“The Voice: How Do You Hear It?”

 

 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.  So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.  My sheep hear my voice.  I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  No one will snatch them out of my hand.  What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one.”

 

Several years ago, the author David Duncan wrote a novel entitled The Brothers K (the title was a reference to the Russian novelist Dostoevsky‘s The Brothers Karamazov, and to the baseball abbreviation for a strikeout.).  It’s a story of the Chance family – four boys, two girls, an agnostic father with a minor league baseball career, and a mother of intense fundamentalist faith. They all have passionate, but very different, ideas about God, Jesus and the Bible.  A major theme of the novel is the question, “Who is Jesus?”  Throughout the book each child attempts to make sense of the mysteries of their parents’ struggles with religion.  Here are just one child’s thoughts:

Personally I’m not sure just who or what Christ is. I still pray to Him in a pinch, but I talk to myself in a pinch too — and I’m getting less and less sure there’s a difference . . . Mamma tried to clear up all the confusion by saying that Christ is exactly what the Bible says He is.  But what does the Bible say He is?  On one page He’s a Word, on the next a bridegroom, then He’s a boy, then a scapegoat, then a thief in the night; read on and He’s the messiah, then oops, He’s a rabbi, and then a fraction — a third of the Trinity — then a fisherman, then a broken loaf of bread.  I guess even God, when He’s human, has trouble deciding just what he is.

And so…we encounter our lesson this morning from the Gospel of John.  John is the Gospel of symbolism, double meanings, where nothing is what it first appears to be.  Who is Jesus?  In John’s gospel, there are many layers of understanding.  Like the characters in Duncan’s book, we wonder how God truly wants us to understand the ways we can best come to know God.

In today’s reading, Jesus’ critics are fed up with him.  In a season and time during which they are especially looking forward to a revealing of who the Messiah is, in exasperation his critics say to Jesus, “Show us plainly, directly and clearly who you are.”

Jesus reminds them that he has already told them clearly who he is and that the works he has performed—in the name of God—are a testimony to his identity.  But no matter what Jesus says about himself, they won’t be satisfied.  Jesus says that his critics are unconvinced by what is right in front of their eyes.

He says that he has been teaching them, telling them, but they haven’t seen and haven’t heard.  “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe.”

So Jesus uses a metaphor about sheep.  He says, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.”

“My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.”

I like to think that many of you know what Jesus is talking about.

Why are you here this morning?  Why did you come to church on a warm, spring day in May, when you could have been doing many other things?  Why are you here following Jesus?

Maybe it’s because you’ve heard his voice. Sometime in your life, you know you’ve heard his voice.  You may not know everything about Jesus.  You may not know much about the Bible, or church history, or about theology.  But you do know Jesus.  In some way or another — maybe not as clearly as you might like, but clearly enough for you to follow him — Jesus has revealed himself to you.  He has spoken.  And you’ve heard his voice as the very voice of God.

So I invite you to take a moment to reflect on how you’ve heard the voice of God.  How has God, in Jesus, been revealed to you?  Who is Jesus – to you?  If you’re one of the sheep who follow after him, why do you follow?

Begin by looking around.  Begin by recalling the memories of times when you heard the voice of Jesus in this sanctuary.  Look at those seated around you.  Remember moments when you’ve shared laughter.  Moments when you’ve shed tears.

Remember…starting with music – handbells, voices, and so many other instruments.  Memorial services.  Baptisms.  Losses and mourning.  Weddings.  Confirmation.  Children’s Times – the shouted responses, the hesitant whispers, the fidgeting.  People sharing “What this church means to me.”  The gift-giving.  The offering of pledges.  The sharing of joys and concerns. Hand-holding during the Lord’s Prayer. Communion.

Jesus has spoken, and you have heard his voice as the very voice of God.

Then think about what’s happened in this entire church building, our whole meetinghouse.  Meals – lots of meals, lots of food.  And lots of meetings.  Church fairs and receptions. Conversations shared over coffee, conversations during sewing and knitting and packing boxes and sorting items for rummage sales and cooking up a storm in the kitchen for Food is Love and Neighborhood Suppers.  Children being nurtured from infancy, through adolescence, and into adulthood, through classes, youth groups, Bible studies.  Vacation Bible School.  Men’s Breakfast.  Senior Bingo.  Maintaining, and renovating this meetinghouse, and the simple tasks we undertake today on Grubby Sunday.

Jesus has spoken, and you have heard his voice as the very voice of God.

Then think about what’s gone on beyond these walls. The Garden at Church Meadows.  High School mission trips across the country.  Dresses sent to Africa, and Bibles spread to the other side of the world.  Worship services throughout the community – from Telephone Hill on Easter, to ecumenical services with our neighboring faith communities.  The Good Friday Walk for Loaves and Fishes, Seafarer’s Friends, the Littleton Day of Caring.  And all the ways that we reach out to those in need through our visits, our prayers, our food-deliveries, providing rides, card-sending, texting, emails and phone calls.

Jesus has spoken, and you have heard his voice as the very voice of God.

We hear Jesus’ voice, our Shepherd’s voice, and so we follow.  When Jesus says, “I and the father are one,” we understand that when you have seen and heard Jesus’ voice, you have seen and heard as much of God as you ever hope to see and hear.

And that voice will never let us go.  The reassuring voice of the shepherd says, “You belong to me. Period. You can’t belong to or be taken by anyone else.  No one can snatch you out of my hand.”

Who is Jesus?

“My sheep know me,” says Jesus.

The world may not know him.  His critics and enemies may not know him.  But by the grace of God, you know him. The risen Christ comes to us – despite layers of understanding and mixed metaphors, in spite of our questions and doubts – and he calls us.  We hear him.  And we follow.

“My sheep hear my voice.  I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”

Thanks be to God.  Amen.