“Preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary.” St. Francis of Assisi
“Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the church’s credibility.” Pope Francis
Almost twelve million people tune each week to watch NBC’s popular show, “The Voice.” [I am not one of them!] A feature of “The Voice” that makes it unique is the first stage of the “contest”, i.e. the blind audition. In this segment, the judges [aka “coaches”] listen to the contestants without seeing them ….supposedly no influence by appearance or by showmanship ….. the judges focus on the “pure voice” and the clarity of the sound.
This fourth Sunday of Easter is often referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday” … a time for us to realize that there is but one true shepherd, a shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep, i.e. me and you. The “sheep” recognize the voice/call of the shepherd; the “dumb sheep” are not so stupid as to follow a false voice, one who is not the Shepherd.
In the 3 short verses of this weekend’s Gospel [John 10:27-30] Jesus reminds us that “my sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.”
In a week when our nation has once again been made aware of how vulnerable we are and how fragile life is, the voice of the Shepherd seeks to soothe and to calm … to give hope and to offer courage. “They shall never perish …. no one can take them out of my hand.”
We want to believe that whoever planned and carried out the senseless, cowardly bombing in Boston was not listening to the voice of our shepherd …. s/he must have been listening to some other voice …. our God would never call someone to harm another …. to plot evil. And, I do believe that.
Sooooooo, when I do something “not so kind” or “not so unselfish” …. then what voice, whose voice am I listening to?
We know the voice of the Shepherd … and we follow him. Otherwise, we would not be reading these words, we would not be at worship. We know the voice …. and we know that we have heard other voices, and we have listened to them, too.
The reading from the Book of Revelation [7:9, 14-17] reminds us that Jesus, who is also the Lamb of God, is the shepherd “who will lead us, lead us to springs of life-giving water, and wipe away the tears from our eyes.”
As said, the shepherd speaks a word that soothes, and calms, and gives courage. In childhood, we all needed words from a parent or a teacher or a friend that would soothe, calm, and offer courage. We recall how good it felt to hear the words, “It is going to be ok; hang in there; you will make it.” Most of us still need to hear those kinds of words …. I sure do. Words … a voice … to calm a troubled spirit, to soothe a hurting heart, and to give courage when fear seems to be paralyzing.
People gathered across Boston to hear those words …. in candle-light vigils and in prayer services. People NEEDED to hear those words, a voice of comfort …. a voice sometimes spoken through multiple mouths.
The Shepherd speaks those words because we NEED TO HEAR THEM … we need the Shepherd to watch out for us and to watch out over us. The voice of evil, the call of the wolf is out there …. and can lead us into darkness and harm …… and then the voice of the Shepherd is heard over all sounds ….. the Shepherd gets closer and closer as he leaves the flock to search us out ….. the voice is loud and clear ….
Jesus is the Good Shepherd because he did what he said he was going to do. He preached the word, he lived the word, he acted on the word. He spoke of compassion and then he reached out to the leper. He said to pray for our enemies, and he never struck back when he was hit and whipped. He said to give to those in need, and he died on the cross.
I imagine that at times the voice of the shepherd corrected and chastised ….no doubt with mercy and compassion …. but still, the correction is clear …. the call to turn around and to go in another direction.
We like the words that soothe, calm, and give courage. Correction? hmmm, not so much fun. But, just as necessary if we are going to “find our way” to get the eternal life offered “at home.”
We like the tears to be wiped away from our eyes ….. but the “plunk up-side-the-head” is rather unpleasant. But, in some way, somehow, the shepherd lets us know when we are off course and about to do something that will lead us over the cliff. The voice of the shepherd will keep trying to get our attention.
What is the voice of the shepherd saying to you [me] at this time in my life? Remember, the voice will not lead us into danger or harm!
Are we even listening? Is there enough quiet to hear the voice — to feel the voice deep within?
Knowing that I do not have to have all the answers, knowing that I do not have to figure out everything is quite consoling to me. Knowing that God is watching over me calms me. Knowing that he will show me the way, allows me to walk strong.
The VOICE is calling out …..listen and follow.