Listen for the Shepherd’s Voice

“Listen for the Shepherd’s Voice”

Jesus Mafa, from a Christian community in Cameroon, Africa. From Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library

Jesus Mafa, from a Christian community in Cameroon, Africa.
From Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library

John 10:14-16 – April 26, 2015

So many voices, sounds and cries, clamoring for our attention today! Noisy voices, going bash, bang! Clash, crash! Busy voices—hurry, scurry! Going round and round, almost spinning out of control! Angry voices, growling, scowling, mean and nasty. Making me want to run and hide myself away! All of these loud voices, and sounds, almost too much to handle.

Here in our Gospel reading today, Jesus talks about being the Good Shepherd. He is referring to us—that’s each one of us—as sheep. Rather unflattering, but in my opinion, pretty accurate.

Jesus portrays Himself as the Shepherd. The Good Shepherd, caring for His sheep.

Sheep can be fearful, not sure of what to do. Sheep can be stubborn and single-minded, going their own way. Sheep can even be gluttons, eating food that will make themselves sick unless they are steered away from certain kinds of plants in the pasture. But our Lord Jesus identifies Himself as our Shepherd. That’s a difficult job. Being Shepherd of so many, varied, and assorted kinds of sheep.

As someone who was born and bred in the city of Chicago, I do not know anything at all about sheep, or lambs, or ewes. However, I have learned a number of things since I’ve become an adult. I’ve gleaned information from books, and articles, and from people relating their experiences with sheep.

You might be aware that sheep are at the same time stubborn and timid.

Sheep aren’t good at many things. They are relatively dumb animals and can do little on their own. However—they are good at following—sometimes. As I have read on one of my favorite inductive bible study websites, sheep are also good at distinguishing sounds. They can recognize the familiar voice of their own shepherd. They often follow their own shepherd willingly enough, but won’t pay any attention to others who try to lead them—sometimes.

Even still, as our Good Shepherd, I suspect that Jesus has a difficult time in leading His widely varied multitude of sheep around the pasture. What with stubborn or confused ones wandering off into far-flung or seldom-traveled areas of the pasture, this huge flock must be hard to keep track of, and even harder to round up.

This particular morning, I want to focus on one particular verse: John 10:16. Our Lord Jesus mentions that He has lots of sheep. Other sheep, from outside of this little sheep pen. Lots of sheep, from all over the place. Even from all over the world! Jesus is not going to neglect those other sheep, either.

What are we, as sheep, going to do out on the hillside, when we are out in the great, big pasture with Jesus? This wide pasture can be a scary place. We might get lost from the Good Shepherd. Maybe there are dark places, rough spots on the hillside, where I as a sheep, or some of the other sheep, might wander off. Maybe, get in trouble, become sick, have an accident, or meet a predator.

Let’s consider the wider context. The wider world. Other voices can be just as loud as the welcoming, confident voice of our Good Shepherd. Instead, the craving, the desire for more, and never having enough. Just think how listening to that alluring, insidious, beckoning voice can destroy relationships within a family or a group of friends.

A second voice can be quite loud, drowning out the supportive voice of the Good Shepherd. Instead, the sneaking voice of suffering and despair, weakness and sorrow. The penetrating voice of bitter tears and clamor can distract and cause a great deal of dismay. That insistent voice doesn’t have to be loud, but is so often nagging, persistent, even heart-rending.

What can our Good Shepherd do, in those cases? I admit it. I am often a fearful, anxious sheep. I cry out, and say “help me!” or “save me!” And, “I’m scared!” or “I’m all alone!” Thank God that our Shepherd Jesus has a strong, familiar voice. He is insistent and persistent, too!

          I can hear Him when He calls out to me. Can you hear Him when He calls to you, too?

When my older two children were very small—I’m talking a toddler and a preschooler, now—I can vividly remember one time when we were at a department store in Chicago, in the women’s clothing section. There were a great number of round clothing racks, about four feet high, and I was pushing my younger daughter in a stroller. I took my eyes off my older daughter for just a few seconds, and by the time I looked back at the place where she had been standing, she was gone.

I tried not to panic, but began calling her name. Calling over and over, traveling in and out among the many racks, around the clothing section. Sure enough, she came out from the middle of one of the clothing racks where she was hiding, coming towards my voice. A familiar, comforting voice, one that she knew well. She knew she could respond to that voice in trust and assurance.

Do we know the familiar, nurturing voice of Jesus, our Shepherd? Or, is that voice the voice of a stranger—to us? Is Jesus just a nodding acquaintance, or is He one of our best friends?

Let me tell you about a Lutheran pastor who I sincerely respect, the Rev. Dr. Janet Hunt. I often read her sermons online. I was especially moved by the one she wrote on this passage.

She, too, is listening for the nurturing, encouraging, supportive voice of the Shepherd in her life. As she listened for the voice of the Shepherd, she found herself remembering other, life-giving voices which have shaped her.

Let Dr. Hunt tell you, in her own words:

“When I was in my last month of seminary, my adviser Paul was preparing to retire. Like me, he was a lover of books, but without his office shelves, he needed to get rid of a whole lot of them. So he let me have my pick. . . . A number of them still sit on my shelf. Paul died of cancer not long after that, so all I have left of him are those books with his handwritten name inside and a handful of letters he sent me while I was on internship. . . . I feel as though I still hear his voice of confidence in me whenever I run my fingers along their spines.”

We can see that our Good Shepherd’s encouraging voice can echo in the voices of other dear ones, too. Other helpers, who reflect that familiar Voice of our Shepherd, and also serve as confident supports. Challenge and teach us. Mentor us. Come alongside of us, and act as nurturing, helpful voices in each of our lives.

          What do you hear as you listen today?

Do you hear the confusing voices of the world? Or, do you hear the nurturing voice of Jesus, our Shepherd? Do you hear the discouraging internal voices of sadness, hurt, and depression? Or, does the comforting voice of Jesus come through, loud and clear?

          I encourage each one of us to listen for our Good Shepherd’s voice.

Listen to that familiar, comforting, nurturing, supportive voice. This is the Good Shepherd, who loves each of us so much He laid down His life for the sheep. Praise God, we can celebrate! We can rejoice that we do have a Good Shepherd who intimately knows each one of us, and loves us. No matter what. Praise God!

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

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