Seeking and Sharing the Fullness of Life

Following Jesus and Hearing Voices

A sermon on John 10:22-30 by Nathan Nettleton

“My sheep hear my voice.
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them the life of the world to come,
and they will never perish.
No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

It’s a funny image: sheep
Usually we don’t like being told that we are sheep
It’s not usually a compliment
A bunch of clones
Mindlessly imitating one another
Following one another this way and that
Dumb conformity

But when Jesus calls us “his sheep”, it’s different
Because he’s identifying himself as the good shepherd
Being the sheep of the good shepherd
is instantly attractive
Because the implied alternative
is being the sheep of the bad shepherds

Whether we are mindless followers
or mindful followers
we want to be followers of the good shepherd
not the bad shepherds

We’re just six days out from a federal election
How tempting and easy it would be
to preach some kind of comparative analysis
of the various competing bad shepherds

Easy for me, easy for you
We’d all enjoy it
We love focussing on the faults of bad shepherds
We go through their Facebook profiles
We trawl through things they once said somewhere
We find the hypocrisies, the unenlightened pasts,
the trails of arrogance, of entitlement,
of unrecognised privilege, of petty corruption
We hold them up to ridicule
We gloat
And we feel so good

We feel good about being so good
Because nothing reassures us of our own goodness
more surely than joining in
with the exposing and castigating of others
The worse we can make them look
the better we appear
We need someone to measure ourselves against
and the nastier the chosen comparison point
the closer to perfection we will seem
at least in our own eyes

But the feel good path
the easy and tempting electoral season roast
is not the path that Jesus is calling us to take

“My sheep hear my voice.
I know them, and they follow me.”

Nothing there about focussing our attention
on the voices of the bad shepherds
Nothing about being fascinated by them
or gaining endless enjoyment
from studying them closely
closely enough
to expose them, ridicule them, castigate them

“My sheep hear my voice.
I know them, and they follow me.”

If we are to hear that voice
and learn to follow that voice
we’ll have to give our attention to that voice
not to the others
even if it’s more fun
and goes down well with a democracy sausage

But this is not a call to ignore the politicians
to turn off to the election campaign
to imagine yourself above politics
Jesus called himself the good shepherd
in a place and time
where that image meant “the true king”
It was an intensely political claim

“My sheep hear my voice.
They follow me
Not Caesar.”

But there is no messiah running in next week’s election
What are sheep of the good shepherd to do?
“My sheep hear my voice
Whoever I might speak through
my sheep hear my voice.”

Listen carefully for the shepherdy voice
Don’t be taken in
by those who claim to speak for him
Many will come claiming to speak in his name
Don’t fall for them

There’s a Baptist pastor running for the Senate
He’s been emailing me regularly
Asking me to urge you to vote for him
I read his policy statements
There was nothing that sounded like Jesus
More like old fashioned colonialism
A hankering after the good old days
of a strong empire
and the unquestioned reign of European values

I emailed him a question
I think it was a Jesus-y question
He wrote back
but he side-stepped the question
and just urged me to urge you
to vote for him
so that there would be one of us in parliament

But parliament doesn’t need more of “us”
at least not because they are “us”
Parliament does need those
who hear the voice of the good shepherd
and follow
But those who hear the voice and follow
may not be those wearing good shepherd lapel badges
and good shepherd bumper stickers
and waving good shepherd flags
They may not even know where the voice came from
They just heard a voice
a voice that rang true
and they followed it

I wonder if it possible to be a follower of Jesus
without knowing it
It seems to follow
We are called to be people of “the way”
rather than just badge wearers
or believers in an idea
Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.
I know them, and they follow me.”
He says, “I know them”
not “They know about me”
“They hear my voice and follow me”

Who hasn’t had the experience
of responding to a voice
without knowing who it came from?
To varying degrees
we all hear voices
all the time

There are voices of conscience
voices of past memories
voices of vanity or self doubt
self loathing even
voices of fear or confidence
voices that question and criticise
voices that encourage and motivate

Some of them are so loud and clear
that they are almost indistinguishable
from the voices of other people
Some of them have been carefully manufactured
and fed to us by vested interests
through calculated media targeting
so that they will echo loudly within us
Others are so subtle
that we are reluctant to call them voices
Gut feelings
Inner promptings

When the prophet Elijah stood on the mountain
and waited for the voice of the Lord
there were lots of big loud voices
an earthquake, a cyclone, a bushfire
but the voice of the good shepherd
was not in the big loud voices
The voice of the good shepherd came to him
in a whispering sound of sheer silence
and he covered his face and fell to his knees

To varying degrees
we all hear voices
all the time
Some we dismiss
Some we ignore
Some we barely notice
Some we strain our ears to hear
in the whispering sound of sheer silence
Some make our hearts leap
Some ring true
Some challenge and inspire
Some we choose to follow
perhaps without even being sure why
It just seems right

“My sheep hear my voice.
I know them, and they follow me.”

In the multitude of voices
how do we know
which is the voice of the good shepherd?
the voice of the risen one?

The truth is
that we can seldom know for sure
but it is something worth practicing
We’re better at it together
When we discuss what we are hearing
or feeling
and listen to one another
we are more likely to get it right
“Where two or three gather in my name
there I am in your midst”
says the risen one, the good shepherd

But even alone
we can learn from experience
and get better at recognising that voice

The voices that spark hope within you
that open your heart
and fill you with compassion
for those you previously regarded with suspicion
The voices that spark gratitude
and inspire you to open your hands
and share the gifts you have received
The voices that urge you
to tear down the walls of hostility
to resist the rush to blame and condemn
to build bridges of grace and peace
The voices that encourage you to be merciful
to others and to yourself
to know yourself and others beloved
and invited together
into the life and love of the age to come

These are the voices that are likely
to be breathed into our hearts and minds
by the good shepherd
the risen one

And as we become more experienced
at responding to that voice
and seeing good fruit result
we learn to trust our judgement
and recognise it more readily
and confidently

We also get more practiced
at recognising the other voices
the subtly poisonous voices
the voices that diminish us or others
the voices that sow seeds of suspicion and division
the voices that dehumanise others
and condemn them to hell
the voices that makes us fearful and tight-fisted
The voices that tell us
that everything good
everything that matters is under threat
and that it is someone else’s fault
The voices that make us feel hopeless
defeated, useless, dissatisfied
The demonic voices

There are those
who identify with the ‘Christian’ brand name
who wear the t-shirts and bumper stickers
proclaiming their allegiance to the good shepherd
who nevertheless appear to have become mouthpieces
for the voices of fear, suspicion, and condemnation

And there are those
who don’t wear the name
and perhaps identify with other beliefs
who nevertheless appear
in word and action
to be responding to voices
that lead into wide open spaces
of love and life and grace

If you see such people on your ballot paper
vote for them
If you meet such people
working for common causes
partner with them
If you hear such people
speaking words of grace and truth
listen to them

And give thanks
to them
and to the good shepherd
who is giving us life
whether we know it or not
the life of the age to come
the life that is nourished at this table
and wherever the life-giving voice is heard
Those who hear his voice
and follow where it leads
will embrace the life of the world to come
They are known by the shepherd
They will never perish
and no one will ever snatch them
from the safe and gracious hands
of the risen one
the good shepherd


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