Worship on 05/07/2017

Reverend Lindsey Williams

That Voice

 

John 10:1-10

 

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

 

Interpretation of the Word  

 

Friday afternoon, yes just two days ago, while my mother, you saw her on Easter, was out in the fields checking on the crops that had been planted, when she and her husband got a call that two of their neighbor’s sheep were caught in the fence.  They went to see what they could do to help, because in their little community they help one another, look out for one another and help untangle sheep for one another.  By the time they arrived, one of the sheep had been detangled but the other was looking pitiful and upset.  They weren’t sure if it had broken its leg or what, but they untangled it and spoke softly to is, watching over it until the owner, Abigail, could come and carry it home.  While they waited, that sheep continued to look terrified and scared, it had been caught in the fence and now there were strange people talking to it, people who did not have that voice it was most familiar with.  But it was injured and could not run away.  Thankfully, these people were not out to hurt this little one, but to watch over it until its true shepherd could arrive. 

 

NBC a few years ago attempted to compete with Fox’s hit show American Idol, by introducing a singing competition that was based solely on the voice the judges heard in the audition.  The question the four judges asked themselves as they listened with their backs turned to the auditioning singer amounted to: Is this voice, THE VOICE, that voice that will win over the hearts of listeners, make great music and sell albums.  Is THAT voice going to make an impact on music listeners?  I can’t tell you if the contestants who have won over the years have had success, but I can understand the premise, sound is important.  How something sounds to us either encourages us to continue listening, to follow or to turn the station or go the other way. 

 

The voice of the shepherd is important too.

 

The true shepherd has a voice that the sheep recognize, it’s that voice.  For the sheep, that voice, above all else, promises protection, safety and calm in the midst of fear.  While others may attempt to lead the sheep, their voice is not the same as the true shepherd’s voice.  The temper and tambour of the shepherd is important, it if familiar, it is soothing, it is guiding for the sheep, in the first century and the 21st century.  There are plenty of others who will attempt to lead but they do not all have the same intentions as the true shepherd. 

 

Jesus knows this, and shares this with his disciples as an example of just what Jesus has come to do in the world.  Jesus here is claiming and proclaiming his leadership.  He is enlisting the disciples and us into join into the fellowship of which he is the head.  The leadership lesson of Jesus is clear, too.  The Good Shepherd is the ultimate servant and leader. He lives for his flock. He dies for his flock.  Jesus is willing, and able to do what is needed, what is necessary to protect the flock.  He is willing to untangle the sheep, to watch over them, to guide them to the greener pastures, to lead them to the places of healing and renewal.  Jesus knows, as the shepherd knows, just what is needed.

The followership lesson is harder to grasp.  As 21st Century Americans, we have difficulty identifying with sheep.  We actually would rather not be categorized as sheep.  To be called a “sheep,” in American society, has become a derogatory term.  It has come to mean: people who mindlessly follow and emulate anything and everything  in the name of fame or recognition.  To be called a sheep means that you don’t think for yourself, you just follow the one with the loudest voice, no matter where they lead.  In the 80s and 90s there was a game called Lemmings, you maybe remember it.  Sheep are considered lemmings, mindlessly following along.  I’ll admit that some of the information I’ve read on sheep over the years is less than favorable or flattering.  So, for Jesus to refer to us as sheep, we might think, well, gee, thanks for thinking so highly of us, Lord.  Our pride tells us we’re a lot smarter than sheep.  Sure, we’ll listen to the sermons.  We’ll say the prayers. But we have our reservations.  It’s a function of the ego-driven culture that surrounds us.

 

With everything from assertiveness training to Botox shots, our society screams: “It’s all about me!” But ironically, if you’re looking for a four-word formula for failure: “It’s all about me.” certainly fits the bill. There’s no future as a Kardashian wannabe… trying to fill the hole in our souls with more and better stuff… trying to be the center of our own private universe. It’s all about me is all about pride and insecurity… anxiety and longing… and ultimately disappointment and despair.

While doing some research in the Middle East, the Bible commentator ran across an Arab shepherd. This shepherd was not a Christian and did not know the Bible.  But he was a keeper of sheep and so was showing off his flock as well as the penned-in area where his sheep slept every night.  “And when they go in there,” the shepherd said proudly, “they are perfectly safe.”

But then the scholar noticed something. “Your sheep sleep in that pen and yet I just noticed that the pen does not have a gate on it.”

“Yes, that’s right,” the shepherd replied, “I am the gate.”

“What do you mean?” the man asked in startled wonder.

“After my sheep are in the pen, I lay my body across the opening. No sheep will step over me and no wolf can get in without getting past me first. I am the gate.”

 

Here is an image to savor. Perhaps this may explain how Jesus can so freely weave the imagery of being at once the shepherd and the gate.  Perhaps it was possible to be both after all. The gate is the one who lays himself down to keep what is good on the inside and to keep what is bad at bay.  And whether or not the good is kept safe from the bad, the point is that it will be the gate, perhaps the very body of our Lord, that makes the difference.

 

St. Augustine points us to a better way… the way of union with God through the love of Christ: Thou has made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee. Building on Augustine, Thomas a Kempis takes us further into this sacred union. He describes Christian life as an imitation of Christ… following ever closer… until our thoughts and actions become one with his.   

So where do we learn this better way? Where do we learn to follow Christ? In scripture, Jesus conducts a timeless seminar on leadership and followership. And the primary lesson is: Love. Jesus is literally the embodiment of God’s love. We are drawn to this love. It fills the void in our being that God created precisely for that purpose. We are not scolded or coerced or bullied into love. That is not the Good Shepherd’s way. His love is the call that we follow.

 

But let’s not be too hasty in getting upset or letting our pride run while, when we hear Jesus liken us to sheep, because sheep do need a shepherd; a leader who will have their best interests as heart.  The sheep need a shepherd who will guide them in the right direction, who will gently untangle them from the fences they’ve gotten caught up in and who will be there to tend the sick and the lame. The sheep need someone who is going to keep them from wandering off, into danger.  The sheep need a shepherd who will look out for danger, who will be the gate and prevent the wolves from entering and decimating the flock.

 

I’d like to leave you with this poem I read this week.  Close your eyes, listen and be led as the sheep are led by their shepherd:

There is a place we can find, a good place
like quiet meadows where flowers spread,
like green grasses by gentle streams;
a place where the heart feels nourished,
where the mind is hopeful, unhurried,
where the spirit is glad and at peace.
We’ll name this place fulfillment,
we’ll name it healing and thankfulness,
we’ll name this good place pasture
for there we seek to feed.

And there is a voice we can hear that calls us,
a gentle voice, melodious,
a voice like songbirds and laughter,
like a mother comforting her children,
like a shepherd calling his sheep.
We’ll name this voice acceptance,
we’ll name it mercy and forgiveness,
we’ll name it the voice of God’s love,
inviting us gently to feed.

It invites us to enter pasture
when we think we’re too hurting to listen,
too angry or grieving or fearful
to hear the voice that calls us to peace.

It invites us to enter pasture
when we’re sure we’re too busy to listen,
too burdened or worried or pressured
to hear the voice that calls us to peace.

 

It says: Come in and go out and find pasture.
It says: We are safe with the shepherd of all sheep.
It says: Meadows await us, in this moment.
It says: Rest in love. Where you are. Joyfully feed.

June 28, 2017
SUNDAY WORSHIP

 

Worship Service 11:00AM

Adult Bible Study   9:45AM

Children's Class  11:00AM 

   

SERMON ON SUNDAY: July 2, 2017  "Welcome"

 

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