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.”