Am I Jesus Little Lamb?
The sermon hymn is in the section of TLH considered to be second-rate. So, you might be surprised to learn that this 18th century hymn first appeared among the hymns for Holy Communion. And the portion of the Gospel our sermon is based on, Jn. 10:27-28, is cited by our Book of Concord as being a description of the elect (SD, XI, 29). So the question "Am I Jesus' little lamb" is important to answer.
Do you listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd? Jesus says His sheep "listen" to His voice. The form of this Greek word means listen as opposed to "hear". Even in English we make this distinction. To "hear" is to passively take in sound. To "listen" is to actively process information. Parents know this distinction. We ask the child, "Did you hear me?" And when we get a casual, "Yeah I heard." We respond, "Are you listening?" And note the listening is present tense. Sheep are not those who have listened, but those who do listen. Note too there is no asterisk here. Jesus doesn't say, "My sheep hear My voice" *except when a pandemic has been declared. I fear some have taken the conclusions of the CDC as justifiable reasons for not listening to the Good Shepherd's voice. Trinity has done whatever it takes - following the guidelines of the CDC - for anyone over the last 2 years to be able to listen to the Good Shepherd's voice. If you haven't, that's on you. And in so far as you haven't, you're not Jesus' little lamb.
That's harsh! Better stop listening then. Notice Jesus doesn't say lambs listen to a voice but "My voice." Go to Jn. 10:5 and listen to Jesus, "Sheep will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." Lamb's know the truth of "stranger danger". You could translate 'stranger', 'alien'. Doesn't that send shivers up your wool? I've been troubled lately by the preponderance of the casual expression relative to pundits, politicos, and personalities, "I follow so and so." I would say, "I listen, in the sense of hear) Rush Limbaugh" or "Colin Cowherd" or "Neil Boortz". I never would say, "I follow" any of them. This may be just a turn of phrase. Perhaps those who follow others aren't do anything different than I listening to/ hearing them was.
We'll talk more about following Jesus later. For now, let's look at lamb's listening to Jesus. Where is the Good Shepherds voice for you? Only one person has been called, ordained, and commanded to stand "in the stead" of Jesus Christ and speak to you. It was only when Luther was made a doctor of the church that he deemed he had a Call to speak to the whole Church rather than his little flock. This is my problem with posting my sermons, streaming the audio of our service, and my blog. I'm not called to preach, teach, forgive, or commune anyone but you lambs. It is pretentious to think I have a worldwide Call to teach; it is erroneous for me to seek to teach sheep of other folds. But hear these words rightly. I'm not saying, I am your Good Shepherd: In the 5th century St. Isidore of Pelusium wrote of a vestment bishops wore: the pallium. It was worn across the shoulders as a symbol of their authority. It was to imitate the Good Shepherd carrying a lost sheep. He said that the bishop removed this 'vestment of imitation' when the gospel is read, because our Lord speaks there in person" (Norris, Church Vestments,25).
Are you Jesus' little lamb? Do you listen to His voice? Second, are you known by Him? Jesus says, "My sheep listen to the voice of Me, and I know them (or more accurately) I recognize them." Get it? What counts is not what you know, not whom you recognize, but whom Jesus does. Paul makes this distinction in Gal. 4:9, "Now that you know God--or rather are known by God." Going back to Ezk. 9:4 the Lord marks them that are His. "Go through Jerusalem, and you shall mark a taw on the foreheads of those who moan and groan over the abominations being committed in her." The Hebrew letter mentioned was made at that time by 2 intersecting lines, i.e. a cross (Hummel, Ezekiel I, 263, 268). In Revelation both the Beast and the Christ mark their own. Since ancient times the Church has marked her own with the sign of the cross on the forehead and on the heart as a sign that the person has been redeemed by Christ the crucified. But when considering the Lord's marks, we should consider 2 hymns and 2 Bible passages.
