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Listen with Your Heart (April 17, 2016)

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So 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.”25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Have you ever heard any of these things said to you? Or thought them yourself? Have you heard these voices?

“You’ll never be good enough.”

“This is all your fault.”

“No one likes you anyway, and no one ever has.”

“You can’t be trusted.”

“You’re too incompetent.”

“You’ll never make it.”

“You don’t have the abilities.”

“Everyone would be better off without you.”

“You’re incapable of making a difference.”

“Whatever it is you’re trying to do, you’ll never make it happen.”

“You’re just not worth the effort.”

These are among the words I have actually heard spoken to me. More often than not, it’s my own voice saying them. Sometimes these words are spoken so frequently that I begin to believe them. And when I start to believe them, I might even start to act as if they were true.

There are a lot of voices telling us different things. A lot of voices. They come from everywhere: social media, friends, family, the news media, public figures, commercials, even the church. Too many voices trying to convince us of too many things. Sometimes we arent sure which voices to trust.

Which is why this text from the gospel of John is so important.

“My sheep hear MY voice,” Jesus says. “I know them, and they follow me.”

That should come as a relief. In the midst of all the voices clamoring for our attention, Jesus knows his sheep and they do hear his voice. And hearing his voice, can follow him. A voice that we can hear through all the other noise. A voice we can to trust. A voice that will tell us the truth. A voice that leads to life.

Jesus knows us, calls us, leads us, gives us life, and we can’t be removed from his hand. Good news, right? This should be the end of this sermon.

Except . . . We just can’t let it go at that. We need to complicate it, find a way to make this good news into something else. We move this wonderful message of comfort from a deep, inner heart, faith place where the voice of Jesus resonates to a narrow, intellectual, head place where all the other voices are competing.

We work ourselves out of comfort into skepticism. We analyze until we find some wiggle room, like Jesus saying, “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep” and we won’t let it go.

Now, you see, we can open a door into all kinds of anxiety. Like:

Who are his sheep?

Who aren’t his sheep?

I’m not sure I hear Jesus’ voice, does that mean I may not be one of his sheep?

Does that mean I’m not going to heaven?

What do I have to do to become one of his sheep?

How do I hear his voice?

And this beautiful assurance of life and belonging become an anxiety-ridden exercize in doubt.

So let’s put an end to the anxiety. Let’s hear this text the way it is meant to be heard. What is something you feel confident you know about God? . . .

How do you know that? . . . .

It’s because you’ve heard the voice of Jesus. You know it, you recognize it, and you, therefore, are one of his sheep, held lovingly in his hand where nothing can snatch you away.

Have you ever loved someone? Not just a partner or significant other, but a sibling, a parent, a friend. Someone you trust and would be willing to go out of your way to help, or ask help from. That’s the voice of Jesus. You know it, you recognize it, and you, therefore, are one of his sheep, held lovingly in his hand where nothing can snatch you away.

How many of you have ever had a moment when you’ve understood that you are actually OK, a glimpse of being worthwhile, a small recognition of your gifts, a little crack into the difference you have made in someone’s life? That’s the voice of Jesus. You know it, you recognize it, and you, therefore, are one of his sheep, held lovingly in his hand where nothing can snatch you away.

There’s a voice of truth calling you. One voice that says you are deeply and dearly loved. One voice that points out that you are good enough right now. One voice that reveals in your heart the truth about who you are. The voice of Jesus. You are his sheep.

So for just a few seconds, listen to the voice of Jesus. Listen with your deep inner being so your head won’t make excuses. LIsten and trust it. Listen as a sheep would hear the voice of their shepherd, whose voice they really do know. Listen and be comforted. Listen and be reassured.

Jesus says to you, “You are my sheep and you hear my voice. I know you, and you follow me. I give you eternal life, and you will never perish. No one will snatch you out of my hand.”

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2016 in Sermon

 

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One Flock, One Shepherd, One Voice (John 10:11-18)

(This sermon was preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska, on the occasion of their celebrating 50 years of ministry)

50 years? Really?  Congratulations on 50 years of revealing Jesus. 50 years of the voice of the good shepherd being proclaimed through this congregation. 50 years. No one ever said following Jesus, the good shepherd, was going to be easy. If they did, they lied. It’s not easy. Listening to the voice of Jesus and following is extremely difficult. Yet, this congregation has been serious about that for 50 years. It’s astonishing. But it’s being done. Because you are a flock that knows the shepherd.

For the first time, I noticed in this text that Jesus doesn’t say anything about individual sheep. He loves the flock, cares for the flock, lays down his life for the flock, will gather all the sheep into one flock. It’s not so much about individual sheep, but more about the flock as a whole. “Sheep” is plural throughout this chapter.

Of course Jesus loves each individual sheep, but the emphasis here is that he lays down his life for the flock. And he will bring in the other sheep too so there will be one flock, one shepherd. One flock, for whom he lays down his life.

This changes everything in this text for me. We’re not just individual sheep, each of us trying to discern the voice of the shepherd. We are first a flock for whom the Good Shepherd lays down his life. It’s not “you’re a sheep” and “I’m a sheep,” so let’s get together and create a flock. No, it’s “we are already a flock!” and we belong to the Good Shepherd. We are part of something bigger than just us. That’s who we are. Our identity comes not from being an individual sheep who chooses a shepherd’s voice, and then seeks out other individual sheep who agree on that voice, and call ourselves a flock. No, our identity comes from already being part of the flock for whom the shepherd lays down his life. We are already included. It’s already done.

Now, if that isn’t cool enough, there are implications as to what this means about our life together as a flock.

Most importantly, Jesus the Good Shepherd is enough. As a flock, the Good Shepherd is all we need. We are enough right now. Faith Lutheran Church has enough, you are enough, right now. Because, as a flock, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for you.You have been called, gathered, and cared for by the Good Shepherd who sees the wolf yet will always stay with you. The shepherd saves you. Saves us. The whole flock. He knows you and lays down his life for you—as a flock.

He says there are other sheep who do not belong to this fold but who he will bring into the flock. Sometimes we can get frantic about that, and think our primary purpose is in seeking them out, thinking that we have to get them in our doors. So we sometimes put a lot of energy into calling them.

But Jesus says they will listen to his voice, not ours. It’s his voice they will follow, not our individual baaaing and bleating. So when we speak to sheep who may be outside the fold, we do so as part of his flock, taking care to use his voice, his words, doing so in his character—that of the Good Shepherd, which has already embraced us, loved us, forgiven us.

We know the sound of his voice. His voice is always that of love, forgiveness, grace, compassion, a willingness to lay down our lives, our agendas for them. That’s the voice they hear; that’s the voice they will follow.

So as a flock belonging to the good shepherd, we love other sheep, whether we consider them inside or outside the flock–because that ultimately not our concern. It is the concern of the shepherd. So we love all sheep, without strings and without conditions. They will listen to that voice. We show them compassion and mercy—even if they haven’t deserved it. They will follow that voice. We forgive those who offend us. That’s the voice of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the flock.

Nobody can ever say that listening to the voice of the shepherd is easy. No one can tell you that following the good shepherd is comfortable. And yet, Faith Lutheran Church has been doing exactly that for 50 years. That is impressive.

I hope you can take this opportunity, as you celebrate these 50 years of faithfulness, to begin to look to the next 50. The good shepherd knows you, and knows you are listening to his voice. Amen.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2015 in Sermon

 

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