. Easter 4.19 “No One Can Snatch Them… But Plenty Will Try!” John 10:22-30/Acts 20:17-35
There’s a line in a Laurie Anderson “song” that goes: “You know what I really like about the stars? It’s that we can’t hurt them. We can’t burn them, or melt them, or blow them up. But we are reaching for them. We are reaching for them.” Comforting, yet disturbing, all at the same time. Like most of her work.
Like most of the Gospel too, especially ours today. Good Shepherd Sunday is always an Easter season favorite. Well, you know all Sundays of Easter, most Sundays in the church year actually, are favorites of mine. But this one, this one really speaks to me. And yet what exactly is Jesus and the Apostle telling us here? Good news, first! Jesus promises us that He is always already our Good Shepherd before and after that cross and resurrection business! And because He is true God and true Man, He can shepherd His flock like no one else. He promises us that His sheep hear His voice, and He knows us all by name, and thus we follow Him. He gives us eternal life, and we shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch us out of His hand—because His Father who has given us to Jesus for safekeeping is greater than all; and no on is able to snatch anything or anyone out of the Father’s hand. His hand is strong. And Jesus and the Father are one (a point often missed, by the way: that Jesus is God the same way the Father is God(!!!)—Jesus is Yahweh fully, bodily, always; as Athanasius will remind us in a few Sundays).
And that’s comforting! Jesus is God and He is moved to shepherd us lost and straying sheep—to come down and rescue us from our misery, our wanderings—to ransom us from the devil our bad BFF, and bring us home to heaven with Jesus our true Friend and Master. It’s only when you’ve been a Christian for a few years, that you come to realize this Faith thing really is hard. It waxes and wanes. The human heart just can’t be trusted. It will lead us to a ruin of self-immolation—if we follow our hearts. Sheep are really dumb. And smelly. And they will eat anything, even tin cans that will shred their intestines. They don’t know what’s good for them and they certainly cannot find their way home and are prone to wander.
I want you to notice something: Jesus doesn’t say: “My sheep hear My voice and so they know Me…” though that’s what nearly everyone thinks is important—what we know about Jesus and can recite in a confirmation examination or at the Last Day before the pearly gates. But… no. No. Not at all! The Bible makes very clear, again and again, the words of our Lord Himself that it’s not what we know about Him that really matters but it’s that He knows us. And that’s exactly what He says here: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them!” But doesn’t Jesus know everyone? No! Jesus says in the Parable of the Wedding Feast He knows only those He wants to know. “Do this into My Remembrance” as the Words are rightly translated means Jesus knows those lambs who feed faithfully on Him at His Holy Feast…
We don’t hear the Voice of the Good Shepherd in order to gain knowledge, ourselves. We hear His voice so that He will know us and get hold of us, and lead us and guide us up that steep and narrow and dark and scary mountain pass that leads to Golgotha, to a cross and a tomb and darkness and blood and death. And no sheep wants to go that way. That does not look like the way home. That does not look fun!
So, it is comforting to know that by His Word coming into our ears, Jesus knows us, makes us His own, grabs hold of us, throws us over His shoulder and says “C’mon! We’re going Home.” And it’s comforting to know that no one can snatch us out of His hand.
But it’s disturbing too, Commander! Because there will be strong inclinations on the part of every lost and straying sheep to flee from the Master. It feels warm and safe and secure to bury sheepy snouts into Jesus’ shoulder, for Him to carry us. Until… we look around and notice we are going up a steep, narrow, dark path. There’s a cross ahead. Danger, Will Robinson! Does this Jesus Guy really know where He’s going? What’s that cross and tomb? Why is Jesus taking us there!!!? All the disciples forsook Him and fled when He took them that Way. Why should we be different? Everything we know tells us this is the wrong way! This is the End of us! Flee! Run! Where is the talking snake when we need him? I liked him. He’s such a friendly snake! So wise. And his voice, so ASRM!
Yes; we can run but not hide from Jesus. No one can snatch us from His hand, which is comforting and disturbing too!
We can’t hurt the stars, as Laurie Anderson says, can’t burn them, or melt them, or blow them up. But we are reaching for them! In the same way, no one can snatch Jesus’ sheep from his hand. But there are plenty who are reaching for us—bad actors, trying hard to snatch us from His grasp. And we, ourselves are often the worst of these body snatchers. Jesus’ Divine Rescue is always first and foremost a saving from ourselves…(!)
In our First Reading, St. Paul helpfully elaborates on the disturbing news that: while no one can snatch us from Jesus’ hand, there are many savage wolves who are reaching for us, snapping at our heels, who would devour us. You have to note well to whom Paul is speaking these words. It’s not for everyone! These words are for επισκοποι,overseers, pastors of the Ephesian congregations, and by extension, for all pastors of the NT Church. Do you realize the words of Jesus Paul quotes: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” are nowhere written in the Gospels? That’s because they are spoken only to pastors like Paul, to the overseers, the under-shepherds, the Watchmen of the Church. It’s more blessed for me to give sermons than to hear them (I have verified this many times :-). But it is more blessed for you, the flock, to receive than to give. Pastors are the waiters in the restaurant. You are the honored guests whom we serve the Good Food of Word and Sacrament.
Good news, first: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, sends under-shepherds, overseers, watchmen—the Pastors of the New Testament—to extend the Master’s strong and saving hand to His sheep. But, bad news! It is from the overseers, the watchmen, the pastors of the NT that the threats will all come. Because a goodly number of them will be wolves in sheep’s clothing. It’s the clergy you always have to watch, because many will rise up, speaking perverse things, drawing disciples away from Jesus by cinnamon buns, by fake prosperity gospels, by weak and needy Christs, by innovative worship, Arian and Pelagian heresies. By this, ye shall know them…!
So is the Church a safe place or a dangerous place? Yes! Is the Gospel that no one can snatch us from Jesus’ hand comforting or disturbing? Yes! Always the Lutheran “YES!”. There is no crown without the cross. There is no living with Jesus without first dying to sin and self on Golgotha with Him. But there’s also always that Voice—cutting through the darkness, getting in our head and heart. There is always the Feast of His Body and Blood; and in just this Way, He’s got you, got me, in His Hand, on the Way that is Peace surpassing all understanding, guarding heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.