A Ministry of Sheep!

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Friday Night Gospel Celebration, May 8, 2011
 
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Dear friends, I am not the Good Shepherd, I am just a called sheep from within the flock.  St. Paul is not the Good Shepherd, he is simply an inspired sheep from within the flock.  But Jesus is “the Good Shepherd,” [Jn. 10:11], because He alone is “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [I Pet. 2:25] 

Tonight we remember that Jesus as our Good Shepherd is the author and perfector of our faith.  We remember that Jesus is still very much in control of His church, even this little congregation that we call Trinity.  In all of our readings we are reminded of this.  In our Gospel reading Jesus Himself reassures us with the words: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” [Jn. 10:27-28]

We are Christ’s flock; sheep in His pasture.  We are His church, a united flock, and not a large number of individual sheep. We are a fellowship of believers who commonly share in our Good Shepherd’s Gospel And the means through which we share this gospel is also common among us, it is called faith. As His sheep we also share in other spiritual gifts. God the Father creates this common fellowship by calling us into a partnership with His Son so that we share in all of His works, blessings, glory, and goods. This fellowship, this flock is a union of believers which transcends race, politics, social status, and even death.  And it is a fellowship that is to be ever growing and expanding. 

Because living in this fellowship within Christ’s flock, is living in the very body of Christ, Paul warns all of us sheep who are called to be pastors to “Pay careful attention to ourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made us overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 

You know, when you call a pastor to serve your congregation, you are really calling him to serve with you and among you as one who has been equipped and trained.  It is another of our Lord’s great mysteries; a sheep equipped by our Lord to shepherd other sheep.  My ministry here is in fact, your ministry… it is our ministry together. 

Paul’s ministry and our ministry here within our community, must be completely transparent; it must be subject to the judgment of friends and enemies alike. So like Paul, each pastor’s ministry must be centered on working tirelessly towards building up the saints within his own congregation and then together with the saints, focused on working towards gathering other lost sheep within the community.  As Christian members of this community, each of you have been called to work beside me here in our community as God has equipped you.  

As a pastor, Paul challenges me and all pastors to lead each flock “with humble-mindedness and tears and trials.”  These three traits marked Paul’s own “work for the Lord” and they should be the marks of every pastor who has been called to shepherd Christ’s flock!   In regards to tears, Paul withstood many trials and attacks without so much as a quivering lip! So the tears that Paul speaks of were tears that were drawn out of a heart wrenched with pain over people who were dying without the grace of Jesus Christ! Just as Jesus wept over the sinful and continuous rejection of His grace by the people of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), Paul shed many tears for those from within his community who refused to be saved!  We, too, by the work of the Holy Spirit will also find ourselves moved to tears, by the continual rejection of God’s love and forgiveness from those within our community where we have been placed to seek and save the lost.  And yet we are continually moved to keep offering our best efforts to ensure the proclamation of God’s love and forgiveness continues here.  We are moved to proclaim the gospel and support the ministry of its proclamation no matter the cost!  

The entire gospel, which we are to proclaim is centered entirely on “the repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”  You must never let anyone teach you that God’s favor and grace can come in any other way!  There must be an actual turning to Jesus alone for salvation and life.  This turning to Jesus then means a turning away from a life of sin!  Only then can God’s forgiveness and love come and save a person.  So, repentance includes all of God’s law, and faith includes His entire gospel.  

Now Paul in v. 27 adds one more trait of a true pastor who is being led by the Good Shepherd… he must not shrink from proclaiming the full counsel of God! (vs. 27)   If Paul was looking for an easy ministry, he would have focused on the rich and influential.  He might have placed his best efforts on things that would have served his own personal needs.  He might have kept back some parts of his teaching, because they seemed to run against what the community thought was best, and he would have accepted cultural practices or the narrow mindedness of fellow Christians so that his “congregation building” would have had easy sailing. But Paul always remembered who he must give an account to on the last day. So he proclaimed “the full counsel of God,” the entire will of Jesus Christ.  

Paul spelled out every doctrine and every Holy truth, and he never altered or toned down a thing. He had no hidden agenda or any strange personal views. He never neglected a part of God’s Word because it seemed to be out of step with the spirit of the times. He put justification by faith into the center of his teaching because that’s right where God puts it!  Tonight, in this reading, God calls each of us to examine ourselves and to ensure that we are each contributing to support and protect this ministry of repentance and faith.  Paul did it with confidence.  He could say confidently that he was innocent of the blood of any man, because He had obediently declared the full counsel of God. [v. 27] I pray that we will be as bold!   

Now, in verse 28, Paul moves from using his ministry as an example for future ministries, to addressing current and future threats that each congregation must contend with.  “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” [v. 28]  You know, pastors who have been tasked with caring for others must first be mindful of their own sinfulness.  Paul is telling those of us who are pastors to be clean ourselves before we try to cleanse others. We must remember that we too are sheep who are prone to wonder.  And because we are sheep we must remember that we have also been justified by grace–God’s  own blood. The blood of Christ was and is the price of our salvation.  Pastors and all of the Lord’s sheep have been bought with a great price.  Because of this price we have truly become His own! 

Why must pastors pay so close attention to their own living; to their own beliefs?  Why must congregations be so careful in how they call their pastor?  Well in verse 29 we get our answer: “Because there shall come fierce wolves (from) among you, who will not (spare) the flock.”  But that isn’t all; Paul warns us about yet another attack of the enemy.  In verse 30 he writes: “And from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”  Yes friends, the enemy, the devil, will attack from outside and from within the body of Christ; our enemies are even within the Church!  Oh yes, Paul sees the wolves coming and he knows how easily people can be misled and he knows the times. But he also remembers Jesus own warning to the church: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits.”  [Matt. 7:15-20] 

Paul is stating a certainty.  There will be wolves in sheep’s clothing who will invade the church. In fact, this has been the greatest battle throughout the history of the church.  Each generation brings its own false doctrine that must be defeated.  Every one of these false teachings tears at the very fabric of Christ’s body. But Paul wouldn’t have us become paralyzed with fear; He would remind us that neither he nor your pastor are the good shepherd; Jesus Christ is the only Good Shepherd, and He Himself has built and protects the church.  This is a promise of protection that even the combined efforts of Hell and every demon cannot defeat. 

And yet Christ calls us to join with Him in the work of building and protecting His kingdom.  So, like Paul, we are moved by God’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit to pour our whole soul into God’s ministry here and throughout the world.  The love of Christ and the presence of God’s Spirit compels us to not only believe in His Word, but to ensure that it is proclaimed to as many of our neighbors as possible. His living Word wells up from within our own hearts like a living stream. We don’t have to put our hearts into it; it comes out of our hearts. This is the very power of our ministry here within our community.  And this is only possible through the mighty working of God’s Spirit.  God is with us, and He is protecting us!  Through His Word and Holy Sacraments He feeds us and teaches us.  He blesses us and leads us out into His mission field; out into our community.  

In order to help us remember this truth Paul shares with us the Words of our Lord Jesus Christ which are only found in this address of Paul: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  Dear saints, through God’s work among us and within us, these Words amazingly become our heart’s desire.  Do you want to be truly blessed?  Then God says give!  Whatever the Lord has equipped and moved you to do for Him is your ministry! At the very least, and certainly this is not the least of works in ministry, you can and should be praying for the physical work of this congregation and others that are involved in ministry here at in this community.  Remember, your ministry includes both your time and your talents.  But what about your treasure?  Certainly we must dedicate our money to Christ’s ministry here in our own community!  Do you see what a great calling you have in our own community?  Speaking of our community, I would like to explain a little something about what God is doing here at Trinity.  We have begun a new music and art school here at Trinity.  We are building God’s Kingdom by raising up, training, with the hope of sending out new Christian artists, musicians, and dancers for the glory of God and the furthering of His Kingdom.   

To our amazement, God has raised up many people from within our community who have become energized with a desire to help make this vision of ministry a reality.  The classrooms have been renovated and the workers to share in this ministry have been raised up from within the harvest just as we prayed for.  There is just one challenge left to overcome; we need your support, you the people of this community!  I say this is a challenge, because it is not a problem.  God will provide!  I ask for your prayers.  Pray that God will provide all that is needed to complete His work here.  Pray and ask God if you can afford to donate towards this ministry above and beyond what you normally give.  

I know that however God leads you to support this ministry you will be blessed.  If you decide to pray for those of us who are here speaking and demonstrating God’s Word and love here in ministry, you will be blessed.  If you are led to volunteer and get involved with our ministry here, you will be blessed.  And if you decide to give towards this ministry above and beyond what you normally give you will be blessed, because “It is more blessed to give than to receive! 

In Jesus name… AMEN!

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