Tend the Flock


1 Peter 5:1-4
Preached by Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
Marion Aldersgate UMC
Cache River District Rally
October 27, 2013

A man whose life was filled with contradictions became a trusted servant of Jesus Christ. He was named Simon, a fisherman by trade. Introduced to Jesus by his brother, Christ changed his name to Peter. Nicknamed Cephas in Aramaic, Peter was “the rock” long before Dwayne Johnson acquired his wrestling name “the rock.” Cephas was rash, impulsive and impetuous. Peter walked on water until he took his eyes off Jesus. Peter practically swore never to deny Christ but denied him anyway. When he tried to stop our Lord from fulfilling his mission, our Lord called him Satan. Yet, Peter became a leader of the Twelve. Christ chose him to lead the church universal after Peter answered the question “Who do you say that I am?” with “Thou art the Christ the
Son of the living God.” On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached that Christ crucified with such passion and truth that three thousand folk joined the church. After that, his shepherding and leadership task grew exponentially.

In First Peter, the lead apostle wrote to Christians hundreds of miles from Jerusalem. Rome had exiled them across the length and breadth of Asia Minor. Among the exiles were elders charged with overseeing the work of the church. To guide them, Peter offered some practical advice. All of it had to do with best practices related to behavior, attitude and/or leadership style. What Peter shared with the Elders in Asia applies to pastors and all others who have shepherding responsibilities. TEND THE FLOCK. As you will see, we rarely talk about or have much time to pursue these matters in depth. Let’s look at TEND THE FLOCK from Peter’s perspective.

Willingly not under Compulsion
First, Peter urges the Elders to tend the flock willingly not under compulsion. His Elders have a big task on their hands. They must grow the church in a strange land. They must function as an extension of Peter’s leadership although he is not on the front lines with them. Without adequate staff, resources or salary, they must make “bricks without straw,” figuratively speaking. All this and more, they must do willingly. According to Peter, the charge to do this ministry in foreign lands comes from God. It is not enough to take on a flock because of an Ordination Vow “to go where sent.” That is the statement of the church. Our ultimate focus is tending God’s flock. It’s not about us. Nevertheless, a shepherd’s will and willingness do make a difference in the lives of God’s people.

We know of Jonah’s vacillations and resistance. His call is to tend and love a flock bereft of kindred relations between two parties, a Jew and hundreds of gentiles. So Jonah runs from God’s call and heads for Joppa. But a storm at sea, a fright night in the belly of a whale and the haunting voice of a calling Lord transforms his will. Released from his abdominal pit, a chastened Jonah makes a three day journey to Nineveh in one day. He preaches. Nineveh responds. And God saves a nation of his enemies to Jonah’s utter dismay. Is this not one dilemma facing the elders in Asia? God chooses their ministry to be among those who captured them, namely the Romans. And they have to respond willingly.

God can work through an unwilling shepherd to care for any flock. It happens. God can help you succeed among your enemies. Still, the will, heart, mind, volition and spirit of the one called, is absolutely key to shepherding. Comments such as “The devil made me do it” or “The bishop made me do it” are hardly beneficial for shepherd or sheep. Avoid them. On one hand, the shepherd shirks and shifts responsibility off his/her shoulders thereby robbing the flock of care for which the shepherd has been gifted. On the other hand, the sheep of given flock will not feel or be cared for with tenderness, love and/or respect. The shepherd is available for the sheep only because the shepherd is compelled to be there.

If anyone here still feels unwilling to give yourself fully in an appointment, new or old, still feels like your heart is broken, pray and ask God to change your heart. Tell a companion. Seek help going forward. Too many sheep are tired, hurting, unsettled, scattered, grieving, and dying because of shepherds who do not really care for them. You’ve been chosen to tend the flock willingly as God would have you do it, but not under compulsion. “Bishop, what if I still do not want to go?” Then, imitate John Wesley. Remember Wesley telling the Moravian Peter Bohler he couldn’t preach. Wesley vowed to stop preaching because he lacked true faith. Peter Bohler advised Wesley “to preach faith until he had it, and then because you have it you will preach faith.” If reluctance, unwillingness, or resistance describes your present circumstance, my advice mimic’s Bohler’s; “Be God’s willing shepherd until you are, and because you are, you will tend the flock as God’s willing shepherd.”

