Listen to the Shepherd
April 22 2018
The Lord has risen! Alleluia! He has risen indeed!
What a glorious, life changing, community changing, world changing truth this is! Yes, this is a glorious truth, but it is a truth that has to be lived out in the way we live our lives. We need to let the risen Christ make a difference in our hearts and lives and the way we live our lives, “finish the story of the resurrection”, so to speak, for people to believe that Christ has truly risen and that lives, the community, and the world can truly be changed by the power of the risen Christ.
Our scripture passages for today from the first Epistle of John and the Gospel of John tell about the difference the risen Christ can make in our lives, the community, and the world. In the 1 John passage John explains the life changing power of the risen Christ, and how we can live that out as we love each other and love others, and in the John passage Jesus calls Himself “the good shepherd” and calls us to let Him lead us in our lives.
Many call this Fourth Sunday of Easter Good Shepherd Sunday. The Psalm reading of Psalm 23, which we used as our Call to Worship this morning, celebrates God as our Shepherd, our Epistle and Gospel readings celebrate the shepherding love of Christ, and our hymns focus on the shepherding aspect of God. In our Gospel lesson Christ our Shepherd speaks to us and He does not only speak, but He says that He calls each of us by our name. Our response is to hear Him, to recognize His voice, and to follow where He leads us.
Christ is no silent shepherd. He calls out to each of us and He calls each sheep of His flock in a distinct and personal way. He calls us each by name, by what has been described as the most powerful of all sounds in our ear — our own name. Jesus does not call us in some general, abstract, impersonal way. He does not say “Hey, you!” Rather, He knows who we are, what we need, and the person we are coming to be. The sacredness of who we are is safe with Jesus because it is a reflection of His own sacredness. At times we may want to be someone other than ourselves, but Jesus only wants us to be the person we are made to be, the one He redeemed us to be, and so He calls us each by name.
What a great gift it is that Jesus knows us by name and calls out to each of us as though we were the only sheep in all the world. He knows us, and invites us to know Him, and to follow Him. But for this loving relationship to be complete, it is necessary that we listen. Even the voice of Jesus goes unheard unless something within us makes the choice to listen. We may regard listening as passive. Opening our ears to hear is not so obvious as opening our mouth to speak! But true listening requires great attention and energy. Ask any counselor, psychiatrist, or pastor who has just spent hours listening to troubled people, and you will find that listening demands a great deal. Or recall some time when you felt truly heard. The person listening may have been your spouse, your parent, a teacher, a friend, or someone whose profession required a willingness to listen. To be truly heard by another person is something rich and all too rare, a great consolation. It requires much of the listener and gives something real to the person who is heard. So the art of listening is not easy, and yet it is the foundation of discipleship.
Like all true listening, listening to the Shepherd comes at a cost. But while listening to other people may sometimes drain us but it is our gift to them, listening to the Shepherd always leads to our enrichment. So, why is it so hard to listen to the Shepherd’s voice? It’s because true listening leaves us open to be touched and changed by the truth we hear, and that’s risky business! Often the truth, if we hear it, overturns our prejudices, challenges our self-image, and shakes up our view of the world. Most of us are at least a little uneasy about having our boat rocked by the truth! Something else that makes listening to the Shepherd hard is that most of the time what we hear in our lives is a blend of the voice of the Shepherd mixed with lesser voices. We need to distinguish the one from the other.
Yes, listening is hard. It takes practice. But the saving grace is the Shepherd never ceases to call us. There is no shortage of messages that come from Him, and each one we hear is addressed to us by name. There is no situation where He does not speak. When we worship we are listening to the Shepherd’s voice. We hear that voice, or at least have opportunity to hear it, through scripture and sermon and prayer, in moments of silence and through the sound of music. We hear that voice, or at least can hear it, when we worship together, but something more is involved: we are here to listen, but we are also here to be trained. We are here to be trained to recognize the Shepherd’s voice when He speaks during the other hours of the week, and in situations where we may be surprised to find Him.
We are also here to be trained to show the love of the Shepherd to others, as the epistle reading from 1 John we heard a few minutes ago calls us to do. You know, there are preachers of the Word, mouthpieces for the Shepherd, in the church, but there are also preachers of the Word, mouthpieces for the Shepherd out in the world, though many of them have no clue that they discharge this function. But if we respond to the call of the Shepherd to share His love His truth and love sounds forth. Every word, every action, no matter how mundane, points beyond itself to the truth of God. The Shepherd is never absent from any place.
We may find ourselves in some situation of sorrow or loss or crime or despair, the air itself appears soiled by the words people say. But through it all the Shepherd speaks; and as we reach out the Shepherd reaches out, calling us and those with us out of death and into life. The Shepherd has not given up on anyone and we must not give up either. The ministry of the Shepherd appears in those dark and unhappy places when we hear the Shepherd speak some word of life to those sick with death and when we reach out with the Shepherd’s love and we act upon His word.
Other situations may bring even greater challenges as we reach out and speak the Shepherd’s love. We find ourselves in some sweet place, an experience of rest or pleasure or accomplishment. For a moment the world appears to gleam. Do we listen then? The Shepherd speaks in bright moments as well. He speaks some word of blessing in our joys and successes. He wants to whet our appetites for the true blessings, the ones that never grow old.
Following the Shepherd requires that we listen to the Shepherd who addresses us in every situation, and it also requires that we follow where He leads us. We do not sit down where we are. We do not wander off. We follow Him because we trust Him. As we follow the Shepherd, there’s much that happens and He leads us to go places and say things and do things that we may not want to go and say and do, but we go and say and do because we are following Him. In this course of this obedience, we become more proficient in hearing the Shepherd. Discipleship helps to open our ears. Listening makes it possible for us to follow. And following makes it possible for us to listen.
Do you find it hard to listen the way a disciple should, even though Christ the Good Shepherd addresses you in every circumstance of life? We all have this problem! But when we practice taking our next few steps in obedience to His call, we find ourselves better able to hear Him. Listening makes obedience possible, and when we obey our ears are opened up yet again to hear the Shepherd’s voice. Amen.