Hearing Our Lord – Sermon for May 7/8, 2017

Hearing Our Lord
John 10:1-10
4th Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)
May 7th/8th, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

The human eye is an incredible creation composed of over 2 million working parts. There has never been a successful eye transplant because the eye is so intricate, connected to the brain by more than 1 million microscopic nerve fibers. But the eye incredible not only because of how precisely and intricately designed it is, but because of the impact it has on us as people. Sight is the primary sense in human beings. Some people estimate that 80% of our memories are determined by what we see, and 80% of what we learn is learned through the eyes. The only organ more complex in the entire body is the brain itself, but over half of the brain is devoted to processing visual stimuli. Vision is the primary sense for the vast majority of human beings – it forms our most basic understanding of the world around us. Of course, the bodies and brains of those who are blind learn to rely on other senses to make up for the lack of vision. But generally speaking, sight is the primary sense in people.

But what about the children of God? What is to be the primary sense for the children of God? Which sense are we to rely upon most for our understanding of the world around us?

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Our Epistle reading reminds us that we were at one time straying like lost sheep, but we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. The Psalm for today is Psalm 23, one of the most beloved sections in all the Scriptures. The Lord is my shepherd; I am his sheep. The Gospel reading for today records for us words of our Lord that have become known as the Good Shepherd Discourse. The image of shepherd and sheep is one of the consistent images that runs through the entire history of God’s people. It’s a prominent image in the Old Testament. It’s a prominent image in the New Testament. It’s a prominent image in the church today. It’s in our hymnody. It is in our artwork. Here at St. John we have a painting by the elevator depicting Jesus as a shepherd, and we have a stained glass window dedicated to the same idea. Today’s Gospel reading helps us understand a bit more about why this image is a favorite one of our Lord, and why he consistently places it before us. And believe it or not, it has a lot to do with sight.

Today’s Gospel reading from John chapter 10 follows on the heels of an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees where sight was the main topic. John chapter 9 records for us the account of a man born blind who had his sight restored by Jesus. The man is questioned by the Pharisees, as are his parents, and eventually he is cast out of the synagogue for confessing Jesus as Christ. When Jesus heard that the man had been cast out of the synagogue, he went and found him and said, “For judgment have I come into the world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” When the Pharisees heard this, they asked Jesus, “Are we also blind?” To which Jesus replied, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say you see, your guilt remains.” He then immediately launches into the Good Shepherd Discourse, including this discussion about how true sheep hear the voice of their shepherd, relying on their ears, not their eyes.

That’s our call as the children of God: to rely on our ears, not our eyes.

Our eyes will deceive us. Our eyes will fill us with fear. Our eyes will fill us with anxiety and doubt. Our eyes will look out at the world around us and see rising unrest. They will see a polarized political existence in our country. They will see racial tensions. They will see professional baseball players subjected to racial slurs in a Major League Ballpark. They will see tensions rising between those fighting for religious liberty on one side and those fighting for SOGI laws on the other. Our eyes will see flooding in Missouri and Texas. They will see tornados and earthquakes and hurricanes. They will see cancer and disease and death within our own families and church and school. Our eyes will give us every reason to fear.

But our Shepherd beckons us to believe our ears, not our eyes. For faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.  Christ our Shepherd invites us to cast all our anxiety on him, for he cares for us. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. He leads us to the still waters. He makes us to lie down in green pastures. He fills our cups overflowing with his mercy. Though the mountains crumble and the earth gives way, the steadfast love of our Lord never ceases. Behold, the Son of God, with whom the Father is well pleased. Listen to him. Don’t let your eyes fill you with fear. Let your ears fill you with peace.

But our eyes are powerful. We’ve learned to rely so much on vision. We’ve trained ourselves that seeing is believing. It is not only fear and anxiety that our sight tempt us to believe more than we believe the promises of God. It is greed and lust. Our eyes see the fruit of the world, and seeing that the fruit looks good for eating, we are tempted to take a bite. Our eyes take in the new car our neighbor drives, the new house our friends purchased, the new phone, the new Apple watch, the new iPad, the new this the new that. Our eyes gluttonously devour all the toys and possessions that are not ours, and our eyes tell us that we deserve more, that we deserve better, that we want what others have.

