Be Shepherds of the Flock God has Given You

1 Peter 5:1-4 tells us to Be Shepherds of the Flock God has Given You. You will find a friend, a lamb or a sheep, in need of leading, feeding, and giving heed, and will shepherd the flock God has given you. May 3, 2009.

            “Shepherds, awake!”  I’m curious to see how many sit up a little bit, thinking, “He’s talking to me,” that is, besides the organists or choir personnel who know that “Shepherds, Awake!” is the title of a Christmas carol.  Some of you may know that the word “pastor” is from the Latin language and means “shepherd.”  So, “Shepherds, awake” would get the attention of those who are professors at the seminary or who are retired and have had the label “pastor” attached to their names.  Did you know that we have nine members who serve on our church council?  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.  So, “Shepherds, awake!” would likely get their attention.  Have you heard about our Grace Groups?  As our congregation grew, it became easier for some new members to slide into a “nobody-knows-me-and-I-don’t-know-anyone” mode.  We offer worship and Bible study to reinforce the vertical connection people have with God.  What was missing was a horizontal connection with each other for mutual support and encouragement.  Thus, the advent of Grace Groups.  We want everyone to be cared for by someone.  So, we have asked certain members to serve as Grace Group shepherds.  So, “Shepherds, awake!” would likely grab their attention.  Parents have a shepherding responsibility for their children.  “Shepherds, awake!” might get their attention.  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, would hear, “Shepherds, awake!” sit up, and take notice.

            It’s obvious that not all members of a Christian congregation are pastors, not all are on the church council, not all are Grace Group shepherds, not all are parents, and not all have the spiritual gift of shepherding.  Yet, while the apostle’s message today, from first Peter chapter five, is primarily directed to spiritual leaders, God wants all of us to care about and care for others.  In that sense all of us, including new members and teen confirmands, need to pay attention as the apostle calls out, “Be Shepherds of the Flock God has Given You!”

Your shepherd identity

            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).  So Peter offers sage advice on how to cope as we move toward our end goal, advice fitting both for new confirmands and for veteran church-goers.  But let’s be clear on what we mean by “end goal.”  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-five every day, and Mai Tais whenever we want them.  No!  The end goal is to avoid the fire of hell and to enjoy bliss of heaven.

            How do we get there and how do we cope with the “downs” of life as we wait to get there?  We can’t make it on our own.  But the Bible teaches that Jesus has stepped in and guaranteed 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 or 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 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 helpful.  Basically, shepherds are 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” – Peter.  With his weaknesses and bone-weary wandering, he 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, Grace Group shepherds.  Peter uses terms to 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.

            The young people publicly affirming their faith in the Good Shepherd today are on the verge of heading into adulthood.  You don’t have to be a sociologist to know that most teens are searching for their identity in life.  Want to be comfortable with who you are.  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.  And here’s a big one for our young people: recognize that God wants you to be shepherds of the flock he has given you.  As young people are about to step into high school, it’s not unusual for parents to worry about peer pressure, “I hope my son or daughter hangs with a good crowd.”  How about this?  Our young people can lay their parents fears to rest by grabbing on to the identity the Chief Shepherd gives and tell their parents, “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 going to be a shepherd of the flock God gives me, even if it’s just one classmate or one friend.  Who am I?  I’m an under-shepherd, of the Chief Shepherd.”

Your shepherd activity

            Since God wants all of his sheep to function in the dual role of being both his sheep 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, even if it’s a flock of one?  Peter doesn’t leave us guessing.

            A shepherd heard his alarm ring, slapped it off, and rolled over to stuff his head into the cool side of the pillow.  But in seconds 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 loose my job.”  Another shepherd heard the alarm, slapped it off, and rolled over.  But in seconds he 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, 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 greedy for money, 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.

            How can any of us do that?  Even those who have been called to be full-time shepherds with “pastor” as their title, even church leaders, even Grace Group 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 him as being very much alive.  “When the Chief Shepherd appears you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

            Who wouldn’t want to respond to God’s call, “Be shepherds of the flock I have given you,” with, “Sign me up, Lord!” – even if that flock is only one lamb or sheep.  Some of the young people here today may end up blessing this congregation in the vital role of being a Grace Group shepherd.  Some may be parents who shepherd their children with the same faith-filled, under-shepherd spirit as their parents who brought them to the waters of baptism and will now stand alongside them when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  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 them, and all of you, will find a friend, a lamb or a sheep, in need of leading, feeding, and giving heed, and will shepherd the flock God has given.

            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.  Be Shepherds of the Flock God has Given You, even if it’s a flock of one.  Amen.

 Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on May 3, 2009

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