Christ Lutheran Community Church
Christ Lutheran Community Church
May 12, 2019 Worship Sermon - "The Good Shepherd"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23,Revelation 7:9-17,John 10:22-30
This beautiful story of Dorcas is one that many of us heard for the first time in children’s Sunday School. I guess it’s the detail about her being a seamstress that makes it stick in our memory. So many of the people who get healed in the Bible are these nameless individuals that we know nothing about. But in the story of Dorcas, we’re given a little bit more information about who she was and why her death was so hard on the people of her community.
In addition to being a great story for kids, this story also tells us something important about ourselves. The Holy Spirit calls us to continue the life-giving ministry of Jesus Christ. This story in Acts, where God, working through Peter, gives life back to a deceased widow, shares many details with a story told in the Gospels, where Jesus gives life back to a young girl who has died. I think the point that Acts is making by telling this story and highlighting the similarities with the Gospel is this: the ministry of Jesus Christ in our world did not end with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ 2000 years ago. The same Holy Spirit who worked through Jesus, worked through Peter and Paul. And it continues to work in our world today.
On the last page of your bulletin, I put a photograph of the Dorcases of our own community, who meet every Wednesday to make prayer shawls, and lap blankets, and hats, and scarves. Interestingly enough, I believe all three of them are widows. The work that they do together shows that Dorcas still lives on. The life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit’s compassion and concern for those in need, is active in our world. Not even death can stop it.
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who asked me if I thought the events described in the book of Revelation were taking place today in our world. He saw a connection between Babylon, the demonic power that gets destroyed at the end of Revelation, and America today. It’s a conversation I’ve actually had many times with many people, stretching all the way back to my youth. People always want to know, are we living in the end times? What is the mark of the beast, 666? Who is the great whore, Babylon?
The book of Revelation is full of symbol and metaphor, which makes it prone to all kinds of wild interpretations. And since all of us are prone to historical narcissism, believing that our generation is the pivot around which all of human history turns, people tend to read the book of Revelation and say, “Yes, this is talking about us.”
Having lived through many predictions of the end of the world, all of which turned out to be false, I’ve become somewhat cynical about this way of reading the book of Revelation. So, when my friend asked whether the events in Revelation refer to events taking place in our world today, my answer was, “Yes, Revelation is talking about us, just like it has been talking about every generation before us.” The truths described in Revelation are universal: they refer to people of every time and every place. The beast in Revelation refers to every corrupt politician. Babylon refers to every empire where injustice and oppression destroy life.
But Revelation was written to give people hope. It was written so that people would not fear the beast, because the beast gets destroyed… Babylon gets destroyed. What survives is a kingdom ruled not by a monstrous beast, but by a lamb. And the lamb of God, we know, is Jesus Christ. Where the kingdoms of this world use the power of violence to perpetuate their policies, the kingdom of God uses the power of self-giving love.
In our reading from Revelation this morning, John – who is the author of Revelation – has a vision of a vast multitude of people from every nation, language, and tribe gathered around the lamb of God, who sits upon the throne. Whenever I read this passage, I can’t help but think of this gathering here, on Sunday mornings, where people – if not from every nation, language, and tribe – at least from many nations, languages, and tribes gather to praise God. Many of you, like the people in Revelation, have been through the great ordeal. You’ve looked into the jaws of the beast. You know the violence of which humanity is capable. So you know, perhaps better than I, how God watches over God’s people and guides them through danger.
When we gather here on Sunday mornings, sometimes we sing the very words that we hear the multitude singing in Revelation: blessing and honor and glory and wisdom be to God and the lamb forever. Some scholars believe that those words were originally sung in the courts of the Roman emperor. It was a way for Romans to demonstrate their loyalty and devotion to Rome and to Caesar. So when the people in Revelation sing these words to Christ, it’s an act of political resistance. It’s a way of saying “No” to the beast and “Yes” to lamb… “No” to Babylon and “Yes” to the Kingdom of God.
When we sing these words, we too are joining the resistance: like the people of Revelation, we’re saying no to the demonic powers that destroy life and yes to the shepherd, who guides us to the springs of the water of life.
The fourth Sunday after Easter is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because we always read Psalm 23 – the Lord is my Shepherd – and from the tenth chapter of John, where Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. One thing to be aware of: in the Bible, the shepherd is a symbol of the king. Leaders of Israel, from Moses through David, were seen as shepherds of the people.
But they weren’t often good shepherds. Instead of ruling for the benefit of the people, they used their power for their own personal gain. So, in the voice of the prophets, God complains about the shepherds of Israel. God gets so angry with these kings who care only about themselves that finally in Ezekiel God says, “I myself will be the shepherd of Israel.” God will be the king… God will lead the people into a society where justice and peace reign.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus fulfills God’s promise to rule Israel. Jesus is the one sent by God, the messiah, the one who will rule in God’s name. When Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, he’s drawing a distinction between his way of leadership and the leadership of those who care only about themselves. This passage from John 10 is set between two stories that show exactly what kind of king Jesus is. In John 9, Jesus give sight to a man who is born blind. And in John 11, Jesus raises Lazarus from death. Jesus is a king who like a Good Shepherd gives life to his sheep.
This morning, when we call Jesus the Good Shepherd, we are making a political statement. It’s the same statement of resistance that I was mentioning in reference to Revelation. We’re saying, Jesus is my shepherd, not Donald Trump, not Jerome Powell, not Mark Zuckerburg. All these powerful people who fill our newspapers and consume so much of our attention: their power is temporal. We shudder in fear of them today and tomorrow they are forgotten like a dream. But the Kingdom of God is eternal.
God has claimed you as a citizen of God’s Kingdom. Like a sheep in the fold of a Good Shepherd, you are secure in God’s care. Nothing can snatch you from God’s hand.