the fourth sunday of easter

John 10. 11-18
God doesn’t love in spite of sins. God, just, loves!

It was seven years ago, almost to the day, that we set up this page on Facebook. @MidlandLutheranChurch. And for a – then – middle-aged male, the learning curve was pretty steep. After a little trial – and a whole lot of error – we got this thing going. Just in time for a pandemic! It’s – pretty much – the reason we’re still here. And one of the things we began, early on, was posting a quote on Friday mornings. Something to catch attention, to pique interest. Something to think about, to mull over. Since we started, I must have looked at thousands. This week, though, there was one quote, in particular, that kept coming back to me. It was used about four-and-a-half years ago. From Gandhi …

The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is really fear.
The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is really fear.

But, after six, seven weeks of Lent, how I remembered it was a little different the original. After forty days of self-examination and repentance … After forty days of praying and fasting … After forty days of sacrificial giving and works of love … it has become, for me …

The enemy is fear. We think it’s sin; but it’s really fear.
The enemy is fear. We think it’s sin; but it’s not. It’s really fear.

You see, as church, we’re fixated on sin. Obsessed with it, really. To the exclusion of everything else. We can’t imagine any other enemy! Confession! Forgiveness! Those are the two focal points of faith. We begin just about every worship service with them. Falling short! Missing the mark! That’s the starting point for believing. And here in the good old U.S. of A., sin’s the one, the only reason for the cross. Substitutionary atonement, we call it. God creates people. People sin. God gets angry. God has to punish someone. Jesus steps up and says, “Father, punish me, not them.” The gospel of the Lord! Word of god, word of life!

We think it’s sin; but it’s not. The enemy’s really fear.

Fear. Not just of dying. Not just of going to hell, of not getting into heaven. But fear – terror, actually – of not being loved! Of not ever being loved! Of living life … minute by minute … day by day … year in and year out …. and finding out, at the end of it all, that none of it really mattered. That none of it meant anything to anybody. Not even god! That’s, probably, why most of us are here, this morning. Not because we’ve done anything we feel particularly ashamed of. Not because of the guilt. We’re here because we’re afraid! We’re afraid! It’s that fear that binds us. The fear that holds us captive.

Not a fear of where we’ll spend eternity. If we died, tonight. It’s more basic, more fundamental, more primal, than that. We’re afraid of being forgotten. We’re afraid of being overlooked, of being abandoned, of being ignored. We’re so convinced sin is the enemy that we twist and we distort everything holy to conform to that misconception. The gospel. Baptism. The Supper. Confession and forgiveness. It all becomes about sin. Its remedy. Its cure. And in the end, when nothing is different, when nothing gets better, we wonder why. So, sure, we think the enemy is sin. But it’s not. The enemy is fear. The enemy is fear and the remedy for that? Is love! It’s love! And that’s, precisely, what surprised me, this time around, as I read the passage about the “good” shepherd. It’s not about sin. It’s not about guilt. It’s about love!

The flock did nothing wrong. And of course, the flock did nothing right. The flock was, after all, simply the flock. Sheep just sheep! The passage, instead, is all about the shepherd! All about Jesus! What makes him good isn’t his forgiving. It’s his dedication, his devotion. He lays down his life for the sheep … not as an offering to atone for sins … but as sacrifice to look out for their wellbeing! “We think it’s sin; but it’s not. It’s fear.” It’s fear of being forgotten! Fear of being forsaken! Of having no one! No one with us! No one for us! Of being worn down and worn out by the changes and chances … alone! Betrayed! Denied! Abandoned! And Jesus tells us, once again, this morning, that will never happen! Maybe with others, but not with him! He’s the good shepherd! Providing! Leading them! Giving rest! Guiding! Protecting! Comforting!

The enemy is fear! The adversary is always fear! Fear that no one cares! That no one will ever care! And Jesus says, “I’m here!” “I’m here!” And forgiveness isn’t god saying, “I’d love you, if …” or “I’ll love you, when …” Forgiveness isn’t even god saying, “I love you, in spite …” That’s what god would do if the enemy was sin! But it isn’t sin. It’s fear. And so god says, “I love you. Period.” “I love you. Exclamation mark!” “I love you. Full stop. End of sentence.” “I love you and nothing – nothing and no one – will get in the way … not even you!” We think the enemy is sin. We might, even, wish it was sin. But it’s not. It’s fear. It’s fear. Fear of being just another face in the crowd. Fear of being just one more among millions … one more among billions … None better. None worse. Fear we won’t be loved. Or worse … fear we can’t be loved. Not unless. Or until. Unless we become someone better. Or until we become someone more.

Jesus, the good shepherd, doesn’t tell us that we’re forgiven. He doesn’t tell us that our past won’t be held against us. He comes and tells us that we are loved! Loved with all god’s heart! Loved with all god’s strength! Loved with all god’s being! Loved to the last ounce! Loved to the last drop! Loved to the last breath! He doesn’t come to erase demerits. He doesn’t come to balance scales. He comes to lay down his life! Lay down his life for the flock! Lay down his life for his friends!

So, my friends, today, Jesus says to us, “Don’t be afraid!” Today, Jesus says, “I’m here! I’m with you! I’ve got you! I’m yours, you’re mine!” Today, Jesus says, “I love you! I love you, always! And I love you, forever!”

MLC amworship 4.25.21

MLC amworship 4.25.21 — Time for worship! come join us every Sunday at 10:30 CST!

Posted by Midland Lutheran Church on Sunday, April 25, 2021