Sheep Among Wolves

Sermon on Luke 10:1-20 for Pentecost 7C at Trinity Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio

From the rising of the sun to it’s setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised! (Psalm 113:3) It is unspeakable joy to see a child of God saved through the waters of Baptism (1 Peter 3:20)  into the family of God (John 3:7). Surpassed only by having that child be my own on this awesome day. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is His faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:22-23) And how greatly you need those mercies, brothers and sisters in Christ… daily, as Christ’s redeemed… you are sent as sheep in the midst of wolves.

With this same warning, Jesus sent the 72, two-by-two into the towns ahead of Himself as kingdom bearers. Jesus chose then what He still chooses to do now, He chose to use sinful broken men to bring His good news. He does it in a way we would never think of doing. He doesn’t do it the way we would expect the one who has power to do all — would do it.

Luke 10:3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.

He didn’t spell it out with an arrangement of the stars in the heavens. He didn’t form the clouds in the sky into a message that could not be missed. He didn’t cause the birds of the air to cry out in chorus with an ethereal voice that declared His glory. He didn’t even matrix style mind meld it into hearts and minds of people everywhere. No, God used sinners like me and sinners like you to be His sheep among wolves to bring His good news to the lost.

And so He sends them. He sends them in a buddy system and He sends them with a warning and He sends them with instructions. “Don’t bring anything, no money, no bag, no sandals, don’t get sidetracked on the road. Go into homes and bring peace and if my peace is not received, leave. If the wolves you encounter refuse to be sheep, leave.” With these instructions and more, Jesus sent sinful men into the harvest field to plant seeds, to bring the kingdom of God to the wolves.

God did it this way because God doesn’t do it our way.

Our way is the way of wolves. When we realize this when we are brought to see our wolfiness, we are then made to be sheep. Christ redeems us to be His sheep. It is something we continually need to realize. We are sent by Christ into the world as sheep in the midst of wolves, but truth is, this side of the new creation, we continue with wolfy habits of our own. Brothers and sisters, as those in need of Christ’s redeeming, you are wolves. There are times when we deserve to have the dust shaken off the feet of the people around us as our words wound and our actions break those around us. We come into this world as wolves needing the Action of God — the grace of God, which makes us sheep of His fold.

wolf tearAnd so what are we to do as sheep of His fold who from time to time, more often than not end up acting like wolves? Well, Paul gives us some good advice in Galatians 6 today. “If anyone is caught being a wolf among you, you who are sheep should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s wolf tendencies and so fulfill the Law of Christ.”

These words of Paul resonate with the instructions Jesus gives the disciples as he sends them two by two. It wasn’t because he wanted to remind people of Noah and the Ark (that Jesus sent them in pairs), it was because the buddy system helped them to watch each other for wolfy behaviors and to help keep each other from temptation. It was so they could bear one another’s burdens. And by doing these things the disciples were strengthened and equipped to fulfill the law of Christ.

You know the law of Christ, to Love God and to love neighbor. Together as sheep in the midst of wolves we are strengthened, recreated, equipped to do this loving. But it is not a walk in the park. It is a walk as sheep in the midst of wolves. We need to do it together.

In the May 1987 edition of National Geographic there was a feature article about article wolves. The author of the article, L. David Mech described how a seven member pack of artic wolves had targeted several musk-oxen calves who were guarded by eleven adult oxen. As the wolves approached their target, the oxen bunched in an impenetrable semicircle, their deadly rear hooves facing out, and the calves remained safe during a long standoff with the enemy.

But then a single ox broke rank, and the herd scattered into nervous little groups. A skirmish followed, and the adults finally fled in panic, leaving the calves to the fangs of the predators. Not a single calf survived.

As sheep you are to fend off the wolves alongside your fellow sheep. When we are together as the body of Christ side by side, nourished and empowered by the Word, nothing can harm us. It is for this reason Christ sent the disciples together – to keep one another strong. It is for this reason Paul tell us to bear one another’s burdens – to keep one another from being devoured. It is for this reason we return to these pews together and together hear this unchanging story of a God/man who died a bloody death in our place – to keep Satan from gaining a foothold against the Kingdom.

We see in our Old Testament lesson today that as sheep, you are fed by the Word… as a mother feeds her child. And so we return as the child to a mother for food as only a mother provides for a defenseless, powerless, incapable child. With this picture Isaiah paints for us a perfect picture of the way God feeds us with His Word. Carried on the hip of the church, we bring each other along with the Word of God, that comes, not because we pick it out of the refrigerator and grab the flavors and ingredients and toppings and verses and teachings and rules that feel good to us, but as a child receives from his mother, unquestioningly, indiscriminately, trustingly knowing that mother knows best or more accurately, not even able to know anything aside from the love of the mother. May this be our place in God’s kingdom fed constantly by his word which comforts beyond all comforts of this world.

Galatians 6:17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Christ.

As sheep you bear on your body the marks of Christ. In a couple hours I will have the joy of saying and doing (You saw it moments ago in the baptism of Caleb) these words: “Caleb receive the cross of Christ both on your head and on your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” Paul encourages us with confident words in verse 17 of Galatians 6: “From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Christ.” You along with Paul/Caleb bear these marks, You are marked in baptism as Christ’s redeemed.  You see it is in these waters that Christ’s death becomes your death to sin in order that Christ’s victory lap around the grave three days later can be your victors trot as well. Because of that cross, death has no hold over you an you know that because God tells you that baptism does this for you. Buries you, makes you, grafts you, molds you, into Christ so that you will live forever. That’s not too bad for a sheep.

Luke 10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

And finally as sheep your name is written in the book of life. Christ tells the disciples at the end of the Gospel account today (Luke 10:20), don’t rejoice because of these miracles I equipped you to do. Christ may’ve well be telling us, don’t rejoice because you’re running out of seating at church. Don’t rejoice because giving is up. Don’t rejoice because (fill in the blank). Rather, rejoice because your name is written in the book of life. From the moments you passed through the waters of baptism into the life of faith, the family of God, the kingdom of grace, your name has been written in that book. Don’t forget it. Look it up daily. Refer to this verse if necessary, refer to scripture regardless, because THE wolf, Satan is working overtime, yes right even now to convince you that your name is written in pencil fading away because it was written so long ago, or to convince you that it is written in washable marker that is washing away in the tears of disappointment and pain that life is causing you. Perhaps satan is trying to convince you that your name is written in crayon, big illegible letters that cannot be read because they were written when you were a child and this church thing is for kids after all. Or maybe satan is telling you your name was written in disappearing ink. Maybe satan is telling you there is a big line drawn through your name because you’re really not a sheep you’re just a big bad wolf.

Well tell you what. Put Satan in His place and let him know each day, each moment of doubt that your name is written in the book, and even better than that it is written in the blood of Christ. The blood that was shed for each and every one of your weaknesses so that you can be every strength needed for the work God has prepared you. Nothing can blot it out, cross it out, wash it out, nothing is better than the blood of Jesus.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, you are made from wolves to sheep – Christ continually turns our wolfiness to worthiness.

It all starts in baptism… daily.