God Wants You to Be A Shepherd
Not all members of a Christian congregation are pastors and not all have the spiritual gift of shepherding. The apostle Peter’s message from 1 Peter 5:1-4, is primarily directed to spiritual leaders in a congregation, but it’s also true that God wants all of us to care about and care for others. “God wants you to be a shepherd.” July 7, 2019.
A week ago Saturday, I was sharing with the folks in our back-to-the-basics-of-the-Bible summer series the benefits of being a member of a Christian congregation, one of which is having someone to serve as a spiritual guide. I asked if they knew what the word “pastor” means. It’s Latin for “shepherd.” But we pastors don’t do all the shepherding in this congregation. According to our constitution and bylaws: The members of the church council shall serve as spiritual leaders of the congregation … for the spiritual well-being and growth of all the members. The nine men of our church council are shepherds. Talk to any parent about what it takes to be a godly parent, and eventually they will get around to describing responsibilities that sound an awful lot like what a shepherd does. Parents are shepherds for the lambs of their family. There are also members of our congregation who have been given by God the spiritual gift of shepherding, that is, the heart for and the ability to be concerned about others and to care for them as a shepherd would care for sheep. They, too, are shepherds.
It’s obvious that not all members of a Christian congregation are pastors, not all are on the church council, not all are parents, and not all have the spiritual gift of shepherding. Yet, in today’s second reading the apostle Peter widens our view. It’s true that his message is primarily directed to spiritual leaders in a congregation, but it’s also true that God wants all of us to care about and care for others. In other words, “God wants you to be a shepherd.”
Giving you a shepherd’s identity
I recall a conversation with an elderly woman who was approaching the end of her time on this earth. I wanted to review with her the promises of Jesus to take believers to heaven. I asked, “Do you know for sure where you’ll end up when you die?” Her response, “Harder Funeral Home. I hope they haven’t changed it.” Do you have an end goal in mind? You might think that sounds like a dumb question, but let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. Our end goal is not making money or letting our hair down on the weekend or seeing how many ways we can fool our parents or finding Miss Right or Mister Right or satisfying every sexual urge or having kids or retiring to an island with no humidity, no bugs, temperatures between seventy-five and eighty every day, and Mai Tais whenever we want them. No! The end goal is to avoid the fire of hell and to enjoy the bliss of heaven.
But the question that often troubles us is, “How do we cope with the ‘downs’ of life as we wait to get there? The apostle Peter comes alongside us, puts his arm around our shoulders, and says, “I know what you’re up against and how Satan can attack.” Scroll down four verses. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Are you doing OK? Can you make it on your own? I have struggles going it alone. I bet you do, too. Sometimes we fall off the path into the ditch of frustration and feelings of helplessness. “This sinful urge keeps jumping into my mind, and I can’t stop.” Or we fall off the other side into the ditch of self-reliance. “I can do it. Leave me alone. I can figure it out,” only to be disappointed in ourselves by falling short of what we want to be and do and even more frightening, falling far short of what God wants us to be and do.
What to do? Where to turn? How about to Jesus? He steps in and guarantees that we have a ticket to ride, a ticket to ride all the way to heaven, which he bought not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). Just don’t lose it. I say that because there are plenty of distractions to divert our attention from the end goal, and there are plenty of people who, just because they are jealous because they don’t understand or because they claim to have other ways to the end goal, which they think are just as valid, are out to steal our ticket or are trying to get us to forget about it and leave it on the dresser.
One of the best ways, to keep the end goal in mind and to keep holding on to our ticket is to have a shepherd. We’re so far removed in time from the shepherds of Jesus’ day and in space from farmers who take care of sheep that it’s hard for us to picture exactly what a shepherd does and why that’s so important. Basically, shepherds care for their sheep in three dimensions. They guide lambs and sheep onto the right paths, not by pushing from behind but by leading from in front. They take lambs and sheep to green pastures and quiet waters for nourishing food. They watch out for bad guys, lions, tigers, and bears and fight to protect their flock. In other words, shepherds lead, feed, and give heed. Would you like that in your life?
That’s what God wants for you. That’s what God wanted for Peter. Take it from one who had “been there.” With his weaknesses and bone-weary wandering, Peter needed a shepherd in his life, and what a shepherd he had, the Chief Shepherd. Jesus came to lead, feed, and give heed for all of his sheep and lambs, including Peter, and he did that perfectly. Peter isn’t making this up. “I appeal [to you] … as a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who will share in the glory to be revealed.” To make sure you enjoy all the good things the Chief Shepherd has in store for you, God has seen to it that you have other shepherds in your life, under-shepherds of the Chief Shepherd, parents, pastors, church leaders. Peter’s words indicate that these shepherds watch out for us, looking carefully over us, and we have the comfort of knowing that they go at their shepherding with some experience under their belts.
Want to be comfortable with who you are, your identity? Look no farther. Look to the Chief Shepherd and know that you are his dear lambs and sheep. Look to his under-shepherds, who, like the apostle Peter, come alongside to lead, feed, and give heed for you. With their shepherding you will be able to say, “I’m not going to be influenced by others as much as I will be an influence for others. I’m going to be what God made me to be. I’m not only going to be one of his lambs. I also going to be a shepherd of the flock God gives me, even if it’s just one classmate or one friend or one family member. Who am I? What is my identity? I am Jesus’ little lamb, and I’m also an under-shepherd, of the Chief Shepherd.”
Giving you a shepherd’s activity
A shepherd heard his alarm blare out on the nightstand, slapped it off, and rolled over to stuff his head into the cool side of the pillow. But after a few minutes he realized, “If I don’t get out of bed and make it to the sheep pen on time, it’ll be my head. The boss has no tolerance for tardiness, and in this economy I can’t afford to lose my job.” Another shepherd heard his alarm blare out on the nightstand, slapped it off, and jumped to his feet, “I can’t wait to get out to the sheep pen because I love working for my boss, and I love taking care of his sheep. The boss has entrusted me with his most precious lambs, and he has been so generous with his time, his interest in me, and his pay, more than I deserve.” Which would you rather be? Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care … not because you must but because you are willing, as God wants you to be.
A shepherd finished his work one day, grumbled under his breath about the lousy weather and smelly working conditions, and cheated on the time-card he handed in to the boss just so he could get some extra cash. Another shepherd handed in his time card and found his heart beating faster and his breath coming in short pants as his adrenaline kicked in because he opened his pay envelope and found an extra thousand dollars as a gift from his boss. Which would you rather be? Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care … not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.
The sheep ran for cover as the shepherd approached because they could sense his over-bearing, top-down, my-way-or-the-highway attitude. They were afraid of him. The sheep in another pen picked up their heads and ambled toward the shepherd because they knew that his presence meant full tummies and safe passage. Which would you rather be? Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care … not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
Since God wants all of his sheep to function in the dual role of being both his lambs and serving as his under-shepherds for other sheep, what attitudes, what actions, what activity will we be involved in as we shepherd the flock he gives us? Maybe we need to step back and ask the more basic question. How can any of us do that? Even those who have been called to be full-time shepherds with “pastor” as a title, even church leaders, even parents plead every day, “Lord, help me in my weakness. I have failed too often!” That’s when we turn to the Chief Shepherd who is not just “chief,” on top, in charge, and in first place, but who is also and always the Good Shepherd. So caring, so loving, so good is our Shepherd that he was willing to lay down his life for the sheep, and not just for cute, cuddly little lambs, but for sheep who were mean, nasty, forgetful, and wandering and for helpless lambs who got themselves caught in the brambles of stupid sins, who limped because of bones cracked in the potholes of guilt, who kept falling into the pit of the same temptations. The Chief Shepherd risked his life and died to rescue lambs and sheep like us. And Peter tells us more. We don’t worship a Shepherd who is dead and gone, leaving us all alone. Peter refers to him as being very much alive. “When the Chief Shepherd appears you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”
God wants you to be a shepherd. Who wouldn’t want to respond to God’s call with, “Sign me up, Lord!” Some may be parents who shepherd their children with the same faith-filled, under-shepherd spirit as their parents, bring their children to the waters of baptism, help them mature in faith to stand next to them when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and eventually help them step out the door so that they can shepherd others. Some of the young people here today may decide to become full-time shepherds of little lambs in the classroom of a Lutheran school. Some of the young people here today may decide to become full-time shepherds and end up one day standing in this pulpit. All of you, will find a friend, a co-worker, a family member, a lamb or a sheep, in need of leading, feeding, and giving heed, and will shepherd the flock God has given to you.
As bold and courageous as Peter appeared to be on many occasions, he got is feet wet in the turbulent water of weak faith and got his fingers burned in the hot fire of fear. But the Good Shepherd picked him up, dusted him off, and sent him out as an under-shepherd. Peter now passes that love from the Chief Shepherd on to you and me. God wants you to be a shepherd, even if it’s a flock of one. Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on July 7, 2019