Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
“NOT FOR SALE”
Easter 4 B
April 22, 2018
Christ Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
The world has not changed since the time John wrote this to the church. It is still a dangerous place filled with “wolves” lurking around every corner, stalking their next lunch. We have child protection policies to protect our little ones from predators. Our computers have passwords, because there are hackers who will break into our computers steal our lives. Lights shine all night in parking lots and neighborhoods because thieves hate the light and love the darkness. The daily news is often nothing more than a list of the wolves’ latest victims.
As a result, there is an equally endless list of “hired hands,” salesmen, hawkers and pitchmen all offering us their wares, everyone seeking to make a deal, promising us a better life in exchange for what we can pay. Everyone is for sale. The problem is that hired hands claim to care for us but ultimately only care for their bottom line. Making a deal is all about their survival and not the survival of the “sheep.” When costs are too high and the snapping of wolves too close, they “run away.” Cutting their losses, they move on to another flock where they can offer their services “for hire.”
For 15 years I was a chaplain at a nursing home in Fort Wayne where the ads promised “Your loved ones will always have a home.” Every Thursday morning I would lead a chapel service for the residents. Over that long period of time, I got close to many of them. I remember Betty. She would never miss a service. She loved to sing. She could quote Scripture. She always had someone for whom she wanted us to pray. The staff loved her. She was “the life of the party.”
Then one Thursday she was gone. I was afraid that she had died and no one had told me. The staff was evasive. Something was wrong. Then one of the residents pulled me aside and whispered in my ear.
“Pastor, Betty’s money ran out.”
I knew what had happened. She had been banished to a fate almost as bad as death. Because she had depleted all her resources and the nursing home would not accept the lower paying Medicaid, she had to do go to the dreaded County Home where the care was poor and lives were miserable. The nursing home where the residents would always have a home would be home as long as you could pay. Ultimately, their care and compassion were only for hire. No pay . . . no play.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns his disciples to look out for “hired hands.” There are always those who will claim to care about us but are only for sale. They succeed because “there is a sucker born every minute.” That infamous axiom was supposedly uttered by one of the most skilled “hired hands” of all time, P.T. Barnum, a showman, scam artist, entertainer, founder of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus and businessman extraordinaire.
Like the suckers P.T. Barnum scorned, we fall for the pitches of the latest huckster promising us a better deal. “IF we would only do this, THEN we will get that.” IF we have these friends, IF we wear these clothes, IF we meet this sales goal, IF we have this house, IF we send our kids to these schools, IF we can have this job, THEN we will have it made, THEN we will be somebody, THEN we will be cool, THEN we will belong.
We live in a world filled with “hired hands” who pretend to be our shepherds when in fact they are only “hired hands” who make promises they cannot keep.
We get snookered every time! We naively believe that IF we had this _______ (just fill in the blank with the latest “whatever”), THEN all would be well. But there is never enough. There is always another mountain to challenge us, another rival to displace us and another problem to derail us. We never are indisputably cool and comfortably at peace. We are constantly restless and perpetually suspicious.
Sometimes it even seems as though the church is for sale. Oh, I don’t mean that we are as crass and commercial as the church was at the time of Martin Luther selling indulgences. Churches have learned not to be so blatantly commercial. However, they still now how to make a deal. Do you want to save your marriage, your job, your family, your soul? Well, come and join us and we will show you how. Of course, you have got to do your part. You have to be loyal and committed to our program. You must follow Jesus . . . and we will show you what to do. We do not want members in our church. We want disciples!
Who needs to hire a consultant when you have got the church?
But what happens when the wolf comes? What happens when the ravenous jaws of some beast are snapping at your heals? What happens when unexpected trouble shows up in the middle of the night? What happens when the doctor gives you that disturbing diagnosis? What happens when that auto accident leaves you lying in a hospital bed? What happens when that sudden drop in the stock market sends your financial security up in smoke? What happens when you find yourself the latest “casualty” of corporate downsizing?
