Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Listening for the Shepherd’s Voice

Sermon for Easter 4B, April 26, 2015  
John 10:11-18 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

A common camp experience (not me, not my camp, but a familiar scene)
Many years ago, my mom started sending me to Lutheran church camp for a week in the summer. We did all the standard camp things, but one of the parts I loved best was the challenge course. Counselors presented campers with the opportunity to try something new and maybe a little scary, and to learn and grow from it. We did all sorts of things- even walking on ropes high up in the trees- safely, of course. But before we could do those really cool parts, we had to learn to work together, which meant we had to build trust with each other. That practice started with what was called a trust walk.  Maybe you’ve done one. Counselors would pair us up and then one person would be blindfolded, and we would have to go from one side of a meadow to the other, where our snacks and water were waiting. The other person would act as guide, using only their voice.
With the blindfold on for the first time,  I was amazed how a familiar landscape became unrecognizable, how scared I was to not be able to rely on my own abilities and how hard it was to trust someone else to lead me and not send me sprawling over a small obstacle. It took me a while to be able to give myself over wholly to the process and to let go of my fear. I had to come to the realization that I couldn’t get through the meadow on my own, that it really wasn’t the point to see how strong I could be on my own, but to learn to grow in trust of another. I had to surrender to the process and give myself over to being led. But the more I leaned on my guide, following their voice, the better off I was, no matter how hard it was to pick out my guide’s voice in the group. Eventually, by training my ear to my guide’s voice, I became attuned to it and everyone else’s instructions faded a bit.  My guide’s voice became my lifeline.
In our gospel text today, Jesus says, I am the good shepherd, I know my own and my own know me. And how do we know Jesus the shepherd? By his voice.

I recently heard a story about a sheep farmer.  He was at the county fair with some of his sheep, a special and rare breed. Someone approached him, someone from a couple counties over. He asked all sorts of questions about the breed, about the farm and how he raised the sheep.

After the fair was over, the farmer loaded his trailer and brought his sheep home. When he arrived at the barn, he noticed unfamiliar tire tracks, and opening the barn door, he heard nothing but silence. He said he knew immediately what had happened, who had stolen his sheep.

Now, the farmer knew that the fair for the county a couple counties over was yet to come, so a few weeks later, he drove over to the other county fair. There, in the sheep shed were his sheep. Someone had replaced the tags, but he knew his sheep. What was funny, the farmer recalled, was that as soon as he opened his voice, every one of his sheep turned their heads and bleated.  They knew their shepherd. They knew his voice.

Image result for sheep shepherdThat kind of recognition of the shepherd doesn’t come overnight. It takes spending time with the shepherd, listening to the shepherd’s voice every day, and straining to hear the shepherd’s voice when other voices compete for our attention. With the amount of information coming at us all day long, it is easy to be overwhelmed with all the noise. But somewhere in there, the shepherd is calling to us.  How will we know it is the shepherd calling and not the thief?
We know his voice because it gives us life and hope. The verse just before this passage is one of my favorites: John 10:10: “I came that you might have life and have life abundantly.” The shepherd brings life abundant.  Psalm 23 tells us that the good shepherd leads us into verdant pastures and beside still waters.  The good shepherd stays with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and brings us home when we are lost. The voice of the shepherd sounds like home.

Earlier this week, I was thinking about which voices I've been listening to. Sometimes I get caught up in listening to critical or anxious voices, either from myself or from others that increase my fear. In the midst of those voices, the shepherd's voice speaks to me of life abundant. 

Image result for chris boergerI think of when I have heard Christ's reassurances.  I hear it in the voice of our previous bishop, Bishop Chris Boerger, when he is serving at communion.  I hear him saying, "The Body of Christ, for you,".  It's that grace given into our hands, which we receive into our bodies.  The Body of Christ, for you.

I hear my gospels professor, Robert Harry Smith, saying to me, "Abby, Abby, be ye not anxious for the morrow, for the evils of the day are sufficient thereof." which in the modern translation is "Don't be anxious for tomorrow for today has enough trouble for today." That's from Matthew 6, by the way. 


Friends, we so often get lost when we depend on ourselves. We are the blind leading the blind, or the sheep leading other sheep. But the good shepherd comes to seek us out when we wandered off or been led astray. The shepherd loves us and calls us home. We will know him by his loving voice. Amen, thanks be to God. 

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