I usually put up my sermon manuscript for Sunday on Wednesday. This Sunday we will have a sacred concert. Sooooo, nooo sermon for this Sunday morning.
You should know I do a planned program of preaching. The new church where I am is going through transition in several ways, not just me, so I am going to spend the first year on site going through the pastoral epistles. I like the lectionary in my dotage but I am not sure this means as much to our folks. Soooo, on to the pastoral epistles, what we believe now that the dust has started to settle on the graves of those who first believed.
Why bother with pastoral business? Pastor, priest, prophet; all of these roles matter, all have their comforts and concerns. The pastoral function(s), chaplaincy, devotional and consecrational issues, do matter. Much of the NT is given over to their discussion and practice. Interpersonal issues between generations and socio-economic strata (slave and slave owner) do require our better attentions. The pastoral function of God the Holy Spirit pushes us to believe, of course, but to act on belief in such a way as to move us to the next level of belief/commitment.
In His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus prayed as pastor of the flock, gratified that, of all those whom the Father gave Him, he lost not one. The Evangelist seeks out the one lost, while the Pastor seeks to love and keep the ninety and nine. The Undershepherd does both and must.
Some of the young people I have been with this week have been focusing on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, which is a pastoral parable in it sinew. You remember the story. A young man rebels, leaves home, uses up is inheritance, falls tragically. He comes to his senses, comes to his home, comes to his father; he might expect scorn and dismissal but instead his father and his home open to him and a great party is thrown upon on his return.
Sadly, one often misses the other son in the story. He is the older son, who stays home. He is the good son. He serves the father. When the party is thrown for the returning prodigal, the older son stays in the fields. He hears the clamor but does not draw near. His father has to send a servant to bid him come to the father’s party.
The key pastoral issue in this story is, for me, why the older son does not come to the party. Why does he stay in the field to work until bidden to come?
I think he does not come to the party for this very good reason. He knows the party is not for him.
In fact, a lot of people in our culture may not “come to the party,” that is, to church, because they know the party is not for them. They may see the happiness in the party goers, they may see the benefits to the party goers but they know, without being told, this party is not for them but for others. In fact, the celebrants at the party seem to be those who have wasted a great part of their lives in riotous living, yet the institutional celebration is for the frivol. Regardless of the where or when, the why is clear; this party is not for them.
The Pastor/Evangelist is charged with party invitations. He/She must cleverly, deftly celebrate the return of the prodigal, while affirming the work of the faithful child. The pastoral epistles walk that fine line, affirming the place of the repentant frivol and the dutiful faithful. The pastoral epistles simply offer the simple statement; the party the Father throws is thrown for you and you and you and you and her and him and they and them. Somehow, God makes every table the head table and every guest the honored guest. You need not step aside nor sit way back in the back of the hall. You matter.
This is pastoral care as I see it. I offer it today in place of a sermon for Sunday.