Sermon for the Funeral of Dennis Luetke (March 14, 2007)
“My Sheep Hear My Voice” (John 10:27-28)
Zion Lutheran Church, Auburn, WA
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The portion of Scripture I’d like for you to consider at this time of sadness, confusion, and hurt is from the 10th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, verses 27-28, where Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
My Sheep Hear My Voice
Earlier in the chapter from which these verses are taken, Jesus calls himself “The Good Shepherd.” And this particular Shepherd has a flock of sheep for which he cares. This flock of sheep are made up of people who listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. After all, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” So here we are today, listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd, to receive comfort and strength in the midst of grief.
Dennis belonged to the Good Shepherd’s flock. He first heard the Good Shepherd’s voice when he was brought to the font by his parents. The pastor poured water over his head, called his name, and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In this way, Dennis was marked with God’s own name. Through water and the Word, the Holy Spirit created faith in Dennis’ heart, and he became a part of Christ’s sheepfold.
Dennis continued to hear the Shepherd’s voice in Sunday School, in confirmation instruction here at Zion, and every time he came to church.
Dennis also heard the Shepherd’s voice every time he came to the Lord’s altar. Through the mouth of the pastor, Dennis heard his Good Shepherd say, “Take and eat, this is my body, given for you. Take and drink, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.” Through the hands of the pastor, Dennis received his Savior’s precious body and blood, and in so doing received all the benefits of that gracious meal...the blessings of life, salvation, and forgiveness. And just a couple of weeks ago, it was a nice surprise to see Dennis in church up in Marysville. Once again, he heard his Shepherd’s voice as he so often did over the years.
Sheep Are Known to Go Astray
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” It’s a fact that sheep can recognize the voice of their shepherd. When several flocks are out together in a field, they will only answer to and follow their own shepherd’s voice. That’s the same with those who trust in Christ. Christ’s sheep hear his voice in the Gospel...the message of God’s love and forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Christ. Through that message, the Holy Spirit calls us to faith and then makes us followers of Jesus. By grace, he makes us into new creatures who want to love and serve God and our neighbor.
However, sheep are known to go astray. In fact, the prophet Isaiah once said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” (Is. 53:6) We are indeed new creations in Christ, but we still have a sinful nature clinging to us, inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God all the way back in the Garden of Eden. And since then, sin and its consequence—death—have entered the world.
There is not one of us here...even among those who are part of Christ’s sheepfold...who has not disobeyed God in one way, shape, or form. We all know perfectly well the struggles of which St. Paul described in Romans 7, “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Even St.Paul, the great apostle and first-century missionary of the Christian church, struggled with his sinful nature. If you and I are honest, we must admit that struggle, too. Dennis certainly understood that struggle so very well.
But I’m sure glad that Paul did not leave us there. He answers his own question and gives comfort to each of us in our struggles with our sinful nature...our struggle with trying to do the right thing, yet failing time and time again. “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)
The Good Shepherd Laid Down His Life for the Sheep
Jesus Christ is the one who has saved us from this body of death...this body that is broken because of sin, this body that stops working the way it was originally intended, this body that one day is laid in the grave. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) Not only does the Good Shepherd search for his sheep when they go astray and lose their way. He also loves his sheep so much that he was willing to put his life on the line...or more accurately, on the cross...for his sheep. Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, never went astray from God the Father’s will. He was perfectly obedient in your place and mine. Where we fail, Jesus was faithful. Moreover, Jesus died the death that you and I deserve because of sin. The Good Shepherd became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The weight of the world’s sin was placed on him as he suffered and died on the cross in our place. And three days later, he showed his power over sin, death, and all the powers of hell by rising to life again. On Easter morning, the Good Shepherd became our Victorious Savior.
On Easter morning 35 years ago, Dennis received the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Of course, any day’s a great day to be baptized, but how cool is that...to be baptized on Easter Sunday? On that day, Dennis, like all who are baptized into Christ, was united with the Savior in his death and resurrection. St. Paul said, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:4-5) Our sins were buried with Christ in his tomb. They are forgiven, never to see the light of day again. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, God the Father looks at us and doesn’t see our sin...he sees Jesus. And the Bible also promises that when Jesus returns again on the Last Day, he will raise our bodies to life again just as he was raised from the dead, and we will live forever in his holy presence where there will be no more tears, no more death, no more sorrow, no more pain, no more disease, no more struggles of any sort...but only joy and peace and comfort for eternity.
Dennis is with his Good Shepherd right now awaiting that wonderful day. You and I are still here on this side of the veil, looking through a glass darkly. On that day, we will all see our Savior face to face.
The Bible character Job knew this well. He had lost everything. His flocks were slaughtered by foreign marauders and a violent thunderstorm. His children died when a strong tempest blew their house down. His skin broke out in festering sores. His friends tried to pin the blame on Job...that he must have done something sinful to deserve this. But Job’s hope was not in the things of this life. His hope was in the life to come, and so he could say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:25)
We don’t earn or deserve any of this. It’s all a gift of God’s amazing grace...his undeserved love shown to us in Jesus Christ. And so Jesus said of his sheep, “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish, and no one will be able to snatch them out of my hand.” That promise was for Dennis. And that promise is for all who trust in the Good Shepherd and are baptized into his name. That’s how you become a part of the Good Shepherd’s flock, like Dennis was...and is even now.