“My Shepherd”

Choral Vespers
Good Shepherd Institute
Concordia Theological Seminary—Fort Wayne, Indiana
All Saints’ Day, A.D. 2015
Psalm 23

In the name . . .

The 23rd Psalm is virtually universal. When you go to a funeral home, it is nine times out of ten the “go-to” Bible passage printed on the back of those little memorial cards that you take home. Tonight, we were nourished by one of at least three cantatas composed for Good Shepherd Sunday for the saints in 18th-century Leipzig, and for generations to follow of those who have ears to hear. And then, there’s that picture in our mind’s eye of the Good Shepherd. It’s one our earliest childhood memories—from the time we got that first children’s Bible illustrated with what the Shepherd of Psalm 23 must have looked like (coincidentally, a lot like the picture of Jesus later on in the New Testament!). And then that image was forever personalized as we sang in Sunday school, “I am Jesus’ little lamb . . .”



The psalm, of course, begins with the Lord: “Yahweh is my shepherd . . .”, it says. But it also says “my shepherd.” Though the Lord is running the verbs, the psalm is clearly written from the perspective of the sheep. With the Lord as my Shepherd, I will not be in want because he feeds me in green pastures (the good stuff!) and gives me drink from still waters. This evening’s cantata interpolated: “das wohlschmeckend Gras seines heilsamen Wortes”—the tasty grass of His holy Word. That’s the good stuff that the Good Shepherd feeds His sheep—God’s Word, written, preached, spoken, and sung into your ears and so into your heart, into your soul, restoring your soul. You see, the Good Shepherd is all about feeding and caring for you—the whole you, the you that is alive in Him and that will live with Him forever.

But sheep are sheep, and sheep are prone to stray, even though their Shepherd leads them in paths of righteousness. Let’s face it: we sheep are incredibly fearful. It doesn’t take much to shake us, does it? A nasty rumor in the congregation, a painful setback at work, a doctor’s report that wasn’t what we expected, a family conflict that just seems to fester. And sheep wander. We have wandering eyes. We have wandering imaginations. We have wandering fears.

But you have a Good Shepherd. Even though you may wander through that deep, deep shadow of death, the Good Shepherd doesn’t wander. He sticks right with you, because he himself has already “been through that valley, done that death.” You see, the Good Shepherd became a lamb, like you; but unlike you, a lamb of sacrifice on Calvary’s altar—once, for all people, for all sins, for all time. As we heard in this evening’s reading: “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10). Or as we sang just moments ago:

From God’s joy can nothing sever,
For I am
His dear lamb,
He, my Shepherd ever;
I am His because He gave me
His own blood
For my good,
By His death to save me. (LSB 756, stanza 4)



The Good Shepherd who laid down his life for you, now also prepares a lavish table for you. There, you see, the Shepherd becomes the Host . . . and the Meal. At the Good Shepherd’s banquet, he feeds you with his own body and blood, sacrificed for you on Calvary as the Lamb, now given you to eat and drink, for strength in the presence of your enemies. And he anoints your head with oil. Or, as this evening’s cantata interpolates: with the Holy Spirit, the oil of joy. St. Paul proclaims the Spirit’s anointing when he writes: “[God] saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior . . .” (Titus 3:5) From table and font, your cup truly runneth over.

And so, “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Once again, the cantata adds: “On earth, in the Christian community.” How remarkable, but not surprising! Luther said, “Thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd” (SA XII 2)—your Shepherd, the Shepherd who showers you with his goodness and loving-kindness, through his Word and his Sacraments, in your congregation this morning, here tonight, throughout your life . . . and forever. Yes, “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The cantata adds: “with Christ, my Lord.” Christ says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish . . .” (John 10:27).

Just this last Wednesday, seventeen years ago, my mother was suddenly killed in an automobile accident. That was the day that my family and I were packed up and ready to move from Michigan to St. Louis. Our phones had been turned off, so Pastor Heckert from a nearby congregation drove over to deliver the news of a “homecoming,” as he put it. Instead of driving to a new home in St. Louis, we drove to rural Iowa to celebrate that “homecoming” at my mother’s funeral.

As I mentioned, all of this happened the week prior to All Saints’ Day, and so on All Saints’ Sunday, my family and I were gathered in the house of the Lord—there in rural Iowa, there at the table of the Good Shepherd. And we heard those words of the communion liturgy, words we had heard so many times before: “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven . . .” “. . . with all the company of heaven . . .” That All Saints’ Sunday, I heard those words in a way that I had never heard them before—that the loved one I had suddenly lost was now with Jesus; and that Jesus was now with me, feeding me his very body and blood, for comfort in my time of sorrow. You see, together with Jesus, we are together with each other . . . and “with angels, and archangels, and with all the company of heaven . . .”

“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Whether in this house, or in the halls of heaven, or at the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come—the Good Shepherd cares for his sheep, feeds his sheep, abides with his sheep . . . “that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

I.N.I. Amen.




Marriage as a Gift

Genesis 2:13-25
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 4, 2015


We do not always know how to pray, so Christ gives us words in the prayer He has taught us. You never have to doubt your prayer when the words are given by Christ Himself. That same wisdom gave birth to our hymnal. While no hymnal is divinely inspired, we are blessed when the liturgy we chant is taken from Scripture and when many of the hymns we sing have been sung by the faithful for centuries, standing the test of time. Our hymnal has passed through scrutinizing theological review to ensure that it will us faithfully. And does it ever serve us well! Consider the order of service for Holy Matrimony found on page 275. Following the invocation, you hear these wonderful words that capture the beauty of marriage. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and before His Church to witness the union of this man and this woman in holy matrimony. This is an honorable estate instituted and blessed by God in Paradise, before humanity’s fall into sin.” Later, it continues, “The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for the mutual companionship, help, and support that each person ought to receive from the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Marriage was also ordained so that man and woman may find delight in one another. Therefore, all persons who marry shall take a spouse in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust, for God has not called us to impurity but in holiness. God also established marriage for the procreation of children who are to be brought up in the fear and instruction of the Lord so that they may offer Him their praise.” In other words, marriage is a blessing, a gift from God.

