Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
Every year, on the fourth Sunday of Easter, we read Psalm 23 and a part of John 10. Some churches know this day as Good Shepherd Sunday because of the shepherd images in these texts. In what we read of John today, we don’t actually hear Jesus calling himself the shepherd, but we hear Jesus beginning the imagery. Jesus says, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out”(10:2-3).
The piece of this image that grabs my attention is the shepherd’s voice and the sheep’s hearing; the shepherd’s calling each by name and the sheep’s following.
“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice”(10:2-3a).
Just about every Wednesday morning, I pack up Laila, and now Lydia, too, and we head over to the Oconomowoc Public Library for storytime. Miss Betsy has the energy and enthusiasm, and often a microphone, necessary to corral a roomful of toddlers and focus them on a book. Once the entertainment is over, the kids rush into the library to play, find books, and hide in the stacks.
There’s one word that is called out over and over again, in many little kid voices, “Mommy!”
For each little voice, there’s one big person who responds.
I’m always amazed by this. Through the din of children playing, (this is not a quiet hour in the library), each mother can pick out her own child’s voice. That one, known and beloved voice will cut through all other noise, and elicit a response. The mother’s ear is tuned to her own little one. She is always listening for it, ready to respond.
Later in John 10, Jesus will declare, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11,14). We are the sheep Jesus shepherds. Jesus says the sheep hear his voice.
I wonder sometimes if our ears have gotten plugged. There’s a lot of noise in our lives. There’s a lot that can drown out Jesus’ voice. Or maybe we’ve never quite been able to tell what Jesus’ voice sounds like. It could be like listening to all those little toddler voices crying out, but not being able to tell which one is the one to whom you belong.
If so, it’s time for you to clean out your ears, quiet the distracting noise, and train your ear to identify the tone and timbre of Jesus’ voice.
Put yourself in the places where Jesus speaks. Jesus speaks through Word and Sacrament. Jesus speaks from the cross. Jesus speaks through and in the community gathered in his name and the one who suffers or is excluded.
In these places, you can learn to recognize Jesus’ voice and how it differs from the many other voices we hear, voices that speak all around us, as well as voices from within.
Jesus speaks through the Bible. Read it alone, as well as in community. Most importantly, hear it proclaimed as we worship.
Jesus speaks in word and element, tuning your ear through physical things as well as spoken promise when you participate in Holy Communion and Baptism.
Jesus speaks most clearly and most surprisingly from the cross. His voice is one of compassion, forgiveness, welcome, and love. That God-for-us would speak from a place of suffering breaks our expectations of how God works, and reminds us that Jesus’ voice does not sound like our own voice.
Jesus speaks to the whole community. He does not have special messages only for one person, but gives us each other so that together we might hear Jesus’ voice most clearly. The one outside our chosen groups also has access to Jesus’ voice, and cannot be neglected.
Spend time in prayer, training yourself to listen for Jesus’ voice through all the noise. Set aside time each day. Find a way to pray that works for you: Fold your hands and close your eyes. Doodle as you pray. Walk or be outside in the wonder of all God has made. Sing. Sit down with a cup of coffee and speak to Jesus who joins you. Pray with scripture. Come and begin a new prayer practice as we gather this summer for Lectio Divina, a sacred, prayerful reading of the Bible.
You were created to be attuned to Jesus’ voice. Jesus is calling you into places and practices were you might be re-formed into one who is always attentive to the shepherd’s voice.
Jesus continues the image in John, saying “(The Shepherd) calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (10:3b). The sheep hear their names being called, and follow.
Jack and Amanda live in a newer subdivision, where the sounds of construction are regularly heard every morning. Neighbors are moving in, unloading trucks, planting flowers, and bringing home new pets. Jack and Amanda have a friendly chocolate lab named Bert. He’s just about three, and while he’s mostly trained, sitting, staying, and walking on command when he’ll be properly rewarded… he’s also rather good at ignoring Jack and Amanda when it’s obvious they don’t have a treat in hand.
One morning, birdsong punctuated by hammering and nail guns as a new house is being framed, Jack is outside working on the landscaping. Bert is outside with him, and having gotten bored nosing through the woodchips, is taking a nap in the sun. Jack goes into the garage to get something and when he comes out, he happens to look up at the house across the street and down the block, and there’s his well-trained chocolate lab poking around someone else’s flower beds. So, Jack exasperatedly puts down his tools, and starts tromping over to the neighbors, shouting as he gets closer, “Bert! Bert, come! Bert! Let’s go!”
The stubborn dog doesn’t even flinch. The morning sounds are now being overwhelmed by the frustrated dog owner’s shouts.
Jack holds out the treat that was stashed in his pocket for just such an occasion… “Bert! Come! Treat!”
Jack’s made it all the way into to the neighbor’s yard by now. The dog cocks his head at the mention of the treat, but still isn’t obeying the command.
“Bert! Bad dog!”
Finally, the neighbors look up from their own gardening and shout back, “That’s not your dog!”
Jack stops, embarrassed, and turns around to look at his own house. Not five feet behind him is Bert, tail between his legs, wondering what he has done wrong.
The neighbors’ dog might have been interested in the treat, but he knew his own name, and knew Jack wasn’t calling it. Bert knew his name, and heard it from all the way down the street. Bert followed and reacted to the one using his name, even when that one wasn’t looking in the right direction.
Someone who knows our name has access to us. The one who doesn’t know us won’t be trusted or followed.
When you pick up the phone and they mispronounce your name, you know it’s time to hang up because it’s a telemarketer.
For someone to know our name, there has to be a relationship. Sometimes, that’s as distant as someone knowing our name because a mutual friend has pointed us out or introduced us. At other times, the one who knows our name knows us so deeply that hearing that person say our name immediately grabs our attention and prepares us to respond to their words. Jesus is working to speak the name of every person, to call them into deeper relationship with him, and to lead them into full life now and forever.
Jesus knows each one of you. Jesus knows your name, knows your joys and struggles, knows your secrets. Jesus calls your name so that you pay attention and will follow him into abundant life right now.
In the waters of baptism, Jesus has named you and claimed you, creating a connection that binds you to him even through death and into new life.
As we gather today, Jesus is speaking to you. His is a voice filled with love for you. Jesus will continue to call to us, to encourage you, as he leads you into the life he intends for you: a life attuned to his voice, responding to its call, and thereby finding joy, meaning, and healing.
*Many thanks to Pastor K. for sharing her dog story. Names and details have been changed to protect.
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