Sermons, Uncategorized

A Lamb of the Good Shepherd: A Sermon for the Funeral of Elaine Rieck

“The Good Shepherd” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

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[Jesus said:] “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 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… My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:11-15, 27–30).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Given what is going on in the world, the death of Elaine Eva Lou Rieck might be considered just another statistic. But those of you gathered here today know better. Elaine was much more than just a statistic. She was the faithful wife of Ray for 65 years. The loving mother of Rosalyn, Lynette, Gerald, and David. Grandmother. Great-grandmother. Neighbor. Friend.

Elaine was proud to be a pioneer—the first female bus driver in Edgerton way back in 1962. She loved dancing, sewing, crocheting, gardening, playing pinochle, and jigsaw puzzles. I knew that if I couldn’t find Elaine in her room, she was probably at one of the tables putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Elaine liked to talk about her family, farming, fishing and how much she loved this little church whenever I visited her over the last seven years.

But more important than all that, Elaine was a child of God, a beloved lamb of the Good Shepherd. Many of the most important days of her life happened right here at St. John’s. Elaine was baptized here into the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on July 7, 1929. She publicly confessed her Christian faith in the Rite of Confirmation here on April 18, 1943. She was united in Holy Matrimony to Ray here on November 16, 1945.

And for many years, Elaine came here to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd through His Word and to receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of her sins and the strengthening of her faith. When she could no longer get herself here, her pastor brought the Church to her. So, it is fitting that we be here today, even as we mourn her death, to speak of Elaine’s faith and, more important, to hear of her Good Shepherd and His work of salvation even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of her death.

The body of Elaine lying inside this casket is precisely the reason Jesus was sent into the world. Now death was not a part of God’s good creation. But death entered the world through sin. When the first man and woman ate of the forbidden fruit, the curse of death corrupted all of creation. Man, who was made of the dust would die and return to the dust from which he was created. And the mortality rate for all humans since that time has been 100%. Death needs a cure; but where is one to be found?

Science cannot cure death. There is no technology, no miracle drugs, no vaccinations capable of preventing, stopping, or reversing death. There are no magic formulae, no mystical incantations, no enigmatic talismans, no alignment of stars that can cure death. There is no passionate human love nor lily-white personal sincerity nor Herculean individual effort that can cure death. Elaine held on valiantly to life here for 91 years, but she could not defeat death. You cannot defeat death. Neither can I.

Only One could cure death. Only One could make right that horrible first human death, righteous Abel, and every death in between, right down to this one before us today: the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who laid down His life to defeat death.

It is written, though little believed in the world, that God the Father said to the very first human, “In the day that you eat of [the fruit] you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). And it is written, and even less believed by the world, that God the Father’s promised cure for death came from “the Seed of the woman.”

And so it came to be in the passage of time, that the cure for death was born of the Virgin Mary. This Seed lived a life of perfect obedience and love, and then He willingly laid down His life on a cross, exchanging His righteousness for our sin, and rising to life again on the third day.

Jesus’ death and resurrection defeats death. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep to take it up again. That’s how death was defeated. That’s how Elaine gains eternal life. That’s how Elaine never perishes. That’s how Elaine cannot be snatched from the hand of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

He who has no faith in Jesus, the Good Shepherd, could look at this casket, this body, these family members with their tears and sorrows and ask, “Who is your Good Shepherd in whom you believe that you shall never perish?”

You answer simply, but boldly: Jesus. There is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved. The Father has put all things under Jesus’ feet. That includes death. Death is now a footstool to Jesus.

But then, why the reality of what we see here? This casket? This lifeless body? Sin. Sin still ravages the body. Sin still has its teeth in our flesh. But you must not put your eyes on your sin. Put them rather on Jesus. Indeed, hate your sins, detest your sin, curse your sin, but fix your eyes on “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. How? By becoming sin for you. By taking on your punishment. By dying your death. A death that did not have dominion over Jesus. A death that could not hold Jesus in the grave. Three days after Jesus laid down His life, the Father vindicated the Son. He was raised from the dead.

St. Paul reminds us: “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God” (Romans 6:9-10).

You and I must still live in the flesh for now. Elaine has put hers off. On Saturday, the Lord Jesus said to Elaine, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (cf. Luke 23:43). Her soul is with all the saints, awaiting the resurrection of her body when it will be fashioned to be like the Lord Jesus’ glorious body (Philippians 3:21). Since Elaine believed in the forgiveness of her sin in this life, she now has new life, eternal life, Jesus’ life. Elaine has new life because of her Good Shepherd, and she shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20–21).

