Sunday – April 17, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Voices. Today we’re bombarded with so many voices – from the news, media, and especially right now in the political climate of the debates that are going on. Voices that are critical of one another, voices that tell us what the other person is guilty of so we won’t vote for them, angry voices that tell us who is the enemy. People are vilified to the point that they just become a statistic. The voices are cruel, degrading, and demoralizing. Yet these candidates’ angry voices get stuck in our heads and people feed into the rhetoric. Or the temptation is to just ignore all the voices and not even care about the political outcome. Yet the danger in that is that by ignoring it, we ignore the other voices. The voices that are crying out for justice. The voices that are crying out in hunger, that are crying out for employment and a decent wage, the voices that want a better life for themselves and their families in a country that’s free from the dangers of war. With so many voices crying out it’s easy to get confused and know which voices to listen to.
Jesus gives us the answer in our gospel today. Jesus tells us to listen to his voice. His voice is the one that speaks the words of truth. His voice is the one that brings unity and peace. His voice is the voice of love and grace that brings salvation and eternal life. Yet if Jesus’ voice is the one that we can believe and the one that is filled with so much hope and promise then why do these other voices seem to be so much louder? Why do these other voices carry so much weight? Why are we so easily confused and led astray by these other voices?
Because, as Jesus says, we are like sheep. Most of us haven’t had a lot of interaction with sheep, but several years ago I spent an afternoon at a sheep farm. The sheep were all huddled together, standing around taking in the nice weather. They looked so peaceful and then all of a sudden one of the sheep made a noise and bolted across the field. He just started running and immediately all the other sheep ran after him. I asked the farmer why the sheep all followed this one sheep without even knowing where it was going? He said, “that’s what sheep do.” They just follow. They didn’t know where the other sheep was going. It could have led them right into danger, but that didn’t matter. That sheep said something and they just all followed it without even thinking of the consequences. I understood that day what Jesus was talking about when he called us sheep. What Jesus was saying is we are easily led astray and we need a shepherd, a Good Shepherd to keep us safe. Jesus is that Good Shepherd and it is his voice that we need to listen to.
There’s so many other competing voices that can lead us astray, that can drown out the voice of Jesus. One of those voices is fear. Fear can start off like a quiet whisper, but quickly build to a deafening scream drowning out all other voices. It’s what some people use to make others afraid, because when people are afraid they can easily be manipulated and led astray. When people are afraid they can easily make poor decisions. They can sell their own soul out of fear both real and imagined. And when we are faced with problems it’s easy for us to be led astray by the voices of fear from others or ourselves. These fears may start out as simple doubts, but can soon lead to full out panic. We don’t know where to turn and can be tempted to do things our way instead of Jesus’ way. And groups of people, like congregational communities are not immune to this. One person may plant the seed that our church is in danger of closing, or that we don’t have enough money, or enough resources, or enough of any number of things, and it’s easy to be lead astray into thinking that there is no point in trying anything new because what’s the point. The voices of fear and doubt can paralyze people into giving up on their communities, themselves, and even God.
But today we gather together and hear the words of promise from Jesus that God never gives up on us. Jesus said, “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” No matter what happens to us as God’s sheep, Jesus will never let us go. There’s no problem that’s so big, no person that’s so strong, no force on earth that’s so powerful that we can be snatched away from the Good Shepherd. That’s an amazing word of promise! That’s an amazing word of hope!
Today is the fourth Sunday of Easter and we continue to celebrate the resurrection when Jesus proved that God is even more powerful than death! We are Jesus’ sheep and we need to listen to his voice because it’s one of hope, and promise, and eternal life. He says so. Jesus says, “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.” Jesus, the Good Shepherd, promises that no one is going to get between us and him. That’s the voice we need to listen to, not the other competing voices that try to lure us away with false information or empty promises of quick fixes.
And that’s why we gather here every week. We gather to be led by the voice of the Good Shepherd. To hear his words of promise, and hope, and grace. To be fed and forgiven of our sins so that the voices of our guilt, or worry, or fear, or selfishness do not lead us astray. No other event that we attend and no other person can make a promise like that to us. Jesus’ words of promise that no one will snatch us away from him are meant to fill us with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment. They are meant to fill us with hope, and joy, and peace. Because hearing these words from Jesus we can then go out in gratitude and live lives that reflect that gratitude. Jesus said, “the works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” The works that we do also testify to Jesus and give glory to God. The money that we raise at our Valentine Day Dinner/Auction to support the Northeastern Food Pantry is a result of hearing Jesus’ voice and following him to serve others. The stories that our children learn in Sunday School and the songs that they sing is a result of hearing Jesus’ voice and following him to serve others through song. The various ministries of this congregation are all a result of listening to Jesus’ voice and following him to serve others. It means serving by giving of our time, serving by working with our hands, and serving by giving back to God with the financial resources God has first given to us even if others may say we are foolish to do so. Don’t listen to the voices that tell you what we do doesn’t matter. Don’t listen to the voices that say it’s not worth trying.Don’t listen to the voices that say than you or anyone else is anything less than a beloved child of God. Don’t listen to the voices that try to isolate you.
We are God’s sheep and that means that we live in community just like the early disciples. Jesus doesn’t call us to live for ourselves, but to live and work and serve together as his followers. The Holy Spirit compels us to listen to Jesus’ voice so that we can follow him and serve him and give glory to God. Often Jesus’ voice is spoken through others. In our first reading we heard how Peter listened to the men who asked him to come and help Tabitha. Jesus is speaking to us as well through other people. We all need to listen carefully for Jesus’ voice. Listen to Jesus’ voice and hold tight with faith to the hand that he promises will never let us go. This week pay attention to the voices you hear and to the words you yourself speak. The voices that speak love, grace, forgives, hope, peace, and joy are the voices that reflect Jesus’ voice. What is Jesus calling us to do or say? This week let’s commit to praying to the Holy Spirit to open our ears so that we can really hear what it is that Jesus is saying to us. Amen!