Feed Them

I do not know if you have ever been to the ordination or installation of a pastor, but if you get the chance to do so, I highly recommend it. Even if the particular congregation is not too fond of the ancient rituals and traditions which have shaped the practice of the faith, in that service you cannot really keep them out. Other pastors will travel to be a part of it as well. They will come from the other congregation within the fellowship and bring their robes and red stoles. They gather in a side room or in the sacristy and tell old jokes and have a few laughs at the expense of whoever is officiating the service. They all know their part. They know what is expected. It is an old ritual with significant meaning. Outside of the vows made by the new pastor, the pinnacle moment will be when the other pastors gather around and lay hands on him and speak a word of blessing. It works as a visual demonstration for the congregation of how this man has been placed in this place for the ministry of the Word. I have participated in these many times throughout my career and what most pastors do at this moment is they recite a bible verse. It is offered as a sort of encouragement or even a guide for the new pastor.  

Now, my go-to verse for these serious moments has been from the end of John’s gospel where our resurrected Lord is speaking to Peter and asking him over and gain, “Peter do you love me?” and every time Peter answers, “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus responds by saying, “Feed my sheep.” That, you see, is the heart off what it means to be a pastor. A pastor can and will do a lot off things, counseling, leading, guiding, but at the core of the office is to be the one who feeds the Lord’s sheep. So, I always found it fitting to offer this verse as a reminder of just what a pastor is called to do. He is not a motivational speaker, a life coach, or the CEO of an organization. He is one tasked with feeding the sheep.  

But the immediate question which flows from such an assertion is, “With what are we to feed them?” It is a big question, for it does not take too much time looking around to figure out our hands are pretty empty. To be tasked with feeding the Lord’s sheep can cause a bit of a panic. I mean, what do they even eat? Do I just give them what they want? Do I concern myself with the quality or quantity of what they are consuming? Is their overall diet part of our concern? Do we limit ourselves to what is on the menu at church, or do we take on the totality of their eating habits? And do not think that, just because you are not the pastor, you are off the hook here. No, your participation in this place of worship, your gathering together, is an assembly defined by being fed. Part of your love and care for one another is to concern yourself with the feeding of the sheep. What are you being fed? What about your neighbor? Are they getting the good stuff? Are they getting enough? There are a lot of metaphors used to describe the Church: A lighthouse, a ship at sea, a family, and even a body. But perhaps we might suggest the Church is a manger, a trough designed for the feeding of the sheep, and you all have a role in this.  

But as I said before, the danger is in what is being offered. Just because a pastor and a church have been tasked with feeding does not mean they have what is necessary to feed them. Perhaps even more problematic is that just because a pastor and congregation find their hands empty does not mean they will not try and feed anyway. We can feed them a bunch of nuggets of self-help style encouragement. We may feed them with some emotional manipulation that creates a feeling of contentment and peace. Or even worse, perhaps, we feed them whatever rubbish we can muster up from our own hearts, desires, and aspirations; just clean it up and pass it off as a healthy meal for the sheep.  

Far removed from our tendency for creating a spiritual smorgasbord, we learn about our Lord’s reaction to the death of John the Baptist. The great forerunner has been murdered and the cross looms large in front of Jesus. He tries to get some time to Himself. So, He gets in a boat and goes to a quiet place alone, but the people will not allow this respite. They are hungry, hungry for the Words and miracles of our Lord. They seek Him out, crowd around Him, and He has compassion for them. Of course, He does. He heals their sick and cares for their needs. But it is getting late, and the disciples pick up on what will probably be a crisis if they do not take some action. This crowd will not leave and there is no food where they are. To avoid a panic, they ask Jesus to send the people way, not because they have no compassion for them, but because there is no food to feed them. He should send them into the villages and towns so they can get something to eat.  

Our Lord’s response is direct and astonishing. He says to His disciples, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” You feed them. And like every new pastor standing before a congregation, like every congregation which takes seriously the call to feed the sheep, the disciples ask themselves, “Feed them with what?” All they have is five loaves of bread and two fish, barely enough to make a meal for themselves, much less this massive crowd gathered around Jesus. But our Lord is not deterred. He is not joking around. He expects His disciples to feed them. He has them bring Him the bread and fish. He has the crowd sit down. He takes the loaves and the fish and blesses them and breaks them and gives them to the disciples, and the disciples begin to give it to the crowd. The disciples feed the sheep. They feed them, all of them, the whole crowd, well over 5000 people. They feed them not by what they could offer, not by the provisions they had procured, no, they feed them with what comes from the hands of Christ Himself. They feed them by taking what He has given and handing it on.  

So, it is today, among us even now. The sheep still need to be fed, and our Lord continues to call His disciples to feed them, but the food is what comes from the hands of Christ. It is given by Him and then handed over to His sheep. The food is the work of Christ. It is His promises, His gifts, His love, and His compassion. The food the sheep so desperately need is not another motivational speech or a feel-good moment. No, it is the food this world cannot supply. It is the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, and the promise of life eternal, and Jesus continues to give it. Just as He took and blessed and broke and gave food to over 5000 people, so too today, He takes and blesses and breaks and gives Himself for you. In, with, and under the bread and wine our Lord’s true body and blood are given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. He gives His Word and His promises. He declares that in Him you will live even if you die. He gives food which wells up to eternal life and stretches beyond this age into the age to come.  

You see, after the disciples fed with the blessings of Christ, once all ate and were satisfied, the disciples gathered up twelve baskets full of leftovers. Clearly, our Lord is making a point. His feeding, His provision is far beyond the needs of the people. It is a superabundant feeding. It is a gift that continues to overflow to others. Twelve baskets, an interesting number, is it not? Twelve tribes, twelve apostles, twelve is the number of the Church, and twelve is the Church charged to feed the sheep of our Jesus, and here they are full of what He gives. The gifts of Christ continue to be handed over, even now.  

Therefore, the sheep will be fed. You will be fed, fed with love and compassion, fed with forgiveness and the promise of life eternal, fed with all Christ has done for you. The baskets overflow. They overflow beyond your sin, beyond your hunger, beyond your doubts. There is no need to conserve this food. There is more than enough to go around.