18 May 2014

NY Homilies

Monday evening:

1 Peter 5:1–4

Shepherd the Flock of God

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Because he is the Lord’s Apostle, he doesn’t start out by telling you he’s the prince of apostles by golly and you had better be doing what he commands because he speaks with the Lord’s authority. Instead, REALLY speaking with the Lord’s authority, he speaks in humility “as a fellow elder” fellow presbyter, a witness to the sufferings of Christ (and how could he forget the sufferings he inflicted by his denial and the look his Savior gave him) but also a partaker in the glory that will be revealed. Already he tastes it now in Word and sign, but hidden, awaiting disclosure, for here the life is lived under the shadow of the cross.

So not bossing you, but exhorting you, or as Justin Martyr would say a century or so later “inviting you into the pattern of these good things,” he urges you to shepherd the flock of God that is among you. First note, it is God’s flock not yours. So His way, not your ways. And note you plural. For the ministers never stand alone in the Scriptures. They stand together. A brotherhood. Shepherds of the flock. Ministerium. We know how in the early Church each congregation had more than one looking after them. You didn’t have to be a wealthy suburban parish because it wasn’t about a means of gain, but about the gift of eternal life.

But note the unity of office: he urges the presbyters to exercise episcope, that is, to be good bishops, and that doesn’t have anything to do with pointy hats, but rather with the other symbol, the better one, the crook. No, not that kind of a crook. The crossier. Here’s the symbol of YOUR office. Its on the front of your worship book. Oversight - watching when the sheep might stray and hooking them back into those spots where the means of grace overflow, where the life of the Kingdom that will be comes gushing out into this fallen age. Feeding them regularly in the good and and green pastures of the divine Word. Watching out for the wolves. Using the staff on their snout if you have to. And in the Church, wolves come in with words, lying words that inevitably would seduce the sheep away from the Shepherd. If the wolf can get them apart from Him they’re nothing but fresh meat. You too. It is by staying with and near the Shepherd that the wolf loses his power and slinks away. He can’t overpower forgiveness like that anymore than he could overpower that life. You too, as shepherds under the Chief Shepherd, need to live your lives by those springs of life where Your Shepherd tends you and your task is just to keep the flock there with you, where you hang out.

So back to you and your task - this episcope, this oversight which the Shepherd has given to you in tending the sheep, He wants to be your joy, not your job. Your passion not some onerous obligation. Willingly done. And not for gain, but eagerly. You see, if it’s for gain, then its all about protecting your income rather than protecting His sheep. I like my income, don’t get me wrong. But speaking truth to the flock is what we presbyters are called to and not to worry about the income, for the Lord takes thought for such matters. And if we dare to speak truth to power (including congregational power or Synodical power or political power), we will be walking the path with Christ. True, it landed Him on His cross. And it will land you in sufferBut what a joyful suffering He reaches us. Because no matter what we face here, we are promised “a crown of glory that does not fade” when our Chief Shepherd appears, as He will. How did Luther put it: When you know you’re part of an eternal kingdom, all is well and one can dance through life forevermore!

People loved by God, the office in which you serve is no man’s dreamed up thing, no opportunity for the exercise of power or coercion, no chance for that little prelate inside of you to run loose and free, rough-shod over the sheep. That’s Satan’s way, knuckling under to power in fear. Rather, it is an office in which you get to die to that sinful impulse every single day, as your Shepherd brings you back again and again to the waters of your baptism to refresh and restore you. Fear not, then, little flock of shepherds! He who on the Cross won forgiveness for all your sins never ceases to invite and summon you to His way of being Shepherd and of sharing in the glory to be revealed. And just as His prayer for Peter saved him; so He lives to intercede for you. Be of good cheer, then! Amen.

Lord, our Healer, remember in Your tender mercies all Your servants who undergo treatments, face surgery, struggle with chronic suffering, prepare for death or know the pain of bereavement. Be their Health in sickness, their Joy in sorrow, and their Life in death; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday evening:

Acts 2:42–47 / Psalm 23 / 1 Pet 2:19–25 / John 10:1-10

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. 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. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

When Jesus breaks out in Amen, Amen it usually looks backwards as well as forwards. Backwards is Lent 4, the man born blind, sent to the waters to wash, who came back seeing, the man whom the Pharisees dumped as duped by Jesus. The man whom Jesus found again and led to confession of the faithqq. Jesus the Good Shepherd going after one of His sheep as though that one were all important, because after all, to Him it is.

