Since the 1972 break-in of the Watergate office complex by Republicans to get Democrat campaign information, every political scandal ends in "gate." There are literally too many to mention here. Ironically, these scandals never have anything to do with a gate. Sheepgate is not a political but a theological scandal and it does have to do with a gate.
Let's start with the sheep part. This is what Jesus says sheep do. "The sheep listen to the Shepherd's voice." "His sheep follow Him." "They will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him." These are all present indicatives which mean they indicate what sheep do. They don't indicate what sheep will, might, can do but what they actually do. Jesus doesn't say sheep will listen to the Shepherd's voice. He doesn't say sheep might follow Him. Jesus doesn't say sheep can never follow a stranger and can run away, but that sheep do all 3 things without fail.
Ask yourself, be honest now, is that what you do? Do you listen to the Good Shepherd's voice? He uses my vocal chords in every Divine Service, every Bible class, every newsletter article, every catechism class. Find that hard to believe? Read Luke 10:16. Jesus says, "He who hears you hears Me," and Jesus didn't say that to the apostles but to the first 70 pastors. Still find that hard to believe? In the early history of our church, you wouldn't have. The pulpit parament and sometimes the front wall of the church were engraved with Jesus Words: "He who hears you hears Me."
Some of you skew not toward the priesthood of all believers, a Biblical doctrine, but everyman his own priest. Some of you skew not toward the Bible is the only standard for all teaching, a Biblical doctrine, but the unbiblical right of private interpretation. So you find a flesh and blood sinner like me as a mouthpiece of the invisible, holy God a bit of a stretch. So you stay away from sermons and Bible classes but you listen to His voice in the Word. Is that true? There is an explosion of Bible apps for smartphones, iPads, and laptops; the majority of you literally have the Bible at your fingertips not only to read but to hear. Do you? Jesus says sheep do.
Jesus also says sheep follow Him. Most of you follow your GPS, your navigation system, your smartphone more religiously than you do your Good Shepherd. Where my generation didn't leave home without American Express, you don't leave home without GPS. It says, "Turn here," you turn. It says, "Turn around," and you do. Can you honestly say you follow the Good Shepherd with anything approaching such complete obedience?
Jesus leads you to where His Word is preached, proclaimed, taught, sung, prayed and do you turn here or turn around to get here? Do you follow the Good Shepherd as He directs you to the Font or is Baptism just simple water only and not worth following Jesus to? Do you follow the Good Shepherd when He leads you with your burden of sin to Absolution or do you follow the world's ways of dealing with things that bother your conscience? When harassed by doubt, worry, fear, sins, do you follow the Good Shepherd to this Table that He has prepared in the presence of your enemies or do you ignore the "turn around" of the Good Shepherd which you seldom ignore from the GPS? Jesus says sheep don't.
Jesus also says sheep don't follow strangers but run away from them. Do you know the difference between the voice of strangers and your Shepherd? Do you think as long as you're in church somewhere hearing someone saying something you're a sheep? Jesus plainly tells you there are thieves and robbers out there and while you protect yourself religiously against those who would steal and rob you of your physical possessions, do you do anything to defend against those who would steal and rob you of your salvation? Do you flee the stranger's voice? How can you if you don't know the difference between it and the Shepherd's? What's more Jesus says the strangers are not there merely to steal but to kill and eternally destroy. Do you believe that? Jesus says sheep do.
Do you see the Sheepgate scandal? It's not that people don't do what the Good Shepherd says sheep do without fail. No, it's people claim to be sheep even though they don't hear His voice; don't follow Him and do follow strangers. The political "gates" have this in common; they have nothing to do with real gates and everything to do with people pretending to be keeping the people's trust while knowingly violating it. Sheepgate is about people claiming to have entered the Gate Jesus by trusting His words and directions but really they are following their own opinions or the words of strangers.
So what's the answer? Flip on that Smartphone and read a passage a day? Excuse the fact that you don't follow the Shepherd to Font, Pulpit, or Altar because you have Jesus in your heart and that's what is important? Tell yourself that it's not your fault if that pastor you're listening to is saying something different from the Good Shepherd? Has anyone in all the "gates" you've heard of in the last 40 odd years got out of them by trying harder or making excuses? No. The only one who ever got out was President Nixon, and how did he get out of Watergate? He resigned.
August 8, 1974, like Kennedy's assassination and the first man on the moon, is etched on every Baby-boomer' mind. Nixon resigned as President of the United States that day. He resigned from the highest, most powerful, most respected position in the entire world, and I'm telling you to resign something even greater and harder to give up. Nixon presided over a country; you rule your world. Nixon gave up an office; you need to give up yourself. Nixon knew he wouldn't die when he gave up the presidency. Your old adam, your sinful nature, knows it will die when you step down from the throne of your life.
Resign, I say as the Psalmist did in the longest Psalm of the Bible in the very last verse of it. He says, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Thy servant." Yes, admit that you're a lost sheep. Admit that you have not listened to your Shepherd's voice but to the siren song of your own ideas or the trending views of the world. Confess that you haven't followed the Shepherd to the Font, the Pulpit, or Altar because you didn't see what these very ordinary, weak looking things could do for you. Admit that you pay more attention to your GPS then to your Good Shepherd. Confess that you have gone astray by listening to other voices calling you from far away but like "Hotel California" says you now know they've called you to captivity not release.
Confessing that you have gone astray like a lost sheep is the first part, but for your sake don't stop here. The man who buries himself in a bottle stops here; the woman who buries herself under a load of guilt and self loathing stops here. The second part of confession is that after we confess our sins we receive absolution. Jesus is seeking you right now to do that to and for you. Jesus seeks sheep like the dying Stephen sought his murderers: by interceding on their behalf. The very last words of Stephen dying with broken bones, a bloody face, and a body that would never heal in this life were, "Lord do not hold this sin against them."
Surely if a sheep of the Shepherd can forgive those who have confessed nothing and are still in the midst of murdering him, the Shepherd Himself can absolve more and even more freely. "Don't hold the fact that they haven't even listened to My word in this sermon against them." "Don't hold the fact that they can't even follow Me two weeks in a row to this altar against them." "Don't hold the fact that they think anyone in the front of the church is speaking the Good Shepherd's Words against them."
How can Jesus say this? For the same reason Stephen could. Jesus came into the world as the Lamb of God carrying away the sins of the world. He carried every sin you can name, your enemies can name, the Devil can name, and even the one's you can't name or don't want to name. The Lamb of God carried them away from you, and last week. Peter told you what the result was. He assured us that we had been redeemed, bought back by Someone Else paying a price. And what did Peter say the price paid was? The precious Blood of a Lamb without blemish or defect.
We want to or think we can pay for our own sins. All that is colloquially called "beating yourself up," all the little ways we try to punish ourselves, all our trying to better, don't mean squat. Why? Because we're too full of blemishes and defects. We have too many pimples and are too deformed. But not Jesus. His Blood was pimple and deformity free. It was so thick with grace, so rich with forgiveness it covered not just your sins but the sins of the world.
But don't stop with what Peter said last week; go on to what de says this week. "For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." Isn't that the truth? Where did we begin this service? We followed Jesus to the Font by remembering our Baptism "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
But that wasn't enough for us. We weren't far enough through the Gate yet. No, we followed our Good Shepherd to Absolution where we heard God speaking from heaven through the voice of a man, "I forgive you." You might not forgive yourself; others might not forgive you. That doesn't matter. The Almighty God does for Jesus' sake. Sheep go by the voice of their Shepherd not by the voice of strangers or even their own.
Think we're done? Not hardly. We began hearing the voice of our Shepherd in Baptism and followed Him to Absolution, but we are sheep who love to wander, and we need to be brought all the way through the Gate. So we end gathered around the Body and Blood of the Lamb of God that has carried away the sins of the world. We eat and drink the Shepherd of our souls. Sheepgate ends when the sheep are resigned to reenter the Gate that is also the Shepherd who is also the Lamb that shepherds them by means of Water, Words, Wine, and Bread. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday of Easter (20140511); John 10: 1-10