Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Shepherds Without Sheep

Written by Pastor Doug Taylor. Reprinted with permission.

For many men at at least one seminary of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, today is a day of sorrow. They have received, or will soon receive, the word that there is no congregational placement for them at this time. All of them at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne four or more years ago to study for one purpose: to serve the Lord Jesus and His Church as a pastor, a steward of the mysteries of God. They worked ardently, immersing themselves in the Holy Scriptures, the Book of Concord, the Church Fathers and the proper and reverent conduct of the Divine Service. They spent, or are spending, a year on vicarage, where they took on more of the public work of the Church under the supervision of a pastor. They then returned to seminary to complete their studies, circling, back in the fall, Wednesday of this week on their calendars, the day when they would hear where they would first serve as a pastor.

Wednesday was to be a joyous culmination of all their preparation, a day of excitement and wonder enjoined by the weight and responsibility of the cure of souls. It was to be a day that would spark dreams of a quickly arriving future of preaching and teaching, baptizing and celebrating, absolving and retaining, marrying and burying. Instead, for these men, it is, to borrow from the poet Langston Hughes, “a dream deferred,” a delay of the future that feels like the cancellation of a wedding. Fighting through feelings of loss and rejection, they will celebrate with those men who have received their placements into the Office of the Holy Ministry, but the knot in their hearts will firmly tighten in these next 48 to 72 hours. Despite their best efforts, they will envy their brothers in Christ who are heading out to labor in the harvest, who get to fully participate in the pomp and circumstance that is Call Day. They will refocus on their studies, finish their coursework, possibly look for employment in a suffering economy, and also figure out whether to move back near family or continue their current living arrangements. They are, as of this moment, shepherds without sheep, a challenging and stressful position to be in.

In this context, it seems a cruel irony that the respective lectionaries of the church year have spent the last two successive Sundays on the concept of shepherding. The cure of souls has been ringing in our ears in the last eight days, whether your congregation uses the 1-year or 3-year lectionary. Last Sunday, those following the 1-year heard the Lord bring word to the prophet Ezekiel, declaring that He Himself would search for His sheep and seek them out, seeking the lost and bringing back the strayed and binding the injured, all tasks given to the pastoral office by the Lord Jesus after His resurrection. St. Peter, in the epistle for Misericordias Domini, refers to Jesus as “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls,” the same Jesus who works His shepherding and overseeing through called and ordained servants of the Word. In the 3-year lectionary, today were heard St. Paul’s words to the overseers of the church of Ephesus, of his imploring them “to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood,” the blood of the Good Shepherd who gathers His flock to hear His voice and receive the means of grace through men He places in His stead and by His command. The lessons for the last two weeks have inundated us with the work of the pastoral office: the burden and responsibility of the task; the great sense of duty and service that comes with it; and most importantly, the One who surely and certainly accomplishes His work through pastors, our Lord Jesus. To hear the Word of the Lord in the last two weeks, to prepare for certification for four years and then be informed that work will not be yours to do, for an indefinite period of time, must be immensely difficult. To all of you not receiving placements this week, and to your families, my most sincere and true condolences to you. To quote St. Paul in the 3-year’s first reading for today, “I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

This situation into which you have been placed will tempt you to ask all sorts of questions. Did I say something off-the-cuff to the wrong person, and am now being punished for it? Was there something in my SET that caused a District President who thought I’d be great for one of his congregations to put my file on the Wait pile? Was I too firm on my geographic preferences? Is there ANYTHING I could have done differently that could have made me more attractive to districts for a placement? Have I done something to make God angry enough to put myself in the pastoral penalty box? Brothers in Christ (and those who care for them), do not entertain such questions. They will only be used by the evil one who sends ferocious wolves after not only sheep, but their shepherds, and their future shepherds who now wait. You are not at fault for this, although the trials and self-doubt will make you wonder. Don’t believe a word of it. Your call service may be a tiny bit smaller. It may even be months from now. But He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.

You have been injured today; there is no denying it. But the Lord God binds you up, with the same means that He will entrust to you to give on His behalf. The God-man whose authority will be given to you is He Himself who bore your sins in His body on the tree, that you might die to sin and live to righteousness. Your wounds are fresh, and this week will provide much opportunity for salt to creep in them. Your wounds will heal; in fact, they are healed, by the wounds of Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd who gathered you into His flock by water and the Word and feeds you with good pasture. The tears of sorrow you shed will be wiped away by the Lamb in the midst of the throne, your Shepherd and Overseer. The blood of the Lamb that you will soon be called to proclaim and distribute floods your shame and pain and drowns it. Salvation belongs to that Lamb. So too does your placement into the Office of the Holy Ministry, and financial difficulties and Synodical politics are no match for the call of Christ. It may be delayed, but it is sure and certain.

Again, to all affected by today's events, the comfort and peace of Christ be with you. If similar events occur in St. Louis, I wish you the same. You are all in our prayers here on the Canadian prairie.

photo credit: Lawrence OP

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