Easter 4 – 2017

May 7, 2017  

John 10:1-10

I have never really liked the whole “Jesus as the Good Shepherd” metaphor.
I grew up with the image; my home congregation is the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd. When I was a pastor up in Houghton, MI the church I served was Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Although I loved both churches, I was never fond of the metaphor… mostly because, if Jesus was (or is) the Good Shepherd, that makes us sheep.

I am not a lamb, or a sheep, or a ewe (E-W-E)…
I have no desire to think of myself as a cute little lamb mindlessly following my shepherd from field to field, with no knowledge of what it means to be free. If I’m going to be a lamb I want to be the one that runs off to the other side of the field if I want to run off to the other side of the field.

I value my freedom. You probably do to. Which makes a metaphor that has us being led around by a shepherd who has a staff in his hand, ready to whack us with it if we step away from the herd—distasteful. I know—it doesn’t say anywhere in the reading that Jesus is going to whack us with a staff. But still… my point is, we value our freedom.

In the year 1523 Martin Luther wrote a sermon on this text. (www.trinitylutheranms.org) Luther wrote that these verses from the 10th chapter of John are about freedom, they are about liberty, they are not about blindly following a tyrannical shepherd.

Luther said (in his sermon) Here (in this story from John) Christ speaks about Christian liberty. Luther said Let us see to it that we allow the pure Word of God to take its course, and afterward leave them (the sheep) free to follow.

Luther believed the Word of God has the power to reach into our lives, to reach into our hearts and draw us to God. We don’t need to be coerced, or forced, or threatened into believing.

Luther said (in his sermon) Christ’s wish is that none be forced, but that they be permitted to follow from willing hearts and of their own desire; not out of fear, shame, or strife. He (God) would let the Word go forth and accomplish all.

Luther clearly states in his sermon that our hearts are free. That God desires our hearts be free. In fact, this section of Luther’s sermon is sub-titled “Preachers are to Force No One to Believe.”

Luther had that much confidence in the power of the Word of God.

In the first chapter of the gospel of John, the first words are “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”

What we have here is a play on words… because we have the written Word which reaches into our hearts, and we have the Word that was and is God… Jesus Christ.
Jesus reaches into our hearts. Jesus draws us toward him, toward his light, toward his love.

Jesus said “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9). This is where Luther finds our freedom, in our ability to come in and go out as we search. There is no shepherd whacking us on the back with his staff, trying to keep us in line. We can walk through the gate, going in… or we can walk through the gate, going out.  Liberty is ours.

Luther had that much confidence in the power of the Word of God.

The Word of God has the power to grab us by the heart and change us, drawing us in.
Preachers don’t need to grab people by the arm, or the nose, or the ear, dragging them into a life of faith. The Word grabs us.

And so Luther said “let us see to it that we allow the Word of God to take its course, and afterward leave them (us) free to follow.”

It might be the boldest statement of faith I have ever heard. Luther’s belief in God is so strong, so full, so complete… he trusted God. He trusted God’s ability to reach us, to touch us, to change our hearts.

There is another side to this, Luther also believed in people. He believed in our ability to make the right choices. He knew we aren’t sheep, blindly or meekly following a shepherd. He recognized that we have a choice when we are confronted by the gospel, by the Word. He trusted us to make the right choice.

The Word of God is a Word of love. Luther knew love to be something everyone desires. When given the choice, when having the freedom to choose—he believed we would choose love.

God loves us. God loves the world.
What a wonderful thing—to be free to experience such love.

Amen.