony of this birth of saving faith.

As with sheep, people of faith need to be fed and nurtured and this by the Word of God. In that Word we receive not only our beginnings but also our instruction and strength to live faithfully as God’s people.

There will always be spiritual thieves and robbers. These are false teachers seeking to present themselves as shepherds or pastors but in it only for personal gain. They have a different, even disturbing voice. I heard one on television just last Sunday! Preaching positive thinking and personal success he said that “Hebrews 1:9 says that you are to cover yourself with the ‘oil of gladness’ so that instead of criticizing and bringing people around you down with sadness, to lift them up with gladness and happiness.” That sounds like good advice. But I was suspicious. So I looked up the passage and found that it’s not talking about what you should or shouldn’t do at all! It isn’t talking about you. Verse nine is introduced by verse eight, which says, “But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you [namely, the Son!] with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.’” It’s talking about Christ, the Son of God and not about you at all. This false shepherd was climbing in by another way. “He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” Jesus says, “I am the door.” “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

The first issue is always salvation from sin and death. There is only one way to this salvation. It is by becoming one of God’s sheep. It is by repentance of sin and faith in the Savior, Jesus, the Son of God who came into our world in human flesh, sacrificed on the cross, whose blood makes atonement, the forgiveness of all our sins. But now the next issue is, as we said, the new, abundant life as resurrection people.

Jesus describes this life when He says, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Sheep are brought out of the pen by the shepherd each day to go out to pasture to feed and safely graze. At the end of the day they are led back to the pen where they are safely guarded for restful sleep until the next day. We could say the analogy would be that we, here in the Divine Service, feed on God’s Word that gives us the continual forgiveness of our sins and instruction for living as resurrection people in our various roles, stations and vocations the rest of the week.

This is what so many people think is missing quite often as we think of Christianity only in terms of what we do on Sundays in church. We feel safe and secure as we gather in God’s Word and sacraments, believing God’s Word as the divinely revealed Word of truth. But then we leave and live in a world that, increasingly, challenges us and any claims of “truth.” We are to be “Christians,” “little Christs,” if you will; light and salt in the earth. But what does it mean to be God’s people, forgiven people, baptized people, resurrection people as we confront a world and a worldview that denies God, and, for instance, replaces God with the fantasy of “evolution”? What does it mean to be the new people of God in the face of a culture that considers sex as merely entertainment? a youth culture that just takes for granted that sex and dating go together? a society that considers abortion a legal and moral choice or, on the other end of a lifetime, euthanasia as a compassionate option? a fallen society where it is no longer embarrassing to speak of a so-called gay, lesbian or transgendered life style where, only this past week we heard that the United States Navy is debating whether to allow its chaplains to be trained to perform so-called “civil unions.” Where is the Shepherd? How is He leading us? How are we to live faithfully according to Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life?

The pastor is a man (yes, the Bible says a man), from among the baptized who has followed his interest or desire (Ps 37:4) to be a pastor into the study and spiritual formation of the Church through her seminaries. Then, certified by the faculty, he is given to the Church for ordination and call into the parish ministry. He is, as you will hear again this afternoon, to feed Christ’s sheep (John 21), preach repentance and forgiveness of sins (Luke 24), administer the sacraments, teach, and otherwise oversee and care for them. One frustrating thing is that, while Jesus Himself leads and feeds His sheep all through the week, the pastor can only be in one place at a time and have a limited presence. For that reason we need to give attention to the “Table of Duties” of the small Catechism and learn to see our daily life, our station or vocation in life, as an expression of the same faith that saves and forgives.

Christ our Shepherd says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” By this He means to say that the new life as citizens of God’s Kingdom, as sheep of His own fold, is for eternity, deathless, held solid and sure by nothing less than the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is this fact that makes it possible to endure the pressures of the rebellious and unbelieving world around us. “To this you have been called,” says St. Peter in today’s Epistle, “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” First, of course, Jesus is more than merely an example but is the source, the foundation of our faith (Heb 12:2). By His death He has destroyed death and in Him we are raised to newness of life. But, having said that, Peter says Jesus is also “an example so that you might follow in his steps.” Then he mentions avoiding sin and speaking truth; resisting retaliation and always entrusting ourselves “to Him who judges justly,” namely, God our Father. By faith in Christ we “die to sin and live to righteousness” and “ever walk with Jesus.”

So today receive the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of faith to walk and live as salt and light in your world, living faithfully in whatever station or situation the Lord has placed you. And let us rejoice together today and especially this afternoon for God’s gifts of His Word and sacraments, and fellowship in His flock, the Church, where:

“he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints(,) for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:11-16).