Year B, April 26, 2015
Acts 4.5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3.16-24; John 10.11-18
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace to you and peace from the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I can’t help but read signs that are outside of churches, especially ones that change on a weekly basis. There is a sign right now in front of a church in Bismarck that reads: “If you would listen you could hear God’s voice.”
I admit, my first reaction was one of slight skepticism, only because at times throughout my life I have experienced the profound silence of God. How many of us have laid in bed at night praying, or asking God for an answer to suffering, or maybe what we should do about a certain situation, and heard only our own voice or the painful sting of silence?
Even faithful, incredible people like Mother Theresa, admits how much she longed to hear the audible voice of God, and was met by silence the majority of her ministry and life.
This is a real and common experience of so many people, probably all of us here today, in fact, if we have ever attempted to pray or listen for God’s voice. We just long to hear a word from God, something, to know that God is real and present, that God hears us and cares about our life and our struggles.
In our Gospel reading today we hear Jesus speak of himself as the Good Shepherd who will seek after his sheep and bring them into the fold. The sheep will listen to his voice.
I know we don’t often think of ourselves as sheep, but in this passage we are the sheep. We are the ones in need of a Good Shepherd who knows us, who seeks after us when we are lost or afraid, who has a voice we can recognize and follow.
So if we listen, can we hear and recognize the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd? Can we hear the voice of Jesus even in silence…or even in the busy-ness and loudness of what can be our lives in the world?
A skeptical, “no,” can be our first answer, but if we let ourselves take the time to reflect, we can begin to recognize the many ways we hear the voice of God in our lives.
Perhaps an obvious place in is in the setting of worship like this morning. I hope you hear the voice of Jesus saying to you, “You are forgiven. You are not alone. You are welcome at the table. You are mine. I love you.”
Maybe it is not an auditory voice you hear, but rather a stirring in your belly, a warmth of your heart, a sense of simply knowing. It also can come in the form of conviction when we realize our human condition, a desire to change, or a yearning for new life. This happens in the songs that are sung, confession and forgiveness, remembrance of baptism, participation at the table, the prayers of the people, and ultimately the reading of Scripture.
Perhaps Scripture is the place in which we can most clearly hear the voice of Jesus and recognize its loving nature. Often times in sermons, I say, “Jesus says to us…” Just because Scripture was written thousands of years ago doesn’t mean that Jesus only spoke to the people a long long time ago, but rather, Jesus speaks to us today as well through the same written Word.
Jesus says to you and me things like:
“I know my own and my own know me (Jn. 10.14)…”
“For God so loved the world (Jn. 3.16)…”
“Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away (Jn. 6.37)…”
“I will raise them up on the last day (Jn. 6.40)…”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled (Jn. 14.1)…”
“You did not choose me but I chose you (Jn. 15.16)…”
“Peace be with you (Jn. 20.19)…”
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another (Jn. 13.34)…”
All of these words from Jesus are taken from the Gospel of John. Of course there are many more things that Jesus says, but at least you can get a sense of his voice, and his love for you and the world.
The mystics would say that we can hear the voice of God (of Jesus) not only in worship and in Scripture, but in creation itself. Martin Luther, who yes, was a mystic, wrote this: “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” (http://www.prayingthegospels.com/martin-luther-quotes-2/short-quotes-martin-luther/)
God’s voice can and does come to us in many and various ways through creation itself. The voice of love comes through in the provision of food that we eat, water we drink, the subtle sign of resurrection with springtime flowers and leaves. What does the Spirit of God say to you as you stand in the North Dakota wind, letting it envelope your body with an embrace of its presence?
Some times it can be difficult to decipher the voice of Jesus with so many other things we hear around and within us. With so many advertising messages, pressures of society, and our own voice, along with others, the challenge is to hear the still small, loving voice of our Creator. As challenging as this can be, I can easily tell you tell you what’s not the voice of God. Things like:
“You are stupid. You can’t do it. You are ugly. You are condemned. You are worthless.” These messages that come to us from others or from ourselves are not the voice of God, and we are to not listen to these things.
In the midst of a world with all kinds of messages and voices, we are to listen to the voice of love, the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, that draws us into his life, death, and resurrection. His voice leads us into the fold, the larger community of faith where you and I can speak Christ to one another, where we can practice his commandment to love one another.
I mentioned Mother Theresa earlier and how she admitted that after her initial call from God she never audibly heard God’s voice again, but she new the voice of Jesus and his call in serving the most vulnerable and poor of society. In the dying she saw Jesus. In those who were cast out of society she experienced Christ.
She once said this about listening to God’s voice: “Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God…and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” (http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/838305.Mother_Teresa
After I got over my initial reaction of slight skepticism when reading the sign, “If you would listen you could hear God’s voice,” I started to think about all the ways God tries to speak to you and me. Perhaps it’s not through an audible voice out of thin air, but through more loving, consistent, everyday, familiar types of way.
The sign was convicting in its own right because it reminds me and all of us to slow down and take the time, Sabbath time, to recognize the ways God speaks to us. I noticed a longing in myself to hear the voice of God, of Jesus the Good Shepherd, directing, guiding, loving, and calling me.
So many of us here long to hear the voice of God (long for God, period), to know that God cares about us, is with us, and hears us. Recognize this longing! It is a good thing and I hope it never goes away in each one of you.
As we continue in this season of Easter and encounter the Good Shepherd story, know that the crucified and resurrected Jesus is alive, speaking to you, and loving you. Jesus knows you (this is what makes him the Good Shepherd!). He calls you by name to follow him and be a part of the new life he offers you through forgiveness and love.
Perhaps we could hear God’s voice…if we only listened.