The 2 hymns are 445 and 513. "Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas" (2)? And hymn 513 asks what the Lord's reward here is and answers, "Many a sorrow, many a labor, many a tear." The marks that the Lord shows you that He knows you are His forgiving word preached to you; His lifegiving Water poured over you; and giving you to eat as bread and to drink as wine the same Body He gave over on the cross to pay for you sins and the same Blood He shed their to cover them. But to the world you are otherwise marked. To the Galatians that opposed him, Paul closes his epistle with these dramatic words: "Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" (Gal. 6:17). What do you suppose those marks were on the one who said, "Five times I received from the Jews the 40 lashes minus one. 3 times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned" (2 Cor. 11:24-25)? And not just Paul bears these marks. Heb. 12:6 says, "Whom the Lord loves He chastens, and He scourges every son He receives;'"
Am I Jesus' lamb? Am I listening, known, and following? These words aren't meant to be thought of as successive but simultaneous. Hear, know, follow, and give too are timeless. You don't have one without the other. But a mark of fallen sheep not mentioned by Jesus is that they love to wander. Go read all 176 verses of Ps. 119. That paean of praise to God's Word ends saying: "I have strayed like a perishing sheep." And then 300 years later Is. 53:6 laments, "We all have gone astray like sheep. Each of us has turned to his own way." Thanks be to God though Ps. 119:176 doesn't end with the fact we have strayed but after saying, "I have strayed like a lost sheep", it ends with the prayer, "Seek Your servant." Likewise, I only quoted the first part of Is. 53:6. That too ends with a full blast Gospel-punch. "Each of us has turned to his own way " is followed by: "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Our text is the Good Shepherd seeking His lost sheep with that Good News.
I do the same every Sunday with the objective Gospel. The Good Shepherd is also the Lamb of God who carried away the world's sins. If the world's sins were there, so were yours. He nailed them to the cross, and He rose without them. You walk about in your Baptism without them. But not only were the sins of the world objectively there, i.e. apart from what anyone believed, hoped, or did, but so was the Law that makes you guilty. Paul says in Col. 2:14, "God erased the record of our debt brought against us by His legal demands. This record stood against us, but He took it away by nailing it to the cross."
I told you I was arrested when I was 17. Days went by before I was to appear before the judge with my parents. It was horrible, dishonorable, shameful. That's what I felt but I didn't express it to my folks. I was too cool for that. When we got there, we waited through other cases never being called. At last we went up to the judge. He had no paperwork, no charges. The judge knew nothing against me. I was free to go. This is how it is with you now that all the laws convicting you, burdening you, shaming you have been taken away by Christ crucified.
This may be one of the functions of nightmares. It is the only regular experience I have of joy based on something being removed. It's just a dream. It isn't real. That is how your sins and sinfulness are before God in Christ. Psalm 126:1-2 is about the OT Church returning from captivity. We have this same picture: "When the Lord restored the captives to Zion, we were like dreamers. Then our mouths were filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy."
Having answered the first 3 questions: yes, I'm listening to the Good Shepherd; I'm known by Him; I'm following Him all the way to the cross and out of the tomb; you answer the last. Yes, I have eternal life! Notice this too is present tense. It's not, "I will give them eternal life", but "I give them eternal life." Right now He gives His little lambs never-ending life. Are you living in it now? O how we like those party tunes like "I'm going to party like it's 1999" and "Livin' La Vida Loca" as if this is the best there is. No, 1 Cor. 7:31 says we're to use this world "as if not getting any use out of it. For the way of life that belongs to this world is passing away." What Paul says is passing away is the schema of this kosmos. The whole scheme of this reality is really the shadows on Plato's cave. That's what Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:18, "We are not focusing on what is seen, but on what is not seen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are not seen are eternal." If you are waiting to get to this point, or after you go through this or that, or after something is behind you or completed, to start everlasting life, you're wrong, and missing it.
The judge has declared He can find no charges against you; there is no more captivity for you, and you're going to wait to rejoice, to live it until what? A more fitting time? When is the time right to rejoice over a gift? When you get it. You've been Baptized into not just the death of Christ but into His resurrected life. After communing you, I don't dismiss you into another 20, 30, 60, 70, 80 more years but into life everlasting. 1 Cor.15:19 applies here: "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." As long as their Shepherd lives, little lambs are ever glad at heart. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday of Easter (20220508); John 10:27-28