But our Shepherd beckons us to believe our ears, not our eyes. Our ears hear the voice of our Shepherd saying , “Do not covet.” It those words is more than a command; in those words is a promise of freedom. The one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The one whose eyes are addicted to greed becomes a slave to greed. But if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Free from the worry that comes with discontent and coveting. Free from the temptation that is always hiding in the shadow of those shiny new things. The temptation to cut back giving to God so that we can afford a nicer car or more extravagant vacation. The temptation to neglect quality time with our spouse or children because we are spending so many hours working for a bigger paycheck. The temptation to play with the numbers a little so that the government doesn’t really know how much we make. The growing hatred in our hearts as we look at the possessions of the people around us and, rather than rejoicing in the good gifts our Lord has given someone else, hating them for getting what we want. The temptation to tear down the reputation of another person or to speak ill of them or to sabotage them because we are jealous.

Our Lord’s Word sets us free from all of that when it says, “Do not covet. But receive from the Lord with thanksgiving that which is yours.” Our ears give us the peace of a thankful heart. Our ears hear the Lord’s call to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” And our ears trust that our Lord will give us such bread, neither giving us so much extra that we think we have no need of our Lord, nor giving us so little that we fall into theft and so dishonor the name of the Lord. Our ears hear that our heavenly Father knows we need food and clothing and shelter, and that he desires to give us these things. Our ears, not our eyes, fill us with such peace.

Our eyes see the pleasures of the world around us. Our eyes lust after the flesh, after the bottle, after the next high or the next thrill. Our ears hear the voice of our Lord calling us back to his fold. These other voices are not the shepherd. They have not entered our lives or our hearts or our minds by the door, but have climbed in by some other means. They come to steal and kill and destroy. To steal our joy and kill our relationships and destroy the life our Lord has designed for us – a life of faith toward him and love toward others. Jesus has come that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Jesus has come, and he speaks. He comes with his Word. He comes to our ears, not our eyes.

He comes in a splash of water on a baby’s forehead. The eye sees tap water. The ear hears the Word of God and knows that by itself that water would be plain water, but because it is combined with God’s Word it is the life-giving water of baptism.  The eye sees bread and wine. The ear hears the Word of God and knows that the crucified and risen Christ himself is present in this meal to bring us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. It is our ears, not our eyes, to which our Lord makes his appeal. It is through our ears, not our eyes, that our Lord is present among us today.

When a person loses their sense of sight, their body responds by directing some of the parts of the brain that would normally be used to process visual stimuli to process sounds, smells, tastes, and touch instead. That’s partly why people close their eyes when the kiss or when they take a bite of a particularly tasty steak or when they take a long deep breath to absorb the smell of flowers in the springtime. Our other senses are strengthened when sight is taken away. Jesus says that he came into the world so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind. Those who trust the eyes more than the ears will never see the Lord for who he is. As far as we trust our eyes, the painful and disappointing circumstances of our lives, the temptations and siren songs of the world around us, more than we trust the Word of the Lord in our ears, so far will we miss Jesus for who he truly is.

Repent of idolizing your eyes. Hear the voice of your Shepherd. Learn to recognize the voice of your Shepherd. When you hear the voice of another, do not follow it. Flee. Learn to hear the voice of your Shepherd in the proclamation of his Word, and follow that voice. For he alone is the Good Shepherd. All others are thieves and robbers. Do not listen to them. Hear the voice of your Shepherd calling you to repentance. Hear the voice of your Shepherd promising you forgiveness. Hear the voice of your Shepherd and follow him. For He has come to give you life, and to give it to you abundantly.

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(Mostly) Luther on Psalm 23

The Lord is My Shepherd[1]
Psalm 23
Third Sunday of Easter (Misericordias Domini)
April 10th/11th, 2016
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

Jesus-the-Good-Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is your shepherd. We are his sheep. An appropriate comparison, for as Martin Luther once noted, a sheep must live entirely by its shepherd’s help, protection, and care. As soon as the sheep loses its shepherd, it is surrounded by all kinds of dangers and will certainly perish, for it is quite unable to help itself. It is a poor, weak, simple little creature that can neither feed nor rule itself, nor find the right way, nor protect itself against any kind of danger or misfortune. It is by nature timid, shy, and likely to get lost. When it does wander off and leave its shepherd, it is unable to find its way back to him; indeed, it merely runs farther away from him. It strays about until the wolf seizes it or it perishes some other way, like falling off a cliff or being swept away by the current while trying to drink from running water.

