It is surpassing strange to me that the sign of life in the delivery room when a newborn baby is brought into the world is crying. That high-pitched baby wail is a sign for and a great relief to worried parents but it's also the nature of the race. It is not so much the full-blown cry that almost sounds like a scream but most of humanity goes through life with the quiet sobbing grief that we call weeping. We start early. When our little brother takes our bike, or we don’t get that first car that we wanted and had to settle for one that we needed, to the wrong boy asking us to the prom we spend a lot of time weeping. My mother had a signature saying, “If you want to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about”. It is not so much we want to cry but there always seems to be something to cry about.
So much are we born for weeping the words of encouragement from one of the prophets is “weeping may last for a night but joy comes in the morning”
The timeless words from Job “that man is born for trouble as the sparks fly upward”, and the writer of the Psalms says that “man that is born of a woman is a few days and full trouble. Isaiah says that all we like sheep have gone astray everyone of us is gone under own way”. Paul says that we are by nature the “children of wrath, without God in this world”. And Jesus sums up what it's like to be without God in this world, to be without hope in this world, and to go your own way, that means you go to a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
From that first cry uttered when someone slapped us on our rear end when we came out of our mothers to the last gasp we make on this earth wherever death may find us, we are inclined to weeping and the reason for the weeping is the separation from God that comes from our old human nature inclined only to evil without true fear, love, or trust in God, spiritually blind dead and his enemies. We do all kinds of things to separate ourselves from his mercy and grace. From the good things we don't do to the bad things we should leave undone we constantly go against God’s wishes and will and the eternal majesty of who he is.
From early on God wanted to remedy that. He chose Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation for him. He said that he was going to be their Shepherd. He said that he was going to care for them and send them and that their job would be to bring other people into his flock so that all people could be cared for under the merciful hands of God who made them. But so great is the inclination for evil, and so inclined are we for weeping that even the gifts that God gave them they cried about. Everything from Manna in the desert to the leader and shepherd God sent, Moses, they found reason to weep. And on and on it went. The gifts that God gave them they turned into means of keeping others out of the kingdom; out of the sheepfold; out of the arms of the good Shepherd. The very people and places that God had set up to care for the sick and the poor and the needy and the outcast were used to separate those people even further from God. The people and places that God had set up to turn weeping into joy and to give folks the oil of gladness instead of the ashes of morning, they turned into ways to separate them further from God. They cried that they were being treated unfairly and that God was not dealing with them properly and so God said in effect, “if you want to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about. Off they went into bondage and exile again.
God promises them through the Prophets that he will send a shepherd, a good shepherd and that God himself will be their shepherd.
It is here that I have to tell you the shepherd’s song. Apoem I found a long time ago but I can’t remember who wrote it.
‘Dear little mother we have come only to behold. We will not touch his lovely face are hands are rude and cold. We were only watching sheep huddled against the snow where David waited for the dawn 10000 grief’s ago. One was searching in the wild a lamb that strayed a part, stumbling through wearisome ravines anxious and sick of heart. One was seeking shelter for a labor burdened ewe, a place where she might bear her young is all good shepherds do. And I was listening to the flocks like wilder children plead, in almost human voices their almost human need. And I was speaking comfort in the cold and bitter night, as shepherds must when suddenly the sky was burst with light. And the old, old hills of Judea and the cold of a 1000 years were labored with joy and singing and we forgot our fears. So we have come to Bethlehem to wish our Savior well but why the cheeriness Wintersong that ever men befell, should come to shepherds in the field, lady we cannot tell.’
And so the true good Shepherd was born and on that cold and bitter night and he started weeping like all of fallen humanity before him. He wept over Jerusalem when it refused to accept him. He wept because they were like wilder children pleading for things that they wanted rather than for things that they need. And like a good shepherd he comforted them and told him that he would give them life and give it to them abundantly. He wept over the grave of Lazarus when the enemy death finally overtook him. And I am sure that he wept on the cross when he saw the end approaching and realized that his Father had forsaken him because of our sins. Seeing how far away we were from the heart of God who loved us so much, He wept. He didn't weep over his own sins like we should but he wept for us. Like the good Shepherd he defended us from our enemies of sin and death and the devil and finally conquered them.
