Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Second Sunday after Easter (Misericordias domini) + April 15, 2018
Text: John 10:11-16
“A Psalm of David. 1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)
But what does that look like here on earth, and day to day? To care for His flock, Jesus appoints shepherds (that’s what the title pastor means). He said to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?…Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
Jesus does not hire employees; He calls men to shepherd His flock. That’s why the language and practice of trying to compare a pastor’s work to that of another job doesn’t fit. Pastors do not work 40-hour weeks. If he does, you’re out of luck if your husband dies on Friday, or if you’re in the hospital at 11pm on a Sunday night. A hired hand will leave the office, and you will not be able to get ahold of him because he will shut his phone off.
Why? Because there is no bond of love. The hireling is in it for the paycheck and not much more. The Lord requires love of His pastors, and you can’t put that on a job description or measure it in a quarterly review the way you can other workers.
The Good Shepherd calls pastors to shepherd His flock, to tend to them whenever and wherever they may be—whether they are in the hospital in Portland or having a family crisis on what most people get off as a holiday. It’s an earthly reflection of how the Chief Shepherd Himself is with us.
This is what is so significant at those points in the service when the pastor faces the congregation—the absolution, the readings, the sermon, the pax domini, and the benediction. These are all sacred points in the divine service where it is not just the man who speaks, but the pastor speaks in the stead and by the command of the Good Shepherd.
Because the pastor isn’t an employee, it is unnatural for the flock to become an executive board to manage their pastor. At times they will, and they have in many places—but this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. The Gentiles lord it over each other and exercise authority, but it shall not be so among you. It’s quite unnatural for a congregation to talk in terms of “getting their money’s worth” out of their pastor. If a congregation has a faithful pastor who loves them, those Christians are blessed beyond anything that money can buy.
But it can’t be ignored that the men the Lord appoints, starting with St. Peter, are sinners. Although they are called to “Shepherd the flock of God which is among them” (1 Peter 5:1), they just as much are in need of daily forgiveness. They themselves struggle with weak faith, pride, they hurt people with their words and actions. Their sinful failings bring shame upon the Office of pastor which the Lord has entrusted to them. Their words and actions can do real, sometimes irreparable damage to the faith the Lord’s little lambs. To put it plainly, pastors are just as bad as the people they are called to lead. The only difference, perhaps, is that they have the devil’s target on their back, and experience more frequent spiritual attack. They need the Good Shepherd just as much as anyone.
“11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11–15)
The Lord arranges things this way because He knows that His flock needs this. Christians are people who need congregations, who need shepherds. They need someone to love them with a steadfast love, both when things are good and when they get ugly. The sheep need someone who feeds them, even when some of the louder ones complain about doctrine as “worthless manna.” God’s flock needs a shepherd who will stick with them, even when they deal low blows and make the complaints personal.
The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep—all Christians, both pastors and laity. “24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24–25) Again, He did it because we need it. We often find ourselves wandering from our Shepherd. His Word becomes burdensome and we instead lean on our own understanding. We stay away from church after disappointments and hurts. Even within the church, fights break out among believers because of jealousy, fear, and greed. The human limitations and failings of this divine relationship cloud our vision of what the Lord is doing among us.
Even in the valley of the shadow of death, our Good Shepherd tends us. He sends His Word of grace and peace from heaven to purify our hearts. He feeds us with His very own Body and Blood in the Sacrament for our forgiveness, restoration, and strength of body and soul. We can thank Him that He has continued steadfast among His flock in this place, and He continues His work: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Let us pray,
Faithful Shepherd, You are ever with us. In divine love, You laid down your life for us. We thank you evermore that You cause this life-giving Word to be preached among us. Support our shepherd and bless his service in among us. Guide us with your Word and move us by Your Spirit to receive your tending gladly and follow where you lead, in the way that leads to eternal life. In Your precious, saving Name we pray. Amen.
Note which didn’t fit in the sermon:
It’s true that in Matthew 9, when the Lord sees the crowds harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, He does call those He sends “laborers.” But that’s an incomplete picture because those he sends are called to do so much more than a simple wage-earner. Most of the Apostles He sent gave up their lives in the service of the harvest.
 Mark 10:42-45