Still, however weak and small an animal a sheep may be, it nevertheless has this trait about it: it listens.  It is very careful to stay near its shepherd, to take comfort in his help and protection, and to follow him however and wherever he may lead it. And if it can simply be near him, it worries about nothing, fears no one, and is secure and happy; for it lacks absolutely nothing. If you wish, therefore, to be richly supplied in both body and soul, then above all give careful attention to the voice of your Shepherd, listen to His words, let Him feed, direct, lead, protect, and comfort you. Hold fast to His Word; hear and learn it gladly.

Our Shepherd will bless His Word so that it will accomplish its purpose and bring forth fruit in us. Through the Word he will give us His Spirit, who will assist and comfort us in all temptations and distresses and will also make our hearts safe and sure so that we will not doubt that we are safe in our Lord’s flock. He will treat us gently as His poor, weak sheep. He will strengthen our faith and provide us with other spiritual gifts; comfort us in all our troubles; hear us when we call upon Him; keep the wolf, that is, the devil, from being able to do us harm; and finally redeem us from all misfortune. Thus the psalmist can boldly confess that because the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

Of course, there will always be hardships in this body and life. Sin has corrupted the world in which we live. We will experience disease and economic hardships. Our relationships will be strained. Our lives will feel the same pressures felt by everyone else, whether they’re Christian or not. We may look at our circumstances compared with those of the unbelieving world and wonder whether or not our Lord is truly providing as a Shepherd ought.   But the words “I shall not want” are a confession of faith. The eyes of faith know that in real temptation we can find counsel and comfort nowhere else but in clinging to God’s Word and promise, evaluating our circumstances on the basis of his Word and not on the basis of the feelings of the heart. Then, when we despair of ourselves, our own abilities, our own failures, our own estimation of the situation, then help and comfort will surely follow, and absolutely nothing will be lacking.

The Word of God is the key. And yet, sadly, it remains a Word we so often undervalue and take for granted. It is as if the Psalmist were saying, “All people and kingdoms on earth are nothing. To the outward eye they may be richer, more powerful, and more splendid than the People of God. They may glory in their wisdom and holiness. But with all their glory and splendor they are a mere desert and wilderness, for they have neither shepherd nor pasture, and any sheep who wanders there will certainly go astray, starve, and perish. But though we are surrounded by many deserts, we can sit and rest here, safe and happy in Paradise, in a pleasant green pasture, where there is an abundance of grass and of fresh water and where we have our Shepherd near us, who feeds us, leads us to the watering place, and protects us. Therefore we shall not want.

We should learn to let the world glory in its great riches, honor, and power while it still can, for these are temporary, uncertain, perishable things that God lets foolish men scramble for. What does it matter for God to give wealth to someone who in turn blasphemes and slanders Him, or to a kingdom that will endorse evil at every turn, or other temporary honors and possessions to wicked people on this earth. What of it? All these will turn to ash one day.  To His children, as David says here, He gives the genuine treasure. Therefore, as the dear children and heirs of God, we ought to glory in neither our wisdom, nor strength, nor riches, but in this, that we have the “pearl of great value,” the precious Word, through which we know God, our dear Father, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. That is our treasure and heritage, and it is sure and eternal and better than all worldly possessions. Whoever has this treasure may let others gather money, live scandalously, be proud and arrogant. Let us not be troubled by such things, though we be despised and poor in the eyes of the world. It does not matter how rich and glorious we are here on earth; if we keep the treasure of his Word, we are exceedingly rich and sufficiently honored.

O how often we struggle with this! How often we fail to evaluate our situation rightly! We are so easily caught up in the rat race of modern life, forever chasing the next promotion, the newer car, the nicer house, the fancier clothing or more extravagant vacation.  We put our effort and time into the many things we want to do for our families and give to our families: a good education, the chance to excel in sports or music, a comfortable life, wonderful memories and experiences. But where does the Word of God fall on that list? Why do we so often fail to treat it as the treasure it truly is? Why do we find ourselves too tired to worship or attend Bible Study but always have enough energy to pick up some overtime if it means getting paid time-and-a-half?  All other things in this life will pass away. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of God stands forever. The Psalmist rejoices in that Word, and that through that Word he has everything he would ever want, regardless of his standing in the eyes of the world, regardless of how his life stacks up against the people three doors down.  For this Word is the green pastures that feed our soul, and it is the still waters that calm our troubled hearts.

