For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned
unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
(1 St. Peter ii. 25)
In Eastertide, we are called to become members of Jesus Christ’s Resurrected Body by remembering that we were lost sheep or sheep going astray who have been found. Of course, we have been found by Jesus Christ, the Shepherd and Bishop of [our] souls, because He is the the forgiveness of sins. Our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, always longs to find us in our sins and to forgive us. The forgiveness of sins is really meant to divide us from both sin against God, others, and even ourselves. First, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, reveals God to us once again, and we discover that we have erred and strayed from God’s ways like lost sheep. (General Confession, BCP 1662) With regard to the second, we see, outwardly and visibly, how our sins have scattered God’s other sheep away from Him. With regard to the third, we find in the end how we have been lost sheep in need of being found and saved from our sins. In Eastertide we not only rejoice that we have been found by Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd but we find also what it means to live in and through our Resurrected Saviour as the forgiveness of sins takes roots in our souls and rises into love and mercy.
Yet, what is so helpful about the Church’s selection of readings in Easter Tide is that she does not pretend that this new life as the Good Shepherd’s lost and found sheep is no easy business. Of course, for many, this Good Shepherd Sunday will be lost to souls who don’t understand to what lengths the Good Shepherd goes to find, heal, and save us. Most people think that Good Shepherd Sunday ought to be about Jesus the kindly, caring, gentle herdsman and guardian of His flock. Our Prayer Book warns us against any superficial sentimentality regarding the relationship between Christ the Good Shepherd and His sheep.
Today we learn what it means to be lost and found by the Good Shepherd. What the sheep of Christ look like and what the Good Shepherd expects are illustrated in this morning’s First Epistle of St. Peter. St. Peter addresses the newly formed Church in Asia Minor, full of the lost and found. Most of its members are servants or slaves. The general impression Peter gives is that Christian slaves are having a hard time with how the the forgiveness of sins works into their spiritual lives. Not surprisingly, they are trying to remember that they were lost and are now found as they serve Masters who are treating them cruelly and disdainfully. St. Peter is keen to identify with their pain and suffering and encourage them to remember how Christ the Good Shepherd not only finds them but continues to carry them home to His Kingdom.
St. Peter’s counsel seems irrational and unjust. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. (1 St. Peter ii. 18) If he were writing to earthly-minded men, whose justice is inevitably unjust, we should judge his advice to be hard-hearted and cruel cold comfort. But St. Peter is not writing to pagans and so his chief interest in not with social and political justice but with Divine justice overcome by Christ the forgiveness of sins. He writes as a member of the Body of Christ, and so he continues, For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps. (1 St. Peter ii. 21) St. Peter insists that the Good Shepherd, God’s own Son, has identified with all of our suffering and pain. Monsignor Knox reminds us, St. Peter remembers, too, how he followed in his Master’s footsteps, when Christ was led away to be crucified. (R.K.: The Epistles and Gospels, p. 125) He is only too conscious of the radical injustice done to God’s Good Shepherd and of his own powerlessness and then fear in the face of it. When he had been sitting by the fire in the cellar of the High Priest’s palace, he was surrounded by slaves, whose suffering was unjust. He too was shackled and enslaved to his own fear, cowardice, and impotence. He responded to evil by retreating into his own sin. Peter was a lost sheep. The slaves who surrounded him were lost sheep without any hope in this world. Peter was afraid of the same evil that bound the slaves. Yet, Peter was a lost sheep enslaved to own unfaithfulness and cowardice. Peter had become a slave to a far more cruel master than any earthly slaveholder. He was enslaved to the fear of imminent death by reason of association with Jesus. And because he was guilty of denying Jesus before the cock had crowed, he feared judgment. He remembered that guile was… found in his mouth, that when reviled, he reviled…again, and that when he suffered the accusation that he was one of Jesus’ friends, he threatened his accusers. (Ibid)
But now in today’s Epistle St. Peter speaks as a lost sheep who was now found by Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who became the forgiveness of sins. The Good Shepherd had forgiven him who once was a lost sheep and slave to sin and was now called into the new liberty of the Resurrection. So, Peter identifies with the slaves and exhorts them to welcome the Good Shepherd, who died as the forgiveness of sins and to forgive their earthly masters. Christ suffered for our sakes…who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who when reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously: who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (Ibid, 22- 25) St. Peter became a sinful slave to the evil of this world voluntarily. The slaves he addresses are the hapless victims of other men’s wickedness, and yet they too are tempted to allow their earthly slavery to kill the forgiveness of sins. Both Peter and his hearers were slaves, but they are now invited into true spiritual liberation through Christ who is the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection and the life. The slaves too must confess that they once were lost but now are found. With Peter, they can remember God, their sinful unforgiveness of their masters, and that they were sheep like without a shepherd. (St. Matthew ix. 36)With Peter, they can become evangelists of the forgiveness of sins and Christ’s Resurrection. What they can reveal is that they are the free sons and daughters of the living God –whose forgiveness in them can conquer all evil because while their sins were many, His mercy is more. Christ, the Good Shepherd, frees all men from the author of evil in this world and his malicious friends.
