Hello Church Family, this is Pastor Phil.
Our reading for this Sunday is from John 10:1-4.
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, when we think of following Jesus, our Good Shepherd, knowing exactly where He is leading us. Jesus is leading us both to eternal life with Him and all the Saints who have gone before us, and a life now that is filled with hope, meaning, and purpose.
It is the image of being on a long journey and at first not knowing where you are going, or how you are going to get there, or who you should follow. Jesus comes to us and says, “follow me,” (Matthew 4:19), “I am the Good Shepherd,” (John 10:11-18). I will take you to the good pastures, to the places of peace and hope forever, you don’t have to be lost anymore.
Following our Good Shepherd is a theme that centers all around faith and trust.
The word faith is one that I have seen circling around social media in Christian circles lately, like about having faith during this Coronavirus pandemic, or saying we have to have faith that this will all turn out well. A pastor in Louisiana continues to talk about “just having to get to Jesus” while holding public gatherings. (As if Jesus is lost and you have to find Him). I have also heard some say, if you just have enough faith you won’t get sick, no matter what you do or where you go.
What is this word, faith, that is used so easily, but not always with clarity?
Is that what faith is all about? What is this word, faith, that is used so easily, but not always with clarity? When used in Scripture, the word “faith” is used to describe different aspects of the relationship that we are given with God through Jesus. (Check out this interesting section from the LCMS on faith) Faith is like looking at a diamond that has different aspects and sections to it, but is still the same diamond. We wouldn’t be able to discuss or experience any of those aspects of faith unless God had given us the diamond in the first place. Most often when we talk about faith, it is the aspects of faith as a gift from God and faith as human trust, that we talk about most.
Scripture describes it as faith as the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross given to us as a gift of God’s love and mercy. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) You might say then that Faith is like a state of being or existence that has been created for us through Jesus.
Scripture also talks about faith as a human act of the will. That is trust. It is the human reaction of mind, heart, and spirit to the gift of salvation given. We see this aspect described when Jesus talks about the great faith of the Centurion who asked for healing for his servant (Matthew 8:5-13) and of Peter walking on the water when he looks at the waves and loses his trust. Jesus says, “You of little faith…why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:22-33).
It is very, very important to remember that it is the gift of faith that saves, not the quantity or quality of our trust or faith in that faith that saves. One describes what God has done for us, which never changes, and the other describes our human response, which vacillates and changes like the weather in Ohio.
… it is the gift of faith that saves, not the quantity or quality of our trust or faith in that faith that saves
Often though, when people are talking about having faith, they are describing the “human trust” aspect of faith. Us trusting in God.
We have faith or trust in God’s promises through Jesus. We trust that He is leading us to a place of safety and security with Him. We trust that even though we die, we will live with Jesus. We trust that our lives have meaning and purpose because of Jesus. We trust that our sins are forgiven and that we are saved through His grace. This trust in our Good Shepherd Jesus to lead us to good places, both now and eternally, is not a foolish faith because we do not have a foolish God.
When you look into the order of universe, the impossibility of life, the existence of goodness and love in a world where those things shouldn’t exist, all of the things that we take for granted point us to a reality greater than what we see and feel alone, and a good Creator that desires relationship with us and provides the way for that relationship to happen in Jesus. Even in the craziness of this virus, we know there is still created order, security, and stability in the world. Created order still continues, the sun still rises and sets, God is still God, and we still have security, security in this life and in the next. Our faith provides us in a reasonable and coherent way—in a unique way that does not happen anywhere else—the answers to the major questions in life: who are we, where did we come from, why are we here, and where are we going?
Our Christian faith, our trust in our creator God who is known through Jesus, is not a foolish trust; it is secure, solid, and sensible. It is filled with mystery, wonder, and awe—but it is not foolish. So, for you to be here today, to be listening to these words, to trust in Jesus, is not a foolish thing to do.
Unfortunately, we can confuse our faith and trust in Jesus with doing things that God did not promise would be safe and assuming that they are, because we have faith.
we can confuse our faith in Jesus with doing things that God did not promise would be safe and assuming that they are, because we have faith.
The same was true when the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness. The devil said, “trust God and jump off the top of the temple, everything will be okay.” Jesus’ words, in essence, were that’s just stupid. You don’t mess with God and assume you will be protected when you do something like that. That is acting foolish. You will go splat.
In Mark 7:21-22, Jesus teaches about foolishness. He says,
For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.
In this long list of things that we are used to thinking about as sinful actions, like sexual immorality, theft and murder, is a word we might not expect—foolishness. In the Greek the word is aphron, meaning to act senselessly, egoistically, and recklessly. Foolishness is sin and acting outside of God’s will for us. Just as we do not love and worship a foolish God, and just like our faith and trust in that God is not foolish, we are called not to live foolishly either. If we do, that is confusing trust with recklessness.
I know of a number of other Churches that are doing something similar to what we are doing now, with our drive-in worship after pausing worship for 5-6 weeks. This is a reasonable next step that strikes the balance between being able to worship together and continuing to do what we can to protect the health of our people and community. I also have friends who are dear brothers and sisters in Christ, both in our Church family and elsewhere, who are not attending these drive-in worship services because their immune systems are so compromised that, for them, even to leave the house right now would honestly be reckless and foolish, knowing full well they will likely get sick and die. For them, this isn’t any different than how they normally operate during a bad flu season; they stay inside then too. For most of us, this drive-in service is a reasonable next step that allows us to worship together and is safe enough for us to do so. For our brothers and sisters who have seriously compromised immune systems, this doesn’t make sense, and it is best for them to stay in.
These faithful Christians with compromised immune systems have such an awesome and great human response of trust and faith in the gift God has given them, I pray someday I can come close to in my own faith life. But that awesome faith they have does not mean they should venture out into a situation where God has not promised their safety and where they would, very likely, get hurt and die. Like walking into traffic or jumping off of the temple. For me or them to say, “no, trust Jesus, it’ll be okay,” would be foolish, and would not be how our Lord has called us to live.
The very first Christian martyr, Stephen, did not seek out to be martyred (Acts 7). He was simply living out his life telling others about Jesus, helping the poor, and loving others. He did not ask to be martyred or try to run headlong into it. But, when the trouble came and it was out of his control, he lived and died and lives eternally now, trusting Jesus. For us, we do not act foolishly, trying to run headlong into getting hurt. As Christians we live as Pastor Paul describes in Romans 12,
“…in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Like Stephen, the lives that we live in faith and trust are solid and secure in Jesus and act reasonably and sensibly in this life. Does that mean bad things won’t happen to us? No, of course not. In fact, we are promised troubles and tribulations (John 16:33). But do we go out and seek that trouble? No, we don’t. Trouble will come, and when it does come, especially because we love Jesus, we live and die trusting in our good God. If it doesn’t, we don’t look for it, we keep living the reasonable, faithful, and secure lives we have been given in Jesus.
The gift of faith from Jesus is secure and solid. Our God is secure and solid. Our human faith, that is the response of trust to what God has done for us, is reasonable and makes sense. And so we follow our solid and secure Good Shepherd Jesus to the solid and secure places He has promised to give us.