Whether we are rich or poor in the eyes of the world, there will always be trouble in this life. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Being a sheep in our Shepherd’s flock doesn’t make those attacks any less intense. In fact, if anything, it makes them worse, for as soon as the Word is preached and as soon as there are people that accept and confess it, the devil quickly appears with all his angels and arouses the world with all its might against this Word, to stifle it and completely destroy those that have it and confess it.  Baptism not only make one a child of God, it also makes one an enemy of Satan. Are we then to look for shelter from these attacks in money or fame or the things of this life? No, there is no shelter there. And yet in the midst of these attacks, we fear no evil, for the Shepherd is with us to protect and comfort us with his rod and staff. Rather than living in fear, we sit at the table prepared by our Lord. The more raging and raving and insane the devil and his minions are toward us, the less we worry about them; yes, instead, we are secure, happy, and cheerful. And that is true only because we have God’s Word. It gives us such strength and comfort in the presence of all our enemies, so that even when they rage and rave most violently, we feel more at ease than when we are sitting at a table and have all that our hearts desire: food, drink, joy, pleasures, music, and anything else.

Even a man so highly blessed as King David exalts and praises the Word of God above all else, for by that Word we gain the victory over the devil, the world, the flesh, sin, a guilty conscience, and even death. When we have the Word and in faith cling to it firmly, these enemies, who we could never defeat on our own, lay down their weapons and let themselves be taken captive. It is not only a wonderful victory, but also a very confident and joyful attitude on the part of believers that we may compel and conquer all of these horrible and mighty enemies—not by resisting or striking back, but by sitting, eating, drinking, and resting, for we aren’t the ones who are actually doing the fighting.  We rest in the protection of our Shepherd. All of this is accomplished through the Word.

The Lord has prepared a table for us, and the meal on that table is the paschal lamb, Christ himself given in order to destroy our enemies completely. While the world continues to spew rhetoric of hatred and bitterness and vengeance, even then the dear bride of Christ can sit down at the table of her Lord, eat of the paschal lamb, drink of the fresh water, be happy and sing: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”  Therefore let us learn to cling to the rod and this staff of our Lord’s Word, and to find our way to his table when sorrow or other misfortune appears. Then we will surely gain strength and comfort for everything that worries us.

This is the promise that is ours as the sheep of our Lord’s flock. He is our Shepherd. He has given us all we need, therefore when we have him through his Word, we shall not want. His Word will lead us into green pastures to feed and nourish and strengthen our souls. And when sadness or grief overtakes us, his Word will soothe our troubled hearts with the cool water of healing.  He restores our souls. He will speak to us through his Word to lead us down the paths of righteousness, showing us how to live in forgiveness and mercy and in keeping with his design for creation. And even though that path in this life takes us through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, for he is with us, guarding and protecting us with the rod and staff of his Gospel, deflecting away and fending off the assaults of the evil one. And while he is fighting off our enemies, we will sit at the table he has prepared for us; he will anoint us as his people, and fill our souls to the point of overflowing with the gift of his love. So as long as we are in this life, his goodness and his mercy will follow us as his Word continues to speak words of forgiveness and hope into our ears until that day when we take up our dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

+INJ+

[1] Much of this sermon is from Luther’s 1536 commentary on Psalm 23

Under the Protection of the Shepherd – Sermon for April 19/20

Under the Protection of the Shepherd
John 10:11-18
Third Sunday of Easter (Misericordias Domini)
April 19, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”  Familiar words. If Family Feud asked 100 people to quote something from the Bible, the opening to Psalm 23 just might be the number one answer.  It seems that everyone, Christian or not, knows the biblical imagery of Jesus as a shepherd.  And the image usually goes something like this: warm, lazy summer day, sun shining, maybe a brook or a steam trickling in the background, harmonizing with the continuo of buzzing bees while birds chirp their descant. It’s enough to lull you to sleep just thinking about it! The focal point of the imagery is always Jesus standing there, holding his little lamb in his arms, smiling, maybe even laughing, enjoying the moment.  It makes shepherding look like the job to have.  It makes the life of a Jesus-the-Good-Shepherdshepherd look pretty cushy.  The Lord is my Shepherd, and he’s sitting back, soaking in the rays, and loving every minute of it.  Leading me beside still waters, making me to lie down in green pastures, restoring my soul.  It’s enough to make anyone want to be a shepherd.  The only problem is, that’s nothing like what the life of a shepherd was actually like. When the Bible calls the Lord our Shepherd, the imagery it is trying to call to mind is quite different.