All of Christ’s lost sheep who are now found must endure grief, suffering wrongfully…take it patiently…[because] this is acceptable with God. (Ibid, 19, 20) St. Peter is inviting the slaves to see that the Saviour has suffered unjustly and has borne the burden of all men’s slavery to sin on the Cross of His Love. Like Christ, they must forgive those who are the cause of their suffering. For Christ is interested in all sinners –both slaves and free! The Good Shepherd saves and frees all men from all evil. If He – the perfect model and example of the unjustly tortured, punished, and crucified Slave, can forgive, then so too must all they who would be carried on His shoulders home to God. In fact, Jesus said, If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you…if they have persecuted me, they will persecute you…. (St. John xv. 18, 20) For Christ bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness. (Ibid, 24) Again, with Monsignor Knox, Christ’s wounds are healing stripes, and His death produces, of its own efficacy, a new death and the beginning of new life in us. (Idem) So the slaves and the slaveholders are invited into the new life of the Resurrection, as sheep who have been found, rescued, and saved by Jesus Christ. For ye were as sheep, going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (Ibid, 25 Christ the Good Shepherd’s transformative forgiveness is greater than all sin.
St. Peter shows us that all men are sinners who need to be incorporated into the Resurrected Life of the One who has become a Slave for us all. And this Slave is the Shepherd and Bishop of [our] souls. (idem) He calls Himself the Good Shepherd in this morning’s Gospel, for He is the Shepherd of Souls who voluntarily becomes God’s Slave because, as He says, He giveth His life for the sheep. (St. John x. 11) So the Good Shepherd can be identified with the Slave who now works freely and completely for the good of two Masters –His Father and His sheep! He even lays down His life for His sheep because He knows that only then can His Father’s Love become a true Slave to their condition, bear its burden fully, and then break its chains through the power of the forgiveness of their sins.
fBut even beyond this, Christ the Good Shepherd longs to become our Slave even now. He becomes the Father’s willing and happy Slave. Will He be our Slave also? He who is freely subservient, obedient, and docile to the Father’s longs to be our Slave and shepherd us into the Father’s embrace. The Good Shepherd cares only for our welfare and good. The Good Shepherd is the Slave whose service alone can conquer and overcome our sin. He alone is the Slave who must become our Master. He masters our sin by bringing it to death if we embrace the Spirit of His glorious passion, crucifixion, and resurrection.
Christ, the Good Shepherd comes to find His lost sheep. Will we allow Him to be our Slave and Master? Like all lost sheep enslaved to sin, we cannot pay this Slave for mastering our sin in dying for us, and forgiving us freely, without compulsion, without any force. He demands no payment. He asks only that our hearts awaken to the fact that we are lost sheep without His Shepherding Slavery. Today, in all humility and meekness, let us allow God’s Slave to Master and Shepherd us. Then, we too shall follow the blessed steps of His most holy life. (Collect, Easter II) And with St. Peter and all the Saints we shall realize that Christ the Good Shepherd and Slave alone shepherds all lost and found slaves into everlasting freedom.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: