Devotional Thought of the Day
22 “And now I am bound by the Spirit* to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, 23 except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. 24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. 25 “And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again. 26 I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault,* 27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. 28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood*—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. Acts 20:22–28 NLT
10 9. We must learn about Christ from the Holy Gospel alone, which clearly testifies that “God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32), and that he does not want anyone to perish (Ezek. 33:11; 18:23), but that everyone should repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:6; 1 John 2:2).
As most pastors do, I regularly get letters and packets, the “best advice” that I will ever hear. Or invitations to pastors conferences guaranteed to change my ministry.I have to wonder if they share the standard of the apostle Paul, as he writes,
..my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.
I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault,
When churches are tasked with evaluating their ministries, there is some metric, some measuring standard that is to be used. The end result of that standard is a mission statement, and a core list of values, and a general direction for the ministries of a church. Consultants and coaches are often the givers of guidance, as our national and even international leaders.
But I wonder if these words from Paul, as he seems to realize his days of ministry are coming to a close part of the consideration of whether a pastor, a teacher, an elder, a parish or even an entire denomination can be content with their work?
Go back through the readings above, hear the Lord asking you if you measure up to these standards.
You may think I am going to give my super secret way of getting to that level of maturity, my 6 plans or some cute five letter acronym to remember to motivate you to do God’s work. I don’t.
Spend more time in God’s presence. Receive the Lord’s Supper more, contemplate the cross and your baptism more. Spend time being relieved of your sin, confessing and being absolved of it Find ways to know and revel in this simple truth.
The Lord is With You.
It is from there, from knowing God’s heart because His love has been shown to you – that is where the desire for ministry comes from, that is from where the dunamis power and ability comes. If you want you church to be able to follow Paul’s guidance, do the same. Feed them the word and sacraments that confirm the covenant, the declaration that they are His people.
Be sure that the Holy Spirit will work through you, and open your hearts and hands to do so.
And rejoice, for they will reach the measure of the fulness of Christ… for that is why you were called. And know this, He won’t abandon you forsake you – for that too is a promise.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 495). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
The Task of Ministering to Others ( For pastors, priests, deacons, elders, and all who serve in the church)
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 I, who am an elder myself, appeal to the church elders among you. I am a witness of Christ’s sufferings, and I will share in the glory that will be revealed. I appeal to you 2 to be shepherds of the flock that God gave you and to take care of it willingly, as God wants you to, and not unwillingly. Do your work, not for mere pay, but from a real desire to serve. 3 Do not try to rule over those who have been put in your care, but be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the glorious crown which will never lose its brightness. 1 Peter 5:1-4 (TEV)
1 So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2 Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (TEV)
The Good Shepherd does not demand that shepherds lay down their lives for a real flock of sheep. But every spiritual shepherd must endure the loss of his bodily life for the salvation of the flock, since the spiritual good of the flock is more important that the bodily life of the shepherd, when danger threatens the salvation of the flock. This is why the Lord says: The good shepherd lays down his life, that is, his physical life, for his sheep; this he does because of his authority and love. Both, in fact, are required: that they should be ruled by him, and that he should love them. The first without the second is not enough.
Christ stands out for us as the example of this teaching: If Christ laid down his life for us, so we also ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
From an exposition on John by Saint Thomas Aquinas, pastor (Cap. 10, lect 3)
I received the quote from Thomas Aquinas from a friend who I have never met, yet we feel towards each other like brothers. He is an older priest in Sicily, just about to turn 80, who still serves a parish. With the help of google translate, we communicate as we can.
Maybe he sent this to me because of my sermon yesterday, on the passage from Romans above. Maybe it was his reading this morning at Mass, or in his private prayer and devotional time. I don’t know. But on Monday, it is a good, no a very good reading for all of us who serve parishes, whether we are volunteers or paid, ordained ministers or lay ministers. As we call our group of pastors, deacons, elders at our parish – the diakonos, simply meaning the servants.
We are called to live sacrificially, yet, eventually we find it is not so sacrificial. We give of our time, our talents, and our treasure (or give up the opportunity to obtain these things for our own use) to those whom we serve, those who become our children in the faith. My friend, Fr. Giuseppe, has spent his life as a celibate priest, and yet the pictures of his parish show him with his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren in the faith. Those pictures show a love and care for my friend that is incredible.
But still we are called to sacrifice, our all, our lives, our hearts, Paul would even have sacrificed his own soul ( if he could have) , in order that these people know Christ. In order that this is not just book knowledge, but deep intimate knowledge of His love. The kind of knowledge that in awe leads to worship, that leads to adoration.