Shepherding in those days was not as easy as pastoral art would lead us to believe.  It definitely wasn’t just sitting around in the sun while your sheep safely graze.  Shepherding was actually quite dangerous, and definitely not for the faint of heart. One of the main tasks of the shepherd was to protect the sheep from predators like wild dogs or lions.  The shepherd carried a staff not as a walking stick or as something to prop himself up against during the long mundane day, but as a weapon to fight off beasts who would eat his sheep.  The shepherd was a warrior of sorts.  And so David, a young shepherd boy, was able to stand up to the giant Philistine Goliath.  Much like bullseyeing womp rats on Tatooine prepared Luke Skywalker to take out the Death Star, David’s training and experience as a shepherd actually prepared him for battle against a skilled warrior.  He was able to slay the giant with a stone because he was a sniper with the slingshot, an accuracy he had developed with the weapon as a shepherd.  He had to be accurate when protecting his sheep.  If he missed a shot, sheep died.  If sheep died, he was in deep trouble.  Because he was a shepherd, David was also a warrior.  He did not sit back taking naps and soaking in rays while his sheep basically took care of themselves all day long.  Being a shepherd was hard work.

The hired shepherd is surely skilled and capable, but he is not like David.  David was protecting his father’s sheep, protecting his own sheep.  He was sure to do everything possible to protect them.  For the hired hand, however, when things get tough, he runs away.   The hired hand has no real interest in the sheep.  If a lion picks off a sheep, it’s no skin off his back; they’re not his sheep.  It’s not his family or his children or his children’s children who will be affected.  If he loses too many sheep to lions or wolves, he can always get another job.  The hired hand has no real reason to protect the sheep.  His wolfdesire in shepherding is simply to make his job as easy as possible, and fighting a lion to save a sheep is anything but easy.  The hired hand epitomizes the cliché: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  Except he gets going the opposite direction.  When the lion attacks, the hired shepherd becomes a lion himself – a cowardly lion who he flees the scene like that fearful feline fled the Wizard of Oz, diving head first through the window, just trying to save his own skin (or fur as the case may be).  The hired shepherd is the same way.  He too flees like a coward when the sheep are in true danger.

The sad thing is, we sinful people often prefer the hired hand to a true shepherd.  We sinful people prefer to entrust ourselves to the hireling who has no vested interest in our wellbeing. We choose this rather than entrusting ourselves to an actual shepherd.  We prefer the hireling because we want control of our own lives, and we can manipulate the hireling, for we pay his salary. We are tempted to find for ourselves someone who will tell us what we long to hear rather than someone who will really guide and protect us by speaking the truth of God’s Word.  We find someone, be it an author whose book we found in the spirituality section at Barns & Noble, a Daytime TV talk show host who likes to pontificate on spiritual matters, or a smooth talker in a nice suit who uses Christian language without saying Christian things. We prefer someone who will allow us to continue along our chosen path, even if that path leads to destruction. Our sinful flesh doesn’t want someone putting us back on the right path; we don’t like to be corrected.   We are like the spoiled child who always demands his own way.  He will not listen to good advice.  He will only listen to the words he wants to hear.  He eats only ice cream and Skittles because he doesn’t like vegetables, but ends up with a stomachache.  He won’t play outside because he thinks watching TV and playing Xbox is more fun, and grows up terribly out of shape.  Is a parent who raises their child by letting the child make all the important decisions for himself truly protecting him?  Yet so often we act like spiritual spoiled brats, listening only to those who tell us what we want to hear, who scratch our selfish itch.  But these things always come back to bite us, for the ultimate problem is sin, and you can’t fix sin by ignoring it, making excuses for it, or explaining it away. There is only one who can protect us from the threat we actually face.

The only true protection comes from the only true Shepherd: Jesus.  Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  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.  He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  I am the Good Shepherd.”  The Good Shepherd protects his sheep by waging war against the evils of sin and death.  The Good Shepherd uses his skills of engagement, his warrior capabilities, to fight our battle against death and the devil.   Jesus, like David, comes as a shepherd into battle.  And Jesus, our greater David, slays the Goliath of death with the stone of his holy precious blood and his innocentpolls_05_08_12_cross_at_sunset_web31_2742_684070_answer_1_xlarge suffering and death, a stone flung from the slingshot of his perfect obedience and his complete fulfillment of God’s Law on our behalf.  He bears our punishment, he pays our debt, he jumps in front of us to take the bullet of God’s wrath. He lays down his life to protect us.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  Jesus offers the only true protection there is. In his death and resurrection, he has defeated our true enemies: our sin, death, and the devil.

And now our Good Shepherd brings us into his flock where he continues to protect and defend us. His protection was not a one-time deal that somehow ended when he ascended to the right hand of the Father.  He continues to protect us. He continues to be our shepherd.   Even though it is sometimes difficult to see, his protection is in fact there. He protects us from the predators that would devour our hope, be they death, despair, grief, persecution, shame, or any other attacker that would steal us from the flock of our Lord. He protects us from the dangerous paths of false teaching, from the sinful and misguided understanding of existence that we are immersed in. We live in an unbelieving world that has a philosophy all its own, and it’s always beckoning us to come and be part of its deception. We need a shepherd to guide us onto the safe path.   Our Good Shepherd protects his sheep.  Just like David used tools to protect his sheep, Christ uses tools to protect us.  Instead of a rod, He uses his Word. The voice of the Pastor speaking words of Christ’s forgiveness fend off would be attackers.   The words of his scriptures studied and prayed in our devotional lives are a light to keep our feet on the safe path.  Instead of stones, the sling of our Lord is loaded with the bread and wine that are his own crucified and risen body and blood given and shed for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And because we are his children, the sheep of his pasture, he uses these stones to fend off the attacks of the devil, who prowls about as a roaring lion seeking to devour us.   Christ still Shepherds and protects us his sheep today, using the instruments of his Church to do it.

The Lord is our Shepherd.  We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

JESUS IS THE GOOD SHEPHERD WHO PROTECTS YOU IN HIS FLOCK.

What joy we have to live under the care of our shepherd! May the Lord our shepherd continue to guide and protect us with his precious word throughout the days of our earthly life, and bring us safely into the pastures of our heavenly rest.

 

Recognize His Voice – Funeral Sermon for James C. Flynn

Funeral of James Clifford Flynn

John 10:1-10

March 6, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  He goes before them and they follow him, for they know his voice.  They recognize his voice.  From what I’ve heard, Froggy had a pretty recognizable voice too.  I heard a number of wonderful stories about Jim earlier this week.  I heard about what you might call his ability to delegate responsibility, specifically how he would take Diane to Reindel’s Hardware store on his day off so that she could help him with his “honey-do” list.  Although, the way Diane remembers it, she would take the list up and down the aisles finding what dad needed while he would drink a cup of coffee and chat with the guys in the front of the store.  That’s what I call delegating tasks.  I heard anecdotes about his sense of humor, how one year for Christmas Jessica asked for a John Deere tractor, so he got her one – a miniature one that blew bubbles.  I heard of his mischievous side, how he used to go joy riding in his dad’s car when he was just a boy.  Apparently, his dad could never figure out why the car was always on empty, but from what I hear, Jim and his sisters could have shed some light on that mystery.

 I heard memory after memory, story after story lovingly relayed by the family whose lives will always bear Jim’s fingerprint.  But the one thing I found myself returning to time and again is Jim’s Fire Department nickname: Froggy.  Jim was usually the one giving the nicknames, just ask “Muddy.”  Apparently, Jim had nicknames for just about everyone.  But he had one of his own, too, Froggy, which he earned due to his distinctly raspy voice.  The unique sound of his voice was due to a medical condition that affected his vocal cords.  He eventually sought and received medical treatment for his vocal cords so that many who met him later in life might have never known what he used to sound like.  I myself never heard his Froggy voice, but from what I understand, those who did hear it will never forget it.  In fact, Donna told me a story about a vacation that she and Jim went on up north.  They happened to find themselves on a pontoon with a few people they had never met before, one of whom was a retired firefighter from East Detroit.  Well, as the story goes, the mutual friend who owned the pontoon asked the East Detroit firefighter if he knew Jim, and the man replied that he had never met a Jim Flynn.  However, as soon as they were all on the boat together the man recognized Jim’s voice the moment he started talking.  “You’re Froggy from Fraser!” the man exclaimed.  Even though he had never met Jim face to face, he knew his voice from the firehouse radio, for Froggy had a voice that you didn’t forget, one that you could pick out of a crowd, one that left its mark on those who heard it.

