THE JOB DONE RIGHT
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THE old adage says that if you want the job done right, do it yourself. If it’s true in the realm of human endeavor, how much more so in the sphere of the divine? With something as crucial as turning abject sinners into saints, as cleansing the fallen souls of men from self-loathing, pride, and the fear of judgment nothing less than perfect will do. Nothing less than the incarnate Son of God who was crucified and raised from the dead in order to become the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.
During this church year our preaching is based on the Old Testament, and from that Magnum Opus we once again become familiar with the many woes of God’s ancient church. We learn anew how He rescued “the apple of His eye” from slavery, baptized them into Moses, fed them with supernatural bread and how He made them a holy nation by faith in the coming Christ. But alas how in spite of the immense love He poured out upon them they returned to their sin like a dog to its vomit, and there were four precipitating factors in their fall from grace. The first three we know well, the devil, the world and the sinful nature. We know them for the powerful enemies that they are, the fierce opponents of all that is good, true and beautiful.
The devil, as we learn in Scripture, is a murderer from the beginning, the father of lies and the “accuser of the brethren,” whose singular pursuit is to destroy God’s people; to drag them down to hell so that they might share his bottomless misery. He is the one who incited Israel to imitate the surrounding culture and to join in its egregious sins, its false worship, intoxication, sins of the flesh, theft, greed, tyranny and the shedding of innocent blood. He does the same in our day but has raised his assaults to a feverish pitch as the end of the age draws near.
As if the devil were not contender enough there is also the unbelieving world exerting its malicious animal magnetism on us at all times and in all places. The devil is invisible but the world is in our face 24/7. Then, as now, it beckons us with its siren song, so no matter how many times we confess our sins, receive the absolution, commune with our Lord’s body and blood, and obtain new resolve we must continue to do so over and over again. We must never say, “I don’t need this right now,” because until we leave the evil world six feet above us, it will never leave us.
Neither the devil nor the corrupt world would have power over us were it not for the sinful nature we inherit from Adam. It is a full-fledged coward when it comes to spiritual warfare, a draft dodger in the extreme. It is a pleasure seeking animal that wants nothing to do with the cross or shepherds; a wild child whose theme could best be captured by the country song: I know what I was feelin’, but what was I thinkin’?
If this unholy trinity isn’t more than any man can resist, Ezekiel’s people had a fourth enemy, a fourth estate of trouble, if you like; a surprising and deceptive one that conspired to bring them down: the prophets themselves! Not all of them of course; not Ezekiel, who like Christ Himself came to Babylon to live with his captive people, to dwell among them and to make their misery his own. Unfortunately, however, for every true prophet there were many false ones. We don’t know the numbers or the percentages but we do know that their message is the one that prevailed, the one that intoxicated God’s people and held their allegiance.
Ezekiel expends a good deal of energy raking them over the coals, and so does our Lord. In today’s Gospel lesson He calls them hirelings; mercenaries who care nothing for the sheep, and who run for the hills when they see the wolf coming, but He also draws a sharp contrast between them and Himself by assuring us that He is the Good Shepherd, the One who lays down His life for the sheep, the One who loved us enough to come in the flesh, and who never runs even when it means sacrifice, suffering, shame and death; and no ordinary death, but a Holy One, the sacrifice of God’s own Lamb which purges the world of its sin and restores straying sheep to the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls.
How do we know the true from the false? Jesus says by their works you will know them. They are the ones who tolerate, excuse and explain away the sins to which we are addicted. They tell us not to worry because God understands. God allows. God wants you to be happy. They assure us that there are many ways of salvation, but at the end of the day if you are sincere, if you recycle, if you respect the planet and confess the world’s latest creed all will be well. How surprised we will be on judgment day if we believe that! The Roman poet Juvenal asked in his Satire: who watches the watchers? Answer: God does. And who reverses the damage they do? The One who St. Peter calls the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.
No doubt, the most striking aspect of this prophecy is the pronoun “I” which is used more than eighteen times, each time by the Lord Himself. This is good, because when the incarnate, crucified and risen Christ is the subject of every sentence; the divine doer of every verb -- I will gather, I will feed, I will heal, I will bind up, I will rescue, I will make them lie down in green pastures -- when He is the doer and we the blessed objects, the grateful receivers then we can confess with all boldness and confidence: the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. If you want the job done right, do it yourself! Christ entered our mangled world, not to fix it, change it, improve it or leave it a better place, but to do all the things that Ezekiel predicts in his prophecy. By His life, death and resurrection He obtained full and free salvation for us. However saving His work did not stop there. He also ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the position of ultimate power and authority! From there He presides over His Holy church, with her faithful Ezekiels, to gather sinners by Holy Baptism, to bind up their wounds with Holy Absolution and feed them with life-giving Body and Blood. Therefore don’t be afraid, dear Christians, whatever it is that vexes you today be it sin, death, illness, poverty, pain, rejection, depression, fear of the future or the ghosts of the past; whatever it is don’t be afraid because the Good Shepherd is with us, truly present, never will He leave us, never will He forsake us. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras