Audio of the sermon:
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Ron, especially Mary Ellen, Dave, and Kirstan: the peace of God and the hope of the resurrection be yours today, and comfort you at all times in the mercy of Christ.
A few years ago, Ron had a question about whether he was actually in our book of membership. I’m not sure exactly why he thought that he hadn’t officially joined or had his name written down, but I assured him that he was indeed a member of this congregation. There are reasons why membership books and lists are important, but far more important is that Ron’s name was written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life. He was known to Jesus; he listened to the voice of Jesus; he followed Jesus.
John 10 is sometimes called the “Good Shepherd chapter” of John’s Gospel. Jesus says that He is the Good Shepherd, who has come to gather together all His sheep, wherever they might be, and from wherever they might have been scattered. He is the Good Shepherd especially in that He doesn’t run away from His sheep when they are in danger, or leave them to the wolves, or forsake them when they are in trouble. Sheep are all over the Scriptures, and Jesus uses them often to illustrate what He is doing. So He talks about how a shepherd might have 100 sheep and leave 99 of them in the wilderness in order to go and find the one who is lost. In our experience of reality, that might not actually make much sense, because you leave the 99 unguarded, open to predators and the elements. But Jesus wants us to know the extent of His love, how far He has gone to gather and keep us. “Perverse and foolish oft [we’ve] strayed, but yet in love He sought [us] and on His shoulder gently laid and home rejoicing brought [us]” (LSB 709:3).
John tells us in his first letter that this is how we know love, that Jesus has laid down His life for us. This is the love He has for Ron, that He laid down His life for Ron, in order to make him His own and gather him in among His flock of sheep. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, feeds His sheep as we prayed in Psalm 23: He leads us to the good pastures for both body and soul, providing what we need for this life, as well as giving us His Word, in which is eternal life. Green pastures and still, quiet waters of rest. He feeds us with His Word and with His own living Body and Blood. “Where streams of living water flow, my ransomed soul He leadeth and, where the verdant pastures grow, with food celestial feedeth” (LSB 709:2). All of this so that we walk through the wilderness of this world, through the valley of the shadow of death, without any fear and without any doubt about the one who is leading us. “In death’s dark vale I fear no ill with Thee, dear Lord, beside me, Thy rod and staff my comfort still, Thy cross before to guide me” (LSB 709:4).
Jesus laid down His life, but He took it up again in resurrection, and it is that resurrection life that He gave to Ron in his baptism—that He gives to all His beloved: the life He nourishes by His word, the life that lasts beyond death. Though Jesus came to bring an end to sickness, suffering, and death, He also knew that we would not see that day until we see Him in all His glory. John says it this way: we are God’s children now, but what we will be has not yet been revealed. But when He appears, then we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is.
The day is coming according to the promise of Jesus that Ron’s body and the bodies of all believers will be raised from the dead, free of all sin, sickness, and death, and fully alive in the resurrection of Jesus. That is the day for which we wait along with Ron and all those who have gone before us into the presence of Jesus. Until then, we still suffer, we still grieve, we still mourn. But we do not do so as those who have no hope. Because the promise is not only for that day, however far off it may be. It is for now also—for Ron, and for you. Now, Jesus says, I am giving eternal life to My sheep.
I had the privilege of bringing him the substance of that promise in the Body and Blood of Jesus, and of praying for him in the hospital. He knew those promises, that God had claimed him for His own in Holy Baptism, that He had put His own holy Name on Ron. Jesus Christ Himself spoke His word of forgiveness to Ron and gave Him His living Body and Blood as a pledge that He would never break His promise. Then, having kept him until the end, the Good Shepherd called Ron to Himself.
Jesus knows His own. Ron heard the voice of His Savior and knew Him, and he followed Jesus, through life into death, and to the side of His Lord as He waits for the resurrection and the restoration of all things. No one and nothing was able to remove Ron from the hand of His God. God, keep us with Jesus, and with Ron in the communion of Christ’s Body until the day we are reunited in the resurrection. “And so through all the length of days Thy goodness faileth never; Good Shepherd, may [we] sing Thy praise within Thy house forever!” (LSB 709:6).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/28/21