Sermon; 4th Sunday of Easter – May 12, 2019 – Mother’s Day
Acts 20:17-35 ‘Wolves, Shrinks and Doves’
CT: Sheep are kept safe by the Word of God’s grace, where their ears are trained to know Jesus’ voice.
Intro: Wash a nice wool sweater and then throw it in the dryer and your guaranteed to have something much smaller come out. If it’s your wife’s sweater, you could be in trouble. When something shrinks it gets smaller, dries up, withers. Whether we like it or not our dollar continually shrinks making it harder to pay the bills, investments shrink causing concern over retirement plans, and even the wood in your house can shrink causing the drywall to crack. But we too shrink away from things. We shrink away from being in places or at family gatherings if we know someone we don’t want to talk to might be there. Father’s and mother’s shrink away from their responsibilities of parenting, sometimes of even supporting their families. And Christians can shrink away from sharing their faith, speaking about Jesus, because we don’t want to stand out, look weird, or be called religious—or worse.
Declare Shrink: The Apostle Paul said he did not shrink from sharing what he knew about the Christ. He did not shrink from declaring, teaching, or testifying to the Gospel of the grace of God. He was honest and genuine about everything that was profitable; that doesn’t always mean popular. His letters addressed all kinds of issues in the church; the sanctity of life, our sexuality, marriage, work, money, worship, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper. We shrink away from many of these issues. Some like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are just divisive; perhaps we could just agree to disagree, yet no one seems willing to go back to read what the Bible says and make the connection to God’s grace; to what He’s doing for us, rather we use our reason to turn them into something we do for God. It’s subtle yet destructive because such views shrink faith and hide Christ. Maybe you too have avoided such discussions, not wanting to offend someone.
Teach Shrink: And when it comes to teaching what the Bible says about God’s gift of life, our sexuality, or marriage, well … those are just awkward subjects, tough to talk about in private never mind teach in public. And money; just don’t go there! That’s become an untouchable topic; the secret god in so many people’s pockets. It’s as if Jesus or the Bible would ever mention that subject, but it does, and more often than we’d like. Yet Paul did not shrink away from teaching in public or private; he did not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God.
Testify Shrink: And Paul never shrank from testifying to repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, no matter who you are or where he was. Repentance is not always a welcome topic because it implies you and I have something to turn away from; there are wrongs that need righting; sin that needs forgiving that leads us to a new and unfamiliar path ahead of us rather than the old, well worn path we’ve taken so many times. That is the path of swallowing our hurt, festering on bitterness and anger, and drinking the poison of un-forgiveness. But even thinking about repentance is impossible without faith in Jesus Christ; it’s simply a futile journey. Faith trusts in God’s mercy and His unfailing love; in truth we have nothing else—we need nothing more!
Flock Shrink: And so the Apostle encourages, warns, and prepares those who are to watch out and care for God’s flock. God’s flock is the sheep that Jesus has called to be His own and obtained with His own blood. We have the work of the Good Shepherd, our risen Lord, and the Spirit He has sent to be with us. We are in the grip of the Father’s unending love for us, but we also have the ‘fierce wolves’ among us, not sparing the flock, speaking twisted things to draw disciples after themselves. It’s as Jesus said: “Beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7: 15-16) We, His sheep are not separated from this world; we don’t belong to it, but we do live in it. We need the elders, the overseers, the leaders of our family of faith as well as the shepherd; the pastor that God provides. Your pastor and elders are also sheep of the flock, constantly in danger; not above you, but servants among you, called to be alert, to be disciplined and trained in watching over, watching out for, and caring for the sheep that the flock would not shrink in faith and in love for one another.
Shepherd Work: The job of your pastor is to faithfully proclaim the whole counsel of God’s Word. That is to teach the truth, all that is profitable to you without exception, and to rightly administer the Sacraments, which are God’s means of grace to His flock. Pastor Koebernick once recalled the note on his call documents to our parish, in which Walter Hogan added a qualification: “willing to work hard.” Paul speaks of his hard work in and out of the church and how he did not cease day or night to admonish everyone with tears.
When you see your pastor wearing that black shirt with a white collar, remember that the black is to remind him and us of his humanness; that he too is tempted and at times would rather be popular than speak what is profitable. But the white tab in the collar is meant to remind him and you that he’s hiding behind Christ. Your pastor needs to hear the same words of correction and forgiveness he speaks to us. When he speaks words of instruction, warning, or discipline, it’s not because he’s having a bad day; they are the words of our Good Shepherd, flowing out of Jesus’ limitless care for both you and your pastor. And when he speaks words of encouragement, forgiveness, and blessing, they are not meant to flatter or sound cheesy but rather they are Jesus’ words of healing, mercy, and grace. And when he speaks out against distortions of the Christian faith, it is with the apostles’ fears of what these might do to the flock—to you—to our faith—to our understanding of God’s grace.
Good Shepherd: We have the benefit of the Lutheran Confessions and Luther’s Small Catechism to help us distinguish between Law and Gospel that this distinction would guide our reading of Scripture, and make clear our understanding of grace, able to throw aside all things that would shrink our faith and cover up Christ. Like Paul, there are days where your pastor labours with tears over those who are pulled away by worldly cares, tempted by the devil and our sinful flesh, and even blindsided by twisted teachings of our age. It can seem like there is a pack of wolves among the sheep. Yet we persevere because we have a God who graciously provided the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls—Jesus, who did not shrink from giving His life for ours, or from shedding His blood for our sins. And we have this place where we can hear with ever growing clarity the sound of His voice; we have the green pastures and still waters of His word of grace, which is able to build us up and give us an eternal inheritance with those who in faith have gone before us.