What sounds in the natural world capture our attention? The peepers in spring? Waves, murmuring or roaring? Children let out of school? What music/news/podcasts do we listen to? Does the music of your teen years instantly bring you back to a dance in a gym? What makes us pay attention? What captures our interest? What or who influences us? These are all questions that came to me as I pondered the readings this week.
Both readings use the good shepherd as a metaphor, although the 23rd psalm refers to God and the reading from John, refers to Jesus. The line that stood out for me in the passage from John is part of verse 16: “they will listen to my voice.” Let’s listen to John as he proclaims Jesus to be the Good Shepherd as written in John 10:11-18”
0:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
10:12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away–and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
10:13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.
10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,
10:15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
10:16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
10:17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
10:18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
‘They will listen to my voice.’ With all the voices competing for our attention, how do we listen to Jesus’ voice? How do we even know if it is Jesus’ voice calling? For some of us, we may have an intense spiritual experience, when Jesus presence was a real as you and me. For others, it might be a quiet sense of comfort… or a niggling nudge…
What if Jesus spoke your name? You know how you can hear your name through the buzz of conversation in a crowd? Would you pay attention if Jesus spoke your name?
We pay attention to Jesus because we have found meaning and purpose in his life and his words. What do you think Jesus would say?
For those of you who took part in the Listening Circles two years ago, which many of you named as a very spiritual experience, this is what collectively we heard God saying:
We want to be a community that is:
- Focused on faith
- Welcoming, accepting and inclusive
- Care for one another, and be open to one another
- Connected to the wider community.
We have made progress in some areas, and found challenges in others. But God is with us in our every moment… sometimes rejoicing… sometimes weeping… Just like part of the hymn We Are Pilgrims:
I will weep when you are weeping.
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.
We are on a journey… There are probably no words that are more familiar to Christian people as the words of the 23rd psalm. How many of you can recite it? And is it the King James Version?
Listen as Jane/Wendy and I share a litany on the 23rd psalm:
J: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
C: My shepherd provides for me, my shepherd loves me in spite of my faults. My shepherd
J: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.
C: Green pastures of beauty and nourishment… in them I can take rest. I can let go of all that weighs me down and when I am restored in mind, body and spirit, I get up again, ready to continue the journey with him.
J: He leadeth me beside still waters.
C: Still waters that quiet my soul. Still waters from which I drink deeply. Still waters that refresh me.
J: He restoreth my soul.
C: My shepherd looks deep inside me, sees the things that I keep hidden, and loves me anyway.
J: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
C: I don’t always want to follow the path… sometimes it seems too hard… sometimes I take a wrong turn, but the shepherd is always there, leading me back. When I stay with the shepherd, I am full of life and love.
J: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me;
C: For I know that my shepherd is with me… he continues to walk with me, even when I grow tired, even when fears block my vision and close my ears. Even when death seems imminent. But I remember…
J: thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
C: They guide me in the shepherd’s way. Even when I resist and rebel, I know the shepherd leads me into life.
J: Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies,
C: Enemies whose names are fear, worry, selfishness, arrogance, pride. When I drink of joy and gratitude, those enemies have no power over me.
J: Thou anointest my head with oil.
C: The hands of the shepherd and gentle and firm. They bless me and heal me.
L: My cup runneth over.
C: My cup is so full… companions and loved ones… food and drink… shelter and clothing…
J: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
C: When I walk with the Good Shepherd, I live with justice, kindness and humility. I walk with love and compassion. And even when the way seems difficult, I know that he is with me. And one day, the Good Shepherd with lead me to my eternal home.
J: And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever! Amen!
This imagery of God and Jesus as shepherds remains a powerful and enduring symbol of comfort and care, especially in times of distress, even if none of us has met a shepherd! We can imagine being cared for and nurtured in this way. Jesus walking with us each step of the way. And us with our ears open to hear his voice, calling us back whenever we wander.
Some of my favourite words of Jesus aren’t from either of these two passages, but from the gospel of Matthew in the 14th chapter. It is just after the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus has dismissed the crowd, sent his disciples in a boat to the other side… and went up the mountain, to a lonely place, to pray. When the morning came, Jesus saw them straining at the oars for a great wind had come up… and he walks towards them… they are afraid because they think he is a ghost. And he says to them, “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.” Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.” Powerful words. Words of promise and words of courage. For that is what encourage means: en Coeur, to take heart.
Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid. No matter what faces us, when we listen to Jesus call our name, we can take heart and we can be encouraged.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of following Jesus. Amen.
John 10: 11-18
April 22, 2018 – Elmsdale Cooperative Ministry