Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pastors as True Shepherds

This past Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, has traditionally been known also as "Good Shepherd Sunday" due to the normally scheduled Gospel reading of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It is clear from the John 10 reading that our Lord also addressed those who should have been shepherds to Israel but instead became the very opposite: thieves and robbers. Instead of caring for the sheep by leading them to the calm waters and green pastures of God's grace, they instead straight-jacketed them in burdensome legal mandates of their own interpretation.

And the shepherds today? Martin Luther, in reflecting on John 10, once stated that all who do not preach Christ are thieves and robbers. Unfortunately many a would-be shepherd preaches eloquently and passionately, waving his Bible in the air, yet fails to truly proclaim Christ and the free grace and salvation He won for us in His death. How easy it is to substitute legalistic expectations for grace! How tempting to attempt to inspire people by convincing them that they can make a difference if only they try a little harder. How seemingly Christian it is to turn the Gospel into Law, and rob God's people of their gifts in Christ by dominating the golden moment in the pulpit to talk of little but felt needs and techniques for happy living without breaking their sinful pride and healing with the blessed forgiveness of Christ.

The word "pastor" actually means "shepherd" and is an appropriate title for any Minister of the Word. Yet it is also a reminder to those of us who have this call to be faithful as shepherds, and not relinquish our vocation to be CEO's, religious coaches, or as some have called the ministers of the mega churches: ranchers. We lead sheep to still waters and green pastures where they can be nourished and fed. We do not leave the sheep to find their own food, but weekly lead them to the pastures of God's Word and the bounty of His Table. And if we faithfully lead them here, indeed as the psalmist said, they will not be wanting.

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