Whose Voice Can You Hear?

May 10, 2019

In a noisy world, in a sea of voices, whose voice can you pick out of the crowd?  Two weeks ago after the service one of the moms was telling me how even when there was lots of noise, even when he was back in the nursery with the door closed, when her baby made the slightest peep, she could hear his voice.  In a noisy world, whose voice can you hear?

 

Today on this fourth Sunday of our Easter season we celebrate what is often called Good Shepherd Sunday.  Because of this, our readings and prayers for this Sunday talk a lot about sheep.  Now I must admit, I’ve always thought that the use of sheep as a metaphor for people like you and me is not the most flattering image that the writers of our biblical texts could have used.  But there it is right in the texts that we just heard, so that’s where I’m going to start this morning. 

 

Have you ever seen any sheep?  Once when I asked that question, someone told me about their trip to New Zealand and how there were sheep everywhere. And it’s true, there are way more sheep than people in New Zealand.  One reason for that is that there is grass everywhere.  The whole country is teeming with green pastures, twelve months of the year.  The life of sheep seems to consist of wandering around lazily from place to place without a care in the world, green grass and fresh water always at hand.  There doesn’t even seem to be much need for a shepherd, and I can’t recall ever having seen one during my own travels in New Zealand some years ago.

 

But this image of sheep gets us off on the wrong track.  Our biblical texts are set not in the lush grass of New Zealand but in the dry, dusty wilderness of the Middle East.  The life of sheep in the Judean desert isn’t an easy one.  The land is rocky, dry and brown.  There isn’t much grass, and there isn’t much water. It’s hard to find shelter from the scorching sun.  Sheep were constantly on the move, searching for streams and pastures.  And when they did find a patch of scrubby grass, or a trickle of fresh water, you can bet that there would be wolves or lions hiding there, just waiting for the sheep to arrive.  That’s when a good shepherd would come in really handy.

 

So if you were to be a sheep, would you be more of a Judean sheep or a New Zealand sheep?

 

I’m guessing that even though we might want to have the life of a New Zealand sheep, more of us probably resonate with the life of a Judean sheep.  Our lives aren’t always easy.  We are constantly on the move, seeking out the things we need, enduring dry spells, celebrating when the rain brings out new grass.  The threats posed by the wolves and the lions are something we can relate to when our lives are threatened by illness or job loss or family conflict.  Our lives can be difficult, just like the life of a Judean sheep.  And I think it makes sense to us why sheep in the drylands of the Middle East need a shepherd to guide them on their journey, to lead them to food and water, and to protect them from the threat of wild animals.

 

All of which points to why Psalm 23 is probably the best loved bit in all of scripture:

 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside still waters;

He restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley I fear no evil;

For you are with me, your rod and staff they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,

You anoint my head with oil;

My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

When I hear these words, there is something like a sigh that seems to emerge from deep within me, an almost involuntary response to a longing that I have inside that I’m not even sure I can articulate. In a world in which so often I’m expected to be independent, and competent, and strong, in a world where I’m supposed to have my act together, I know deep down that in reality I have needs and weaknesses, and uncertainties, and fears, and I don’t always know where I’m headed.  And like the sheep of Judea, I long for guidance, for someone to help me find the things I need, and to be with me as I pass through life’s darkest valleys.

 

Our lives are a journey.  Like sheep, we are always on the move.  But unlike sheep, we as humans are not just concerned with our day to day existence.  We also ask bigger questions.  Where are we headed on this journey we call life?  How’s the story going to end?  And the answers that we give to those bigger questions have an important impact on how we experience and value and live our day to day existence.

 

There are voices in our world which deny the existence of a shepherd.  We as sheep are on our own, they say, and in the end what we do and where we go doesn’t really matter. Sooner or later we will die and decay and our atoms will return to the ground. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, end of story.

 

But there are other voices which paint a bigger picture for us. One of those voices is that of John, the visionary who wrote the book of Revelation.  And in our second reading this morning John takes up once more the image of the shepherd to paint a picture of how the story will end:

 

“They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

 

Now that’s a better ending to the story!  But how do we know which is true?  Or as the people say to Jesus in today’s gospel, “Tell us, how long will you keep us in suspense?”  We might well want to ask the same question.  How long will you keep us in suspense?  How are we decide which of the many voices we hear in our world today is the one that we should listen to?

 

And Jesus responds to those who ask the question,

 

“I am the good shepherd.  My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me.  I give them eternal life and they will never perish.”

 

You know I don’t think that Jesus is making the claim here that the sheep that follow him are vocal recognition experts.  The reason that the sheep know the shepherd’s voice is not because they are particularly good at picking out voices; it’s because they have a relationship.

 

Think back to the question of whose voice you would be able to hear in a noisy crowd of voices. It might be your child’s voice, or your spouse’s voice, or your parent’s voice.  But almost for sure, it will be the voice of someone with whom you have a relationship.

 

That’s the invitation that’s being laid out for us in today’s gospel.

 

The people who gather around Jesus, say to him “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 

 

They want the facts.  But this is about relationship

 

“Get to know me,” responds Jesus. “Walk with me. See the things that I do, my works of healing and compassion and forgiveness.  Get to know my voice. Let me get to know you.  Belong to my sheep.  Follow me.”

 

Because we can only really hear Jesus’ voice from a place of relationship and belonging.  The ability to hear, the ability to trust, is something that for most of us is built over time.  And it is from this place of relationship and belonging that we will hear Jesus’ voice, and then in return we will be able to respond:

 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside still waters;

He restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley I fear no evil;

For you are with me.

 

Amen.

 

Homily:  Yr C Easter 4, April 25 2010, Huntley

Readings:  Acts 9:36-43; Ps 23; Rev 7:9-17; Jn 10:22-30

Image by spDuchamps, Creative Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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