Second Sunday after Easter
April 15, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
There are churches everywhere you look. Lutheran churches, Catholic churches, Baptist churches, congregational churches, nondenominational churches. There are big churches, small churches, medium churches, old churches, brand-spankin-new churches. There are contemporary churches and traditional churches. In America, there is an ecclesial smorgasbord to choose from. In fact, just the other day I saw what can only be described as a gas station converted into a church. So, one thing that our American situation allows us to do is to choose a church to our liking, like going to a cafeteria. If this church doesn’t suit your needs, then I can find another one.
But this is not the vision of the Church that Jesus gives to us this second Sunday after Easter. “I am the Good Shepherd,” He says, “The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. When a hired man, who isn’t a shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep, sees a wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf carries them off and scatters them — because he works for money and doesn’t care about the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, as the Father knows Me and I know the Father. And I give My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this fold. I must lead those, too, and they will listen to My voice, and so they will become one flock with one Shepherd.”
Jesus makes a distinction here between the Church as hiring and the Church as shepherding. The critical moment comes though, with the introduction of the wolf. Only the shepherd will do the sheep any good when adversity comes. So, you do not need a hired hand; you need a shepherd. And that’s what you have in the Church, where
There Is One Flock and One Shepherd
The rampant consumerism in our present American culture exacerbates the image of the Church as a hiring relationship. Everything around us is about economics. This week Mark Zuckerburg, the founder of Facebook (if you’re listening, hi Mark!), testified in Congress about his social media platform that has made him rich beyond his wildest dreams. One senator asked him how he can make money if he doesn’t charge anything to use Facebook. He replied, “We run ads.” It’s as simple as that. There is an axiom that is especially true in the new online economy—if the product is free, then you’re the product. And that means that just about every nook and cranny of life is about being sold to, or being sold. And this mindset has infected the Church, too. Not that it wasn’t there before. It’s just more pervasive now. But to turn the Church into a hiring relationship is to turn the Church on its head.
There is one mindset that thinks that the Church is only useful so far as it gives you a return on your investment. This isn’t just money (but often it is about money). It’s also about your time, which in our day is a more precious commodity than cash. Consumerism tells you that if you’re not pleased with they way something’s done in the Church, then it’s the church or the minister that’s in the wrong, because the customer is always right. And if it’s not right, you can take your money and your time elsewhere.
Have you ever gone into a church and gotten the feeling that you’re being sold to? Have you ever seen a ridiculous gimmick in the sermon that was a thinly-veiled attempt to get you to buy into the preacher’s schtick? I’ve had it happen more times than I’d like to count. But as I reflect back, I think that the problem is less being sold to than it is being sold. See, that’s the thing. The flock—that’s youse guys—can never hire their own workers. That’s as ridiculous as sheep getting together to hire their own shepherd. Doesn’t work that way. And even if it did, the sheep would never follow the man they hired. No, sheep are the commodity. They are the ones who get bought and sold in herd economics.
But there’s also another possibility. There could be a wolf sneaking around. Someone who dispenses with the economics of it altogether, and snatches and scatters the sheep. This is when the reward will never outweigh the risk.
To survive such a threat, we need an entirely new economics. We need to turn this relationship around. We need a Shepherd.
Jesus identifies Himself not only as a shepherd, but the Shepherd. What’s more, He identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd. What distinguishes Him as the Good Shepherd is that He lays down His life for the sheep. This is not possible in a hiring relationship. There is never enough money for someone to give up his life for someone else. For that you need a higher calling. By laying down His life, Jesus establishes the Church as a shepherding relationship. It’s not about trying to provide the best return on investment to His people. Rather, Jesus is the One who makes the investment.
The hired hand does not own the sheep, Jesus says. The hired hand is not invested in the sheep. His only interest is how much the sheep can provide for him, and there’s always a point when they can’t provide him enough to stick around. Jesus, however, introduces a new currency in the herd economics. He owns the sheep, but not as products or commodities. This is because Jesus has invested much more than money or time into His flock. He purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own. Jesus paid the price of blood to be your Shepherd, and that’s what makes Him Good. No wolf can scare off the One who had His hands pierced for the sake of His sheep.
Therefore, the Church is the holy believers and the lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd (SA XII 2). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, makes Himself known by His voice. He calls out to His own and they hear His voice. How do you know His voice? Sheep know their shepherd’s voice. It’s just as the Father knows the Son and the Son knows the Father. When you hear the voice of the One who lays down His life, you know you are hearing the voice of your Good Shepherd.
So in spite of all the different churches with all their different shepherds, there still remains One who alone is Good, One who alone laid down His life and took it up again. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, whose goodness is in His death and resurrection for the sake of His sheep, is the One who calls His flock into existence. There is one flock, one Shepherd.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard
There Is One Flock and One Shepherd
- The Church is not a hiring relationship.
- The Church is a shepherding relationship.