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Sermon for Easter 4 Year C

March 21, 2016

sheep hear voice

My sheep hear my voice – words from today’s gospel.

In the name…

So are you a sheep? A slobbering, untidy, dumb animal who exists only to be shaved or slaughtered?

And do you hear God’s voice? The history of Christianity is filled with stories of people who had a special ability to hear the voice of God. God calls Abraham out of the Ur of Chaldees and makes him the father of a great nation. God appears to Moses in a burning bush and tells him to lead the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt. God speaks to a discouraged Elijah with a still, quiet voice.

From Paul’s Damascus road experience, to the revelation God gave to John on the Isle of Patmos that has become our Book of Revelation, we’re told that God speaks directly to certain people at certain times.

But there are others who claim to have heard the voice of God. Joan of Arc claimed to hear God’s voice calling her to save her people. Some thought her mad, others thought her a mystic. She died a martyr’s death for her witness.

Some thought her mad. After all some serial killers have claimed that they were acting under orders from God. ISIL Daesh claims to be obeying Allah.

So how do we discern God’s voice? There are so many other sounds and noises clamouring for our attention, so many other voices calling out to us, claiming to offer us the things we need. Advertisers tell us that if we will only buy this car, or those clothes, or that food, or these gadgets, we will have abundant life. And no matter how many cars or clothes or things we buy, no matter how much or what kind of food we eat, we are not satisfied. Because we listened to the wrong voice.

Two men were walking along a crowded city pavement. Suddenly, one of the men remarked: “Listen to the lovely sound of that grasshopper.”  But the other man could not hear it at all. He asked his friend: “How can you hear the sound of a grasshopper … amid the roar of the traffic and the sounds of the city.”

The first man was a zoologist, who had trained himself to hear the sounds of nature. He didn’t explain to his friend how he could hear the sound of the grasshopper. Instead, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a two pound coin, dropped it onto the pavement and watched intently as a dozen people began to look for the coin as they heard it clanking amid the sounds of the traffic and the sounds of the city. He turned to his friend and said, “We hear what we listen for.”

There’s a story, true or false, that President Roosevelt was so tired of smiling the expected presidential smile and saying the usual expected words at the myriad of White House receptions that, one evening he decided to find out whether anybody was really listening to what he was saying. As each person came up to him with an extended hand, he flashed that big smile and said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.”

People would automatically respond with comments like “How lovely!”

or “It’s nice to meet you Mister President!”

Nobody listened to what he was actually saying…. except for one foreign diplomat.  When the president said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning,” the diplomat remarked, “I’m sure she had it coming.”

Kenneth Bailey is an expert on life in the Middle East. He observed that a shepherd today could “lead over 200 sheep through a valley by consistent, repetitive calling. Bedouin shepherds bring their flocks home from the various pastures they have grazed during the day. Often those flocks will end up at the same watering hole around dusk, so that they get all mixed up together – eight or nine small flocks turning into a gathering of thirsty sheep. Their shepherds do not worry about the mixup, however. When it is time to go home, each one issues his or her own distinctive call — a special trill or whistle, or a particular tune on a particular reed pipe, and that shepherd’s sheep withdraw from the crowd to follow their shepherd home.  They know who they belong to; they know their shepherd’s voice, and it is the only one they will follow.

Have you ever watched a baby’s reaction to his mother’s voice?  He turns toward his mother, and is soothed by the comfort of the voice he’s heard as far back as within the womb.

Someone once asked a banker how he trained his staff to recognize counterfeit notes: The banker said, that’s simple, I have them handling the real thing all day, so when a counterfeit note comes into their hands, they know immediately.

We need to slow down, to calm ourselves and listen to the still small voice within, to distinguish it from all the other voices clamouring for our attention; to read scripture regularly – daily – and listen to those that God puts into our lives. Jesus keeps calling us, repeatedly, consistently, reminding us of where he is, and where he wants us to go. It is our awareness of that repetitive, consistent call that teaches us to recognize and follow our shepherd’s voice. We can only become aware of that gentle call by training ourselves to listen for it.

Keep calm and tune in to the shepherd.

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