Stop Looking Inward; Look Outside Yourself

The following sermon is for Confirmation Sunday at St. Paul's Lutheran Church of Minot, ND. 
Text:  John 10:11-16
In the name of Jesus.  Amen.
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, in confirmation this year, we watched a segment from the old popular TV show, “E.R.”  If you recall, there was a man who was dying from cancer.  Now, this man was not at peace but was afraid of what waited for him in death.  He also had a tremendous amount of guilt – the kind of guilt that weighed heavy on the conscience – for he had caused the death of an innocent man earlier in his life.   
Now, in this segment the man was visiting with the chaplain in the hospital, wanting answers.  He was seeking just a sliver of hope for his burdened conscience.  He wondered if forgiveness was even possible for him before death and what God wanted for him.  Well, as you know, she responded by suggesting that the dying man needed a new reason to live and to just let go of the guilt and ‘feel’ forgiven.  She also went on to tell Him that it was up to each person to figure out what God wanted by looking ‘inside.’  Yes, right there on the man’s death bed – in his helplessness – the foolish chaplain had the audacity to direct the dying man inward to himself for answers and hope and comfort.      
It should be no surprise to us that the chaplain’s answers infuriated the cancer-ridden man.  Indeed, he was quite justified when he started yelling at her that he wanted a real chaplain who believed in a real God and a real hell because she was not dealing with reality but with mere feelings, opinions, and what can be called Hallmark theology – the kind of theology that wanna-be-chaplains get from sentimental card clich├ęs.       
You see, the man needed real answers, and all the woman’s uncertainty and spiritual gobble-gook made things worse.  He wanted someone to look him in his eyes and tell him where to find forgiveness.  He was running out of time and needed to cling to something other than himself.  But all she could do is point him back inward to himself. 
The scene ends with him yelling at the chaplain to get out, get out, to get out. 
Now, the reason why I mention this is that this TV episode shows us what is being told about in our day and age.  And what are people being told?  They are told to look inside.  They are told that the Truth about God is inside of us waiting to be uncovered.  JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, you will be told to look within to find God and to just make it up as you go – whatever you find comfort from, well… let’s go with that.    
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, this is a lie of the wolf – Satan.  You and I cannot discover what God wants by looking inside.  The idea that there is the Truth of God just waiting to be discovered within, if we only look hard enough or ask ourselves the right questions is complete nonsense. 
So, what do we find if we look inside ourselves? 
Well, it is not good. 
What we find within is layer upon layer of sin. We do not find gems of greatness within or nuggets of Truth, but sin, wickedness, and deceit. 
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, Truth does not lie within you.  It is not an untapped resource buried within.  But instead, within is a wicked heart.  As the Prophet Jeremiah correctly stated,
“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” 
This deceitful heart is not something that we all acquire through time but is how we are born.  We are born with hearts infected with sin.  That is what we carry around and try to cover up and manage every single day of our lives.  In fact, it could be said that the majority of the problems in life are not ‘out there’ somewhere, but right here in our hearts.  The problem is much closer to us than we might think.     
And yet, this does not deter the Lord God from seeking you and me out.  In the Old Testament reading from today, the Lord speaks through the Prophet Ezekiel that the Lord Himself will seek the lost and bring back the strayed and He will bind up the injured, and He will strengthen the weak. 
And in our Gospel reading, we hear how Jesus declares Himself to be the Good Shepherd.  Jesus says that He is the one who came down from heaven to rescue you and me from sin, death, and the devil.  He is the One who has words of never-ending life to speak to sinful mortals like you and me so that we might listen to Him and not our hearts.
It is interesting, isn’t it?  Notice how our readings from Ezekiel and the Gospel of John show us that Truth, salvation, and hope are not within us but outside of us?  That is right; Truth is from the mouth of the Lord who speaks to us as His very own sheep. 
But what does this mean? 
It means that you and I do not listen to our hearts but listen to the words of the Good Shepherd.    
And those words from the Good Shepherd? 
They are words that tell us that Jesus is the One who laid down His life for the sheep – that is you and me.  He is the One who laid down His life before the wrath of God in your place.  He is the One who takes the real Truth of who we are into Himself and bears it all before God and the world. 
And so, JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, this absolute forgiveness from the punishment of our sins before heaven is not found by looking inside ourselves or examining our heart.  To have the assurance that we are forgiven and to face death is not accomplished by an inward turn. 
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, do not waste your time and energy looking inward to your feelings, opinions, and speculations.  It is a waste of time to dig around in deceit.  Instead, look away from yourself.  Look to the one outside of you and listen to His voice, not the voice of your heart.  Listen to Christ.    
But do not listen just one time, for that does not do you or anybody else any good.  Listen regularly and believe regularly.  Yes, the Good Shepherd has seen to it to continually proclaim His Word to you so that as His sheep, you will continually hear His voice.  As sheep, you live by His Word.  You are captive to the Word of God, not your feelings, not your opinions, and certainly not the talking points of the world.    
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, the Lord proclaims His Word continually through pastors and Christians that what He did on the cross of Mt. Calvary might be poured into your ears.  Yes, listen to the voice of Jesus – the sweet news of the Gospel – again and again and again:
“It is finished – for you!” 
It is like this: the Lord gathers sheep – Christians like you, together into churches like St. Paul’s.  He gathers us together so that we won’t be stumbling around in trying to find solutions in our dark hearts.  But instead, He gathers us together as His sheep to hear His voice.   In fact, He even brands us sheep making us as His own on our heads and hearts in Holy Baptism.  And He prepares a table to feed His sheep in the face of the enemies of the world, the devil, and death.  Yes, He does not turn us inward, but turns us outward to Him to receive the real food of forgiveness of sins that He gives in  His wounds of flesh and blood fed into our mouths.
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, do not look within.  But instead listen outside of yourselves and hear Jesus’ voice in His Word – the Bible.  And as you listen and hear His Word, know Him and follow Him.  Yes, constantly hear Jesus’ Word again and again, for in Jesus’ Word is Truth.  In His Word there is forgiveness.  In His Word, He preserves you until the end, until He comes back to take you out of the grave unto Himself for all eternity. 
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, you Christ’s sheep.  Listen to His voice for His Word is for you.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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