The hired hands will quickly disappear. This was not part of the deal. Putting themselves at risk was not what they signed up for. They’re in this business for survival just like you are. There is no hire worth jeopardizing their survival. So, they flee into the safety of darkness leaving the sheep alone to cope with survival on their own. Without the protection of the hired hand, the sheep are sitting ducks. They are a tasty meal waiting to happen for hungry wolves. And as today’s Gospel reminds us, they are “snatched” and “scattered,” left to fend for themselves.
Alone and scattered, no wonder the sheep are scared. Fearful for they own survival, they do what any sensible creature would do: engage in “fight or flight.” Saving your own neck is all that matters.
It is a dangerous world out there. There is always someone “on the make” ready to take advantage of us and “sell us out.” Therefore, we withdraw and build our walls. We are afraid to leave our ghettoes where everyone is like us. The number of those we trust grows smaller and smaller until there is no one left, not even God.
It is a lousy way to live. We have been “sold out” by the “hired hands” . . . and by our own foolishness. Left to the wolves, we suffer the consequences. None of us escapes the cemetery.
BUT, there is The Good Shepherd who unlike any “hired hand” needs to make no deal. He has no bottom line to defend. He only cares about loving His sheep.
True love is never for sale. True love is not for hire. True love is utterly selfless. True love never worries about “What’s in it for me?” True love is willing to pay the price. True love is willing to give itself away, to pour itself out, utterly, totally, even unto DEATH, all for the sake of beloved. That is what this Good Shepherd, this shepherd with no ulterior motives or hidden agendas, did for his sheep. He laid down his life for his sheep, even unto death on a cross. He was willing to stand up to the wolves and let himself be sacrificed all for the sake of his sheep.
He “buys” the sheep, even at the cost of his life on the cross. Just when the hired hands thought that they had snookered another victim and the wolf thought he had his next lunch, God raises Jesus from the dead, delivering to his sheep what the hired hands could not and chasing the wolves off into the countryside.
This is truly the good shepherd. He is the real thing. He is no imposter. He is no hired hand. In world of disappointment and suspicion, where every hired hand seems fake, the Good Shepherd calls out our names, assuring us that we have nothing to fear. With no conditions to be met or deals to be made, we are safe in His flock. We can count on Him who is NOT FOR SALE and never stops promising: “You are mine . . . always . . . and forever.” Unlike all the hired hands of this world, this shepherd will NEVER SELL US OUT!
In the waters of Baptism the Good Shepherd made this same promise to you, Fletcher. As the waters of the font cascaded over your head, God made a promise to you that will never be revoked. You are now a beloved son of God. God will stand by you just like God stood by Jesus. You can count on it.
Hearing that assuring voice, trusting its comforting promise, we live in a different world. Our lives change. Because the Good Shepherd is leading us, we are confident, secure and at peace. We are free to come and go from the sheepfold, fearless and unafraid.
No longer cynical nor despairing, we are freed from our love of self . . . to love the world. We seek to do our best when everyone else is only for hire. We genuinely care for others when everyone else is for sale. We even take an old friend out to lunch . . . and pick up the bill.
We have just completed our pledge drive, as the leaders of Christ Church plan our mission for 2018-19. Your generosity continues to grow. Free in Christ, pledging to give your money to support the work God is doing here at Christ Church is actually something you WANT TO do . . . and not something that you feel you HAVE TO do. Year after year, I find that simply amazing. That is what sheep do when they are led by the Good Shepherd.
In world grown hard and calculating, here we come like dumb sheep, trusting the promise of our shepherd, caring for our neighbors and looking out for the ignored and forgotten. We give ourselves away when everyone else is cautiously counting the cost and protecting their investments. Because we have been bought, because we will always belong, we are NOT FOR SALE. Instead, we are free to give ourselves away just like the Good Shepherd who gave himself away for us.