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The care and feeding of the flock of God

1 Peter 2:21-25

Pastor David Ernst

Third Sunday of Easter
Epiphany Lutheran Mission of La Caramuca  
Barinas, Venezuela

Play MP3 of this sermon

Sun, May 1, 2022 

Christ is! He is risen indeed!

The theme for this third Sunday of Easter is the shepherding of the church. The church is God’s flock, the members His sheep.

In our Old Testament reading, the Lord speaking through the prophet Ezekiel says, “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I myself will go to seek my sheep, and I will know them.” "I am the good shepherd and I know my sheep, and my sheep know me," says our Lord in our gospel for today (John 10:11-16). So, too, in our epistle, when St. Peter says this: “For you were like lost sheep; but now you have returned to the Pastor and Bishop of your souls”, we must understand this Pastor and Bishop as Jesus Christ himself.

The Greek word translated “good” in Good Shepherd means true or perfect. Many people in the Old Testament were shepherds of the animals, also of the people of God, like Moses or King David. But, there is no other shepherd who can guide souls to eternal life, only Jesus Christ. So, Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

However, our Lord handed over the care of his church in this world to his called and ordained servants. In one of his appearances after his resurrection, Jesus said to Saint Peter, “if you love me, feed my lambs”, also, “shepherd my sheep”. This is the pastoral office, the ministry of preaching and the administration of the sacraments. Jesus instituted this office when he commanded the apostles to proclaim the gospel to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and celebrating the Eucharist until the Lord comes in glory.

There are three words used in the New Testament for the pastoral office. First, poimen, which means shepherd, therefore, shepherd of the church. Second, episkopos, which means bishop, and third, presbyter, which literally means elder. Since bishop is paired with pastor in our epistle, I want to talk in more detail about this word.

The word episkopos in Greek means foreman or guardian. It occurs five times in the New Testament: Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 2:25. Our Lord did not institute a church structure beyond the local congregation gathered around Word and sacrament and under the care of a pastor called and ordained by the church and by Christ. However, to fulfill the mission of gathering the scattered sheep of the world into the flock of faith, the church needs organization on a larger scale. So with its growth in the ancient world, the church developed a hierarchy.

Already by the end of the first century, bishop had become the leader of the Christian community within a city or region. Ignatius of Antioch (50 to 110 AD) offers the earliest clear description of monarchical bishops (a single bishop over all the churches in a city), although other writers of the same period spoke of a collegiate episcopate in that the leadership of the local congregations did not fall to one man. In any case, the bishopric focused on the responsibility of caring for others, not on the exercise of authority. As our Lord says in Matthew 20:25-26, "You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you, but whoever wishes to be great among you, be your servant."

However, the centralization of authority in the bishops continued in the post-apostolic church, culminating in the formation of the papacy, one bishop over the whole church, at least in Western Europe. Let's jump ahead to the 16th century Reformation. Martin Luther and his companions rejected the papacy's claims to both civil and spiritual authority over the souls in purgatory. They also rejected the concept of apostolic succession in which pastors could only be ordained by bishops who were supposed to have been ordained by the laying on of hands by bishops in an unbroken line back to the apostles. The bishops of Germany remained loyal to the Pope and refused to ordain pastors with Lutheran views. So Luther and the others asserted the right of congregations to call their own pastors.

Philip Melanchthon wrote thus in the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope: "The gospel assigns to those who preside over the churches the mandate to preach the gospel, to remit sins, to administer the sacraments and, furthermore, to exercise jurisdiction, this that is, the mandate to excommunicate those whose crimes are known and to absolve those who repent. And according to the confession of all, even our adversaries, it is evident that this power belongs, by divine right, to all who preside over the churches, whether they call themselves pastors, or elders, or bishops.” However, "the distinction between bishop and pastor is not of divine right, it is manifest that the ordination administered by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine right."

At the same time, in the 16th century, in the countries of Scandinavia and around the Baltic Sea, the Reformation encountered little opposition from the civil state or the church hierarchy. In those national churches, the outer structures were not changed, nor in the national churches planted by Scandinavians elsewhere. Therefore, today some Lutheran churches do not use the nomenclature of bishop, but rather recognize the structure of the churches that use it as a human tradition for the good order of the church.

Who are the hirelings, then? Religious leaders who are more interested in their own social and economic well-being, or self-glory, than in the spiritual and material needs of the sheep. These men are not prepared to defend the herd against external threats. The wolves are the violent persecutors of the church, also the false teachers who want to deceive the faithful.

Therefore, there are requirements for candidates for pastoring. St. Paul says so in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, “True word: If anyone longs for a bishopric, he desires a good deed. To teach; not given to wine, not quarrelsome, not greedy for filthy gain, but moderate, mild, not covetous; let him rule his own house well, having his children in subjection with all honesty (For he who does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?). Not a neophyte, lest being puffed up he fall into the condemnation of the devil. It is also necessary that he have a good testimony from outsiders, so that he does not fall into disrepute and fall into the snare of the devil." These same requirements are found in Titus 1:5-9.

Above all, the model for pastors is the Good Shepherd. Only the Good Shepherd chose to sacrifice his life for the sheep, and only the death of Jesus Christ paid the debt for our sins. However, the shepherd called and ordained to care for the flock of God must be prepared to die for the sheep.

Peter himself says so in 1 Peter 5:1-4, “I entreat the elders who are among you, that I am an elder also with them, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, that I am also a partaker of the glory that is to be revealed. : Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, taking care of it, not by force, but voluntarily; not for dishonest gain, but for quick encouragement; and not as having dominion over the inheritance of God, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the incorruptible crown of glory.”

Lord, we beg you to raise up for the ministry faithful and trained men, who have the great joy of giving themselves entirely to the work of the church for the love of your dear Son, and for the souls for whom he shed his blood on the cross. Amen.

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