ďHearing the voice of JesusĒ
November 17, 2002
Our text this morning is not a parable in the usual sense.† A parable in its most common understanding could be described as a picture that paints for us image of the way something is supposed to be.† For example, the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin are pictures that show us who God is.† But John uses a different word for parable here.† He calls these sayings of Jesus a paroumia, which is a Greek word for allegory, and an allegory is different from a parable.† Rather than being a picture, an allegory is a transparency, a story in which we look through to see multiple meanings, a story that speaks to us on many levels.†
One of the many gifts Jesus had was his wonderful ability to use allegories through illustrations, images, and experiences of everyday life to teach people about God, himself, the kingdom of heaven, and many other things.† He truly was a great preacher.† Our story for today is one such illustration taken from the life and times of the Israelites living in Palestine.
A common profession in that time was that of a shepherd, and it was an admirable and respected profession.† A common sight among the rolling hills of Judea was the shepherd leading his sheep out to the pasture away from the walled in enclosure of the sheepfold.
To watch a shepherd control his sheep was an amazing sight to see.† A good shepherd had the ability to control a whole flock of sheep by simple voice commands.† In fact, I read how shepherds would come together with their flocks to have them graze together in the same area.† After a while, one of the shepherds would call out and only his sheep would come, even though his sheep would be mixed up with other flocks.
It is this imagery that Jesus uses to teach the Pharisees, and all of us, about who he is.
The sheep Jesus refers to are the people of Israel who hear the voice of the true shepherd and follow him.† Israel will no longer be a group of people walled in, enclosed, separated or even misguided by the false shepherds who claim to have the final authority as to who is in and who is out of Godís flock.† There is only one person who is divinely appointed to be the true shepherd and that person is Jesus, and those who recognize his voice and follow him are the true heirs of the kingdom of heaven and the genuine people of God.
Yet, this story, this allegory, not only makes an important claim about who Jesus is, but it also makes a claim about who we are, that we are like sheep, that we do follow the voice of Jesus when he calls, but the problem is that we are not sheep.† We do more than just go out and eat grass, produce milk, or make wool, and we donít always hear the voice of Jesus calling to us through the noise of other voices that try to call us away from the true shepherd.
We all know how powerful the other voices can be at times.† The voices that call us away from following Godís commands, the voices that call us away from doing Godís will, the voices that call us away from loving God and loving others, the voices that tell us other things are more important than spending time with our families, or that true happiness is found in material possessions, money, power, and prestige, the voices that call us away from being the body of Christ in the church, that tell us fellowship with the community of faith, breaking bread, prayer, study, and worship are not all that important to our lives of faith, the voices that tell us God doesnít speak to us at all, so why even try to listen for the true shepherdís voice.
Psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Szasz once said, "If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia."† Although I disagree with much of what he believes about psychiatry, I do think he has hit the nail on the head with this quote.†
If I were to say to someone that I prayed last night, they probably wouldnít even bat an eye, but if I said that last night God spoke to me, they would look at me like I was nuts.† In many respects, the notion that God even talks to us is taken as something rather odd to some people.
I heard a great story about our sister church in Ethopia and their troubles with digging a well for water.† They didnít have the resources to make a structural sound well that would keep the walls from caving in, and no one could figure out a way to make it work.† Then one morning, a man awoke from his sleep, walked outside, and told everyone that God had spoken to him and told him how to secure the walls of the well.† The man described what God had told them to do, they did it, and it worked.† Everyone praised God for it.†
Now I ask you, if an architect woke up one morning, went to work, and announced to the customer that God had spoken to him last night about how to build the building, do you think the architect would still be employed the next day?† For many people, the idea that God even speaks to us is very odd, if not the first signs of some kind of mental illness.†
But I would say to you, that we, as Christians, in fact do believe that the true Shepherd can and does speak to us.† Maybe the problem isnít that Jesus speaks, maybe the problem is that we have a hard time hearing Jesus speak.
†††††† I remember when I first started working at the trucking company, out on the docks at night, with all the noises of the forklifts, people talking, trucks running around, and trailers banging against the doors, that I could not hear the overhead PA system.† No matter how hard I tried, all I would hear is garble.† Nothing made sense. I couldnít make out any words or even syllables.† But over time the voice over the PA system kept speaking, and I finally got to the point where I could hear every syllable and every word that was said, my ears had been trained to hear, and after a while it was as if the person was standing right next to me talking to me.
††††††††† The good news of the Gospel is that in spite of our trouble in hearing Jesus voice, Jesus, the true Shepherd, continues to call to us.† We are still his and he has taken the responsibility to lead us home, but we too have to be trained to hear Jesusí voice, and we too have to follow Jesusí voice.††††
The sheep are able to hear the voice of their shepherd in the midst of the voices of false shepherds because they have been trained to listen for it, and they are attentive to it.† They know the sound of the shepherds voice, the pitch and tone of the shepherds commands.† If we are not trained to hear Jesusí voice and be attentive to it, we cannot and will not follow our true shepherd.
How are we trained to hear Jesusí voice?† We are trained to hear Jesus voice when we put ourselves in a place where the Word is read and proclaimed, a place where the Word is responded to and enacted in the world, a place where the Word transforms the Christian community through its life of prayer, worship, study, and fellowship, a place where the Christian community is called to proclaim the Word to the world.†
Where is this place?† It is the church.† It is in the church where our faith is grown and our ears are trained to listen to Jesusí voice.† It is in the church were our faith responds to Jesusí voice in obedience and discipleship.† How can we do what Jesus commands, when we havenít heard what his commands are?† How can we expect to experience the love, blessings, and promises of God, if we are not in a place where we can hear about the love, blessings, and promises of God over and over again?† How can we be a minister to others and forgive others, if we are not in a place where we can be ministered to and forgiven by others?
If you have ever built a fire, you know that when an ember is removed and separated from the fire, it soon turns from glowing red hot to cold, dull and gray.† If we separate ourselves from the community of faith, our faith will also become dull and gray, and we it will be harder and harder for us to recognize Jesusí voice.†
It is only through our life of worship, prayer, devotion, commitment, and faith as the body of Christ that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, strengthened by the presence of Jesus Christ, given the blessings and promises as Godís people, and trained to hear the voice of the true Shepherd.†
Before I had children, I was always amazed at the parentsí ability to hear their own childís voice crying among the voices of other children, even when the child was in another room.† But now I know how they are able to do that, because Jill and I are able to it too.† Let us be so attentive to Jesusí voice that it becomes a natural instinct of ours to hear it.† Let us be so attentive to Jesusí voice that nothing can distract us from it.† Let us be so attentive to Jesusí voice that when he calls we will do nothing else but follow.†
It makes me smile to think about this, but just maybe, we are not so different from sheep after all.† Thanks be to God for the voice of the true Shepherd who never stops calling us, and who promises to lead us home.† Amen.†