Hear again a few words from the Gospel of John:  [Jesus said:] “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.  But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” [John 10:1-5].  Recognize the voice.  The sheep of Jesus recognize his voice when they hear it, and they follow him.  That was true for Jim, which is why we say with confidence that he is now resting with our Lord awaiting the day of resurrection.

Just over a week ago I visited Jim in his bedroom and gave him communion.  I knew then and there that he recognized the voice of his shepherd.  With what strength he had left at that point, he joined me in the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed speaking those words that our Lord gave him to speak.  He knew the voice of his shepherd, Jesus, the voice that first claimed Jim as his own dear child through the waters of baptism on June 1, 1944.  Jim knew the voice of his shepherd, which is why no matter where he and Donna moved they sought out a church to proclaim God’s words of Law and Gospel to them.  Jesus said that his sheep recognize his voice and they follow him as he goes before them.  Jim knew the voice of his shepherd, so he followed where his shepherd lead.

That’s why we’re gathered here today, because Jim has followed his shepherd to another place – the grave.  Never forget, Jesus has been to the grave already.  He led Jim there, and Jim followed as his dear little lamb.  But don’t forget that Jesus has not only been in the grave, he has also overcome it.  Death could not hold him; it cannot hold his sheep either.  Death cannot hold Jim.  All of us will one day taste death.  But for God’s children, we do not wander aimlessly into the abyss.  We follow our shepherd, the one who goes before us.  Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will not fear, for He is with us – and he’s been there before.  Not only has he been there, but he made it safely out the other side, the first fruits of them that sleep [1 Cor 15].  Jesus is the first fruits, his church is the full harvest.  Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death.  And if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his [Romans 6].

As we were reminded from this pulpit last Sunday, Christ is the head of his body, the church.  Any mother can tell you that the hardest part of giving birth is the baby’s head.  Once the head is through, the body is easy by comparison.  Christ is the head, we are the body – and the head is through.  He has already passed through death, already born into life everlasting.  We are following behind him, certain in our new birth because we are united to the head.  Jim had the gift of this certainty, which is probably why one of his favorite verses comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians where the Apostle wrote, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”  To live is Christ, to die is gain.  Living or dying, Jim knew the voice of his shepherd who called him out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Living or dying, Jim knew that he belonged to Jesus.  Jim knew that Christ, his head, had overcome death.  And Jim knew that when his time came, which it did last Sunday, he too would overcome death, for he is united to the resurrection of Jesus.

Such is the joy of knowing the shepherd’s voice, a voice that spoke to Jim throughout his life, leading him in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Such is the joy of knowing the shepherd’s voice, a voice that speaks to you now and tells you, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” [Isaiah 43:1b-2].

Jim spent a large part of his life walking through fire to save other people.  He spent a lot of time trying not to be consumed by the flames that were dancing all around him while he worked to rescue those in need.  The shepherd is calling to you today to promise you that he will deliver you from the flames of grief and despair.  Jim knew the voice of his shepherd; Jim is with his Lord.  Know the voice of your shepherd.  Know that because you are baptized, one day you will be too, reunited with Jim in the marriage feast of the Lamb, which knows know end.  The floods of sadness will continue as you grieve the loss of your husband, your father, your brother, your grandfather.  But take comfort, hear the voice of your shepherd, for he has promised that you will pass through those waters, they will not overwhelm you.  Jesus has redeemed you.  He has called you by name, you belong to him.  Hear his voice as you journey into the coming days, weeks, months, and years.  Let your prayer be that which we sang a few moments ago:

Our hands and feet, Lord, strengthen;

With joy our spirits bless

Until we see the ending

Of all our life’s distress.

And so throughout our lifetime

Keep us within Your care

And at our end then bring us

To heav’n to praise You there

(Entrust Your Days and Burdens: LSB 754 st. 1)