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Fourth Sunday in Easter: "New Security"

Acts 13: 26-39

Psalm 23

Revelation 7: 9-14

John 10: 22-30

The fourth Sunday of Easter has, for centuries, been observed as Shepherd Sunday. There is a reason for this: Jesus as our Good Shepherd is one of the foundational tenets of our Christian faith. Today let us remind ourselves, just what does a shepherd do?

For many people, a shepherd is there to feed, provide for, and protect his sheep. He is there to pamper us, and make our lives as comfortable as possible. You see this on a multitude of blogs, posts, and tweets. But, like much mediaology, this concept can be very shallow. Yes, Jesus our shepherd does many of these things, but how does He accomplish them? By telling us where to go, what to do, and how to do it.This is the core of a shepherd’s role, and if we follow, all is well. But all too often we don’t want to do what He says. He leads us beside still waters. Boring! We’d rather be white-water rafting! He makes us lie down in green pastures. No, I’m no vegan! Don’t just give me gulay, give me meat! And we refuse to follow the leading of the shepherd. This leads to problems.

In v. 27-28 of the Gospel reading Jesus says “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give eternal life to them.” First we know His voice. Then we follow Him. Then He gives us eternal life. Following Him is an integral part of the equation. As our shepherd, the Lord beings us eternal security. But without the following, where is the eternal life, the eternal security? Jesus said in Mark 8: 34, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” In doing so, we save our lives. In Luke 5: 11 the disciples “left everything and followed Him.”

It is often said that sheep are dumb. But sheep don’t have to be smart, they just have to obey, to follow. We just have to hear, recognize, and follow His voice. But don’t we have to be smart and clever to recognize His voice? Not really. We just have to hear it, over and over. When we do, it will be recognizable to us. Then all we have to do is follow His leading. Our eternal security lies in following Him as He leads.

One line of theological thought says that Eternal Security lies in saying a phrase, a prayer, and thinking properly about Jesus. This is based on Romans 10: 9, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” Speaking and believing becomes like a magic formula, which brings us salvation by faith alone. If I believe and say so, I’m good! No, if you believe, you’ll follow, for believing (faith) is more than just thinking right, it is actions that are prompted by believing right. Without the actions, faith is useless. Actually, it isn’t faith. For example, if someone suddenly bursts into the sanctuary and says, “There’s a fire downstairs! We all need to exit the building!” if we believe him but stay here, we’ll burn to a crisp. Unless we take action and follow him downstairs, our security is far from eternal. Believing is great, but we must follow, add action to that thought. We must obey Him.

There is no freedom from obedience to the voice of the shepherd. Acts 13: 39 says “Through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.” But the context of this verse is forgiveness of sins, not following Christ. And in the Greek text, the word is actually ‘justified’, not ‘freed.’ In other words, through faith we are justified from every sin we have committed. But this is not the same as freedom from obedience – for from it!

All this is illustrated very clearly in Psalm 23. It says He leads us lie down in green pastures. In other words, relax! Give up our anxiety! Like Isaiah 30: 15 says, live in quietness and trust. This alone will add years to our lives. Anxiety is part of insecurity. It leads to all kinds of sickness and death, but following our shepherd in trust brings a new security into our lives.

Then He leads us to still waters. Medicine is great, but do you realize how many illnesses are cured by water? If you have a cough, cold, or the flu, the doc says to drink plenty of water. For a UTI, he says to drink lots of water to flush it out. When you have LBM, you must avoid dehydration by drinking lots of water. Among other things, the Lord is saying here, I’ll lead you to divine health. Just follow me and go to those quiet waters. No, water doesn’t cure every disease, but without it, you’re in a world of trouble! And as we follow Him to these places, we are restored. We follow His paths of righteousness, not just for our own sake, but for His, and that of the Kingdom.

How can we be so sure that the Lord is with us in the valley of the shadow of death? Because He led us there! It’s one of those places we’d rather not follow Him to, but if He does, it’s for a good reason. In Revelation 7: 14 it mentions those who come out of the great tribulation. If He leads you in, He leads you out! What did they accomplish while there? Salvation, victory, and security. When the Lord leads you into the valley of the shadow of death, times of great tribulation, it is for our growth and maturity. If we refuse to follow Him into the valley, our growth is stunted. We miss a chance to learn many things we can only learn in that valley, what Isaiah calls the treasures of darkness (Isaiah 45: 3). So again, we see that our security is only possible as we follow and obey.

There are times we end up in that valley, not because we followed the Lord there, but because we went there on our own, because we strayed like a lost sheep. In that case, there is only one lesson to be learned there: don’t stray! There is no virtue in staying in the valley just because we’re afraid to come out! The only remedy is to repent, turn back to following the Lord, and get out of the valley.

Then it says that the Lord’s rod and staff comforts us. These are tools of the shepherd’s trade to help him lead and direct us. If we have a habit of not following, the Good Shepherd knows how to use them, not in anger, but in love, and because He loves us and wants us to receive the eternal security that comes from following Him. Interestingly, the Greek term translated ‘comfort’ literally means ‘to breathe strongly, like a sigh’. What does that remind you of? Man did not become a living soul until God breathed on Him (Genesis 2: 7). Then He give Adam and Eve direction to follow. And when Jesus appeared to His disciples for the first time after His resurrection He gave them direction (I’m sending you out) and then breathed on them (John 20: 22).

Then it says He prepares a table for us, with our enemies. This is for only one reason: that we would forgive them. As in the Upper Room and at the Eucharistic table, the table is a place primarily of forgiveness. And as Jesus said, our prayers will not be answered it we harbor unforgiveness in our hearts. Notice, it is only after we follow Jesus to these two places: the valley of the shadow of death and the table of forgiveness – that we receive an anointing. The purpose of the anointing is to help us to follow, to make us witnesses. As St. Paul said in Acts 13: 31, we are only successful witnesses after we follow Him. And only after we follow comes the promise of abundance: “My cup overflows.”

No, I didn’t talk a lot about Mother’s Day today, but I can give you this advice on how can you be a great mother. Simply this: Teach your children to follow, to obey. In that they will have Eternal Security, the new security that comes only when we follow the voice of Him, our Good Shepherd.

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