For His Name’s Sake

Sermon preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church
Misericordia Domini (Third Sunday of Easter)
22 April 2012
(Audio recording available here: OSLC Sermon Downloads

Text: Psalm 23; John 10:11–16

We are always in danger when we come to texts we know and love well to be lulled into a sense of comfortable familiarity. Today, we are in particular danger, since we have before us perhaps the best loved of all passages in the Bible together with the image of Jesus of which most of us are especially fond. So before we focus on what God’s Word is telling us about the Good Shepherd, we need to clear away some misconceptions.

Most of all, I would like you to forget all those lovely pictures and paintings of Jesus smiling gently with a lamb over His shoulders or, worse still, in His arms, smiling into the distance or in the direction of the onlooker. This romantic Good Shepherd is always dressed in freshly laundered white linen and carefully groomed: He is a comforting figure for children, Jesus’ little lambs, to contemplate, and we adults tend to get a warm, fuzzy feeling when we think of this Jesus. You wouldn’t mind entrusting your sheep to Him, together with your toddler, pet rabbit and hamster.

Comforting, perhaps. But this Good Shepherd would be utterly unrecognisable to king David and to those over ten centuries who sang his Psalm, ‘The LORD is my shepherd’. A clean, tidy, middle-class-looking shepherd is about as realistic as a besuited miner emerging from the pits squeaky-clean. Anyone who lived outdoors and handled sheep on a regular basis would look and smell like someone who lived outdoors and handled sheep on a regular basis. It was a rough job for rough men. The young David had to fight off bears and lion in order to guard his father’s sheep. That made him a good shepherd, but it didn’t make him a poster-boy for chic and serene male beauty. You wouldn’t want him at your dinner table, not before he’d had a thorough bath and a stint at finishing school.

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Hearing Is Believing

Sermon preached on Quasimodo Geniti (Second Sunday of Easter)
Text: John 20:19–31 (Ezekiel 37:1–14  1 John 5:4–10 )
15 April 2012
Our Saviour Lutheran Church
Fareham

It’s one of my favourite paintings, and as far as I know one of the best known of Caravaggio’s many masterpieces: Doubting Thomas. Jesus is revealing the wound in His side, with an expression of patient endurance, with perhaps a tinge of pain. Thomas has his forefinger in the wound, with a look of utter astonishment painted with perfect realism on his face, while two other disciples look on. Caravaggio captures with extraordinary skill the moment of belief, when Thomas is forced to believe against all his better knowledge what the other disciples had already told him: Jesus really is alive. But he would carry forever the title of Doubting Thomas, because it is more blessed to believe when you haven’t seen, yet he only believed when he saw.

But as I have often said, the epithet ‘Doubting’ is not really fair on Thomas. It makes it sound like he is somehow inferior to the other disciples, a lesser apostle, perhaps even a deficient sort of man. There are those good people who believe without seeing, and then there are the thomases who need evidence. When in reality he wasn’t Doubting Thomas but Everyman Thomas. He really believed, as we really believe, that seeing is believing. That, if in doubt, you need to verify what you hear with the other four senses.

Now, this may be a sound principle in some situations, but it makes for very poor theologians—and under that heading, I include all who claim to know anything about God. Indeed, the very misery of mankind for which Christ died and rose again began with seeing as the instrument of believing. God had said to Adam that he may eat of every tree in the garden, but on the day that he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would surely die. But because the snake promised Eve that her eyes would be opened by the eating, Eve looked at the tree and she “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate”.

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Here we go again!

Tomorrow morning, 33 children will descend on the Scout Hall that serves as our church building on Sundays and other select dates. For the second Holy Week running, we are hosting a one-day Children’s Activity Club.

This year’s theme is Alive! Through story-telling and song, we will go over the events of Good Friday and Easter, focusing on the key question: why would Jesus do all that? Answer: he did it for me.

And we’ll have plenty of time for relevant and irrelevant crafts, games and other fun.

It’s always exhausting, but above all it’s great fun, and a great opportunity to engage with the young people of the area.

We always pray that the seed sown in these clubs will take root and bear fruit in God’s good time.

You can pray that, too! Thanks.