That sheds some light on “all those who came before me were thieves and robbers.” Our Lord is not trashing Moses or the Prophets; but precisely the Pharisees, the Priests, the Scribes. Those leaders who were supposed to be looking out for the flock! Those who while they might be living in Sheep Fold manifestly did not and would not hear the voice of the Shepherd when He came calling. Earlier he had told them: “You do not hear because you are not of God.” But the voice of Jesus is known by His sheep. “He calls them by name and leads them out.”

He called you by name at your pool of Siloam, your baptism. He joined the Triune name to yours and told you the first and fundamental fact of your life: You belong to Him. You are His. Blood bought. While you were undoubtedly born straying like a lost sheep, in that moment of baptism you were returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. “The Lord bless your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” runs the baptismal liturgy as you approached the font. All your life from that moment forward becomes a constant return to Baptism, to which Jesus is the wide open gate. He who named you His in that moment named you His for the whole of your life. From that time on, His voice calls you to go in and out with Him, to the good pasture and living water that He provides, and always to return with Him to the waters of rebirth and forgiveness. You’ll need them every day of your pilgrimage.

So the crowd in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, who heard the voice of their shepherd calling them to life, took the plunge with Jesus into the baptismal flood - all three thousand of them - and then had a life devoted to the Apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, the breaking of bread, to the prayers. And that good pasture changed them forever - the Spirit filled them with a new life. No need to hold tight to what you “own” - your stuff, even your life - when you are owned by the Good Shepherd who has led you to pastures where more life is poured into you than you can use in an eternity and more forgiveness poured into you than the sin of the whole world. Devoted to, fanatical about, the green pastures of Word and Sacrament and prayer, the flock in Jerusalem opened up their hearts and lives in charity. And as they did, the Spirit bound them to each other in a life together. “All who believed were together.” They hung out with each other. A shared life of food and fellowship, centered on feasting royally and richly in the good pastures that no trial or tribulation could rob them of. They were one family now, brothers and sisters of the Lord.

In the second reading, Peter reminds the flock that suffering simply comes with feasting in this pasture, with being members of the Lord Jesus’ household. As fared the Shepherd so fare the sheep. But more than inevitable, it is by His design. This is why He left us an example, gave us a pattern, for us to follow right along in His footsteps. The pasturage He supplies enables us to meet the suffering of our life HIS way - that is, without reviling, threatening, anger. It’s easy to get very aggravated with the people who cause you grief and heart-ache. But that’s not the way Jesus walks. Father, forgive as the nails pound. His very blood cries pardon for a world. Rather, He walks the way of trust in His Father to sort things out in the end. And the end for Him was resurrection, vindication that the way of forgiveness and love conquers all; the end for you will be resurrection too. Peter reminds you then, He’s got you covered, you don’t need to be watching out for yourself, excusing yourself, defending yourself, preserving your little piece of turf. You’ve been returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. And the sheep who has such a shepherd on the watch needn’t fear a thing.

And all that happens even tonight as He comes to you at the Table prepared in the presence of your enemies - and your enemy is any and everything that would lead you away from hearing the voice of your Shepherd as He speaks forgiveness of sins into your heart and as He gathers you with His people into the rich pasture of His Word and Meal. He comes to you to protect you from the thief, the enemy, who comes only to steal and kill and destroy. He laid down life on Calvary’s tree to provide you the feast that gives you life. And not a little bit of life. But life overflowing, abundant. The life of the age to come. The life is His life. A life death couldn’t hold. A life that swallowed up all the sin of this world and still went on loving, still went on forgiving. Loving even you, the sheep that loves to wander. Me too. His voice rings out tonight: Come and I will give you rich pasture indeed, for Amen, Amen, I am the door of the Sheep and I know you by name. I have washed you. Opened your eyes. Led you to confess me. You are mine. Amen.

Wednesday morning:

Ezekiel 34:20–24
“Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.

It was not a pleasant experience. Delmar had a bucket of feed and went into the lot where the sheep were. YIKES. He laughed as my picture of these sweet and wonderful creatures was transformed in an instant. They’re bigger than they look and they all wanted what was in that bucket. And it made them mean. They pushed. They shoved. And the bigger and stronger ones chowed down first and tried to gobble up all they could before the others could get to it. It was enough to traumatize a suburbanite for whom sheep had been safely ensconced on church walls in pictures!

So calling us sheep isn’t a compliment. They can be as ornery to each other as we ourselves can be! Looking out for old number one isn’t finally just a fallen human trait. It seems to characterize a fallen world way too often. Even sheep can disregard the weak, trampling on their needs.

Yet the Lord promises rescue to His flock. And the rescue comes in the form of a servant, of one Shepherd. David idealized, if you will. And this shepherd will feed them. With the result that Yahweh Himself will be their God and His servant David prince in their midst. And he seals the promise with His name: I am the Lord; I have spoken.

When the Lord Jesus reveals Himself as David’s Son and David’s Lord, as the Shepherd whom Yahweh sends among us, he experiences fully our trampling, shoving, knock ‘em down and grab what you can for yourself ways. Zecharaiah had seen it “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.”

But it is the striking of the Shepherd that actually provides the rescue the flock needs. He gives Himself as food to us. This is an amazing Shepherd. And so amazing food as we tasted last night. Luther says that every other food we eat, we transform into ourselves, but to eat of the Eucharist supplied by the Good Shepherd is to have us transformed into it, or rather, into Him. The rescue that the Lord provides His flock is Himself being knocked about and finally killed in order to supply us with that which truly changes us from the inside out. He gives us His flesh and blood as our sin’s poison pill. It will knock the pushy-self-me-mine-move-it right out of us. And instead of the scene I witnessed in Delmar’s sheep pen, the picture from the Church wall comes to life inside of you and me. A peace, a calm, a realization that we never need to shove and get our way, because we have a Shepherd who loves us so much as to die to give us the bread of immortality and He watches over us and we can be at peace and rest in such love, and even attend with joy to the needs of the weak, the scattered and the lost. After all, He is the Lord and He has spoken and He will do it. Amen.
Kind and loving Father, remember the congregations of all those gathered here. Transform each place by Your gifts and make each an outpost of the Age that is to come, bright with the light of the Savior's mercy pouring into the darkness of this sad and fallen world, beckoning all people into the embrace of the cross; through Jesus Ch n nrist, our Lord. Amen.
(Ezekiel 34:20-24 ESV)

Thursday morning:

John 21:15–19

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

When they had finished breakfast. You will recall that when Peter arrived on shore, he was confronted by a living Lord setting beside a charcoal fire. The charcoal fire might well have stirred an uneasiness in his mind, recalling yet another fire where he warmed himself and denied three times that he had known the Lord, even calling down a curse upon himself. And here is the One who had been denied, cooking him breakfast, and then initiating a little chat with Peter.

You all will no doubt remember the distinct interplay of Greek words for love. Simon Bar Jonah (Simon, not Peter?), do you love me more than these - that is, with a laying down your life kind of love? Agapao. Comes the tentative answer: Nai, Kyrie. Yes Lord, you know I love you…like a brother. Phileo. Comes the charge: Feed my lambs.

Again comes the question but without comparisons to others: Simon Bar Jonah, do you in fact love me, with a laying down your life kind of love? Agapao. Perhaps a tad more faint the answer: Nai, Kyrie. Yes, Lord. You know I love you…with a brotherly love. Phileo. A second charge: Tend my sheep.

Did he sense it coming? The third time? The hardest words? Simon Bar Jonah, do you in fact love me…like a brother? Phileo. Peter, grieved, broken hearted. “Kyrie, you know everything. You know I love you…like a brother.” A third charge: Feed my sheep.

Comforting, is it not, brethren, that Forgiveness risen from the grave meets and feeds us when our sin and denials and failures leave no room for proud boasts; when we are confronted with how frail we are in our hold on Him, He still sends us out to feed the lamb, tend the sheep, feed the flock. When we realize how slim and fragile is our love for Him, He manifests the fullness of His love for us as what keeps us His.

Peter gets a bonus gift. Jesus tells the man who won’t say anymore that if I have to die with you I will never deny you, who won’t confess to an agapo kind of love, you actually will. You will actually be given the grace to die for me as my martyr. Led where you don’t want to go and yet where in faith in me you will triumph. We know its fulfillment far from the peaceful shores of Galilee, outside the bustling city of Rome, hanging upside down, giving up his life for the One whose love never fails through many years of feeding the lambs, tending the flock.

Shepherds of the flock, He sends you forth in all your hesitations and hemming and hawing and weakness and failure and sin and denial. He sends you forth to tend his beloved Sheep and feed His Lambs. Was there ever such a Shepherd? Such a Lord, whose strength is made perfect in weakness? Fear not, then, for in the strength of forgiveness there is work to do, work for you. To you too rings out His invitation: “Follow me.” Amen.

Kind and loving Master, remember in mercy the ministerium of our Synod. Give us a zeal for faithfulness to Your Word and to our public confession; a burning love that intercedes for our brethren and the flocks You have entrusted to us; and a determination to hold each other in love; through Jesus Christ...

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