Archive for the ‘Easter 4C’ Category

Pay Careful Attention!

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Fourth Sunday after Easter, April 25, 2010
 
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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)

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] 

This Sunday we celebrate “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  Today 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 our own little congregation that we call Trinity.  In all of our readings we are reminded of this.  In our Epistle reading we are comforted with these Words: The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” [Rev. 7:17] And 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]

Friends, we are Christ’s flock; the sheep of 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 and mutual gifts. God creates this common fellowship by calling us into a partnership with His Son so that we share in all of Christ’s works, blessings, glory, and goods. This fellowship, this flock is a union of believers in Christ which transcends race, politics, social status, and even death.  And it is a fellowship that is to be ever growing and expanding. 

Now, 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. 

Dear friends, when you call a pastor to serve this congregation, you are 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 as your pastor is in fact, your ministry… it is our ministry together. 

Paul’s ministry and our ministry here at Trinity, must be entirely open and known to all.  It must be subject to the judgment of friends and enemies alike. So like Paul, each pastor’s ministry must be transparent and 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.  Dear friends, each of you have been called to work beside me within this ministry as God has equipped you. 

 As your 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!   But friends, don’t be fooled into thinking that the tears that Paul is talking about were tears related to his trials or the attacks of men.  Paul withstood these things without so much as a quivering lip! No these tears that Paul speaks of were the tears that were drawn out of a heart wrenched with pain over the repeated rejection of 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 the community which we have been sent to seek and save.  And yet we are continually moved as a congregation to continue on with our best efforts, the proclamation of God’s love and forgiveness.  We are moved to proclaim the gospel and support the ministry of its proclamation no matter the cost!  

The entire gospel, which we have been commissioned to proclaim is centered only in “the repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Friends, you must never let anyone profess or teach within the walls of this sanctuary that salvation, God’s favor and grace can come in any other way!  There must be an actual turning away from a sinful life and a turning to a life of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  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 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 might have easily placed his best efforts on the rich and influential.  He might have focused his best efforts on activities that would serve his own personal needs.  He might have kept back some parts of his teaching, because they seemed to run against Jewish bigotry, accepted cultural practices or the ignorance and narrow mindedness of fellow Christians. 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!  This morning 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 as a congregation can we 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] 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.  Paul sees the wolves coming. 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]

 Dear friends, Paul and our Lord are 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 pastors 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 is compelling 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 congregation’s 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. 

 Dear friends, if we keep our hearts and minds centered on God and His means of Grace, then our Good Shepherd promises that we will not only be a congregation centered in His love, but we will also be a healthy and growing congregation.  Here is a divine truth: Heavenly-mindedness does away with earthly-mindedness. It is the thought of our heavenly inheritance that waits for us, which continually leads along with Paul to regard all material things as simply a tool to build God’s kingdom of grace here within our community.  With this common heart and mind, we will regard our time, talents, and treasure as a means to take care of the weak and the poor, and seek and save the lost!  And 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; the desire of a congregation that is diligently working within the Lord’s kingdom.  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! Are you a prayer warrior?  We all can pray, but some have that ability as a special gift.  If so, then give.  Be continually in the spirit of prayer for our ministry!  Do you have time and talents that would benefit our ministry?  Then give!  But what about your treasure?  Certainly God moves us to dedicate our money to ministry here in this church!  Do you see what a great calling you have in the ministry of this church?  Maybe you are wondering about the guitar case that has been leaning against the communion rail?  I put it there to make a point.  What is that point?  Well, we have begun a new ministry here at Trinity.  We are close to opening a community ministry school that will focus its time and talent on raising up new Christian artists and musicians within our community for the glory of God and the furthering of His Kingdom.  We also will concentrate on working with God in restoring broken families and at-risk-youth. 

 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.  We are just weeks away from our grand opening which has been slated for June 6.  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 are short about $5000.  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 this work.  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!