What you can expect from your Shepherd
Dear members of the Flock of the Good Shepherd,
There are a lot of different terms that refer to someone who leads a congregation. I have been called Pastor, Herr Pastor; I have been called Reverend; I have been called “Hey You!” In jest, people have called me “the right reverend,” but never to my face “the left reverend” or “the wrong reverend.” I have been called “the most reverend,” but never “the least reverend.” Ex-Catholics have called me “Father.” Someone calls me “Padre.” Welcome back Ray!
Different faiths call their spiritual leaders different titles. The Catholic Church refers to their spiritual leaders as priests; they call them “Father.” In Judaism they are called “Rabbis. In Mormonism they are called elders.
In churches that have a kind of hierarchy, they use terms like bishop or archbishop or cardinal. Others use “right reverend” or “most reverend” as people get further up on the hierarchal ladder.
Most Lutherans have gotten accustomed to calling clergy “Pastor.” There is a good reason for that. It means ‘Shepherd.’ Of ten the Scriptures refer to the people of God as his flock. While Jesus is the Good Shepherd, he uses under shepherds who take care of his flock, people whom God calls into the ministry.
In the traditional church year, this Sunday was given the Latin title of Miseracordias Domini Sunday. It means “the compassion of the Lord Sunday.” The compassion of God is easily recognizable from the fact that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Our readings contain references to that. Last week the sermon dealt with the Gospel ministry, the service of preaching Jesus. While we are all part of that, God does call people into the full time ministry of overseeing the work. Today let’s look at “What You Can Expect From Your Shepherd, 1) In respect to his duties; 2) In respect to his motives.
When a Lutheran pastor gets ordained and installed into the ministry, these words of Peter are a major part of the ordination/installation rite. I remember years ago taking part in an ordination/installation service. A Presbyterian pastor came to the service and sat in the congregation. After it was over he said that hearing all the passages that spoke about the public ministry energized him to do his work.
In this letter the apostle Peter addresses many Christians who were “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who hade been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.” Here in chapter five he addresses the spiritual leaders. “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed.”
When we hear the term ‘elder,’ we probably think of an older gray-haired man like the one standing before you. Just remember some of you knew me when I was younger and had more hair and it was darker. When I was younger I had more hair and it wasn’t gray. I was still an elder. Here it means someone who is leading Christians, someone who is trained and has grown in his faith and ready to help others.
The Greek word translated “elder’ is the word ‘Presbyteros.’ A ‘presbyteros’ is a spiritual leader looking out for the spiritual welfare of others. Some would see the position of being a pastor. Notice Peter is talking plural. He refers to elders. In Presbyterian churches they have a presbytery. It usually consists of at least twelve people. Among the twelve is the preacher along with others who take care of matters in the church. In our church we call it a church council. The point is when he refers to the elders, he is speaking of those who care called to lead in the church.
Peter addresses those elders as his fellow elders. As Peter was called to lead the church, so were they. So are we! We are in this together.
What was Peter called to do? And what are we called to do? Peter says he was a “witness of Christ’s suffering and one who will also share in the glory to be revealed.” Peter had a special place. He saw Jesus. He had been with Jesus. He saw him suffer. He was in the garden when Jesus sweat great drops of blood during a profoundly intense prayer time. Peter was there when the mob came to arrest Jesus even though Jesus had done nothing wrong. Peter was there when Jesus saved Peter’s hide when Peter’s fit of rage nearly took someone’s life. Peter was there, albeit at a distance, when Jesus was in that kangaroo court and was accused of crimes he had never done. Peter was there when Jesus gave him a look of love in spite of the fact that Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times. Peter was there at the grave on Easter morning and saw that the grave that enveloped Jesus body had a vacancy sign. Peter was there to hear the angel testify, “He is risen! He is not here.” Peter was there on the Mount of Olives as Jesus ascended out of their sight to the right hand of God. Peter was in Jerusalem along with 120 others were in town when they heard the rushing sound of the wind, the fires descending on the disciples and the 120 speaking in languages they never knew before. Peter was there, in fact, he preached the sermon by which the Spirit caused 3000 to know Christ. As a fellow presbyteros he shared what he knew and saw.
Those elders, those spiritual leaders in Asia and Bithynia and Cappadocia and other places, the elders here in our church are here to give witness to what Peter saw and experienced. While we don’t see Jesus with our eyes like Peter did, we do see Jesus with the eyes of our hearts. When we share the suffering Savior with other, those others “will also share in the glory to be revealed.”
