Today we honor Robert Grosseteste. Robert was one of the outstanding English bishops from the 13th century. Though he had humble beginnings in Suffolk, he rose to preeminence in the Church, distinguishing himself as a scholar in all branches of study: law, medicine, languages, sciences, and theology. He was appointed master of the Oxford School. He was a theology professor and translated Aristotle’s works from the Greek, wrote commentaries on them, and sought to refute the philosopher’s views by developing a scientific method based on Augustine’s theories. Because of Robert, Oxford began to emphasize the study of sciences – and many of his pupils became leaders. In 1235, Robert was consecrated Bishop of Lincoln. He was a very hands-on bishop, making a point to tend to the pastoral needs of his clergy and laity. Those under his care really saw him as the shepherd of the Diocese.
In many ways, I think Bishop Grosseteste took to heart the instructions from Acts today. “Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God …” says the lesson. Robert was the consummate shepherd tending to his flock. His regular visits to rural deaneries were not only to tend to pastoral needs, but also to questions of doctrine. He knew, as Acts says, that “savage wolves” would come among his flock, and he tended and protected them as much as he could.
In some ways, we hear about bishops or those called to tend flocks, and we start to tune out. The work from Acts sounds like the work of the clergy. What we forget is that through our baptism, we are all given work to do. We are all tenders of this community. We take care of each other, we pray for one another, we visit the hurting in our community. That is the work of the baptized. But Acts also says, “Keep watch over yourselves.” What we sometimes forget is that we also need to confess when we need pastoral care ourselves; we need to remember that our own formation is ongoing – meaning we need to make sure we are consistently finding ways to grow in our faith. If we do not care for our own spiritual well-being, we will find it much more difficult to tend to others’ spiritual well-being.
Luckily, as Robert knew and Acts affirms, God and the message of God’s grace is able to build us up. This is the final reminder from Acts – that God will strengthen us through grace. We can all be the pastors, the ministers that we become through our baptism – because God and God’ grace enables and continually invites us in to watch over ourselves and all the flock. Amen.