Easter 2 2019
That he should stand against the wolf nobly. This line is from St. Chrysostom in one of his homilies on our Gospel reading. He is referring to the responsibilities of the shepherds of the Lord’s sheep in His Church. We often are concerned with the PHYSICAL safety of the Lord’s people in His Church from issues of abuse to external threats and violence. With all that occurs currently in terms of Churches and Christians around the world being physically attacked, this is naturally where our minds go first. We think it appropriate to set up security plans with those that holds conceal carry permits in the Parish or to hire off duty Law Enforcement Officers for the physical protection of the congregation as they worship. Yet, the physical protection of the Lord’s sheep is only a small part of the threats we face as the children of God. We face spiritual attacks from spiritually destructive wolves as well. We often are blind to these attacks, especially in times such as ours where we are extra cautious about physical attacks. This morning, let us focus on the spiritual need for the shepherds of the churches to stand nobly against the wolves that seek our harm.
The Danger we Face
First, it is important to note the foes we face as outlined in our lessons today. John 10:12 states, “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.” The enemies approach, wolves, and the hired hands flee. At the newly defenseless flock, the wolves are free to snatch and scatter as they please.
It is the spiritual wolves where hired hands are more likely than not to run. It is in our sin nature to do the easy thing of physical defense. Yet, the spiritual attack is the scariest of all. With movies, at least for me, there is a very stark difference in reaction between portrayals of physical attacks upon the Church compared to movies portraying spiritual evil. A physical attack on the Church portrayed in movies or television brings a response within the viewer that the attackers will face secular justice through military and police response. Spiritual attacks through evil upon people in movies do not carry the same response. It is different. The same is true when we face spiritually evil wolves in life. Note though, there is a spiritual component with physical attacks upon the Church. To commit such atrocities, the people involved are plagued with spiritual darkness to the point it manifests itself through committing murder.
The spiritual attacks we face mean we as sheep need shelter in the fold of Christ’s Church. As related in the New Testament, we face spiritual adversaries that seek to attack us from within, with the evil intent of turning us from Christ. As I Peter 5:8 warns, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Our reality as Christians is that we need shelter in the Church to equip us to be sober-minded and watchful for our families, and ourselves and for one another in the Church.
These attacks seek to undermine our allegiance and faith in Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King. The book of Hebrews outlines how Jesus is superior in all three of these key offices. Attacks such as there are “other” prophetic voices that should compete with Jesus, selling the lie that He is just “a” prophet and not THE superior prophet are real. Attacks such as there are other ways to salvation, making Jesus simply “a” Priest and not THE Priest that atones for sin finally are real. Attacks such as we must look to worldly leaders for salvation, that Jesus is just “a” King and not THE King, LORD of LORDS, are real. These are all examples of how spiritual wolves seek to snatch and scatter us from the Truth in Jesus Christ alone.
Jesus in the context of our Gospel gave us the ONLY means of entrance into eternal safety. John 10:7 states, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.” Yes, there are other spiritual folds. All of them are merely holding pens or prisons meant to look safe by the world, the flesh, and the devil. All of these as spiritual prisons are meant to enslave in sin and death. Further, John 10:9 states, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” The evil folds or prisons of this world provide nothing but misery and eventually spiritual death.
Any teachings subverting Jesus Christ alone as Prophet, Priest, and King means teachings that lead to spiritual bondage. Note here that we enter through Christ alone to go in and out to be sustained, protected, built up, and equipped. We through the safety of the Church are prepared to go into the world to confront the evil of this world with Christ and His Gospel, inviting and rescuing the lost sheep from their spiritual bondage.
Roles of Shepherds
Seeing the spiritual dangers of wolves, how are such encountered? It is to cling to Christ alone as our perfect Prophet, heeding His Word that He is all we need for everlasting life. It is to cling to Christ alone as our perfect Priest, providing Himself as the perfect and everlasting sacrifice for our sins. It is to cling to Christ alone as our perfect King, serving Him as King in building His Kingdom, the Church.
The Church, the Body of Christ, with all her members and Pastors; serve Christ through seeking His grace and help to be the Church, the fold. We must trust in our Lord through prayer, worship, and fellowship no matter our circumstances. Staying connected is key. We do not live in a country that forces us underground to remain connected to the Church. Thus, we have no excuse with the ability to travel with ease to meet as the Body of Christ.
In our situation here, with you all as a Parish preparing to close this space and to join a new fold/church; we must keep our hearts and minds upon Christ and stay connected through the means of grace He gave us.
It is key that we see all of this of His work through us to submit and continue His commission in a new season and fold. As 1 Peter 2:24 reminds us through this tough time, “He Himself for our sins in His body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His words you have been healed.”
For you, it is time to enter a period of rest of comfort in the safety a connected fold. As Isaiah 40:1-2 states, “comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” We are called to find rest through Christ His Church. We have this promise firmly granted in Christ as Isaiah 40:11 states, “He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather them in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead these that are with young.”
In such times, it is important we remain grateful for the endless benefits we have in Jesus Christ. Even in this trying time, we need to cling to His promise in Psalm 23:3, “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His names sake.” In Him alone, we can “fear no evil.” He is with us, even though these circumstances. He comforts us by His guiding rod and staff to remain in His fold, not scattered.
Our parishes have a unique opportunity to come together in comfort, mutual trust, love and rest. As Hebrews 4:11-12 reminds us, “ Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Times of rest are important, especially after something like we are experiencing. We find rest in Christ’s church as long as we remain within through prayer, worship, communion and fellowship.
I encourage you to rest with my Parish, I encourage you to use this time of rest to prayerfully reflect on your time as St. Francis as a Parish. Use this time for prayer and regrouping and refreshing in Christ’s fold. Stay connected in Christ’s church, seeking His help for mutual support. Christ is our Good Shepherd. Let us close with these words from Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Amen.