A good friend of mine and foreign pastor in these lands phoned me yesterday. Whereas I only use the phone for urgent messages, something like the original telegraph, he obviously uses it to catch up on visitation and the blessings per mutuum colloquium et consolationem fratrum (Smalcald Articles III,4: Concerning the gospel), which William Russel translates as “through the mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters.” (Kolb/Wengert, Pg.319). How grateful can we be for the Lord´s promise: “Where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, there I am with them!” (Mt.18:20)
In these times of “social distancing” this telephonic chatroom is a wonderful way to share comforts of a friendly voice and catch up on some fraternal news outside the provincial bubble. Thank God, we have such good fellowship even as we rejoice in that of our books, podcasts and films too. Of course, this ever growing freight is also a great distraction and can become an excessive overload. The good old Saint Anthony – like all desert fathers and other hermits – knew all about these temptations – even outside in the desert. The present situation is very helpful in reducing this ever-expanding surplus of diversions to a healthy, still stimulating, but sustainable level. Very much like a necessary fast or at least healthy diet. Part of the basic daily schedule remains the quality time in dialogue with our maker – the triune God – in reading His Word and bringing our all to Him in prayer. For me it works best to start the day with that before I get lost in daily business…
This morning’s readings prompted these subsequent thoughts. So, allow me to share those with You too, starting off in reverse order i.e. from the passages in the “Anthology” (Dobberstein Pg. 354-6) for Thursdays – to the Scriptural meditations for the day on “The minister as pastor” (ebd. 34) – on Ezekiel 34:1-16 and Isaiah 40:11. Here are those readings from the Anthology on “Christ´s curates” and on “being close to the Chief Shepherd”:
Lest You be overwhelmed with the greatness of Your task, remember no church is given to any man without the Saviour of the church and of him. After all it is Christ´s Church more than yours. He is the real Pastor of every real church, and the Bishop of its minister. You are but his curate.Peter Taylor Forsyth
When Jesus handed over to Simon Peter the charge of the Christian Church, he was careful to use the possessive pronoun “my”. “Feed my lambs! Tend My sheep! Feed my sheep!” It is the mightiest pronoun in the New Testament for the saving or the minister from lordliness. “Simon, son of Jonas, feed my lambs . They are not yours, they are mine, but I wish you to look after them for a little while. I do not give them to you. They belong to me. Mine they always shall remain, but I ask you to tend them for a season for me. Feed my sheep. They are not yours. Not all one of them shall ever pass from my possession, but I am going away for a few days, and I leave them with you. Guard them, feed them, guide them, be good to them for my sake. Follow me. Remember my gentleness, my watchfulness, my considerateness, my patience, my compassion, my readiness to help, my swiftness to heal, my gladness to sacrifice. Be the kind of shepherd to my lambs and my sheep that I have been to you. Follow me!Charles Edward Jefferson
The real vital question of the ministry is that every individual Shepherd be constantly and earnestly concerned to be remaining in immediate contact with the chief Shepherd, from whom he has received his office and to whom he will one day be accountable for it … only daily, direct encounter with the Chief Shepherd will keep the shepherd alert to the cares and needs of his flock. Only this will carry him across the abyss of proud or conceited self-satisfaction on the left or the abyss of tedium and resignation on the right. The shepherd needs the Chief Shepherd; if he is no longer conscious of this, if he constructs his own ministry, he’s already lost.
For pastors, therefore, it must again become simply a matter of course that there shall be time set aside for daily Scripture reading and daily prayer, and this not only in the form of general family worship. The pastoral ministry requires pastoral study of the Scriptures and pastoral prayer. This is not merely a pious pastime which a few pastors indulge in alongside of the ministry. Because of his office and for the sake of his office the pastor must study the Bible. When a man knows of no more than texts of the pericopes and Bible class lessons on which he has to speak to the congregation it will soon be found, when his work is objectively tested, that he cannot preach rightly on these texts either.
And for the sake of his office the pastor must continue in prayer. He cannot be a real pastor to the endangered and suffering in his congregation without practising priestly intercession for them. Here, too, there’s a deep gulf between pastoral care with prayer and pastoral care without prayer. Let not the pastor tell himself, that he is “praying without ceasing”. Let him set aside a daily quiet time for Scripture reading and prayer. Many an error and scandal in the doctrine life of our church would have been prevented if all pastors had kept this rule, if they had not allowed themselves to be led astray by the business of their Sunday and everyday life into the slothfulness of the inner man.Martin Dörne
Thank God, He himself keeps the bad shepherds out and takes good care of His own as the very good Shepherd – Jesus Christ:
The Lord’s message came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the choice animals, but you do not feed the sheep! 4 You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost, but with force and harshness[b] you have ruled over them. 5 They were scattered because they had no shepherd, and they became food for every wild beast.[c] 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over the entire face of the earth with no one looking or searching for them.
“‘Therefore, you shepherds, listen to the Lord’s message: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, my sheep have become prey and have become food for all the wild beasts. There was no shepherd, and my shepherds did not search for my flock, but fed themselves and did not feed my sheep. 9 Therefore, you shepherds, listen to the Lord’s message. 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand my sheep from their hand. I will no longer let them be shepherds;[d] the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they will no longer be food for them.
11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look, I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a cloudy, dark day.[e] 13 I will bring them out from among the peoples and gather them from foreign countries; I will bring them to their own land. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams and all the inhabited places of the land. 14 In a good pasture I will feed them; the mountain heights of Israel will be their pasture. There they will lie down in a lush[f] pasture, and they will feed on rich grass on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will feed my sheep and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will seek the lost and bring back the strays; I will bandage the injured and strengthen the sick, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them—with judgment!Ezekiel 34:1-16
And the brief passage for meditation on this:
Like a shepherd he tends his flock;Isaiah 40:11
he gathers up the lambs with his arm;
he carries them close to his heart;
he leads the ewes along.
We sing and praise His name – now and always:
1 What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer!
2 Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer!
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer!
3 Are we weak and heavy laden,Joseph M. Scriven (1819-1886)
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge–
take it to the Lord in prayer!
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he’ll take and shield you;
you will find a solace there.