As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Listen to the voice of the Shepherd, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 17 April, 2016. The Reading was John 10:22-30.
We listen for what we are trained
A guy was walking down Bourke Street, the hustle and bustle of everyone heading off to their jobs, trams going all over the place, cars beeping their horns, noise everywhere. And all of a sudden, a young guy taps him on the shoulder. The young guy says to guy, “Hey, can you hear that cricket?” And with an incredulous look, the guy says “Seriously? In amongst all this noise, you’re saying that you can hear the sound of a cricket?” So he stopped, looked at the guy, and dropped a coin onto the pavement. It was as if the whole street when suddenly quiet, as a number of people looked down to see where the coin was. The young guy said “I guess we hear what we want to hear”.
As they walked on, the guy discovered that the young guy was studying entomology – the study of insects – and because he was listening to insects all the time, he could pick it out in a noisy area.
As I think about this story, it hits me how true that comment is. We hear what we want to hear. Whether that’s money, or insects, or music, or whatever, we hear only what we want to hear.
And I guess there’s a bit of that going on in the reading today. In the chapter before this, we hear the story of the man who was born blind, but was healed by Jesus on the Sabbath. And we get two different reaction. We get the man who was blind, who starts by saying that he didn’t know the man who healed him, then said he was a prophet, and finally calls Jesus lord. And then we have the Jewish leaders, who can recognise that a miracle has taken place, accepting that this man who was blind can now see, but can’t get over the fact that he was healed on the Sabbath. I guess we hear what we want to hear.
In our Christian journey, there are many competing voices that try to distract us. We can get distracted by the different styles of worship. We can get distracted by different theologies. We can get distracted by different music. We can get distracted by different ways to serve God. We can hear that in order to grow closer to God, we must do this, we must have this experience, we must worship in this way or that way. We must tick off this list of things, and if we do that then we will grow closer to God. And through all of this, we can get distracted from fully serving God. We can get distracted from giving our all to him, and allowing him to use us. And when we ave all these different voices, and we listen to all these different voices, it’s just like on the busy street – we can’t hear the things that are really important. When we don’t listen to God, we don’t hear his voice.
We can belong to the Good Shepherd
But when we listen to God, we get a different message. When we listen to God, we discover that there’s nothing that we can do. There is nothing that we can do that will bring us closer to God. Everything depends on God. God sent his son that we might be saved. And we hear from his son that everything depends on belonging to him. Never does our status before God depend on how we feel, or having the right experience, on being free from doubt, or on the things that we are able to accomplish. It all depends on one thing: That we are known by the shepherd. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”
When we release all those distractions, when we release those concepts that we have to worship in the right way, that we have to tick off this list of experiences in order to grow closer to God, and instead that it all depends on God, we realise that we have a faith that is freeing. Instead of hearing “Do this and maybe you’ll be good enough to be one of my sheep”, Jesus says “You belong to me already. No one can snatch you from my hand.” And when we do hear that, we realise that we are secure in belonging to Jesus, and that we are free to live an abundant life.
We can have life in abundance
Earlier in this chapter, Jesus says “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). That life isn’t one that is abundant in years, or wealth, or status, or accomplishments – that’s not what Jesus is talking about. Jesus is talking about a life that is abundant in the love of God. When we allow ourselves to forget those other voices, and hear the voice of God that tells us that we are loved, that tells us that we already are his sheep, and there’s nothing that we can do to make us closer than we are, then we open ourselves up to living in the abundant love of Jesus Christ, the love that overflows to others (John 13:34-35). This abundant life is an eternal life, because the source of our abundant life is God who is eternal, and Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life.
Train your ear to listen to the shepherd’s voice
Amidst all the other voices that evoke fear, make demands, or give advice, the voice of the good shepherd is a voice of promise — a voice that calls us by name and claims us as God’s own.
We need to make sure that we listen to that voice. And just like the entomologist who has trained his ear to listen to the sound of a cricket, we need to train our ears to listen to the voice of God. The voice that says all are welcome. The voice that says all are loved. That you are loved.
If it’s you’re first time hearing that this morning, then you’re welcome to come forward and explore that more. Someone will come and pray with you, and together listen for God’s voice. Maybe you’re coming to an understanding that God love you, and it doesn’t matter what you do, God will always love you. Again, you’re welcome to come forward and pray, to come and listen to God’s voice. As we sing, this place of prayer is open to all who want to come and hear God’s voice – whether here at the Mercy Seat, or in your own seat. God Loves you, and he calls you his own.
As we spend some time in prayer, you’re invited to reflect upon this song by the band, Mercy Me. The words of the chorus ask for the word of God to pour down like rain, so that we can stay in the midst of God’s holiness. That all we need to do is to listen to the word of God.