11 May 2014 – On sheep and shepherding

Readings: Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25;  John 10:1-10

The shepherd.

So why shepherds and sheep?

Is this some kind of Middle Eastern religious scheme?

Or does Christianity only make sense for rural people?

In all three readings today the shepherd is mentioned.

In the Old Testament Psalm. In Peter’s letter. And most famously the words of Jesus in John’s gospel

Of course the gospel reading mixes metaphors happily. Jesus is the gate too.

What are the main issues – the key things that we need to take for ourselves?

  1. We start with Peter.

Quite appropriate this week as the bishop of Rome recently made two new saints of previous bishops of Rome. And there was a retired bishop of Rome there.

The Pope is the bishop of Rome. Peter was given the job first (Catholics would agree on this) when Jesus reinstated him after his betrayal. Remember the words so powerful?

Joh 21:13  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

Joh 21:14  This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Joh 21:15  When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Joh 21:16  Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

Joh 21:17  The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Joh 21:18  I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, fed my sheep.

This is Jesus after the resurrection still using that shepherding picture.

He would have learned it from his parents – who would have been his faith teachers. Maybe they recited Psalm 23:

Psa 23:1  מזמור לדוד-   יהוה רעי לא אחסר

A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Psa 23:2  בנאות דשׁא ירביצני על־מי מנחות ינהלני׃

Psa 23:2  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

Psa 23:3  נפשׁי ישׁובב –   ינחני במעגלי־צדק למען שׁמו׃

Psa 23:3  he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

The shepherding touch of the LORD Yahweh that David knew as a relatively young boy.

  • Lacking nothing,
  • being refreshed and
  • rested in green pastures and quiet waters – comes out of faith that is a real trust and dependency.

It certainly is a kind of nurturing – which comes through in Jesus’ commission to Peter.

The result is PASTORAL CARE – and pastoral comes from the word for shepherd.

It’s crept into society in all kinds of places – especially schools – since the British started using it in the 1960s in their education systems. Google pastoral care and you will get information of the NZQA’s code of conduct for pastoral care of international students, apart from usage in other organisations. For example on the website of the British Law Society you find this:

Pastoral care – for solicitors – 020 7320 5795

Solicitors can call us for information on personal, financial, professional and employment problems. We will refer you to the most suitable helpline for your needs.

We’re here to help solicitors – 09:00 to 17:00 weekdays.

– See more at: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/advice/helplines/#sthash.2pmNJZcU.dpuf

I think that lawyers definitely need pastoral care!

The church’s view developed of course through history.

The bishops (or overseers) had a shepherd’s crook symbolically. This morphed into crown like tiaras (as in the triple crown) as they become more influential in worldly politics. So much so that the Bishop of Rome is a head of state today.

 

  1. What about the Presbyterians?

So what makes us different?

It’s the “presbyter” in Presbyterian that defines us.

A “presbyter” is an elder. So we are an elderian church.

Never mind Peter the shepherd for a while. Let’s look at Paul:

1Ti_4:14  Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

1Ti_5:17  The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

Tit_1:5  The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Peter and James do refer to them off course:

 Jas_5:14  Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

 Of course Peter does make the link.

 1Pe_5:1  To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:

1Pe 5:2  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;

1Pe 5:3  not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

In fact Peter uses all three words as an explanation of the role of Christian leaders:

Elders – shepherds – overseers

Πρεσβυτερους– ποιμανατε– πισκοπουντες

In fact “elders” is a noun here. The other two are verbs or actions – shepherding and overseeing!

1Pe 5:1  πρεσβυτερουςAουν TSBτους εν υμιν παρακαλω ο συμπρεσβυτερος και μαρτυς των του χριστου παθηματων ο και της μελλουσης αποκαλυπτεσθαι δοξης κοινωνος

1Pe 5:2  ποιμανατε το εν υμιν ποιμνιον του θεου AεπισκοπουντεςTSBεπισκοπουντες μη αναγκαστως Aαλλα TSBαλλ εκουσιως Aκατα Aθεον μηδε αισχροκερδως αλλα προθυμως

1Pe 5:3  Bμηδε TSAμηδ ως κατακυριευοντες των κληρων αλλα τυποι γινομενοι του ποιμνιου

The word “bishop” of course is episcopos (hence Episcopalian church in America).

And of course the book of Acts – where there is a switch from talking about the Jewish elders who were in conflict with the early Christians – to Christian elders who looked after the church:

Act_11:30  This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Act_14:23  Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Act_15:2  This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

Act_15:4  When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Act_15:6  The apostles and elders met to consider this question.

Act_15:22  Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers.

Act_15:23  With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings.

Act_16:4  As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.

Act_20:17  From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.

Act_21:18  The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present.

Later in Acts “elders” once again refers to Jewish elders:

 Act_23:14  They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul.

Act_24:1  Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor.

Act_25:15  When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.

  1. So what does this mean:

The cure or care of souls – pastoral care – is the task of the ministry of the church. In the late 7th century Pope Gregory the first wrote a manual effectively on pastoral care, which influenced the church throughout history.

This “cure of souls” is closely linked to healing.

By implication – salvation and healing go together. In fact the word in the New Testament is the same.

So healing was more holistic before modern western medicine took control of it. When you were sick before this – you were more likely to be cared for by Christian ministers of some sort.

“Pastoral Care” is about shepherding.

About teaching, nurturing, admonishing and protecting Christians so that they grow closer to God and more like Jesus.

And in the elderian / Presbyterian church – the elders do this together.

Isn’t that good news.

You can receive ministry from a number of people – and not just the Minister.

In other words you can receive pastoral care from a number of people – not just the Pastor.

In the last line of the reading from Peter today the apostle – the catholic bishop of Rome or first pope (in their view anyway) says this:

1Pe 2:25  For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Jesus remains the main shepherd – after all only he lays down his life for his sheep/friends – and overseer of our souls!

The word “overseer” there is “bishop”.

Yes he is Bishop Jesus!

And unlike other bishops – he is crowned! He can carry a sceptre and rule as King!

Confession time:

We don’t always do this stuff well. Our fault entirely. You can hang around here for quite a while and still not know who the elders are.

We will be making the names and some useful information about our elders to you in due course.

  • Some of you have an allocated elder who is supposed to care for you.
  • Others are in home groups – and they are all led by elders.

So there are options.

What we don’t do:

We don’t live in a parish any more.

Since the 4th century priests were allocated a section of the diocese called a parish. The word parish comes from the greek word παρоικία meaning district.

In that system if you lived in the district – a geographically defined area – you were in that Parish. Parish records were kept about people in the parish – and if you moved out of the area – you ended up in another parish.

The world has changed:

Consumer driven issues drive peoples’ church attendance. They travel long distances to go to the church of choice.

I don’t blame them really. And we don’t all live in the same area – people do travel. And we’re not going to draw a line on a map and send you to another church – like they do with school zoning.

But there is a different approach. It can be like this: I belong where I can be part of a community that really cures and cares for my soul.

Where I put roots down and build genuine relationships.

No more pretence. No more sweet smiles and “fine thank yous” when in fact I am suffering greatly.

  • Where I can know people and be known in a little flock of some sort – where we live out this Christian life with integrity. Honesty. And real care.
  • Where I grow in faith and knowledge – and can be strong and safe from the attacks of the enemy and of false shepherds who are wolves dressed up in some other outfit.

The home group remains the best place for this. And the wider church family forms the extended family for this.

So that when it happens as in Psalm 23: I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – I will know that Jesus is with me because his co-shepherds and other sheep are there for me too – helping me to care for my soul until the end.

And if you translate that verse 4 in another valid way –and I walk through the valley of deep darkness (in depression, grief or pain of any sort) – I can know the reality of the Good Shepherd with me not in isolation but in community where co-shepherds sustain me in love and prayer and acceptance – where the church is a hospital for the sick seeking to get better – and not a rah-rah party for people who think they have solved everything in their lives. Because they haven’t.

So there it is. We don’t have saints we pray to. Or reformer fathers railed against that. We do have saints we pray with – the people of this little flock.

Come out – people – from the isolation of thinking you have to go it alone – stiff upper-lip and all that – and be yourself in this family.

We all need feeding, care, and nurture. We are in regular need of forgiveness! We do behave as goats – even if it’s just because of our but-but-but arguing with God or the truth.

Please – I can’t offer you a new-fangled formula or super-cure and solution in life.

I’m not called to.

I’m called as the teaching-elder to lead you in the process of equipping a nurturing – building up the body of Christ in every way.

I rail against those who offer three easy steps in paper-back form.

I can only offer you a community where you can take some risks together – as we step by step get closer to the goal.

Under the headship of Bishop Jesus.

Amen.

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About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on May 11, 2014, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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