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Lamb Will Be Their Shepherd

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For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Each year, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. Fittingly, all our readings today give us insight to the relationship we have with Jesus as sheep and Shepherd and the benefits of that relationship.

Our Gospel takes place during the Feast of Dedication, also called Hanukkah, the Jewish national holiday celebrating the purification of the temple by Judas Maccabaeus in December 165 B.C. Jesus was walking in the temple area near Solomon’s colonnade. It offered some protection from the winter’s cold. The Jewish religious leaders encircled Jesus and asked Him point blank: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Sad to say, they didn’t really want to know the truth. What Jesus had already told them, what He had done, and the way He lived in His Father’s name were clear evidence that He is the Christ. But they did not want to believe. Similarly, today, many people claim to want to know exactly who Jesus is, yet they ignore His own words and ways. “You do not believe,” says Jesus, “because you are not among My sheep.” Those who are not among God’s chosen flock turn deaf ears and blinded eyes to Jesus.

In contrast to such unbelievers, Jesus’ sheep hear His voice. He knows them and they follow Him. The relationship between Jesus and His followers is intimate, personal. And because He is the Christ, the Son of God, the relationship is eternal. He gives His sheep eternal life. They will not perish forever. No one can snatch them out of His hand.

What words of comfort for you and me! We are secure forever with Christ Jesus. Our security is locked up with the Father in heaven. No one can take us from Jesus’ hands because that would mean seizing us from God the Father’s hands. And no one can do that. What is true of the Son also is true of the Father.

Jesus’ words are clear. He is from God. He is the Son of God. He is God. He is the Christ. “I and the Father are one,” he concludes.

It’s not enough to gather from His words only that He and the Father think alike or have a harmonious relationship or treat His sheep alike. Jesus is speaking of being one essence with the Father, of being God. And that’s exactly how Jesus’ enemies understand Him. To them, Jesus’ words sounded like blasphemy, so they pick up stones to carry out the penalty described in Leviticus for blasphemers. Their hatred and anger cannot be contained. They are ready to ignore the legal need for a trial. They are ready to carry out capital punishment even though they know by law that only the Roman government has that authority.

But no one will take Jesus’ life. He will lay it down of His own accord when the time is right. And He will raise it again. He will give His sheep eternal life, and they will never perish, and no enemy will snatch them out of His hand.

Jesus, in our Gospel, warns of enemies from outside of the Church; Paul, in our First Reading, warns of those from within—false prophets, fierce wolves. He encourages the undershepherds of Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.

Paul understands that a preacher must answer to God for the message he preaches or fails to preach. By saying, “I am innocent of the blood of all,” he is expressing his confidence that no one will go to eternal death because Paul has failed to preach the truth to him.

God’s will is that all men turn in “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” All the teaching of the Bible and all true preaching centers in this. To alter any of God’s Law or God’s Gospel is to misrepresent God’s will. To say more or to say less than God’s Word says can make a pastor guilty of someone’s blood, make him the cause of someone’s eternal damnation.

Shepherds feed and lead the flock. Pastors feed and lead the Church of God. The Holy Spirit has made them overseers, supervisors, for that purpose. As undershepherds, pastors are to guard themselves and the whole congregation. Paul uses the picture of a flock because he is thinking of the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep, the God who bought the Church “with His own blood.”

That is a striking expression, so striking that some copyists and editors and commentators have tried to change it. That’s unfortunate. The phrase, “God’s blood,” reminds us that when God became man, He did not stop being God. As the God-Man He is not two persons but one person. What the Man did God was doing. What belongs to the Man belongs to God. When Jesus’ blood was shed, God’s blood was shed. When God bought the Church, He did it with His own blood.

The savage wolves of whom Paul speaks are false prophets of the same kind Jesus warns about in Matthew 7:15: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” No church anywhere at anytime can be complacent about the possibility of false teachers. Wolves kill sheep. False teachers kill souls. That is why we take our doctrine and practices so seriously. Though some misunderstand it as mean-spirited or intolerant or arrogant, it is actually most loving—a matter of eternal life and death.

False prophets generally do not come from outside but arise from within. They do not oppose the truth in a straightforward way and say that it is false. Rather, they distort it. They use the right words but twist and pervert them. Such lies and distortions must be opposed and exposed with the truth of God’s Word.

Who can keep the pastors faithful in their work and protect the Church from the savage wolves? Only God. How will God do that? Through the message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The Word proclaims God’s grace, imparts God’s grace, and keeps us in God’s grace. That Word will make us grow to Christian maturity and gives us a share of the blessings that God has for His saints.

