Monday, September 16, 2019

The Bethany Bullet Sermon Message - Week of September 15, 2019

Sermon: “The Parable of the Wolf and the Shepherd”

Shepherd and sheep imagery is common in the pages of scripture.  It was a vocation and experience that was relate-able for the first readers of the text.   Jesus is referred to as both the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God.  He says that His sheep know His voice and follow Him.  Allow me to share a tale of the work of our Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God for us.  This story is not my own, but I have adapted it for us:     

Once upon a time there was a wolf. He was a fat, old thing. You see he had it pretty easy. Whenever he wanted to eat, he only had to walk out the door of his den and look at the sheep that gathered in the pasture outside. He'd eye this one or that one. And then would slowly stalk and unexpectedly pounce, and with minimal effort or struggle, he'd kill and feast.  The more that he ate, the bigger he got, and the bigger he got, the hungrier he grew.

He was a wicked old thing; sometimes he'd just poke his head out the door and howl. All the sheep in the pasture would shiver at the very sound of his voice. He'd chuckle to himself. "Yes, you better be afraid, you stupid little sheep because one of these days I am going to eat you, each and every one of you, and it won't be pleasant."

This big, bad wolf, you see, had a name, a name that incited fear. The sheep had only to think of his name and they'd go wobbly in the knees or faint right there in the pasture.  His name, you see, was Death. And Death was always hungry and never satisfied. Always devouring sheep and always wanting more. And… he reeked. The very smell of him was worse than his name or his howl. He was altogether dreadful! He was the one in charge in the pasture and he made sure all the sheep knew it and they cowered in his presence.

One day the wolf was feeling hungrier than usual. He poked his head out of his den to roar and howl and select his next victim… and he stopped, almost dead in his tracks, for there at his door step, like a gift given to him by a good friend was one of the fattest, juiciest sheep he'd ever laid his eyes on. He drew in a breath that filled up his putrid lungs and then let out a stone-splitting howl. All the other sheep in the vicinity turned tail and ran. They were mortified of Death and filled with fear. All but this one, who continued to quietly graze just outside, barley noticing the vile stench of Death.

The wolf became irate.  He came bounding out of his deep, dark, dank, den and right up to that cool, composed, and quiet animal.  Again he filled his lungs and this time he let loose right in the sheep's face.  The sheep looked up as the hideous stench of decay wafted in its nostrils. Totally unconcerned the sheep blinked and then went back to grazing on the green grass of the pasture.

Now the wolf was getting himself into quite a tizzy. "Don't you know who I am?" he snarled. The sheep looked at him and calmly, peacefully retorted, "Yes. I know." The other sheep began to slowly creep back into the pasture keeping their distance but wanting to watch. They couldn't believe what they were witnessing. "Well," snarled the Wolf, "aren't you afraid?" The sheep looked at Death, that old wolf, right in the eyes and said: "Of you? You have got to be kidding!"

Now the wolf was absolutely livid and he began to speak in a low, menacing rumble, "You, my friend, are in for it. You are not going to have it so easy. I'm going to take you out slowly and painfully." There was a moment of silence and then the sheep said: "I know."  The other sheep had never heard or seen anything like this before and were memorized by the words of this lamb who was one of them. But at that moment the wolf pounced and they scattered away in fear.

A great sadness filled them. They had thought that this time Death wasn't going to get his way. But their hopes were soon dashed in a flurry of fur and fangs. It was an awful and an ugly sight. The wolf devoured the lamb slowly, methodically, piece by piece, all afternoon long, and it was painful, just like he said.  And in the end, there was nothing left of that sheep.  Death had swallowed him up.  He turned his vulgar, boorish face, stained red with the blood of his victim towards the other sheep, and let out an insolent and menacing howl. The sheep scattered once again in all directions not wanting this day to be the day that they too met Death face to face.

As the wolf sauntered back into his den, he thought that he'd never tasted a sheep that was quite so delicious before. There was nothing tough about that meat. It was tender and rich and really altogether satisfying. This hit him with great surprise. It was almost as though his insatiable hunger had actually been quenched for a moment. The longer he thought the more it struck him as odd, but soon enough he put it out of his mind and off to bed he went.

