Due to freezing rain, the service at Trinity this morning (April 15) has been cancelled. Our Sunday of the Good Shepherd will be transferred to next Sunday. In lieu of a sermon, then, Pastor Ritter has posted the following devotion:
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the one who cares for His sheep, even to the point of giving His own life. He is not a hired hand who leaves the sheep at the first sign of trouble. No, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who feeds and cares for and protects the sheep.
And we sheep are in desperate need of protection, for Satan would like nothing more than to lead us away from quiet waters and give us the poison of false doctrine instead of the green grass of God’s Word. Satan would love to see you leave God’s presence and go off foraging on your own in the world. For without the protecting care of the Good Shepherd, you are a lamb for the slaughter.
This is why it is so dangerous for us to abandon hearing God’s Word and receiving His body and blood here in His Church. There is always one part of us that honestly believes that we don’t need God. Jesus’ death and resurrection is all fine and good, but when it comes to my salvation, well, that’s my own problem. I’ll work out my own faith and life, thank you very much. But this view completely misses point of our text, and really the whole point of the resurrection.
Let me explain. Our Lord promises that He Himself will feed His flock and care for them. God Himself will feed and take care of you. So where does God feed you? He feeds you here, at His altar, with His very body and blood. This isn’t simply a rite we do because we’ve always done it. The Lord’s Supper is the very heartbeat of the Christian faith. All of God’s work on the cross and in the empty tomb goes into your mouth and soul in Holy Communion. This isn’t like an option on a car, where you can get the electronic windows if you want them. Jesus is what shapes and defines your faith, for He is the one that gave you faith. And the way Jesus shapes your faith is by coming to you in his Word and in His Sacrament. Without Him, you are a lost sheep, hopeless and alone. But with Jesus, you are a part of God’s flock, and He Himself takes care of you.
Listen to the deep connection between the Father and Jesus and you. Jesus says: 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. What our Lord is saying is that the connection between you and Jesus is as close as the connection between Jesus and the Father. As Jesus said elsewhere in John, I and the Father are one.
We live in a day and an age when it is so easy to feel alone or to be alone. Television has made it possible for a million people to laugh at the same joke at the same time and still feel lonely. But this is not only true of television. Our lives are so compartmentalized and categorized that we can easily be disconnected from our family, from friends, from church, and it seems even from God Himself. This loneliness in some ways is an extension of the separation and loss that we all experience because of sin. Sin drives a wedge between you and God, and between you and others. It creates gaps and holes of loneliness that we all feel at time.
This is where Jesus’ words in our text bring such comfort to the lonely and downtrodden. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. Jesus is not simply the God who died and rose again from the dead three days later. He is the God who has come into your midst, who binds up your wounds, and who leads you beside the quiet waters of Holy Baptism. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the one who can restore your soul. He is the bridge that reconnects you to God Himself. He is the link between you and all eternity. He is the door to the heavenly mansions, and the one who will walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death. By His stripes you are healed.
So where does this put you, as we reflect on the tender mercies of God? It puts you in His care. It means you are not alone. Indeed, it means that when you eat His body and drink His blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, that you are connected to God in a way that is more profound and deeper than any kind of emotional high or feeling could ever give you. God’s tender mercy toward you means He cares for you so much that He sent His Son to die. It means that this same risen Son is now in your heart and soul through Holy Baptism, and that when you hear His Word you are connected to eternity itself. Now that may sound kind of pie-in-the-sky or unrealistic. I suppose it is to the world. To the world there is nothing happening here. But to you, God Himself is giving you everything, for in the Word and Sacraments, God forgives you and gives you life and salvation in Jesus’ name.
We are God’s flock, God’s church. We are in this together. By participating in Christ’s life through Holy Baptism, we have life in each other. You are not alone. We in the Christian Church hope in the mercy of God. God will see you through whatever troubles may come upon you. Now that doesn’t mean He’ll wave a magic wand and make everything better. Rather, it means that God will give you the most important thing of all: He will give you Himself.
God calls you and gathers you together into His holy flock. You are not alone. You are now a part of God’s family. So rejoice in His Easter mercy! For this is what Christ won for you at the cross and in the empty tomb. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. And that goodness comes to you now in His risen Son, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. Amen.