Paul knows that he will not always be there to help the Ephesians, but God with His Word will help them as He has even while Paul is there building them up in the eternal inheritance the Lord Jesus has prepared for them by His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. So He does today in God’s Word written through the prophets and Christ’s apostles and spoken by His undershepherds, His called and ordained servants. Listen to Him!

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Then He promises: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” In Revelation, St. John gives us a sneak peek at the eternal life in the new heaven and earth where the Lamb will be the Shepherd forever.

The people in the great crowd which John sees before the throne of God in heaven are coming out of “the great tribulation.” That crowd represents the whole Church as if it is already triumphant, as if it is already complete, as it will be at the resurrection at the End.

The crowd of saints comes out of the great tribulation victorious because they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Because of the redeeming death of Jesus Christ, the crowd of people stands pure and holy in the presence of God. With sins forgiven by the blood of Christ, and covered now with the righteousness of the Lamb, they share in the victory of the Lamb before the heavenly Father. They stand before the throne of God and “worship Him day and night” (Revelation 7:15).

The one who sits upon the throne “will shelter them in His presence,” literally, “spread His tent over them, the same word used in John 1:14, when the Word became flesh, He “tented” among God’s people. It could be that, in using this word, God is condescending to our human understanding of existence and manner of speaking. But more likely, the word is used to direct attention to the fact that God’s people, raised from the dead will live intimately in the flesh with God in the new heaven and new earth, and in a familial, intimate way, He will dwell with us in a manner that can be experienced also with the human senses. And because God will tent among His saints in heaven, “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore” (Revelation 7:16). All our greatest needs will be taken care of!

As we reflect on what John saw and heard, we can’t help but be comforted with this thought: God always keeps His promises. John sees the final end of God’s promises concerning His people at rest in the presence of God and the Lamb, never again to be pained by the harshness of life we formerly experienced it in our earthly existence. In our new life with God, the Lamb “will be [our] Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water” (Revelation 7:17).

This relationship between God and His people, as pictured by His being our Shepherd, was revealed so beautifully in the 23rd Psalm. Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord promised His people that like a shepherd He would look after them in order to rescue them and care for them. In order to carry out this Word, God then promised to provide His people with a shepherd. The promised shepherd would be His servant, born in Bethlehem from the seed of David. In the verses, preceding our Gospel, Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd.

Now in our text, John sees and hears the final outcome of these promises. The Shepherd of the Lord has been provided. By His death and resurrection, the servant David has rescued God’s people. As their Good Shepherd He tends the flock, caring for them and leading them through the great tribulation to “springs of living waters—eternal life—already now on earth, then in heaven with God, and finally forever in the new heaven and new earth.

A final truth describes the rest and the peace of the crowd of saints before God’s throne in heaven: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17). Tears and laments are part of the experience and character of the faithful people of God while on earth. Tears are shed over one’s sins and the sins of others, over the ruin and sufferings experienced by others, over one’s own afflictions, when confronted with God’s anger, when alone and in sorrow, at death, and at other times of sadness.

In this life the shedding of tears is as much—at times even more—the experience of Christians as are joy and laughter. But it is the gift of God’s grace to turn the weeping and sorrow into joy, for He has promised a day when “the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). John now sees the complete and final fulfillment of this promise of God. The final word describing the peace and joy of the saints before God in heaven says it all: “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The Lord is your Good Shepherd. You hear His voice through His Word and follow Him. He feeds you on the green pasture of His Supper, His own body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. No one will ever snatch you out of His hand. The Lamb will be your Shepherd forever. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Is the Lord My Shepherd?

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The Lord is my shepherd—or so I say. But is He really? Is the Lord my Shepherd? Am I His sheep?

I say that I shall not want… not want anything beyond what my selfish heart desires, that is. I often covet that which He has not seen fit to give me, even though He promises to give me all that I need to support this body and life, and freely gives me all the gifts that I need for eternal life, including faith and forgiveness, grace and peace, His Word and Sacraments.

The Shepherd makes me lie down in green pastures, but look, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence! He leads me beside still waters, knowing well that His sheep cannot safely drink from swift streams, but I see still more exciting places where I’d love to drink my fill. Besides, I’ve never been a very good follower, preferring to do things my own way.

But the Shepherd restores my soul, squelching the wanderlust within me that moves me to live life the way I see fit. He leads me in paths of righteousness when I want to run in the open fields of the world—eating where and what I want to eat, associating with whom I choose to associate, doing whatever I want to do, serving my own appetites, living like the beast I am. Or, just as dangerous, those times when I try to walk the path of my own righteousness, my own good works, my own attempts at self-justification, rather than trusting in the perfect righteousness of Christ that alone justifies me and opens for me the way to eternal life.