When the morning came the wolf felt something he hadn’t felt before.  It was almost as though his stomach was upset.  Most mornings he would wake up ravenous and would peer out his den, select his next victim in the pasture and gorge himself on the flesh of the innocent sheep. But not this morning; his tummy was grumbling AND gurgling.  By noon he was feeling more than discomfort. He was feeling positively ill. He who had brought such pain on those poor sheep, was getting a taste of pain himself and it was most unpleasant.  He kept thinking back to that impolite, rude and disrespectful sheep he had eaten the previous afternoon, the one that had tasted so strangely good.  Could it have actually been poisoned?

It wasn't long before he stopped thinking altogether. The pain was just too great. He rolled around on the floor of his den and he howled and squealed and yammered. The sheep heard the sound and didn't quite know what to make of it all. They crept cautiously nearer and nearer to the door of his den and turned their heads listening intently.  What could it mean?

Day soon turned to night and in the darkness the wolf let out a shuddering, painful, fearful howl. The next day and night would be a blur to the wolf.  He moaned and he groaned, he shivered and he shook, he howled and he hollered.  And in the darkness, just before the dawn, something struck him that shook him to the core. Something seemed to be alive and moving around in his gut.  That something pushed and poked and prodded until with a sudden burst, his insides became his outsides. His abdomen ripped open, punctured through.  And something…rather, someone stepped right out through the hole, right out of has massive, stinking, stench infested, death filled bowels. The wolf felt like he was dying. And I suppose in a way he was. The figure that emerged from the wolf's belly was totally unknown. The wolf squinted and strained, crooked his head to the side and tried to focus, and from what his canine brain could make out, he was staring at a shepherd.  He'd heard of such a critter, but had never actually met one. With a staff in his hand the shepherd sauntered around and then stood face to face with the wolf. And the shepherd began to laugh. He laughed and laughed and soon the sound of his laughter burst open the door to the den. This both startled and intrigued the sheep in the pasture. They were filled with fear and bewilderment wondering what was going on in there.  The Shepherd laughed and laughed and then he looked the wolf right in the eye. "So, you don't recognize me, do you, old foe? It was I whom you ate outside your den three days ago. ‘Twas I that you promised would die slowly and painfully, but here I am. What do you propose to do about me now?" "You?” The wolf gasped. The voice was the same; he recognized it. This shepherd was indeed the lamb whom he had tortured, killed and swallowed. "You!?! But how?” The shepherd smiled and said: "Well, I think you're pretty harmless now, my friend. Go on and try to take down some of my sheep. I promise you that as fast as you swallow them down I will lead them right out through the way I made in your stomach. And you'll never be able to touch them again!"

The wolf howled in fear and anger and rage, but there was nothing he could do. The Shepherd had the last laugh.  The shepherd provided a way to defeat the wolf named Death. And then, the Shepherd stepped outside of Deaths den and called the sheep together. They knew His voice too. They'd heard it before. They could hardly believe their eyes and they stood before the Lamb who had become the Shepherd and they listened as He told them what would happen. "You'll die too. He'll come out in a few days and he will be hungrier than ever. He'll swallow you down. But do not fear. I have made a way.  I have punched a hole right through his belly and I promise you I'll bring you out again. Death can no longer harm you.” And the Shepherd told the sheep to tell the rest of the flock and for parent to tell their children that Death had lost its power and was not something to fear.  And in that moment Death was finished forever.

As you have probably guessed the Shepherd is our Savior.  Our Good Shepherd has provided a way to defeat the enemy named Death.  And the promise given to His sheep still holds true today, for you!  The Shepherd has provided a way, a way that brings life from death, forgiveness of sin and peace and pardon. Death has lost its sting, and each and every day the Shepherd seeks you, finds you, and brings you back to this place to hear his voice, to partake in His promises and to comfort you and forgive you even when you stray.

This promise was made to you from the mouth of the Shepherd Himself, "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand."  This Shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the 1, this Shepherd who joyfully puts that one on his shoulders and carries it home is here again today to find and forgive, to call and to comfort you!

This is the comfort of the Resurrection, that Christ who has defeated death, satisfying the will of the Father; comes to you anew in this place.  It reaches all the way to you in His Supper. Where you taste the body and blood that went into the wolf's mouth, but which the wolf could not hold.  As you eat and drink you have the same promise: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life!"

Let the old wolf howl and snarl all he wantsl. You know about the hole in his tummy. You know about the Sheep who is the Shepherd. Your Good Shepherd who seeks and finds, heals and forgives.  

-Pr. Seth Moorman


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