If you didn’t know, my wife and I are expecting our third child anytime now – she is due on July 8th. I’m pretty pumped for this, and pretty excited to see how this little one will change things in our household. I’m a little less excited about the lack of sleep but that comes with the territory. I’m also not super excited about how much this kid will cost me. I know, I know what a terrible thing to think about, but it’s true. Children are expensive. And I’m told raising a girl is more expensive than raising a boy, so that kind of stinks. But what can you do? You know though regardless of the cost, regardless of the predictable lack of sleep, and the frustration, and the difficulty, I don’t doubt in my mind that I’m going to love that little girl that, Lord-willing, my wife and I will soon hold in our arms.
Which, at times, is a funny thought to me. That little unborn girl has already caused my wife grief, pain, and sleepless nights, and by association, I have also had to endure some of that suffering, though it doesn’t compare. And yet I can say – and most parents I think (I hope) would say with me – that we love those children whom we haven’t even met yet. Why is that? Well, that child is mine. She is my flesh and blood. She will be my responsibility and, whether she likes it or not, my wife and I will be her parents. She is going to be scarred for life…isn’t she?
Now why do I bring this up? I bring this up because each of you sitting here today belong to someone, you are someone’s child. You belong to God. And, though you have caused him grief, and pain, and shame, and frustration, he loves you. And he has paid a lot – he gave himself on a cross – to make you his own. You are precious to him. So, it would make sense that he’s not going to leave you alone. He’s going to watch over you. And here in these verses, your Father in heaven tells you one way he does that: through shepherds, through someone like me, Pastor Casmer, Pastor Kolander or one of the elders of this congregation. So, as we go through this section that’s really addressed to me and my associates, I want you to know that God has put us here for you, because, again, you are precious to him.
So, let’s take a look, um, now, here is what God says to me, the shepherd – listen closely. He says to me, be a “shepherd of God’s flock that is under your care, watch over them…watch over you.” Let me just stop there. In our society, in the United States, people of all types believe in this concept of freedom and autonomy – you probably do too. We don’t like when people try to tell us what to do. We don’t like being judged. We even come up with catchy slogans to emphasize our freedoms like “My body, my choice” or “Don’t tread on me.” And this desire to have this autonomy and freedom from the control of others it very often bleeds into our spiritual lives too. We want a sort of “spiritual autonomy,” but God doesn’t give you that. Instead, he gives you me.
And one of my responsibilities as a pastor – it’s right there in verse two – is to be a “shepherd of God’s flock.” I am to serve as your shepherd. Notice what I am not called to be. I am not an enforcer or an enabler, but a shepherd. That’s a beautiful thing because shepherds watch over sheep. And sheep are delicate, they’re needy. They need someone to protect them and guide them. They need someone to lead them down those right and green paths, so they can drink from those refreshing still waters. Sometimes sheep need to be carried. Sometimes they need to be restored. Now, Jesus your great shepherd he does all these things for you – he does! But he also provides under-shepherds, people like me, to help care for his sheep. Again, why? Because you are precious to him.
Now, this is where it gets a little difficult. If I’m one of the shepherds in this room, what does that make you? A sheep. Do you see this? God is talking to me…about you. He thinks you are someone who will need help and guidance in this life. You will need words of encouragement, or correction, or forgiveness. God doesn’t think that you can go it alone. How do you feel about that? God thinks you’re needy. God thinks you’re no good by yourself. He doesn’t think this idea of spiritual autonomy is good for you. God thinks you need someone like me, a shepherd. For you, that is the hard part of this section.
It’s hard because it requires you to accept that your faith life isn’t just yours. Your walk with God in his Word and in this life has a third party…me. Maybe you cringe at that thought. Maybe it makes you feel awkward or a little offended. Why? There could be a lot of reasons. It could be that you think your shepherd should be a little older. It could be that you feel your shepherd isn’t the brightest. It might be something a little different though.
Perhaps you’re not a fan of the idea that someone else might say words that guilt you, or you don’t think that someone else has any right to judge you. And I get it, no one likes criticism. Few of us relish the idea of being held accountable. But, here is the thing, deep down I think you know that the only reason any of us are hesitant toward this idea of a shepherd-overseer is because there are things in our lives that are unsavory. There are sins that we enjoy, bad attitudes that we embrace, and teachings of God that we ignore. It’s a pride thing, really. And we don’t want some shepherd prying into our lives, telling us what to do or not to do. Now, at the same time, there may be some in this room who truly appreciate the fact that God has placed a shepherd over you.
Um, Dr. Jordan Peterson this renowned clinical psychologist, has often made the case that it’s not good for people to be alone. In fact, the reason prisoners who are kept in isolation for long periods of time start talking to themselves isn’t because they are crazy, but it’s because they are trying to keep themselves from going crazy. So, they talk. That’s why Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway created his friend Wilson.
God’s sheep, you, need someone to talk to, and it’s certainly great to talk to God in prayer, but God knows a face-to-face conversation with a shepherd, a pastor or an elder, is a powerful thing too. It’s good for your spiritual health. And some of you thrive on that conversation. It can lead to confession, it can lead to repentance, it can lead to forgiveness, and a confidence that someone else knows and can help carry your burdens and struggles or rejoice with you in your hopes.
So, here it is: To the people who don’t think they need a shepherd or don’t want one, and to the people who know they need one, God says to both, “You are precious to me – all of you! – so I’m giving you the shepherd I know you need. And, if you’re still uncertain,” God says, “let me tell you the attitude your shepherd will have as he cares for you.” It’s there in verse 2 “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve…”
Your shepherd, your pastors, and elders are to watch over you willingly. That means we don’t have to do this work, but we want to do this. You see the difference? For instance, “Oh, I have to preach a sermon? Fine. Here it is.” And that sermon would likely be a painful thing for me and for you to go through. Verses, “Oh, I get to preach this week, awesome.” (I think that was how I felt about this sermon…hopefully it shows.) What else does Jesus say your shepherd’s attitude should be like? There should be no pursing of dishonest gain. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m greedy, but maybe I use you to build myself up in a prideful way, or I look for ways that you can do things for me vs. me doing something for you.
That brings us to verse three. There are a lot of books written about leadership, but I think this one verse sums up leadership. A good leader, a good shepherd, doesn’t lord over those entrusted to his care but is an example to the flock. He’s down in the dirt, he’s leading by example: he’s doing the work with you. All of this is the attitude that God expects of his shepherd. Why? Because you’re precious to him. So, you might look at these verses and you might breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Thank goodness we have a pastor like this.” Wrong.
I don’t always have this attitude. I’m not always thrilled to go to that late-night meeting or hospital call. I’m not always eager to serve and do what needs to be done. I could be a better example, and you frustrate me sometimes. I’m a sinner, and I need you to understand that. You see even your shepherd can’t live a life of spiritual autonomy You need to know that your shepherds, if left to themselves, would fail and fall, just like you, the sheep. But none of us are left to ourselves.
You don’t know this, but every time I step on to this platform, I pray these words to God “To your glory, by your Spirit.” – every time! Do you know why I say that? Because you’re God’s flock, and God has called me to be your shepherd and that terrifies me, but I know that if I’m doing everything to God’s glory and by his Spirit’s power, then I will bring the proud and the hurting with me to the cross and they will see Jesus. This alone brings me comfort and confidence. I pray it gives you confidence too.
Because you know it’s often said that over the years a congregation will starts to take on the attitude and the spirit of its pastor. That’s maybe not always a good thing, but it can be if you remember who your leader, who your Father, who your shepherd really is, it’s not me, it’s not you, it’s Jesus, and you are precious to him.
I may be the temporary physical shepherd in front of you, but you will always have the good shepherd above you, and he’s my shepherd too. Every day then I get to marvel with you at his love. Every day I get to rejoice with you in what Jesus has done for us; I get to bask in his forgiveness and sing his praises. Every day I get to grow with you in the knowledge of him and I get to learn, like you, to live my worth in my Savior’s eyes. We do this together, shepherd and sheep, precious individuals, children of God, heirs of heaven. Who know…who know as Peter says in verse 4 that, “when the Chief Shepherd appears, we will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” I humbly pray that one day we, shepherd and sheep, share this crown for all eternity. Jesus, may it be so. Amen.