The Audio of this sermon is available HERE
In the previous blog post from the series “The State of The Church Address,” we saw the vivid scenes of predatory shepherds being exposed by the all-knowing God. We certainly should seek to keep these indictments away from our Pastoral ministry. I want us to return to Ez. 34 at verses 11 – 16. Having exposed the treacherous actions of these shepherds YHWH declares that the role of shepherding will be revoked from these traitors and YHWH will handle the job. The description of what will characterize YHWH’s shepherding is useful both as a model for us to aspire towards and a template for identifying the praiseworthy shepherds in our churches today. Hear the word of the Lord: “11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”
Let’s examine the characteristics of the model shepherd as per the text:
- Goes out in search of the sheep. The shepherd is not lazy, nor distracted. The search for the sheep is not a tangential option but is seen as core business. Jesus stated clearly that he came to seek and to save the lost. As the Father sent Him so too he sent us.
- Takes care of the sheep. The shepherd knows the basic requirements of the job and functions in that role. There are too many observations around church circles these days that leave one to ask what exactly do these church leaders think the job of a pastor entails?
- The shepherd is not limited to narrow geographic ministry spheres. YHWH declares, I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered in the day of cloud and darkness. The limitation may be due to laziness, fear of a particular location, prejudices against certain locations or miser mindset in regards to the church resources. Good shepherds spare no effort or resources in rescuing those who have become scattered so that they can be brought to the place of light.
- The good shepherd feeds the sheep properly. YHWH uses words like “good pasture”, ‘rich pasture”, “good grazing land”. Having seen the condemnation of those shepherds who fail to feed the sheep over the last few Sundays it should be no surprise that good feeding of the sheep is in this list. It cannot be overemphasized. One of the fundamental roles of the church leader is to ensure that the people are being taught the Word of God. The primacy of the word must not be sacrificed in the name of entertainment or for any other reason. Amos prophesied that there will come a time when there will be a famine for the Word of God. Not because God is silent but because the shepherds will belittle the primacy of the Word in public worship. Are you feeding your flock in good and rich pasture Pastor? Church members are you honestly being fed in good pasture?
- The good shepherd ministers healing and empowerment. Pastoral care very often requires the care of souls, the care of emotions, the care of the psyche. There will be mother and father wounds. There are those damaged by the emotional and physical abuse. Many among us are scarred deeply from sexual abuse. The low self-esteem and the self-destructive thoughts and patters restrict many to a bowed and hunch back walk through life. The shepherd takes time to recognize those who are injured and weak and provides the healing balm. We don’t peddle merchandise, our craft involves real people, broken people and breakable people. We come to this calling with deep humility and a deep sense that we are God’s hands and feet continuing the work of the incarnation in brining good news to the poor, sight to the blind, release to the captives, healing to the broken and the declaration of a fresh start, jubilee, to those who were shackled by the oppressors.
- The good shepherd is an agent of justice. The retention of objectivity, the perception and reality of fairness and the pursuit of justice by pastoral leaders is absolutely critical to the integrity of office. This requires much wisdom and much self-denial, but must be that which we strive to develop and protect. God makes a puzzling statement at verse 16, “. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. Sleek and strong sheep are an indication of success right? Why then would the good shepherd want to destroy such sheep? Remember the context of the chapter has indicated that the shepherds had failed to the extent that there was no shepherding. As it was in Jesus’ day leading to deep passion for the people Matt. 9:36 “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Where there is no vision the people cast off restraint. In the absence of the shepherd sheep do their own thing. Look at verses 18 – 22 for the clues. Some sheep fed themselves and selfishly made sure the others had no food or water, some sheep attacked other sheep. 21- 22 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. The shepherd must be present, alert and courageous to confront and remove those who fatten themselves at the expense of others in the faith community. There is much to be said about those who horde God’s resources, in God’s will, next week.