It’s a challenge and blessing because in sacrificing these things, we have to also give up our pride, our vanity. We have to remember that they and we are broken people, needing Christ’s healing. We have to be slow to anger, quick to forgive. Quick to apologize and make things right, long-suffering and patient to guide them toward the repentance they so need. This is the laying down our lives that Aquinas talks about – perhaps not being physically nailed to the cross, but spiritually, and emotionally, and often figuratively, as we work until we are exhausted and more.
It is an impossible task, this being examples to our flocks. Impossible save one thing. We have a God who answers our cry for mercy, who is our example, who doesn’t lord it over us, but serves us in love. That is why the task is all gospel, not law, because we encounter and need Christ in every moment, in every sacrifice.
May we follow the examples of those who have served before, who followed the examples of Christ.
Discussion thought of the day:
I urge the elders among you, as a fellow-elder myself and a witness to the sufferings of Christ, and as one who is to have a share in the glory that is to be revealed: 2 give a shepherd’s care to the flock of God that is entrusted to you: watch over it, not simply as a duty but gladly, as God wants; not for sordid money, but because you are eager to do it. 3 Do not lord it over the group which is in your charge, but be an example for the flock. 4 When the chief shepherd appears, you will be given the unfading crown of glory. 5 In the same way, younger people, be subject to the elders. Humility towards one another must be the garment you all wear constantly, because God opposes the proud but accords his favour to the humble. 1 Peter 5:1-5 (NJB)
“There is, obviously, an issue of theology here. How a man understands his priesthood will have a lot to do with whether he succumbs to the worst aspects of clericalism: pretentiousness, ambition, jealousy of others who are advancing faster in their “careers,” and an inability to relate as both leader and brother to the people who have been given into his pastoral care. Thus, the way the theology of the priesthood is taught in seminaries will be a crucial factor in building the right kind of priestly fraternity, in which the priests of a diocese think of themselves as fellow members of a presbyteral college, with and under the local bishop, for the service of all the People of God. Clericalism, understood as the identification of a priestly caste with “the Church,” is an impediment to the full flowering of Evangelical Catholicism, and an antidote may be found to it in the example of Blessed John Paul II. Karol Wojtyła, Pope John Paul II, was a priest’s priest and an inspiration to countless numbers of priests and seminarians. He nevertheless found many of his friends among laypeople— men and women whom he had first known as a university chaplain, and who remained among his closest friends throughout his life. There was no confusion of identities or roles in this network of friends; he was a priest, and they were not. But even more fundamentally, all were disciples who understood that the gifts they had been freely given, be they gifts of intellect, athletic or artistic skill, or personality, were to be shared freely with others. And in that mutual exchange of gifts between a priest and his lay friends, there was a continual growth in discipleship. 9 It is a pattern that might well be emulated throughout the world Church.” (1)
It’s been a while since I “picked” Wiegel’s book, between our national convention, and trying to prepare for vacation, and taking a class, I haven’t had time to contemplate and sift through what he writes to apply it within my own framework. He’s writing about what is necessary in the Catholic Church, I have to translate it into my own form of Lutheranism. But I again find the principals one’s I would strive for – even if others label that goal naive.
The same temptations, the same drives. the same attitudes can caustically erupt, no matter the brand of the man wearing the collar. (or polo shirt with church logo!) The challenge instead is to be a servant, to be a man who recognizes that God has surrounded him with gifted people who compliment him, whose gifts are there to overcome his weaknesses, to serve alongside each other. It is a symbiotic relationship – it is not that they are dependent on me.
The same goes for leadership in the church, Bishops (or District Presidents) and in my denomination, circuit counselors, aren’t to treat others as if they are dependent on us, or even as if we are their “bosses”. We exist to minister together, as Weigel says, as a presbyterial college. It’s not just me and my church, my territory and your territory. It’s our work together, in Christ, Our being there for each other. Yes, there are those whose wisdom we seek out – both officially, as sadly in circumvention of official offices. There are those who we can assist as well. The idea is one church, on baptism – and one Lord of all (see Eph. 4) It is in Him we live, the greatest example of servitude, the greatest example of pastoral care, and yes, the one in whom we are united.
May we serve, may we work alongside the people God has entrusted them, teaching them the necessity and the blessing of crying out:
“Lord, have mercy!”
(1)Weigel, George (2013-02-05). Evangelical Catholicism (pp. 148-149). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.
- A Challenge to Pastors and Priests: Evangelical Catholic “review” part XIII (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Being in Ministry: a Profession or a Vocational Life? (Review of Evangelical Catholic pt. XV) (justifiedandsinner.com)