Without a Shepherd, the Sheep go Hungry

Yesterday in the Divine Service, in the Prayer of the Church, the saints at Good Shepherd petitioned the Lord of the Harvest to bless and be with all the men who will be receiving vicarage assignments and Divine Calls into the Holy Ministry over the next couple days at the Fort Wayne and St. Louis seminaries. Every year many men desire this “noble task” – including this one a few years ago. This year, one man from the congregation will (God willing) be receiving his Divine Call into the ministry.

I was afforded a few minutes of reflection on the Office as I tried to write a prayer that got at its essence. It brought to mind something a brother pastor, and dear friend, preached at an installation about a year ago. Admittedly it’s very hazy in my mind – I’ve probably managed more to mangle his point than faithfully recall it – yet I believe the heart of his point has been maintained. And I believe it gets at the heart of what all those receiving Divine Calls this week – and all those men serving in the Office of the Holy Ministry – are about.

Without a shepherd, the sheep go hungry.

Recall our Lord’s instruction to the disciples – especially Peter – soon after the Resurrection:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17, ESV)

Jesus’ instruction to Peter, and to all of those whom the Lord calls to tend His flock, is simple. The Lord’s sheep cannot feed themselves, so the Lord ensures they will be provided shepherds to feed them. They will feed them with “the bread that came down from heaven”, namely Jesus Christ – the Word of God incarnate. Christ’s shepherds will feed His flock with His own word.

Consider other scriptural exhortation to those Called into the Holy Ministry:

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:11-16, ESV)

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5, ESV)

Both of these passages of instruction from the Apostle are centered clearly on one task – the preaching of the Word. Why? So that the hearers (and Pastor Timothy himself!) would be fed; in fact, would be saved.

It’s also good to hear our Lord’s instruction in Luke 24:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44-47, ESV)

Without a shepherd, the sheep go hungry. But thanks be to God, the Good Shepherd sends men to shepherd His flock, wherever they may be. I look forward to hearing where these new under-shepherds of Christ will be sent, and I pray they will heed His instruction. The message that we have to preach is a wonderful message, full of the sustenance that leads to eternal life.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6:51, ESV)