"The True Owner" - Easter 4B
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
April 22, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
John 10:11-18
Subject
Easter 4B
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: April 22, 2018 – Easter 4B

Acts 4:5-12; John 10:11-18

 

The True Owner

 

My Church! my Church! my dear old Church!

My fathers’ and my own!

On prophets, and apostles built,

And Christ the cornerstone!

All else beside, by storm or tide,

May yet be overthrown;

But not my Church, my dear old Church,

My fathers’ and my own![1]

 

            So goes one of the most beloved hymns of this congregation (or at least one of Nyla’s most beloved hymns!). There is a lot to be said for in this old hymn. The church isn’t just “my” church. My ancestors – fathers, mothers, grandparents – are also among its company, living or dead. The apostles and prophets, who we hear from every week, are part of its foundation. And especially important is the confession that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our church.

 

            But that pronoun, “my”, can deceive us. In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the senior demon Screwtape writes that their job as tempters is to reduce the pronoun “my” into one sense, and one sense only – “the ‘my’ of ownership”.[2] In other words, we can be tempted to think that the church is little more than a local organization – our own social club, based on family ties and similar opinions – rather that God’s great community of saints that stretches throughout time and space. As Lewis indicates, we can reduce the term “my church” to the same sense as “my boots”.

 

            If that is true – if the church is little more than our own little social club with sacraments – then there is no hope for it. And I’m not just talking locally. If the church ultimately belongs to the sheep – us – and to the hired hands we bring in to run things – then there is no hope that the universal church can be anything more than just a social organization that helps people here and there and gives them their comfort food on Sunday. That’s it.

 

            But as Jesus says, there is a Good Shepherd. There is a true owner of the flock. It’s him. Not the pastor. Not the church council. Not anyone in the congregation. Not the synod offices or the bishop. Not the presiding bishop or the churchwide offices of the ELCA. The church is not our nor their possession. The church belongs solely to the Good Shepherd, Jesus.

 

            And because the church belongs to Jesus, that means that its fate is not up to us. We are called – every single one of us – to be stewards of the church, not owners. Peter and John understood this. Hauled before the same council of religious leaders that handed Jesus over to Pilate, Peter points to Jesus the cornerstone as not only the cause of the lame man’s healing, but as the source of salvation for all. Peter doesn’t claim to be able to save anyone. In everything he does, he points to the only One who can and does save.

 

            Moreover, if we go back to John’s Gospel, we hear from Jesus that he is always close by.
The Shepherd is at hand. We hear his voice, and we follow. “Hired hands”, so to speak, (both lay and ordained) come and go. The best ones, hopefully, act more like Peter and John – in faithfulness to the gospel and to the sheep. But the Shepherd remains at the side of his sheep forever. At the moment of birth. At baptism. Throughout life, with all its joy and heartbreak. At death and beyond its shadow. The Shepherd is always with his sheep, always calling them, always bringing them back to green pastures and still waters. We can let go of our need for ownership and all its attendant anxieties because the church belongs to Christ – and he will bring it safely through anything that happens.

 

            When clergy and lay leaders fail, the church goes on.

 

            When congregations close, the church goes on.

 

            When we forget who the true owner is, the church goes on.

 

            If we look back at church history, we can be amazed at how the church has weathered crisis after crisis, and yet is still in existence. Religious movements come and go all the time, and yet the church has endured bad leaders, heresy, persecution (as both persecutor and the persecuted), fragmentation, apostasy, violence, gatekeeping, and many other trials. Jesus has been beside his church through every age of its existence. From the day of Resurrection to the present, Jesus has continued to guide the church. We make take wrong turns from time to time. As the sheep, we’re bound to do that. But the Shepherd is always there, leading us back. Calling on us to follow. Bringing us to the places where our souls can find true rest and refreshment.

 

            God help us then, trust the Shepherd more fully. God grant us the faith we need to perceive the Shepherd’s rod and staff guiding and comforting us along the way, from our first moments to beyond the shadow of death.

 

            Let us pray.

 

            Jesus, you are the true owner of the flock. We are not. Help us to trust you and your guidance. Continue to sustain the church – and especially this congregation – through all its trials. Amen.

 

© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.

 

 

[1] G.C.S. Brook, “My Church, my Church, my dear old Church”

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.