This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Fourth Sunday of Easter. The gospel text was John 10:22-30.
It was festival time in Jerusalem, and Jesus was there. It was a hectic time as always, people going in every direction, shouting and singing. So many of the people gathered there were having a really tough year. Life was very difficult for many of these people.
Oh, sure, there were those who were rich – they were doing fine, resting on their soft couches and eating grapes. And oh sure, there were the leaders, the corrupt priests and politicians who sold the country out to Rome, exacting terrible taxes for the sake of safety – they were doing fine. And oh sure, there were the Roman soldiers – with the fear their swords inspired, they too were doing fine.
But so many of the people who gathered in Jerusalem for the festival were not rich, or leaders, or soldiers. They were farmers and woodworkers, fishers and shepherds, parents and children, beggars and retirees. And they were not doing fine. Some couldn’t rub two coins together to buy a meal. Some couldn’t pay for medical care. Some were terrified of the future of their nation, worried about what future their children would inherit. Some worried that the soul of their nation had been lost, that they had turned away from what God had intended for them.
They didn’t know what the next year would bring, or the next week. They didn’t know whether they were coming or going. They wanted something to lean on, someone to trust in, something they could count on. They were anxious, worried, impatient.
Aren’t we all, sometimes?
Some of them saw Jesus walking through the city for the festival. Now they had heard about him. People talked about this wandering preacher, this prophet perhaps, who traveled all over the country talking about the kingdom of God, healing the sick, and scolding the leaders. The people gathered around him. They approached him. Anxious, worried, impatient, they approached him.
And they said, “Are you really the one?” They said, “Can you help us?”
They had heard him preach and teach, some of them anyway. They knew what he was about. What they didn’t know if whether he really made any difference whatsoever in their everyday lives. If all the stuff he said and did really mattered in their day-to-day lives, their day-to-day worries. The price of their groceries and the fear of war and how to deal with corrupt politicians.
They shouted over one another, tripping on each other’s feet as they tripped over their own words. They said, “We need a Messiah to help us! Stop keeping us in suspense! Are you the one?”
Jesus turned and said to them, “I have already told you.”
And he said to them, “My sheep hear my voice.”
And he said to them, “I know my sheep, and they follow me.”
He turned back and kept walking.
Some of the people chased after him, shaking their fists and shouting, “What kind of answer is that? Are you calling us sheep? How dare you!”
But as the crowd continued on, shouting at Jesus to give them a better answer or a better life, a few stood still as the others moved on. They too were anxious, worried, impatient. But they waited there. Pondering. Thinking. Wondering. They pondered his words:
“I have already told you.”
“My sheep hear my voice.”
“I know my sheep, and they follow me.”
They wondered about these words. Perhaps, perhaps he had already told them. Perhaps in their anxiety and worry and impatience, they had forgotten that Jesus already told them that he was the answer to everything they needed.
And perhaps that answer wasn’t going to be that he would change their circumstances. Perhaps the answer was that he would change them, in the midst of their circumstances.
And perhaps his answer gave them everything they needed to grab hold of that.
“My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me,” he said.
The people thought about the voices in their lives. There were so many voices.
- The voices of merchants telling them to buy, buy, buy.
- The voices of tax collectors telling them to pay, pay, pay.
- The voices of self-righteous and self-appointed moral leaders telling them how to behave.
- The voices of soldiers telling them “you’re really just a slave.”
- The voices of leaders telling them everything was just fine.
- The voices of beggars begging them for a dime.
- So many voices around them pulling them to and fro.
- And voices within them crying, “I just don’t know.”
“My sheep hear my voice,” he said, “and they follow me.”
Perhaps the voice Jesus spoke of wasn’t any of those voices. Perhaps the voice he spoke of was the quiet, peaceful voice of God. The voice that whispers on the wind, “You are my child.” The voice that whispers on the wind, “Trust me.” The voice that whispers on the wind, “Follow me.”
“Follow you where?” the people wondered.
“Follow me where I lead,” the voice whispers. “Follow me where I lead.”
As Jesus and the noisy crowd faded into the distance, the people waiting looked around at one another. One of them said, “We need to listen for his voice.”
The others nodded, and then one said, “But how do we hear it? This world is so noisy.”
The others nodded, and then one said, “Perhaps if we slow down, and take just a few minutes to be quiet, to listen, perhaps we’ll hear it.”
Another added, “Perhaps it will be a quiet voice that sounds like it’s coming from deep within us.”
Still another said, “Or perhaps it will sound like a gentle breeze.”
The others nodded, and then one said, “But how will we know that it’s his voice?”
The others stood there a moment. Then one said, “Perhaps we’ll know it because it will be a voice of love.”
The others nodded, and then one said, “A voice that tells us we are loved.”
Another said, “Yes, and a voice that calls us to love.”
Still another said, “But how do we know what to do with that love? Life is very complicated.”
The others stood there a moment. Then one said, “Keep listening. Just keep listening.”
And another added, “Yes, and follow. When we’ve listened long enough, perhaps we’ll hear a word telling us where to go and what to do.”
The others stood there a moment. Then one said, “Where should go now?”
They stood quiet for a minute, listening. Two crows cawed. A child laughed in the distance. An old woman was weeping on a nearby street. One of the people said, “Let’s go to her.”
And they did.