Home > Uncategorized > Sermon for Easter 4 – Good Shepherd Sunday

Sermon for Easter 4 – Good Shepherd Sunday

Augustana, 2011

37 Sermon for Easter 4.mp3

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

The text for the sermon today is the first reading Acts 2:42-47.

On Good Shepherd Sunday, the Church wraps itself up in this most popular image of Jesus.  Early Christians first portrayed Jesus as the Good Shepherd, surrounded by His sheep, taking care of them, as shepherds do.  But how does He take care of His sheep?  How does He take care of you?  How does Jesus give you this abundant life that comes from His laying down His life for His sheep?  Today’s first reading from Acts shows us how Jesus takes care of us and where He is giving out His abundant life.  Acts chapter 2 tells us about the days immediately following the first Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and the Christian Church began.  It tells us about the life of the Church, a life defined first by gathering around Christ’s bodily presence in the liturgy, where the gifts of Jesus are received, the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, and then, next, and quite naturally, by the embodiment of Christ and His gifts in the world, where you serve your neighbor—Christian service—by loving them as you love yourself through your mercy, your compassion, and your forgiveness.

The life the Good Shepherd gives to His Church is the life of liturgy and Christian Service.

Back during Lent, at one of the Lenten Vespers services I shared with the congregation some of my frustrations with much of what passes for a Christian life.  Sporadic church attendance if at all, an unordered if not nonexistent prayer life, children who are not taught to even say grace at the table much less the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, no family devotion times.  For the folks who do come to church, few come any more than Sunday morning, hardly ever midweek for a service like Ascension or during Lent and Advent.  Little thought is given to actually Sabbath keeping; it’s best if church is done in 45 minutes because, come on, I don’t want to waste half the day.  Participation at the Lord’s Table is an add-on to the Divine Service and best avoided because it makes the service go long.  I could go on but you get the point.  And what has the church, not necessarily this church but the broader church and it’s leaders, what have they done over the years?  Tried to accommodate these folks!?!  And so the services get less frequent, chopped up and the sermons become sermonettes, pandering to folks who prefer something vaguely “spiritual” over the revealed holiness of God.  And how does that attitude developed in these kinds of services affect the rest of the life of the church?  Doctrine is not taught, there is not time.  There is no fellowship in the breaking of the bread because it is rarely done.  The prayers have been truncated if not disposed with altogether.  And so we value too lightly what we have received too easily.  This is the Christian religion lowered to the point where it is just barely Christian.

Counter that with the picture of the church here in Acts 2:42.  Acts 2:42.  Remember that verse, for here Luke describes the life of the Church as leitourgia, as liturgy, that is worship:  “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Luke defines the worship in this way: the apostles’ teaching and fellowship in the breaking of the bread and the prayers.  Three simple things.  Every Sunday this congregation has all three of these things.  We have the written teaching of the apostles which we read and hear.  That teaching is expounded and proclaimed in the sermon.  We have the fellowship in the breaking of the bread.  There is not an honest NT scholar past or present who denies that phrase “the breaking of the bread” refers to communion.  And as far as fellowship goes, for the first Christians, the fellowship was not the coffee hour and chit-chat after the service; it was the Holy Communion, the sharing in the holy body and blood of Jesus.  They devoted themselves to these things.  And they devoted themselves to the prayers.  Notice the “the” there.  They devoted themselves to the prayers.  They didn’t just have a prayer nor did they gather to pray.  They did not devote themselves to prayer but to the prayers.  That should sound like liturgy to you.  Seriously, I know ya’ll love me, but do you really want to suffer through whatever service I could pull out of my head from week to week or would you rather gather with all those who have gone before us for the prayers?  That is, join in and pray with those who have gone before us in the faith.  The early Christians devoted themselves to these things because it was there that Jesus was present among them and there they were strengthened for service in His name.

I have to tell you, this is personal for me.  I grew up in the LCMS of the mid and late 1980s and the 1990s.  Since then, the apostles’ doctrine too has not been heard from too frequently except for vague references to grace alone through faith alone.   We are certainly not troubling people with the greatness of their sin nor correcting any ill-formed notions of the Trinity much less are we plumbing the depths of the atonement.  Some churches have restored the fellowship in the breaking of the bread every Lord’s Day but more congregations have added a praise band than have returned to way of the first Christians.  This is personal for me because I have struggled through wondering whether all this doctrine is really necessary.  I struggle now with a more accessible on-ramp for unchurched people to encounter what happens here.  The Divine Service is for the saints, not for the unchurched.  I have struggled with personally and daily participating in the prayers of the church.  Now I have a better system and so it’s just a matter of the discipline to wrestle myself into a place to be still and quiet and listen to God in His Word and then trust Him with all my needs.  But here’s the thing, we don’t solve the problem by lowering the bar.  That only leads to a callous attitude towards God’s Word, to His teaching, and to His gifts of grace.   We need to stop settling for a lowest common denominator brand of Christianity and this is why; because of the great gift of God’s Gospel is Jesus Christ.

What then do people who take the Gospel of Christ seriously for themselves and their families, what should they be doing?  They should be following after the first Christians, devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  What should congregations be doing?  The same thing.

Your Good Shepherd takes care of you in the life of the Church, as those early Christians were taken care of by their Good Shepherd in a very simple way—by gathering for worship around Christ’s bodily presence.  We call this liturgy today; the early Christians called it leitourgia, which simply means God serving the world with Christ and His gifts.  In the Divine Service, the church uses the means given to it by God to center life firmly in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If there is one attitude that characterized the life of the emerging Christian Church at worship, it was joy, for at the Divine Service they met with God and God met with them and they were changed in their very core by that meeting, changed for their eternal good.

A helpful interpreter of  Acts 2:42 this morning might be the late Richard John Neuhaus who wrote:  [T]he churches, and Lutherans in particular, need to find fresh ways to proclaim the sacramental and communal nature of Christian existence.  The sad truth is that many, if not most, of our Lutheran people believe that a personal relationship with Jesus is what really constitutes being a Christian, with Baptism, Eucharist, Confession and Absolution as perhaps helpful addenda.”

So does Acts 2:42 have anything to say about the rest of the life of the congregation?  Sure it does.  It means confirmation class is not just a data dump of the Small Catechsim, and then never to be heard from again.  Catechesis means teaching people to trust that God is where He has promised to be:  in the Word, read and preached, in Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper and in Confession and Absolution. Catechesis means teaching people what it means to listen to the Word of God and echo it in their lives.  It means that Sunday School is not just craft time or fun time but time to pass on the stories of the faith through acting them out and singing them and of course hearing them.  And that goes double for VBS.  It means youth group is about applying this new faith to the ever growing challenges life starts throwing at you in high school and beyond.  It means that church breakfasts and dinners are about inviting friends and relatives and neighbors to a low-conflict event church.  It means that even new covered patios get dedicated to the glory and service of the Lord.  All of this is the liturgy of the church, the life of the congregation.  As yourself if you participate fully in the liturgical life the congregation.

Your Good Shepherd takes care of the life the world through the Christ embodied in you, through your love, your forgiveness, your mercy, your sharing with the world the gifts you have received in leitourgia.  The early Christians called that diakonia.  It’s the same Greek word we get “deacon.”  We might call it service, but it is a particular kind of service, service fueled by what has happened in the liturgy, fueled by Christ’s gifts of life, forgiveness and salvation.  Serving our neighbor not just with our love, but rather with Christ’s love we ourselves have experienced.  This is the Gospel, the whole Gospel.  Christ first serves us with His gifts in the liturgy and then we serve our neighbor as emissaries of Christ’s love in diakonia, Christian service.  Acts 2:44-45.  “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Those early believers weren’t communists, pooling all their resources for the common good.  They were Christians who had joined themselves to Christ bodily.  Now through their bodies, in concrete particular ways, they shared what Christ had given them with those in need.  The Gospel gave them freedom to do this—to love as Christ had loved them by giving up His life for them as their Good Shepherd, to serve their neighbor as Christ had served them by giving His life as a ransom for many.  This is the liturgy of life, the liturgy outside the liturgy, the liturgy where we serve others with Christ’s gifts, embodied in us, as he served us in the apostles’ teaching and in fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Now I might have sounded kind of critical earlier and I don’t want you to think I’m critical of Augustana.  Most of what I have criticized applies to the broader church and to the American Church in particular.  Here’s a short of list of some of the great things we do at Augustana.  We have an annual BBQ fundraiser not for ourselves but for the local hospice.  We have fundraiser breakfasts, not for ourselves, but for people in our community who whose house has burned down or need money for medical treatment or need to go to Guatemala to share the Gospel and encourage other believers there.  We have a pastor’s and elders’ discretionary fund to help some folks in need.  We give directly to the support of a teacher in the seminary in Pretoria, South Africa who is training locals to be pastors there.  We give directly to our church body’s World Relief and Human Care organization which has been active everywhere that has made the news recently from Haiti to Japan to Alabama and now along the Mississippi.  We directly give to support a seminarian studying to serve as a pastor in the church.  We directly give for the support of our seminaries which may seem a little more abstract but every dollar we give means a dollar in student loans that a student does not have to take out, pay interest on and repay.  And of course we give to the work of our church body too.  And this is to say nothing of the Christian service we perform in our homes as fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters nor in our community as citizens.  So you must ask yourself if you are fully participating in diakonia, in Christian service.

The life the Good Shepherd gives to His Church is the life of liturgy and Christian Service.  We are gathered here at the Divine Service to so what no unbeliever can do: proclaim that Jesus the Good Shepherd has come for the life of the world, that He shed His blood for the world’s sins, that he has risen from the dead for the world’s salvation, and that He is constantly present among us, offering His body and blood for our life eternal.  There is power in our proclamation to the word that it has been redeemed, re-created, and renewed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Come, let us devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship in the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.  And as we are joined to Christ’s body in our bodies let us serve all those in need as He himself would serve them.    Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: