Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) Sermon, 2017

Easter 3 (Misericordias Domini), 2017
John 10:11-16; Psalm 23
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

On this day in the Church Year, I usually teach that the Gospel lesson is a rebuke to pastors. Last week, Jesus sends the apostles to forgive and remit sin. And that’s well and good.

This week, to keep pastors humble, Jesus reminds us all that He is the good shepherd. Those are His words.

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd…” (John 10:11).

In the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible used in the Church for hundreds of years, that’s: “Ego sum pastor bonus.” Pastor is the Latin word for shepherd, so Jesus says, with Latin in mind, “I am the good pastor.”

I am not the good pastor.

Some days, I’m not even a good pastor.

If you catch me on a bad day, I’m truly sorry.

If you catch me on a good day, remember that for the rest of your life, please.

So, me, personally, and us all—we need the comfort that our Lord gives us.

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd…” (John 10:11).

And, of course, any shepherd language in Scripture calls to mind Psalm 23.

I’m going to read some of Psalm 23, and I want you to listen to it. And I want you to ask this question: is it true?

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake…

…your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:1-3, 5-6).

From this one Psalm, all of Scripture can be understood.

From this one Psalm, all of Christianity can be taught.

But not as I just read it.

As I just read it—it’s not true. Or, it’s only superficially true.

Because the Lord is my shepherd, but do I want for nothing?

The Lord is my shepherd, but where are the green pastures? There were green pastures last night covered in water—our garden could be flooded, I haven’t looked to see yet. And that makes me think that we might be wanting for peas and Brussel sprouts if what’s planted has been drowned by last night’s April showers.

Does your life resemble a green pasture? Or a green pasture that’s been rained on, all but flooded, and produces wild fruit?

Because the waters aren’t always still, are they?

He leads. I follow. I’m sure you and your family do the same. And yet—what does it look like?

Righteous paths? Hardly.

The Lord is my shepherd, I don’t disagree. But I’d like to see the table that He prepares for me before my enemies.

How does God anoint our heads with oil?

How can we say that our cup overflows?

We say that after watching a particularly charming Lifetime movie from the late 1980’s. And at Thanksgiving when we’re too stuffed with food to argue with anyone.

But when you lie awake at night in bed…when you take a long drive just to figure stuff out…or when you ignore phone calls because you don’t know what to say…the cup’s not overflowing.

The Lord is my shepherd, but goodness and mercy must be following someone else.

We are, sometimes, Alexander. And some days are just terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.

If we read the Psalm as I just read it.

As familiar as Psalm 23 is to us, did you notice the verse I left out? What was it?

Verse four: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

From this one Psalm, and from this one verse, all of Scripture can be understood.

From this one Psalm, and from this one verse, all of Christianity can be taught.

You have to have that verse. That’s how you read and understand this Psalm and all of God’s Word.

What does are day-to-day look like? Death’s dark valley, the shadow of death. Hell is all around us, in the sins we commit, the temptations we face. The devil seeks whom he may devour (cf. 1 Peter 5:8). And we suffer for it.

So when David teaches us to pray, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1), he wants us to understand that in the context of verse four: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

With that in mind, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).

It works for the whole Psalm:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” That’s what our earthly life looks like.

Yet, the Lord is my shepherd, He makes me lie down in green pastures.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” the Lord is my shepherd. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” the Lord is my shepherd. He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

I may not see it—I may only see the shadows.

But He is with me, and I will fear no evil.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” the Lord is my shepherd. He anoints my head with oil. My cup overflows.

Appearance vs. Reality is a wonderful theme to identify in literature and in life.

The appearance is, God doesn’t love you, doesn’t provide for you, that everything’s always up to you, and the suffering of Christians is a raw deal. God should’ve come up with something better.

That’s what it looks like.

And God knows that’s what it looks like. David prays, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

That’s what it looks like.

The reality is this: Jesus Christ is Lord. In Christ, you are His and He is yours, forever. Your head is anointed with the cross in Holy Baptism, you are marked as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.

Your cup does overflow, with the blood of Christ, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.

Those never run out. Water is everywhere. Wine is plentiful. Grapes are the largest fruit crop on earth.

We shall never want for those.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” the Lord is my shepherd, and “goodness and mercy…follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).

When you say it like that…

When you read the Psalm like that…

All of Christianity can be taught. All of Scripture, understood.

Even today’s Gospel lesson, where Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

That is how the Lord shepherds you.

He lived for you. He died for you.

So, when you’re in death’s dark valley, the very shadow of death, fear no evil.

The Lord is with you.

He is not dead. He is not in the tomb.

He lives.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

He is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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