He died and was laid into a borrowed tomb. When he rose again, like a good shepherd he went and saw his scattered sheep and comforted them like all good shepherds do.
He told them to go and feed his sheep and gather the ones that were scattered and he said that he would be with them to the end of the age. He ascended into heaven and we believe he sits at the right hand of God's power where, he does what? Luther says,
“ What is he doing now after he died and rose again? You have heard that after his sufferings and death Christ our Lord arose from the dead and entered upon, and was enthroned in, an immortal existence. Not that he might sit up there in heaven idly and find pleasure in himself, but that he might take charge of the kingdom of which the prophets and all the Scriptures have so fully spoken, and might rule as a king. Therefore, we should think of him as being present and reigning among us continually, and never think of him as sitting up there doing nothing, but rather that he from above fills and rules all things, as Paul says to the Ephesians 4:10 and especially that he is taking care of his kingdom, which is the Christian faith, and that therefore his kingdom among us here on earth must prosper. This kingdom, as we have said, is so constituted that we all must daily increase and grow in holiness, and it is not governed by any other power save the oral proclamation of the Gospel.”
What does Ephesians say – “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up’
So the good shepherd leads us with a rod of his word and the staff of his mercy through the church and I'm afraid sometimes we are like the false shepherds that refused to take care of the weak and the sick and the outcast. We don’t want to share the gifts he gives us by feeding us in green pastures and leading us beside the still waters. In this place we receive all the we need to be Christ to our neighbor to be shepherds ourselves even though we are part of the flock. If we do not do so we should weep and gnash our teeth.
What are the gifts?
When Jesus was baptized Luther says, “he stuck himself in the water for us so that when we come out of the waters of baptism we can bring him out with us. In that merciful washing we are free to live a merciful life. To care for neighbors and people we've never met or seen so that they too receive the good gifts of God.
In absolution when our pastor speaks us free from our sins, we are free to speak peace to our neighbors.
When your pastor says, “I forgive you all of your sins and the name of the father and of the son of the Holy Spirit”, you are free to go into your world and care for others as Christ cares for you.
In the Lord's Supper Christ gives himself to us whole and entire so that we can give ourselves whole and entire to our neighbors, and one of the ways we do this is by caring for them, body and soul.
We need to be very careful here. The tendency in our churches is to look at this only as a proclamation of the Gospel and the administrations of the Sacraments. That is the only job to do, some say. But it is more than that as important as that is. It is caring for the whole person body and soul. The good Shepherd didn't just worry about the spiritual welfare of the sheep but he binds the broken, cures the sick, rescues the needy, feeds the hungry, protects the weak. That's the job of a shepherd and that is our job in the kingdom of the good Shepherd. Our good Shepherd told us a story about the good Samaritan. He gives us the marching orders in Kingdom when he says, “you go and do likewise”.
Luther says, “Christ recognizes us as his sheep, and we recognize him as our shepherd. Now, we have heard what a good shepherd is, and also who the weak sheep are. He knows us to be such sheep as are weak, sick and broken. That is: It does not make any difference in his regard for them that they are weak and sickly, and he does not despise and reject them on that account; but he pities and heals them, even though they be so diseased that the whole world concludes they are not his sheep. Such is the world’s knowledge, but that is not the way that Christ distinguishes them. He does not look upon their condition, but looks to see whether they are sheep, whether they may be designated sheep. He looks at the sheep, not at the wool.
We started out this life weeping. Chances are we will leave this life weeping too. In between there is a lot of weeping to do. But if you notice, often that weeping turns to joy even while the tears are wet on our face. The joy comes from the Good Shepherds continual presence and care. We can look through our tears and see that goodness and mercy follow us, Christ is before us and beside us and sometimes lifting us up and carrying us. The tears come when we realize that “Perverse and foolish oft I strayed” The joy comes with the gifts – proclaimed in the Gospel-
But yet in love he sought me And on his shoulder gently laid And home rejoicing brought me.”
There is a lot of weeping in this world. Hungry orphaned children, sick and dying humanity. They have a Shepherd out there searching to bring him home to him. Think of your privilege as a sheep in the Good Shepherds fold…..He wants you to help.