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The Ministry of the Shepherd

I was traveling for a few days and it has taken me a while to get back around to blogging. Thanks for your patience. To make up for lost time, here is a longer post than usual....
The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 15:1-10....

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, 'This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.' So he told them this parable: 'Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost." Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance. 'Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, "Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost." Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.'
I believe this passage reveals to us Jesus' invitation to his followers to engage in "shepherd style ministry" and to make the following four commitments. Ministry:

1.     To the few or to the one.

We often forget that in order to change the world, Jesus spent the majority of his time with a small group of men and women, helping them draw closer to his heavenly Father. Yes, Jesus preached to thousands, but he spent most of his three year ministry discipling a few.

You may not feel like your ministry to one person or a small group of people matters very much. However, from Jesus' kingdom perspective it matters infinitely.

2.     To those "outside the fold". 

Jesus spent time with those outside the fold of formal religion. He was known for hanging out with "tax collectors and sinners". This bothered the Pharisees and it still bothers many religious people today. But I believe Jesus wants those of us in the church to spend significant time with those outside. To be, as Sam Shoemaker called it, doorkeepers....

    I stand by the door.
    I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
    The door is the most important door in the world-
    It is the door through which people walk when they find God.
    There's no use my going way inside, and staying there,
    When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
    Crave to know where the door is.
    And all that so many ever find
    Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
    They creep along the wall like blind people,
    With outstretched, groping hands.
    Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
    Yet they never find it ...
    So I stand by the door....

    As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
    Near enough to God to hear Him, and know He is there,
    But not so far from people as not to hear them,
    And remember they are there, too.
    Where? Outside the door--
    Thousands of them, millions of them.
    But--more important for me--
    One of them, two of them, ten of them,
    Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
    So I shall stand by the door and wait
    For those who seek it.
    "I had rather be a door-keeper ..."
    So I stand by the door.

    3.    To the "undesirable"

    The Pharisees wanted as much to do with tax-collectors and sinners as they did with dirty stinking sheep. The story Jesus tells in the presence of the Pharisees is almost laughable if it were not so sad. The Pharisees would not have anything to do with the people of the land, with shepherds. Such a life was "below them". Thus, Jesus' story must have greeted them like a slap in the face, but also as a startling invitation.

    I can identify with the Pharisees and maybe you can too. Everyone has someone they have a hard time relating to. My eldest sister was plagued with mental illness for most of her life. It was not her fault, but it made her life difficult, and it made her, as a person, difficult to get along with. I wish I could say I looked forward to conversations with my sister, but I did not. Such conversations were always one-sided. Because of her illness it was hard if not impossible for her to see beyond herself or become truly interested in others. In some ways, she got better at this over the years, due to the healing touch of our Lord, but a relationship with her was still painful.

    Now my sister is with the Lord. I trust she has been completely healed of all her infirmities. I look forward to seeing and embracing the real Madeline that the Lord had in mind all along. But the earthly Madeline taught me some lessons--mainly the lesson that some people are difficult to love in our own power. That's where we need to draw on the Lord's power and love. 

    4.     Of intimacy and long-term relationship 

    In Jesus parable, finding the sheep was only the beginning of the shepherd's work. Bringing that lost sheep home, and continuing to care for it, may have been a life-long project.

    Jesus slept, ate, played, and worked with twelve men for three years, and that's how they received "the good news". Jesus fleshed it out for them. 

    Karl Barth is reported to have said, "The Word became flesh and then theologians made it words again." I doubt that is quite what the Lord had in mind. But it raises for me the question: for whom are we fleshing out the Word? 

    And there are two more questions we also need to consider. Why engage in shepherd-style ministry? Is it worth it?

    I believe the answer is a resounding "yes!" Shepherd style ministry is very much needed in our world today where people can sometimes feel like a number and wonder if their life matters. And for those who engage in ministry, shepherd style ministry is worth it because of the joy. Frederick Buechner once wrote, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."


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