17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And 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, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But 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. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay 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. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And 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. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In 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.’”
My father served a remarkable parish in rural Missouri. His children thought it was a little odd that the church had about twice as many members as the town. “Dad, there are more Lutherans than people here!” we would say. The surrounding community was a pocket of Germans who descended from a group of people who had come from the region south and west of Hamburg in the middle of the 19th century. They clung to their Plattdeutsch and retained a deep appreciation for a well-grilled Bratwurst.
About twenty years after the congregation was formed in 1865, they received a new pastor, Pastor Charles Demetrio who would remain there for the rest of his ministry and life, over 40 years. Demetrio is not a German name; in fact, it is Greek. The story which I heard was that his grandfather has been an officer under Napoleon and had stopped and stayed in Germany, eventually becoming a Lutheran.
Charles had studied both botany and theology while attending university in Germany. Twice he was offered a chair in botany at the University of Missouri, but he stayed among his beloved folk of that small town. He planted all sorts of flowers, bushes, and trees, many of which were still prospering when I lived there. But more than that, he planted the Word and the Love of Jesus in that place. Those flowers were still blooming when I lived there too. Eventually, Pr. Demetrio admitted that he could not perform the tasks of ministry anymore. The parish was too large, and his health was failing. When I mowed the cemetery, one of the largest monuments therein was lovingly erected by the members of the parish for him and his wife.
In this reading Paul recapitulates his ministry and urges the people of Ephesus to continue in his absence. Across Christendom there are parishes which today thrive and bear the fruit of God’s work through faithful servants. Take a minute today to thank God for the pastor, teacher, or DCE who has made a difference in your life. Pray also for those whose ministry blesses you now. It is more blessed to give than to receive, said Paul. It is a good thing to shepherd God’s people.