Tend the Flock eagerly not for Sordid Gain
I am amazed and instructed by Peter’s second piece of advice to the exiles. “Tend the flock eagerly not for sordid gain”, he warned. Naively, I didn’t think “sordid gain” would be an issue in the early church. It was. Had one of his shepherds already figured out how to use his position to make money in a strange land? Had an elder or two drafted a list delineating fees for religious services? Perhaps, the quest for money reflected a Judas mentality. Maybe an elder agreed to identify all the elders chosen by the apostle Peter to “make disciples for Jesus Christ.” Those elders could be arrested, tried and jailed so that the church had no chance to grow and flourish in a strange land. Maybe, one of the elders wanted to conduct workshops in their church or area for fee? I just don’t know.

Maybe, Peter wanted to remind men of the cloth that what happened to Judas in Jerusalem wouldn’t stay in Jerusalem. The love of money had not lost its power to corrupt the motives of a shepherd, anywhere and anytime.

At least two past incidents traumatized Peter. Both had to do with death and money. His colleague Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Filled with regret, Judas committed suicide. Lord have mercy. Secondly, Ananias and Sapphira were members of the early Christian Church under his care. They sold some land and chose to withhold a portion of it from the church. When Peter questioned them separately about their deception, both of them committed perjury. Worse than that, both of them fell dead in his presence. Is that the reason Peter admonished the elders in exile to avoid sordid gain? Probably! It’s very difficult for a selfish, self-seeking and/or mercenary shepherd to care for God’s flock. The love of money has not lost its power to steal, kill and destroy that which is good. No one can serve two masters, not even a shepherd.

So what does Peter require of elders as shepherds? He wants eager beavers; people like him and his brother Andrew. Eager beaver as “enthusiastic worker or volunteer,” is one approach. Overzealous, perhaps ambitious, aspiring and ardent persons may be another approach to shepherding. Like John and Charles Wesley, Peter and Andrew were good shepherds foibles included. They love the church. And they love the people. We notice the depth of Peter’s commitment to the people and God when our Lord asks for a third time if Peter loves him. An exasperated Cephas answers with the power of an oath taken in court- responds with the kind of integrity we must bring to those whom we shepherd. “Lord, you know everything!! You know that I love you.” To Peter, his colleagues in exile and this august body gathered, Jesus still declares “then, Feed My Sheep.” There is hardly anything more life giving to a flock than a shepherd who wants to be there. Their words, tone, body language and behavior literally give their flock “a future with hope.”

That was the essence of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Observe Andrew. He was an eager beaver. Andrew introduced his brother Peter to Jesus. To be crystal clear, Andrew was a seeker. He identified Jesus as the kind of shepherd everyone needed as a guide through life. Second, when our Lord fed 5,000 and looked for resources to bless, break and multiply, it was Andrew that notified Jesus that a little boy had with him five loaves and two fish. Third, when Greeks approached Philip crying “we would see Jesus,” Philip brought them to Andrew. Andrew eagerly introduced them to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Andrew was tuned into the things of God flock and the shepherd needed to hear. Andrew epitomized an important highlighted in a Negro Spiritual “Go tell it on the mountains, over the hills and everywhere. Go tell it on the mountains that Jesus Christ was born.”

Tend the flock as a model shepherd not as Lord
Tend the flock as a model shepherd not by lording it over the sheep. Translation, your power is real. Use it wisely. Let three stories talk to you.

A bishop preached at a local church. The DS was there. As the bishop entered the pastor’s office to prepare for worship, the DS instructed me to sit in the pastor’s chair. The offer was declined. The pastor grinned and said nothing. Later, the bishop learned why.

The DS had developed a practice of taking over the pastor’s seat in the office whenever he visited. The practice stopped immediately. Inciting conflict and consternation in areas where it need not exist, the DS was “lording it over” his pastor in that arena and others. Lording over anyone is the anti-thesis of Jesus reason for being. “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve.”

Second story, the memory of a bad mistake I made in my first appointment over 40 years ago has judged and chastened me to this very day. An argument broke out between me and some members just prior to the 11 o’clock worship service. Try as I might, I can’t recall the issue causing the conflict. It upset me. Worse still, I allowed the disagreement to make me mad. Worst still, I carried my anger into the pulpit. Regrettably, I used the pulpit to lash out at those who upset me. I ruined the tone of the worship service. Most of the members had no idea what I was talking about. Visitors weren’t happy. If they were church shopping, my lashing out said loud and clear to visitors, “don’t come! The church’s troubles have boiled over into the pulpit.” Getting a few things off my chest defeated the purpose of my sermon and tarnished the reputation of the church. I had failed God and my congregation. Worship was supposed to honor God. I had misused it. After church, I went out and wept bitterly as did Peter upon denying our Lord. Years have passed.

Yet, I have not fully gotten over the pain I caused God, the congregation and myself. But I have learned a valuable lesson.

This open communion table reminds us of a grievous error committed by our founder, John Wesley. Years ago, John Wesley came to America. Wesley served as the parson for the English settlement in Savannah, Georgia. Wesley fell in love with a beautiful lady named Sophia Hopkey. Sophia loved John Wesley and wanted to get married. But Wesley never popped the question. She got tired and married another man. Wesley was livid. When the newlyweds attended church, Wesley publicly embarrassed them by refusing to give them the sacrament of Holy Communion. He had the power and used it. For besmirching their reputation, Sophia and her husband took Wesley to court. They would have been sentenced to jail had not Wesley returned to England under the cover of night.

Anger and love for Sophia Hopkey led John Wesley to ban the newlyweds from the Communion Table. Lording it over others happens to the best of us. And yes, lording it over the sheep never produces the best relationship between shepherd and sheep.

The best way Peter knew to become a model shepherd was to be like the Good Shepherd. He practiced it in his ministry and laid down his life for God’ sheep. Before WWJD appeared in the 20th Century, Simon Peter espoused it in the first century. Without using the “name that is above every name,” Peter advanced the cause of Christ. He envisioned his elders as extensions of the Good Shepherd.

“Everyone who wants to lead in the kingdom of God must develop heart qualifications” says the Maxwell Leadership Bible. “The image of shepherd best captures the heart of a godly leader. For example, shepherds are tender, sincere, intimate, loving. They guide, correct, protect and feed. The shepherd:

  • Labors out of love
  • Has a heart for the sheep
  • Gives his life for sheep
  • Faithfully serves his master
  • Feeds the sheep
  • Tenderly cares for the sheep
  • Leads the sheep wisely.”

I must confess the classic description of a good shepherd leaves me vacillating still. John 10 recorded these words of Jesus “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” If faced with a situation that required me to lose my life, would I be that Good Shepherd? I’m still in the Garden of Gethsemane praying about that. Ultimately, Peter offers faithful shepherds some very good news. “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, shepherds will win the crown of glory that never fades away.”

I charge you, go home. Tend the flock, not your flock, God’s flock. Shepherd willingly and eagerly. Be a Good Shepherd. Go home with a clearer vision of Jesus’ approach to shepherding. Go home inspired by the lyrics of Helen Lemmel. Struck blind in her 50's, divorced by her wealthy husband because her blindness turned him off, Helen lived on and died in poverty at 98 years old. But Helen’s spiritual vision gave rise to 500 hymns. The chorus of one of her songs has brightened the path of many a shepherd and sheep. And it bore witness to the faith by which she lived. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His Glory and Grace.” Amen.