Shepherding 101

Sunday May 3, 2020 The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Cycle A)

The tie in between today’s readings: The Way of the Shepherd

Psalm 23:1-6, Acts 2:36-41, 1 Peter 2:20-25, John 10:1-10

I asked a pastor acquaintance of mine one day tell me what his job was like. “Basically,” he joked, “I hatch (baptize), match (wedding), and dispatch (funerals), and throw in a little golf on the side.” Of course, the job of the clergy is much more difficult than my friend lets on. There are meetings to run, bills to pay, tears to dry, wrongs to right, sick to see…and all before lunch. The job is so tough, so special, so unique, that when a person enters the ministry, we say that they have a calling. When you answer that call, it is life’s most important and rewarding pursuit. Not everyone in religious work has that calling, though. Today’s gospel, John 10:1-10, introduces us to two quite different people who enter the ministry. The shepherd, who should be there, and the others, who should not.

“Do you love Me?” That was the question Jesus asked Peter three times in John 21:15-17, while telling him to tend to His sheep. Jesus is the door to Shepherd University (John 10:1-3;9). You can only pass the entrance exam by loving Christ and being saved by the blood of the Good Shepherd yourself. Salvation in Jesus is key to any calling. We love Him because He first loved us and gave His life as a ransom for us. Let’s face it. You really can’t relate the Gospel’s message if you don’t know it in your own life. That said, others can and do enter Shepherd University by a different way. They don’t know the Savior. They have no calling. They’re only looking for a job. Jesus calls them thieves because they’re in it for whatever money and perks that they can get out of the ministry. A shepherd’s motivation is like the Lord’s, who came so seek and to save the lost. They have a servant’s heart and they’ll need it for the tasks ahead.

An outline of their duties can be found in our reading, the famous “The Lord is My Shepherd” Psalm 23:

  • The shepherd knows his sheep by name and has a connection with them (vs 1).
  • He is a guide and a resource for the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of his flock (vs 2-3).
  • He gives moral guidance by counselling and lifestyle (vs 3).
  • He is there when times are hard and dangerous (vs 4).
  • He shares in the good times (vs 5).
  • He is concerned that you reach heaven (vs 6).

There is no better way to see the servant shepherd’s concern for the soul of his sheep than in the Sunday message.

It is Pentecost, in today’s reading in Acts 2:36-41, and Peter, the man that Jesus entrusted to tend His sheep, IS ON FIRE! He’s just finishing his most straight forward, in your face, “Jesus is the Lord of Glory and you crucified Him” sermon to date. No equivocating! No misunderstanding! In the Power of the Holy Spirit, he warns the crowd to repent and be baptized in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Three thousand souls were saved on that day. Many look at the Apostle’s method today and see that he obviously did it all wrong.  They have learned that to be successful in the modern ministry the message of the gospel needs to be more nuanced. This brings us back to the other graduates of Shepherd University. The ones that Jesus calls thieves. They reason that the gospel is “good news”. What’s good about harping on sin and judgement?  They feel that church should remind people about God’s love and encourage them to love one another…just as Jesus taught. They believe that the mission of the church is to help the congregation to live more fulfilled lives. So, theology is diluted with psychology. Catechism is brushed aside for social relevance and pragmatism replaces orthodoxy. People feel uplifted. Everyone is happy. The pews and collection plates are full. Our Lord tells us that these thieves also kill and destroy (John 10:10). That is because the offensive message of the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is never understood or explained as it should be. To change perspective, the flock gets the pastor they want, too. Paul tell us in 2 Timothy 4:3, that people will look for these types of ministers who will jettison sound doctrine to tell them what they want to hear.  They degenerate the Lord’s church into a Jesus club.  Tragically, when the time comes to pass through the valley of the shadow of death…they don’t make it.

Our reading in 1 Peter 2:20-25 continues the idea of the sheep’s role in the flock. The Apostle reminds them that life is not fair…and that’s OK. He encourages them to endure hardship, deserved or not, just as Jesus did for a higher calling: to save us from our sins. It is now our higher calling to become more like Him, the Shepherd of our souls. Your ministers are there to help in this. So, respect your pastors, who are due a double honor by the congregation as it says in 1 Timothy 5:17. It’s a tough job. Obey them and hold them accountable to teach the whole gospel of God: the wages of our sin and the saving love of Jesus. So that, in the end, we may all dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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