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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 3, 2020
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our risen Lord Jesus Christ.
I think one of the many factors that makes this time of pandemic so difficult is the myriad of voices out there, all saying different things. Whose voice do we listen to? Whose voice do we trust?
The internet is buzzing with videos of doctors giving their two cents on the situation. These are all equally educated and compelling voices, but some say one thing while others say something else. Some give a relatively rosy picture of things, while others are far more grim. We have governors of different states offering different prescriptions for what to do next. Some are opening things up while others are locking things down. Some are being described as tyrants and others are being described as reckless. And then come the voices of the pundits and the activists, some saying this is a time for civil disobedience and others saying this is a time for civic responsibility. We have voices in the media pointing to different countries as the model we should be following, pointing to different sets of data or a different set of experts. And then come the countering voices, saying the opposite, with their own examples and data and experts. Everyone sounds so confident, so cocksure.
Some people have settled in and are only listening to the voices that tell them what they want to hear, but for most of us trying to make sense of this situation it is like being a dog who wandered into a whistling convention. It is confusing. It is dizzying. Who do we listen to?
Time will tell which voices are vindicated and which ones are not. But in the meantime, there is another voice that emerges for us above the cacophony of voices coming at us these days. It is the voice of our Good Shepherd.
John 10 is a beloved chapter in John’s gospel. It is a beloved chapter in all of scripture! In this chapter we hear Jesus describing himself as the Good Shepherd. Every year on the fourth Sunday in Easter we hear different verses from this chapter. The lectionary pairs these verses with other shepherd readings from the Bible like the 23rd Psalm, and so this Sunday has informally come to be known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” In our verses from John 10 for today we hear Jesus talking about his voice as the Good Shepherd.
There were many voices competing for people’s ears in Jesus’ time. There were many religious movements and leaders, all making various claims to the truth. There were different voices saying different things about Jesus, about who he was and whether people should follow him or not. There were voices that Jesus warns about, voices that the sheep need to run away from, voices that belong to thieves and bandits who come only to steal and kill and destroy.
And then there is his voice. What does Jesus say about his voice? He says he uses his voice to call his sheep by name. He knows his sheep intimately! He knows them personally! He cares for each of them individually, calling them to himself. He says that his sheep follow him because they know his voice. It is a voice they have come to recognize, a voice they have come to trust. Jesus goes on to describe himself as the gate for the sheep – those who listen to his voice come in and go out and find pasture. That is, they come into the safety of the sheepfold where they are protected, and they go out into the pasture where they are fed. It is a picture of both protection and providence, of being guarded and being nourished. Best of all, Jesus says that those who listen to his voice will have life, and have it abundantly. He has come to give us life with God, a life with God that begins now and continues forever. How can this kind of life be anything other than abundant, overflowing with God’s goodness and mercy and love?
In your baptism this Good Shepherd has called you by name. He knows you intimately and personally. He knows your individual quirks and failings. He knows your specific sins, and this Good Shepherd laid down his life for them, taking them upon himself. He knows your specific gifts, and he raises you to new life in him so that you might share them with the world. He forgives you and loves you and continues to call you by name.
As you follow his voice, he leads you into his sheepfold, where he protects you from all those voices which would steal or kill or destroy. He calls you into the church, into Christian community, where he can ward off those other voices that would lure you away from him. He leads you to good pasture, where he can nourish and strengthen you. This all looks a little different right now from what we’re used to as the church during this time when we can’t be together in-person, but by his Word, by his voice, this Good Shepherd is still getting the job done. If his voice is fading in your life right now and you are struggling, please call me. Please reach out. Let’s find a way to get you on the safe side of the gate. Our Good Shepherd wants nothing more than to guard and guide us.
As we listen to his voice, as we trust the voice of our Good Shepherd, he fills us with life! Even as we pray for good treatments and vaccines and policies that save lives and lead to human flourishing, we know that a truly abundant life can only come from this Good Shepherd. He alone can give us an abundant life full of hope and joy and peace and love. He alone leads us into the abundance of eternal life with God.
And so, amidst the cacophony of other voices competing for our attention, as we try to figure out which voices we should be listening to, which voices we can trust, more than anything else right now we need to be listening to this voice, to the voice of our Good Shepherd.
He is calling you by name today. Listen to him. Trust him. You are one of his beloved sheep, and has come so that you would have life, and have it abundantly.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church