The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
The Shepherd’s Word of Grace
The Fourth Sunday of Easter, 21 April 2013
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Paul has been busy doing the Lord’s work. That’s what a shepherd does. He has been calling to the Lord’s sheep, both Jew and Gentile to gather around the Lord’s Word and Gifts. Last week’s reading from Acts 9 told the story of Paul’s conversion and first preaching in the synagogues. Back then he was called Saul. By Acts 13, Saul is called Paul. Cyprus, Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Syria. Then, the First Church Council in Jerusalem, Acts Chapter 15. (It sounds quite different from the upcoming LCMS Convention in St. Louis this July.) Paul resumes his missionary journeys: Macedonia, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Antioch, Ephesus. Remember Ephesus.
We are tempted to be bored by names, by history. Who cares about dusty old names? Who cares about dead white guys? What does any of this have to do with anything?
Think about these names instead: Sheridan, Big Horn, Dayton, Story, Ranchester, Banner, Clearmont, and Buffalo. We care more about those, don’t we? We know those towns. We live in those communities. We care about people there. We recognize “Montana” and “Wyoming,” but have a lot more trouble with “Macedonia” and “Syria.” We should care about the places mentioned in our text because the Gospel was preached there. We care about them because these are our spiritual fathers and mothers in the faith, our Christian ancestors. We are joined to them because we confess the same God, believe in the same resurrected Christ, and receive the same forgiveness of sins the same way they did: Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Gospel, Holy Communion. We’re reading about our Christian family!
Who cares about dead white guys? Isn’t that the post-modern critique? No matter what our mental picture has been about these events, a light-skinned northern European is nowhere to be found. Paul is preaching to Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Acts 8 tells the story of Phillip catechizing an Ethiopian. Those who believed may have died, yet they live. You will meet these believers in heaven. There, language and skin color don’t mean anything. Besides, if it wasn’t for Christians like them telling others about Jesus—if it wasn’t for them and their pastors, missionaries, and laypeople sharing the Gospel and spreading the Christian faith, there wouldn’t be Christians like you.
What does any of this have to do with anything? Quite a bit, actually. Jesus told the disciples in Acts chapter one that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. Today, the Gospel reaches around the world. The sun never sets on the Christian church. Yet, there are many in this world who have never heard of the Bible, Jesus, or the gift of the forgiveness of sins. And, among those who have heard, many do not know God rightly because of false teachers. That is why our pastors receive extensive training in the Bible in its original languages. That is why we study pure doctrine in such detail. That is why faithful practice matters in a congregation or church body. That is why we have a passion for the lost and send missionaries around the world and why we all look around our own communities for people to invite to Immanuel. We care because all the baptized are also Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the earth. There are sheep in need of our Good Shepherd, especially this Good Shepherd Sunday. They have need to hear The Shepherd’s Word of Grace. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Paul has resumed his missionary journeys: Macedonia, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Antioch, Ephesus. He’s been at Ephesus off and on since Acts 18. It’s now near the end of chapter 20. You’ve read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. That letter is yet to be written years from now from Rome. Today’s reading from Acts is Paul’s farewell—in person—to those same Christians.
17Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18And when they came to him, he said to them: "You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
How many times had Paul been run out of town? He has been imprisoned and stoned nearly to death. He has served with humility, with tears, and with trials, bearing patiently with the people, longsuffering for the sake of the Gospel that some would hear and believe. He has faced persecution countless times and yet has remained faithful. His message did not change no matter what kind of pressure he faced. He preached Law and Gospel: repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. He has preached Christ crucified and has his own cross to bear. Paul knows this.
22And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
Paul knew his Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament. He paraphrases the Lord’s Word in Ezekiel chapters two and three. He has been faithful. He has warned sinners about the consequences of their sin. Had he not, he would not be innocent of their blood.
Paul cares about himself and his physical needs for one purpose: the ministry of the Gospel. He does not account to his life any value of itself, even in his own eyes. He sees his value as an instrument of the Lord, God’s mouthpiece. He has been given to finish his course and the ministry that he received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. He had to trust in the Lord to provide for His needs. That is why, to this day that a congregation provides for its pastor—so that the pastor can care for the congregation. Paul reminds the pastors in Ephesus of this.
28Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
False teachers will arise. Where will they come from? Inside the church. We’re shocked by this, but shouldn’t be. All Christians are still sinners. That includes pastors and people alike. The difference between pastor and people is not one of holiness or exalted position, but one of service. Each serves the other for the good of the whole church. Together the Church is immersed in the Word of God so that true Biblical teaching and faithful Christian practice is preserved and maintained. Our sainted LCMS President, A. L. Barry always told us, “Keep the message straight,” and “Get the message out.” False teachers are a serious danger to the sheep. Faithful teachers are a blessing.
About the Cover: In Paul’s good-bye to the elders at Ephesus, he urges them to “pay careful attention . . . to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). The sheep of the Lord’s flock, every member of His family, are to have a shepherd who watches out for them, for each has been bought with divine blood. Precious to God, they must also be precious to their pastor.
31Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. 32And now 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. 33I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. 34You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
Those words of Jesus quoted by Paul are unique. They are not recorded elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul heard them from the Lord Himself. Luke recorded them here for our benefit. The Law of God shows us that we do not live up to the Lord’s standards by what we do, and, very often, by what we fail to do. At the same time, the Law reminds us to do the right thing, even when we don’t want to.
'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' Jesus said it. Therefore, this is most certainly true. Our congregational newsletter, budget, and weekly bulletin lay before you the need of this congregation, our Wyoming District, our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The Lord has provided for us in the past. We trust that He will provide for His own work now and in the future.
In our offerings, we Christians do not just give to a congregation, a district, a national church body. We give to the Lord. The gifts we share include those of time, abilities, possessions, and money, but especially the Gospel. And we can never ever run out of the Gospel. We don’t merely give to the Lord as if we are the source of the gifts we bring. We give from what God has already given to us. God is gracious in that He gives us blessings we do not deserve. You have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ and with daily bread to support this body and life and also this congregation. 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'
Lest we forget, when we give from what God has given us, we are motivated by the Gospel, not the Law. 'It is more blessed to give than to receive' should remind us of when Jesus said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve.” Jesus serves you in a way you could never serve one another. Your Lord gives in a way we could never give. You are the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood. That is Gift. That is Gospel. That is for you. That is The Shepherd’s Word of Grace. In this life you will have trouble. Don’t worry. Don’t be anxious. And don’t count sheep—Talk to the Shepherd. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.