That’s heaven, people. My job, our job is to get people to heaven. While we can’t get people to heaven, we do share Jesus who does get people to heaven. That’s our duty!
Sometimes I wonder how many pastors enter the ministry because they say they want to make a difference. I wonder how many times you have said the same about yourself. I want to make a difference. I will tell you this, members of Messiah and all who might be visiting, there is nothing more important than to introduce or reintroduce someone to Jesus. The difference you make to that person will make someone eternally grateful.
Peter continues. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers.” Shepherds have the duty to get to know the sheep, to protect the sheep and to lead the sheep. I don’t know how that happens in a mega-church. I met someone this week who said he belonged to THE church in this area but said in the same breath that he and his wife only know two people there. On the other hand, even the pastor of a congregation of thousands knows one thing about everyone that attends, they are sinners and they need Jesus desperately. Or is that never said there, because if it were said, maybe the thousands would dwindle in number.
As a shepherd we must defend the sheep. When David was a shepherd, he said that he had to kill a bear and a lion who wanted a sheep for their dinner. It is not an accident that Peter says just a couple verses later, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” He then goes on to say there is a way to resist him; stand firm in the faith. What faith is that? A faith that is born through the word of God and focuses on Jesus Christ the Savior of all! That’s how to protect them – keep them with Jesus!
Our job is to lead them - not into the desert to let them die of thirst and hunger but to green pastures of the Word and the quiet and still waters of Jesus who is the water that will not let them thirst again. Our job is to lead the flock through the valley of the shadow of death in a world of sin to know that on the other side there is not darkness but God’s home where no one will need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.” These are the duties of God’s Shepherds, no different from the Good Shepherd himself.
Nor are the motives! We do this “not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” In the Old Testament the priesthood fell on the family of Aaron of the tribe of Levi. From the moment the sons of Aaron, Moses’ brother, were born they knew what they would be doing for the rest of their lives. Not all the time did they honor God with their faithfulness. Nadab and Abihu died by angering the LORD with their disobedience by offering to God unauthorized fire. While the ministry is something that needs to be done, it is something that we don’t do out of guilt but out of a willingness to sacrifice for the LORD because he sacrificed for us.
While I was going to school to train to work in God’s kingdom, the Viet Nam War was going on. A man who quit the teaching ministry years ago told me that was why he went to school in the first place. Anyone who was a divinity was classified 4D. You were not required to offer your name to the military draft. Man can fool man, but you can’t fool the Lord who knows our hearts. This man was drummed out. If it starts to become a grind, then it is time to get out.
You don’t do it for money. “Don’t be greedy for money, but eager to serve.” Unfortunately, all one needs to do is google televangelist and you will find that there can be money to be made. In fact, some even say it. They say they preach a prosperity Gospel that will make someone rich in this world instead of giving someone the treasures of heaven. There is a televangelist who has spent $50 million to $60 million dollars on business jets. They now have a his and her jet. One televangelist is said to be worth one billion dollars. There has been far too much of this in Atlanta.
“Don’t be greedy for money, but eager to serve.” While a church owes a decent living to those who preach, the motivator is still to let people know of the price that Jesus paid to give us life – not gold or silver but his holy precious blood.
Peter says, “Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” There is a program on the A and E channel called “the Interventionist.” I haven’t watched it that much, but it is about interventions that are led by one of four people with people who are on drugs or having destructive behaviors. One of the interventionists is man by the name of Jeff VanVonderen. I know him. He grew up in my hometown. He went to school with my younger brother. We used to play basketball and baseball during the summers. His dad was a rural mail carrier and delivered my family’s mail. He was a very smart student but really went haywire in college on drugs and alcohol. He still struggles with it.
He has written a number of books but he wrote one entitled, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.” Spiritual abuse takes place when he says that the Law, God’s do’s and don’ts are used instead of his love. As a child of God I certainly want to improve my life, but I do that because I am free from my sin because of Jesus Christ. The Law of God can be used to manipulate people and make them feel guilty. That’s not how God works. The Pharisees did that; the Judaizers of the book of Galatians did that too. Jesus pronounces freedom for us. Love it and live in it!
No one deserves anything that we have been given. Yet that’s the point. We are the objects of God’s grace. Believe it! Enjoy it! Give thanks for it. It’s free and full and forever! That’s what you should expect to hear from your shepherd.