Sermon for the second Sunday after Easter, April 26, 2020 1133 W. Orvilla
Hatfield, PA 19440
(215) 453-7452
Rev. Robert T. Tufton - Rector
Seminarian, Gregory Gibson
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The Epistle for Easter Day

The assigned Gospel reading for the second Sunday after Easter begins with Jesus saying, “I AM the good shepherd.” By this statement, Jesus not only made a great claim about Himself, He also gave an example for His disciple to follow.

What did Jesus mean when He said He was “The Good shepherd”? What makes Jesus different from all other shepherds? The second part of verse 11 tells us that: this good shepherd, “lays down his life for the sheep”. Jesus was committed to doing ONE THING – FULFILLING HIS FATHER’S WILL.

The greatest proof of His commitment was - His willingness to lay down His life for you & me (His sheep).

Philippians, chapter 2, verse 7, says Jesus, “who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal to God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” In other words, He gave up His throne in heaven. He gave up the praise of angels, and became a peasant who endured the insults of man. He gave up the use of His divine power. He gave up His honor, His glory, and finally, His life. He gave up all he had in heaven to come and save us! And by His sacrifice, He open the doors of heaven to EVERYONE! He laid down His life for you and me so that we might not perish.

Some folks might be willing to give their life in substitution for one they love. But how many would sacrifice all they have to save someone who is evil, and disobedient? How many would be willing to suffer a painful, agonizing death for an ungrateful stranger? Let’s be honest, most people would not! Well, Jesus was not only willing, He did it! He died in our place because He is concerned for ALL those who are lost! You’ll recall that many of Jesus’ disciples said they would be willing to die for Him. But after His arrest, how many did? None! They all ran for cover. They denied Jesus. They abandoned His call to them. Yet we find in Hebrews, chapter 13, verse 5 that Jesus is quoted as having made them and us the promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

In Old Testament times we discover that the shepherd would lead his flock: He went before them leading them to good pasture and water; that he knew the location of caves where they could seek shelter from storms, cold nights, heat, and wild animals. The shepherd protected his sheep and put their safety before his own. He carried a staff to prod the sheep as they moved or to rescue them from crevasses, by placing the curved end of the staff around the neck of the animal and lifting it up to bring it back into the safety of the fold. Likewise, Christ does not want any of us to perish but rather to keep us safe and in His fold.

As our Good Shepherd, Jesus has been taking care of us - long before – any of us really understood who He was. I’m sure Jesus has suffered many a sleepless night for you and me. Think, for example, of the night before He was crucified – He suffered all night to take away our sins. And you may not have recognized it at the time, but along the way: When you were hungry, both physically and spiritually, Jesus has fed you, through the people in your life. When you were sick or hurt, Jesus was there, working through the doctors, nurses, and caretakers to heal you. And when you are far from home, Jesus does more than worry about you - He sends His holy angels to protect you. And as far as sacrifices go, you and I will never fully understand just how much He has sacrificed for us!

In verse 14, we learn another incredible thing about Jesus. It is that He knows us personally. "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me." Sometimes when we think of God, we think of some impersonal force of the universe, one who knows nothing about us and does not care about us, and therefore doesn’t do anything for us. Nothing could be further from the Truth. God knows us personally and cares intimately about us. We only fool ourselves when we think we can get away with anything: especially when we play, the church and religion game. You know, when we say we love Jesus, but yet hate those Jesus loves. When we say we follow Jesus, but we go places Jesus would never go. We might fool people, but we do not fool God. He knows us! We admit that when the Priest begins our worship with the Collect for Purity: “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, AND from whom NO secrets are hid.” On the other hand, when we are truly His: we provide God the opportunity to change us and mold us to His likeness: which brings us to the 2nd half of verse 14. Here Jesus says, that not only does He know us, but - as His sheep, we also know Him.

Jesus Christ is our example, and to follow Him we need to know Him. The example of Christ should be central to our life and faith. Like Paul we should seek to know and have the mind of Christ. As Christians we can only follow the example of Christ when we are as obedient as He was. It involves having His type of commitment to His Father’s will. Jesus always knew His Father’s will because of His close relationship with Him. It was a relationship strengthened through prayer. Likewise, it is only through prayer that we can learn what God wants done and what His plan is. It is only through prayer that we learn how best to serve and glorify Him.

Jesus never relied on Himself and gave us the example of one who was in constant prayer. He prayed at His baptism when He chose to identify Himself with sinful men and women. He spent a night in prayer before appointing His twelve disciples. He prayed before He questioned His disciples as to His true identity. He prayed in the Garden at Gethsemine on the night He was betrayed. Prayer was always a part of Jesus’ life, and as Christians we need to follow that example.

Most often our prayers are centered on our needs, our desires and ourselves. But, to pray like Christ means to also pray for others and especially those who are un-churched or non-believers. God cares for the lost and it certainly breaks His heart to see the people He loves living their lives without Him. Jesus Christ became human in order to bring in all the lost sheep. And like a good shepherd - it breaks His heart to see hurting people who are not in His flock. To follow the example of the Good Shepherd is to rely on Christ and to do His will and not our own will. We need to be totally obedient to Him. It is not enough to just call Him Lord, we need to obey everything He says and not withhold any part of our lives from Him.

As Christians we play a very important role in our society. These days when social structures are collapsing, family life is breaking apart, and everyone appears to be only concerned about pleasing themselves: a lot of people may begin looking to Christians to provide the answers. We can only help society find the right solutions when we set a good example by following the example of Christ. As followers of Christ our lives should be an example of true Christian teaching. Any conduct falling short will only invite criticism and inevitably hamper the growth of the Church. God through His Son, has commissioned us to feed His sheep. They need to be fed with the milk and meat of God’s word. They need a regular balanced diet of the Word of God to nourish them and make them grow spiritually.

There is one other lesson for us in this portion of Scripture, and that lesson is this:
After they buried Jesus, we all know what happened next. Verse 17: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.

After laying down his life, Jesus took up hHs life again, rose from the dead. So, you see, nothing - not even death, could keep Him from being our Good Shepherd. Since Jesus has risen from the dead, He is still our shepherd today. He is still watching over us today, still feeding us, still protecting us, and He will never, ever abandon us, not even during the current pandemic. When we feel abandoned, when we feel like we are in the woods and the wolves are closing in on us; we need to remember that our Good Shepherd is right behind us. He will lift us up on His shoulders and will carry us to safety. And on the way, we’ll pass by an empty cross, and an empty tomb. And because of that empty tomb, even in death, Jesus remains our Good Shepherd: We have all heard and read the 23rd Psalm – but have we really believed the words. The Lord is My Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His Names sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

This psalm reminds us that God is intensely, personally committed to each and every one of us. In a world in which our hopes and dreams can vanish in a moment, we need that eternal promise that we are never beyond God’s care and protection. AND WE HAVE THAT PROMISE BECAUSE Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd”. Which means that Jesus is with us whenever, wherever, and forever! AMEN!

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