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Third Sunday of Easter (Misericordias Domini)

April 14, 2024; Rev. Kurt A. Lantz, Pastor
Easter 4 B. Good-Shepherd-1.jpg

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Walking in His Steps,
not Carried in His Arms

On the Feast of the Resurrection, St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians inspired us to keep the feast in the sincerity and truth of holy living by purging out the leaven of sin. Last Sunday, St. John’s First Epistle inspired us to live a life of love that conquers the world. Today, St. Peter’s First Epistle gives us the strength to live a life that involves suffering on account of doing good in a world that does not understand the way of Jesus. These epistles reveal the victory of Christ’s resurrection for you now, every day of your life, until the final day that will have no end.


The images of Good Shepherd Sunday are beloved and sacred, as you see on today’s bulletin cover. There is Jesus leading a flock of sheep, walking through a beautiful mountain pass. He has a shepherd’s crook in one hand as His walking stick, and in the other arm He carries a lamb, or in some depictions a larger sheep on His shoulders. We all think how beautiful it would be to be carried by Jesus. We think of how He went out to seek that lost sheep to bring it back to the fold. We think about Him lovingly binding up its wounds and bringing it to safety. It is a wonderful picture of the “misericordias domini,” the steadfast love of the LORD.


But what about those sheep that are not in His arms or on His shoulders? What about the 99 sheep who were left while the shepherd went out in search of the lost one? What about those who are not being carried but trudging along behind mile after mile on the stony path? Everyone wants to be the lamb in Jesus’ arms. St. Peter writes to those who are following in the Shepherd’s footsteps.


“But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21).


You shouldn’t expect that you will be the one to be carried everywhere you are called to go. You shouldn’t expect that you will be the focus of God’s undivided attention. You should expect that there are others that need His care, and that should not make you envious or fill you with resentment. It should not make you afraid. It should not turn you away from the shepherd to wander off on your own in search of greener pastures. It should not cause you to ram your horns into the sides of those around you, or to lie down refusing to move until the shepherd comes back to pick you up.


We can see it in little children who always want to be the centre of attention. They do not understand when someone else needs care and comfort, so they will start to wail and scream even when they are okay. They cannot abide someone else receiving a treat if they don’t receive one, too. If their little brother or sister gets to be carried, then they refuse to walk along. They need to learn that they are just fine as they are; that they are strong enough to stand on their own two feet and even to walk by themselves. They will not die of hunger if they don’t get the first cookie. They are still loved and under the good care of mom and dad even if their parents are holding and comforting someone else.


St. Peter wrote to the Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire because various persecutions arose and drove the believers out of the towns where they lived. Some of them felt all they could do was to wail and complain and cry. Some felt that they ought to fight back. When we consider our situation, living under a government that is in many ways opposed to the Christian faith, we are tempted to spend our time wailing and complaining, or lashing out in anger with attempts to raise the ire of all against those who oppress us. This is our temptation even though we live in rather peaceful and free circumstances. Sometimes it comes off as embarrassing as toddlers throwing a tantrum when they are no longer being babied as infants.


We can fall into these reactions also when we are harassed or ignored by family members. It is our sinful nature that stirs up envy and ire when we don’t feel like we are being treated the way we deserve, and especially when it feels like someone else is receiving all the pity and compassion of others. We want to be the sheep carried on shoulders or the lamb in loving arms. That is our place. Why is someone else there? How can I be just one of the many of the flock following behind, walking on my own?


St. Peter gives three reasons why we can walk behind the shepherd, why we don’t need to be carried in His arms all the way, why we can let others who need the shepherd’s focused care have His attention.

1) Christ gave you an example

2) He bore your sins

3) you have been healed


1) Perhaps you have heard it said that Jesus suffered so that you don’t have to. Well, He suffered the eternal judgment and punishment for your sins so that you don’t have to suffer that, but that does not mean that He has suffered all of the pains and persecution, torments and tortures of this life so that you don’t have to. Rather, St. Peter tells us that Christ suffered all of those things in order to provide you an example of how you also can suffer well.


You can be one of those sheep not carried on His shoulders but following in His footsteps. He has shown you how to stand on your own two feet in the face of persecution and suffering. He faced it with holiness of life, not resorting to the sinful ways of the world. He was determined to live and to die according to the will of the heavenly Father. St. Peter shows how well he knew our Good Friday Old Testament reading from Isaiah. He quotes: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22; cp Is 53:4-8). He didn’t lie about His circumstances so that He would receive better treatment.


When Christ was reviled, He did not revile in return. It is so tempting to hurl back the hurtful words. But the way of bearing persecution and suffering that Christ has shown us is to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). He did not hurl threats of retaliation or revenge.


Rather, He knew that everything was in the hands of His heavenly Father, and that His divine and perfect justice would be served in the end. It is hard to trust in that. We would rather have justice be served by our own hand to make sure that those who have hurt us get fully what they deserve. But it is the epitome of faith to let go of such a grasp on vengeance and to trust that your God and Lord, your loving heavenly Father, will settle things according to His holy and righteous judgment.


In order to be that kind of a sheep to follow in the steps of the Shepherd, you need to trust the Shepherd who will destroy the wolves who attack without mercy; and who will keep the butting and ramming sheep away from you and discipline them with His rod until they learn not to harm you anymore. That is walking among the flock behind the Shepherd. That is walking as a child of God, growing from infancy to maturity.


2) The second reason that you can walk in the steps of the Shepherd when you are not being carried in His arms is because “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 5:24). Your sins are already atoned for in the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, upon the cross. This is not hell that you are going through. This is life in a wicked world among sinful, fallen people. It is hard and they are mean and hurtful, but your eternal salvation is secured. Your deliverance at the Day of Resurrection is assured.


You are living a life free from the eternal punishments of your sins. This momentary affliction will pass away and you know that. It will not go on and on forever. There is a beautiful paradise in store for you and Jesus is leading you there. The path may be stony as you follow His steps, but He is also the one who makes you lie down in green pastures when the way is too long for you. He leads you beside still waters when you get overheated and thirsty for relief. He restores your soul in the feeding ground of His Church (Psalm 23:2-3), where you find rest in the water and Word of your Baptism, and are fed the body and blood of the Shepherd which bore your sins on the tree of the cross.


He walked in resurrection victory after death, devil, and the world threw all they had at Him. That is the victory that He gives to you. He has blazed the trail so that you might follow in His steps. You live a life with forgiveness and grace behind every rock, there for you whenever you need it. This is the path of His resurrected life.


He does not lead you to the cross to bear your sins. He has gone there where you were not allowed to follow. He died for your sins so that you have died to sin. He rose again to give you everlasting life, so that you might live to righteousness. He is not leading you on a path to the cross of salvation. He is leading you on the path that is on the other side of that cross.


3) Lastly we can live our resurrection life walking behind the Shepherd because we have been healed by His wounds. He has bound up our weaknesses and frailties so that we might be strengthened for the journey to paradise. We do get battered and beaten along the way, but the forgiveness, steadfast love, and never-ending care that He provides gets us back on our feet and underway.


He took on frail human flesh when He was incarnate in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary. The almighty, eternal, creator God, allowed Himself to go hungry when He was battling Satan on our behalf. He allowed Himself to get tired from all of the preaching and healing, and all of His walking from place to place to come to more and more people. And when He was arrested, He took the beatings and slaps and flogging and thorns and nails, until His life bled out from the wounds from head to toe.


In those sufferings, beatings, and wounds that brought Him to death, we find our salvation. In His resurrection we find healing for the wounds that our own sins have self-inflicted. And we find healing in the forgiveness we are able to offer to others from the wounds that they have brought upon us. The fact that He was willing to suffer for us inspires us through the testimony of His Holy Spirit in the Word, so that we are not only strengthened to suffer for others but find healing for the hurts we have even when we suffer for doing good.


Jesus’ arms are big enough to hold us all, but it is in grace that His healing is potent enough, His love is steadfast enough, His care is without bounds, that He can call us by name to follow Him in His steps. His steps of suffering are also steps of victory. Walking in those steps we mature and become stronger ourselves for the rest of the journey of life in this world, to the pastures of the world to come.


The Shepherd has rescued you. He is bringing you home. You are a secure and safe member of His flock. He has suffered to give you an example. He has born your sins in His own body on the tree of the cross. By His wounds He has healed you. In all of this He has strengthened you to walk in His steps, enduring suffering from the hands of others as you place your feet one after the other in the path He has blazed for you. You have the promises of eternal life. You have His righteousness to walk in.

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