Christ gave marriage to man and woman when there was no sin. That is just how blessed an estate it is; built into the fabric of God’s good creation. But creation is now fallen, tainted with sin. Still marriage remains God’s blessed, holy gift. From the fall, marriage has been under attack. Satan hates all of God’s gifts, but he has particular disdain for marriage. In the fall, Satan seeks to undo what God had done in marriage. The two became one flesh by God’s grace. At the fall, Adam turns on his wife. God calls Adam to account for his sin and what does he do? He blames his wife – “the woman whom you gave me, she gave me the fruit!” Instead of confessing marriage as a gift, Adam blames it for his fall. And Satan smiled in delight. Satan attacked marriage then and he’s still attacking marriage today. You see it all around us. It is symptomatic of how much sin has blinded our age that we have become confused about what has been understood throughout history. Marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. That has been under attack throughout the ages. Abraham looked outside his union with Sarah for a son. David perverted marriage by becoming culturally relevant by means of polygamy. But in our age, marriage has been redefined to be whatever you want. When marriage can mean everything, then it means nothing. Which shouldn’t surprise us because we are just like the hard-hearted folk of Moses’ day. Jesus says that Moses allowed for divorce because of their hardness of heart. Can the age of no-fault divorce be any different?

We rightly point out where our age has gone astray. But are we willing to point out where we have gone astray? And we certainly have abused marriage because we are sinners. And that is what sinners do. The fall perverts our view of everything. It perverts the most central reality of marriage. Marriage is a gift; it is not a human invention to be manipulated and re-engineered. Marriage is a gift. More specifically, woman is a gift to man. God looked upon Adam and said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” So the Lord created the woman and brought her to the man. Woman was given to man. Perhaps that is why I have observed men struggle more than women when a spouse dies. Certainly, losing a husband is hard for a loving wife. And certainly a husband is a gift from God to a woman. Yet I have discussed with other pastors how we often find a widower tied to his wife’s grave for months and years. Man needs woman. But that is perverted by some men to commandeer control over their wives, treating her as a servant rather than bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. It happens in the Church as husbands will pervert God’s word so that they might justify their domineering control of their wives. The Biblical teaching of headship is used to force a wife into submission rather than to live in sacrificial love toward her. The Biblical teaching of the one-flesh union will be perverted into the requirement that she be available for his every physical demand.

Our perversion of marriage pours over into children. The Lord loves life, so He brings life from the one-flesh union as children are conceived and born. Today, we rejoice that the Lord’s gift of marriage has led to another child being brought to the font that she might be an heir of everlasting life. Still, in our sin, we have perverted the gift of children. On one hand, we commoditize children so that they are desired based upon economic stability or they are feigned because the economics are not right at this time. Others will overreact to such a de-valuation of children by turning them into a legalistic requirement of marriage. Children are not a commodity nor are they a burden of the law. Children are a gift within the one-flesh union.

If only that were the only way we have abused marriage. We have also treated it as an idol. That is the temptation with all of God’s gifts, pervert them to be the end-all rather than a gift from He who alone is our all. We have idolized marriage by seeing a man or a woman as somehow less without marriage. Similarly, we are tempted to see those one-flesh unions who have not been blessed with children as somehow less than those who have been given children. Was Jesus somehow less because He did not marry and did not father children? What about St. Paul?

Dignity, value and worth is found in one place. It is found in union with Christ. That allows for marriage to be seen in its proper light. Marriage is not for me to gain stature, dignity or whatever. Marriage is for me to serve another in a unique way. And if Christ has not united you with another, you can still serve others with all the beauty and dignity that is yours as a child of God. And if Christ has not blessed your one-flesh union with a child, you can still love and cherish your spouse faithfully and serve all those whom Christ has placed in your life.

Christ brings the woman to Adam who says, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” The depth and beauty of those words is only surpassed by God’s own words. “This is why a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” Two become one. It is a mystery. If you think you have “two become one” all figured out; you don’t. It is a mystery that transcends our understanding. It is like the two natures in Christ. He is at the same time fully human and fully divine. How can that be? It’s a mystery. It is like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three persons in one God. How can that be? It’s a mystery. I can no more wrap my mind around “two become one” than I can wrap my mind around the two natures in Christ or the Trinity. I cannot fully comprehend it; but I can confess it. I can love and cherish it.

Love and cherish the mystery of two become one because it is a reflection of the greater mystery which is the one-flesh union of Christ and His bride the Church. Jesus sealed His marriage to His bride by shedding His blood for her that she might be cleansed and made holy. Christ gives His body and blood under bread and wine to His Church that His union with His bride might be tangible and real. Christ binds Himself bodily to His bride. This is where we find answer to how our sinful age attacks marriage. You will honor marriage as the one-flesh union of man and woman until death parts them because it proclaims Christ’s union with the Church. Christian men, you will not domineer your wife, for Christ does not domineer His bride. He serves her, perfectly, selflessly, sacrificially, completely. Whether you are married or single, engaged or divorced, widowed or yearning for a spouse, with a herd of children or praying fervently for just one child to be given, you will look to one place for fulfillment; you will look to Christ. The union which makes you whole, complete, never in doubt about your value, confident in your place in this world and in the world to come is the union in which Christ unites Himself with you by His body and blood.

Rev. Kevin Golden, PhD
Pastor, Village Lutheran Church
Ladue, Missouri