The Good Shepherd leads me for His name’s sake, but I want to make a name for myself. I want others to like me and respect me, to look up to me. I want others to envy me, to speak ill of me if they wish, but secretly to covet who I am and what I’ve done. I want to get my own 15 minutes of fame, my time in the sun, and I’m willing to go to great lengths to make it happen.

Oh, I must tell you: I find the Shepherd’s rod restrictive and His staff stifling to my animalistic heart! Come valleys of the shadow of death, come storm and wind, hail and rain, I shall fear no evil, for I know the lay of the land, I can take care of myself, and I’m not sheepish about telling you.

So I, so you, so we sheep, boast in the psalms we sing from our untamed ovine hearts. We do not really want a Good Shepherd but a hireling, one who does not own us, who has no personal stake in us, but who answers to our whims. We want our precious freedoms—freedom to walk in unrighteous paths if the end justifies the means; freedom to pull the wool over men’s eyes, twisting every story to paint ourselves in the best light, lying when we ought to confess, telling tales of others’ sins to make our own wool seem that much whiter in our own eyes.

Repent. For you are sheep going astray. Return to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. For the freedoms you crave are slaveries in disguise, chains that hell’s butchers cast around your neck to pull you under the slaughterhouse blade. The strange pastures you long for lead only to wandering, wilderness, and wolf, to darkness, death, and destruction.

The Lord is your Good Shepherd. And all He wants is you. You who so often turn your back on the fold and its shepherd? Yes, you. You who have cursed His staff, ignored His call, and gone your own way? Yes, you. You who have been more like a wolf than a sheep, angrily tearing away at those around you? Yes, the Good Shepherd wants only you.

So much does He want you and me, He became one of us. For us, who are but dust, He who is God of God came down, was beaten down Himself, and beat down Satan under our feet. For us, who are sheep that love to wander, the Lamb of God is bound to the altar of the cross in order to bind us to Himself. For us, whose mouths are open far too often, He opened not His mouth like a Lamb that is led to the slaughter. Now we listen to His voice.

The Lord is with us. The Good Shepherd does not send His sheep into places He will not go Himself; He leads us and is with us always. The hired hand sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep at its mercy, and flees. He lets the wolf snatch them and scatter them, because he cares nothing for the sheep.

Our Good Shepherd goes right after the wolf, attacks him, and rescues us from his jaws. When the lion of hell rises up against Him, our Shepherd seizes him by his beard and strikes him and kills him. No, more than that. He rescues you, but not as the shepherd David did with club or sling and smooth stone. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for you that He may take it up again. He lays down His body between you and the satanic wolf, between you and the lion of hell, and He gives Himself over to be devoured. The beast of Hades licks up the blood of the slain Shepherd, chews His flesh, and gulps Him down.

But that which the beast wolfs down cannot be digested in the tomb of the stomach. And when He who lays down His life takes it back again, that tomb cannot contain Him. The Good Shepherd vacates the stomach that had entombed Him for three days, leaving behind Him a predator that you, O little flock, need fear no more.

Shall you fear the wolf of hell with his burst belly, his broken teeth, and his howls of his own defeat? Shall you fear what mere mortals think of you when God Himself calls you His child, His friend, His beloved? Shall you fear that your rebellious ways have separated you from God when He makes you bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh? Have no fear, little flock, for He who is known by the Father knows you, calls you by name, and has made you His own.

And, as St. Paul reminds us:

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31–39).

The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord, for by the humiliation of His Son, God raises up our fallen world. The Good Shepherd raises you up from the pit into which you have fallen. He places you upon His shoulders and rejoices to carry you home. He washes you in cleansing waters, binds up that which was broken, and heals all your wounds. He prepares a Table before you and anoints your head with oil, and His chalice continually runs over—over your lips, over your sins, quenching your thirst while making you yearn for more. All this He does for you, solely out of His boundless goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you, but for the sake Jesus’ holy, innocent bitter sufferings and death.

Is the Lord my Shepherd? He most certainly is! He is your Shepherd, too. And because He is the Good Shepherd, you are His good sheep. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, covered with His righteousness, He gives His life for you and makes your life His own and His life your own. He becomes what you are, in order to make you what He is—holy, righteous, and blessed.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you, shall precede you, shall be on your right and on your left, above you and below you, all the days of your life, and you shall dwell in the fold of the Lord forever. Safe in the flock of His Church, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This sermon is an adaptation of a sermon by Chad L. Bird, published in his book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons.