It’s rather amazing that the Sunday after Pastor Weedon’s final sermon, the Holy Spirit comforts us about our Good Pastor, Jesus. The title “pastor” is just another word for shepherd, so when Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd,” that means that He is our true, heavenly Pastor. He is the Pastor of the entire congregation of His people, the holy, Christian Church. He is also the only model for all earthly pastors who seek to be faithful under-shepherds in Christ’s Church. Now, as you beseech God to bring a new pastor to St. Paul congregation, we must call upon Jesus, the true “Shepherd and Overseer” of our souls, to help us in our need.
We entered our worship today with the Holy Spirit declaring in the Introit God’s infinite love for us and His gracious presence among us. His love and grace move us to the faith, joy, and praise that we sang about in that psalm. Then in the Prayer of the Day, we asked God to grant us, for the sake of His Son, “perpetual gladness and eternal joys.” “Perpetual gladness” refers to the temporal blessings that God gives us now, our “daily bread” for which we pray and give thanks so we may know our heavenly Father’s love. “Eternal joys” refers, of course, to the never-ending bliss of heaven where we will be with our Holy Father forever.
What a fitting prayer this is for any lost or wayward sheep—or even a whole flock—that is looking for a good shepherd. It’s fitting because it places our needs and desires, both material and spiritual, within the proper framework of Christ’s suffering and death, His humiliation. Without Jesus’ perfect humiliation, this world, which had fallen into sin, could never be raised up from the death that bound us, and our prayers would be worthless. Our prayer is also fitting because we ask God to grant these blessings to a people that, above all else, desire to be faithful to their Savior, the One who has rescued them from the peril of everlasting death.
That peril is best illustrated in the Gospel where Jesus warns about the wolf that snatches and scatters the sheep. St. Cyril, the 5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, once commented on this image of mankind as wandering sheep that fell prey to two wolves, the devil and death. He said, “Humanity, having yielded to an inclination for sin, wandered away from love toward God. For this reason we were banished from the sacred and divine fold, I mean the realm of paradise. Having been weakened by this calamity, we became the prey of two bitter and merciless wolves: namely, the devil who had beguiled humanity to sin; and death, which had been born from sin. But when Christ was announced as the good Shepherd over all, in the struggle with this pair of wild and terrible beasts, he laid down his life for us. He endured the cross for our sakes that by death he might destroy death.”
Today’s lessons show us how wonderfully Jesus saved us from every peril to our souls. Starting with Ezekiel, we heard how the Lord promised to rescue us personally from death and the devil. “I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out,” said the Lord. “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down.” He said this when all the Old Testament people had been scattered by their enemies, the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom by the Babylonians. All their earthly shepherds, that is, their kings, had failed to lead and rule them by the only true guide for all people: God’s Word. All men having failed, now the Lord Himself would take up the task.
Jesus kept His promise when He took our flesh and suffered all evils and assaults of the devil. Peter spoke of our Lord’s humiliation when he said “Christ also suffered for you.” He summed up Jesus’ struggle against the assaults of the devil when he said, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” Jesus Himself could not have made it clearer when He said, “I am the Good Shepherd…I lay down my life for the sheep.” “He endured the cross for our sakes that by death he might destroy death.”
By this saving work and through this comforting word, Jesus came to seek all lost sheep, both the Jew and Gentile, and bring them into one flock. This flock He calls “My own.” “I know My own.” This “knowing” is not mere recognition; it is a communion comparable to the unity that Jesus shares with His Father. “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” He came down from heaven to “know” us by assuming our flesh, fulfilling all righteousness for us, suffering our sin and sickness, and then uniting us all in his holy Body, the Church.
With the same Divine grace, we “know” Him only by his word and Spirit. The Holy Spirit calls and gathers us by the Gospel and then unites us in the one true Church. This, too, is more than a mere acknowledgment of Christ; it’s a communion of saints—a communion that has the mind of Christ, the bond of peace, and the unity of the Spirit. That’s why we call the church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic; it is a work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of Christ.
In that faith, peace, and unity, God calls us to hope and wait on Him. This is the example Christ gave us, as Peter said. We once were scattered, “banished from the sacred and divine fold,” because of the wolves who sought to devour us, the devil and death. But Christ defeated them both, fully and finally, for us. Shall we now seek them out again? Shall we who have been rescued from the devil’s jaws now invite him back into our hearts and lives? We who have been raised up from the darkness and destruction of death and brought into eternal life, shall we now run back to the grave and the eternal darkness and suffering it offers?
Certainly not! St. Peter wrote in his epistle (2:9) “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” That’s what Peter meant when he said, “To this you have been called;” that Christ suffered for you and bore your sins in His body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. He healed us by His wounds; wounds from which flowed water and blood, which is now signified in the waters of baptism and the Blood of the Supper. As straying sheep once lost but now found, we are called to return daily to Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Blessed Bishop of our souls, in faith, worship and prayer.
Our desire and prayer for a new pastor must be according to this lesson. There are many false pastors out there. Jesus called them “hired hands,” or hirelings. That designation tips us off to a good reminder for everybody at this time: you are not hiring a new manager or CEO of the congregation. Such a “hired hand” will flee the minute he feels any heat from the twin wolves of death and Devil. What that means is for the sake of his personal gain or glory he will reject the truth of the Gospel, or he will run from anything that threatens his well-being if it means suffering for Christ and His Church.
On the contrary, you are praying God to bring you a good pastor. A good pastor is one who models himself after the Good Shepherd, Jesus. This means that, by God’s grace and Spirit, he shall care for your souls through faithful and orthodox preaching, teaching, liturgy and worship, ministering to you with the Gospel and the Teachings of Jesus Christ and His holy Apostles. Let that be your prayer to the Good Shepherd, whose “eye…is on those who fear him, on those who hope in His steadfast love.” Amen.