Your shepherd’s call

Hebrews 13:7-8, 17-21 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. … 17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. 18 Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. 19 I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon. 20 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
The day after my family and I returned from our Canada trip to watch four Women’s World Cup games, I received a divine call to serve as the lead pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Manitowoc. When I announced the call to the congregation, I asked for correspondence on your thoughts on whether I should stay or go. Many of you texted, messaged, emailed, and talked to me. And I appreciate every one of those conversations.
One of our members said to me, “Pastor, I don’t think it’s right that another church can steal our pastor.” I replied, “You’re right. The members at Faith in Radcliff, Kentucky (where I served for 8 years), are still upset that you stole their pastor 11 years ago.” Now, I was teasing. I’m not so sure she was.
Immanuel is a congregation of approximately 800 members and 100 plus children. They have 100 children in their elementary school and Manitowoc Lutheran High School just down the road. Over the course of the past year, both of their pastors accepted calls to serve elsewhere in God’s kingdom. Then this winter, their principal accepted a call to teach at an area Lutheran high school. That means that they are without their three key leaders. In talking with their leaders, I learned that the members are now like “sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). They need a pastor to come in and love them, care for them, and shepherd them. They need someone to help them heal.
I’ll be honest – when I got off the phone with Immanuel’s church president, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the same thing for their church that you had called me to do here. 11 years ago, you had called me to help you heal after your previous pastor had torn apart this congregation with false doctrine. But then, as I contemplated the call more over the next few weeks, I thought that maybe that’s the type of ministry that I’m good at and that’s why God was calling me to help and lead and heal at Immanuel.
But as I read all of your correspondence, I came to appreciate how much you love and care for and respect your pastor. Epiphany has always had a great respect for her pastors. That is evident as you walk into our sanctuary and see the pictures of your past pastors. You are fulfilling the words of the holy writer, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith..” Your former pastors may be gone, but what they taught and believed remains eternally the same. Their Savior is our Savior and will be our children’s Savior. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. He is always the Christian’s contemporary. What He did for Christians in the past, He will do for us. What He does for us, He will do for those who follow us.
It all became very clear to me on the second Sunday that I held the call. I was standing by the baptismal font speaking the absolution to you. I was looking at your faces and I thought to myself, “These people love their pastor too much and I love them too much to have to say ‘goodbye’ to them.”
In fact, that’s the first reason I gave to Immanuel’s president on why I was returning the call. I told, “I know how much many of the members of Immanuel are hurting for a pastor to be there and to love them. That is a great joy and a blessing to have that kind of relationship between shepherd and sheep. I have that blessing at Epiphany. I have always said that I cannot imagine a better fit for personalities and ministries for a church and her pastor.” I pray that other congregations have the same kind of unity.
Many of you began your communication with me by saying, “I know I’m being selfish in wanting you to stay …” then you gave me your top 10 reasons why I should stay. But I don’t think it’s selfish to want your pastor to stay and continue to minister to you. If your husband is a Marine overseas fighting a war, it isn’t selfish to want him home with you. If your child is sick in the hospital, it isn’t selfish to want her by your side. If your grandchildren live far away, it isn’t selfish to want them to come visit you as often as possible. You love them and they love you.
And I don’t think it is selfish that I wanted to stay here, either. Many of you told me that you wanted me to be the one who baptized or confirmed your child. Truthfully, I want to be the one who stands at this font to pour water and Word over your daughter’s head to baptize her into God’s kingdom. I want to be the one who places my hand on your son’s head to confer the Holy Spirit on him at his confirmation. I want to be the one who has the privilege of taking that recent convert to Christianity or Lutheranism deeper into God’s Word in adult confirmation classes. I want to be the one who places Christ’s body into your hand and Christ’s blood onto your lips.
I know some of you might find this morbid, but I also want to be the one who conducts your funeral. I have been ministering to many of our shut-in members for 11 years. There is a relationship of trust and friendship there. I want to be the one who reads the 23rd Psalm and prays the Lord’s Prayer with a dying saint and his family. I want to be the one who is the Lord’s servant to usher another saint’s soul to the throne of the Shepherd/Lamb in heaven.
The writer to the Hebrews says this: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” From the font to the grave, your pastor has a special privilege, but also an awesome responsibility to the Chief Shepherd. Like caring shepherds, your pastors keep sleepless vigil over every sheep in the flock, guiding them to the pasture of the Word, guarding them against sin’s danger, gently handling the weak and the wounded, and going lovingly after the straying. Each soul is precious to them, for each soul has been bought and paid for by the blood of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Martin Luther added: “I have the commission and charge, as a preacher and a doctor, to see to it that no one is misled, so that I may give account of it at the Last Judgment” (AE 23:44).
So the first reason I returned the call to Immanuel was because of a continual growing in love and respect between sheep and shepherd. The second reason I gave for returning the call was a growth in ministry. Almost all the leaders from Immanuel that I spoke to described their congregation as on the verge of doing great things in God’s kingdom and being “a sleeping giant.” I could definitely see that.
However, I believe that God has been doing amazing things here at Epiphany and I believe that He will continue to do so. Here are just a few of the things that we plan to do together in the Lord’s ministries at Epiphany. Our soccer camp continues to bring God’s Word to children in our community in a fun way each year. Training Camp is an opportunity for campers to be immersed in God’s Word away from home (and more importantly electronics) for a whole week at camp. We are working on restarting the Lutheran Boy Pioneers to be as active and important as our Lutheran Girl Pioneers program.
We are currently in discussions to build a one main campus school building for Wisconsin Lutheran School. It is something everyone wants, but we need the financial backing of our congregations to do it. The projected cost is between 3 and 4 million dollars. The current design is a 2 story school building downtown next to First Evan for grades 1-8. That means we would have an Early Childhood Campus here with grades Preschool through Kindergarten and even start a day care program.
The ministry I am most excited about is calling a Family Minister in 2 years. He would be a staff minister who would do inreach to our members families with children in grade school, high school, and college. He would also do outreach to all the non-member School Choice families attending WLS and Shoreland.
As exciting as our ministries may be and as special as the relationship between pastor and people may be, it’s all about Jesus, isn’t it? The pastor’s one main goal is to point people to Jesus. He is the under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd. He is ultimately called by the Good Shepherd to feed and care for and correct the sheep and lambs Christ has put in his care.
Jesus is the Great Shepherd of you, His beloved sheep. He loves you enough to lead you through this world filled with plains of despair and valleys of death. He leads you through them to the green pastures and quiet waters of paradise. He loves you enough to use His staff to correct and corral you when you begin to stray. He loves you enough to use His rod to chase away the wolves and lions of this world that threaten your bodies and try to harm your souls. He has already stepped down hard to crush the head of the Ancient Serpent. He loves you so much that your Good Shepherd laid down His life for you, His beloved lambs and sheep. But He didn’t stay dead. God brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep.
When you hear your pastor absolving your sins, that is really Jesus’ voice you hear announcing His own forgiveness. When you watch the pastor pouring water and Word over an infant’s head at the baptismal font, that is really the Holy Spirit creating faith and working salvation through those baptismal waters. When you come forward to receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, that is really the flesh and blood of your Savior that you are eating and drinking. When the pastor teaches and preaches, that is really the Almighty God speaking through His called servant. When the pastor sends you home with the benediction, that is really the blessing of the Triune God you are receiving.
Your pastor is just blessed to be the servant of the Almighty God. He is the under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd. And I’m not just blessed to be called to be an under-shepherd. I’m blessed to be your under-shepherd. Amen. 


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