Today’s reading has to do with the voices that we choose to listen to, and to follow.
The sheep follow the shepherd because they know that voice and they associate it with safety, comfort, food, nurture. The voice of their shepherd is winsome: attractive, engaging/ trustworthy. That voice has earned their trust and so they’ve become wired for hearing & responding to it, knowing it’s what they need above all other – despite how distracting other voices may be! Unless there are rules for listening we risk missing truth as it becomes lost within the cacophony of what’s going on around us! We have to filter out what we should be ignoring in order to receive what we know we need mostly to hear!
There is this stream of attention-seeking noise in our lives: From our TV sets: it’s the constant news broadcasts to which we allow ourselves to be exposed. From all our social media feeds: it’s those interminable Facetime and email postings. Perhaps most loudly, it’s what comes at us from within: it’s our experiences from the past, things our parents may have said, or may not have said to us, or from our teachers, partners in past relationships, things we may have done or had done to us, or left undone. The voices are insidious and inexorable as they clamor for our attention – sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle – always affecting/infecting us with their insinuations of fear/ panic/ insecurity.
Senior Salvation Army worker Flora Larsson confesses how she struggles with just that. After all her years of faithfully following & serving she still struggles to distinguish what she calls the voice of God from the voice of the Evil One because they sound so similar!
It was probably not that different back then for those Jesus was addressing, those Pharisees. That’s probably why Jesus told this story! I wonder what formed some of their main distractions – what were some of the voices that they were allowing to distract them/mess with their thinking? Jesus insists that ‘all those other voices are thieves and robbers with agendas to steal and destroy our lives’
What are you doing to filter out all the unhelpful voices in your life, in order to hear what God is REALLY wants you to know? WHAT ARE YOU MOST HEARING?
I have always loved that logo of the Jack Russell staring into the gramophone – as he focuses so intently on ‘His Master’s Voice.’ But it seems that like Flora Larsson, most of us, struggle to do so. I think of old Eli awakened by a young Samuel[i] who, 3 times, heard his name in the night, but was missing who it was or what it meant. What do you suspect God, in Christ as your Good Shepherd, is calling out to you/ calling out from you? For Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah & all the prophets… For Mary, for each of the disciples, and then Paul, so many others, it was all very real, and if they had been deaf to actually hearing that voice, they would have missed it!
What could Our God, in Christ, possibly be wanting of you? Of me? There are clues.
We know that ‘LOVE’ is always the key ingredient needed in our response to his voice – as, according to Paul in 1 Cor. 13, without it all the rest of what we may ever try to be and to do is quite meaningless, just the creaking of a rusty gate![ii]
And then, Jesus spells it out for us where in verses 7 & 9 he says: I am[iii] the gate for the sheep.
What is life intended to look like for us as we follow through that Christ-gate? What are the characteristics of life on the other side of that? Just what exactly was being offered by Christ to those Pharisees, to those disciples? What was being called out from them? …and what is being offered and being called out from us?
Here’s another clue: Whatever he is describing is always winsome, invitational, never manipulative or by force! It’s a poured-out-love that is purely for others! Jesus goes on in the very next verses to speak about the Good Shepherd being prepared to lay down his life for the sheep that he leads. Christ describes that as Life in all its abundance! …and it looks like God’s character! It’s a life filled with love that is selflessly inclusive especially of the most vulnerable & of minorities…
Our call to ‘abundant life’ is our call to respond to Christ’s voice – to live lives that express God’s character in whatever context we may be: On Aug 28, 1968 ‘abundant life’ looked like what Martin Luther King was describing in his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, where he dreamt of a world where civil and economic rights would at last be winning & be celebrated by all, as would the end of every kind of racism. In our 2020 world gripped by Covid-19 pandemic, I believe it looks like so many who are selflessly putting the safety of others before the grabbing of whatever they want for their own comforts! It always looks like our caring for the most unlovable, most in need of God’s care…
What is the greatest need facing us at the moment? I ask because I think that’s probably just about exactly where Christ would have God’s abundant life break through – as we scoop up all the loving and selfless justice and mercy and compassion of Christ, and then get on with going to work! Evelyn Underhill shares an image of the sheepdog and the shepherd that has always challenged me even as it blesses me.
We offer ourselves, one way or another, to try to work for God. We want, as it were, to be among the sheep dogs employed by the Lord Shepherd. Have you ever watched a good sheep dog at work? It is not an emotional animal. It goes on with its job quite steadily; takes no notice of bad weather, rough ground or of his own comfort. It seldom or never stops to be stroked. Yet its faithfulness and intimate communion with its master are of the loveliest things in the world. Now and then it looks at the shepherd. And when the time comes for rest, they are generally to be found together. Let this be the model of your love.
Dearest God, thank you for your calling into our lives,
how you are constantly calling us out to be
all of who and what you have made us to be.
Please, we pray, may we be sensitive to hearing your voice,
and hearing, may our responses be pleasing to you,
for we pray in Jesus name,
Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2020.
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[i] 1 Samuel 3
[ii] 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (Message paraphrase)
[iii] Notice the use of the God-formula ‘Ego Aimi’