"They know his voice"-Sermon for Easter 4, John 10:1-10
For the better part of the last decade, I have been invited to provide the opening talk at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School’s Relationship Retreat. This is an annual retreat for 8th graders focused on nurturing healthy attitudes and developing healthy boundaries around relationships from romantic, to familial, to friendships and everything in between. And at the beginning of my talk, I place before the students a grid with 4 quadrants…they are: religion, family, friends, and media…and then I ask the students who are the voices in their lives represented in these 4 quadrants…and what do they have to say about both sexuality and friendships…what have they heard from the voices that come to them from their churches and places of worship, from parents and siblings, from peers and friends, and from the media…meaning movies, television, books, and the news about who to love and how to love. And, as you might imagine, the responses in each quadrant are incredibly varied…from ignorant to wise…from helpful to unhelpful…from affirming to shaming.
And once we have moved through all four quadrants and noted the great variety of voices that are speaking to them about what relationships should be and should look like, I point out, further, that in each quadrant, religion, family, friends and media, some voices are clearly wise, healthy, loving and well worth listening to and following…and some really aren’t. And my point is that lots of voices are seeking our attention all the time…for good or ill…and in terms of ill…both intentionally and unintentionally. These voices want us to listen to them. They are often demanding our attention, and they want to inform our own personal choices, decisions, and the ways we see the world and live in it. In the context of this retreat in particular…these voices want to inform, again, how we love, who we love, who we partner with and how we live in those partnerships. Thus, I tell the students our very important task as responsible people with agency and good minds, good bodies and good spirits is to filter through the noise…to make good and intentional choices about whose voices we will listen to and whose voices we will turn off. Further, I remind them we have voice…and that’s a great gift and a great responsibility. Therefore, it matters a whole awful lot what are we speaking into each other’s lives…particularly those with whom we have influence…how we are encouraging others to live…how they should love…who they should love…including how they love and care for themselves.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus reminds us that he is our Good Shepherd. And, as the Good Shepherd, he calls us by name…and that we will hear and know his voice when he speaks to us. And that his voice, his words will lead us…not just to anywhere…but to abundant life. And, further, that we will follow our Good Shepherd’s lead because we know, recognize and trust his voice. As the sun shines, he will lead us out into the pasture where we can be fed by good and life-giving things that lead to growth and meaning and the energy we need to be productive and do good…and, at the end of the day, he will lead us back into the sheepfold where we are made safe from all who would do us harm in the night…in the dark times of life.
And I believe this with all of my heart…that Jesus, the Good Shepherd…the God of Love…knows us entirely…knows us intimately and personally…that he calls us by name…even now…walking before us and leading us into each new day full of possibility and purpose…and leading us through the dark and difficult times too…providing safety and care when we need it most…even we wander through the valley of the shadow of death…Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is with us…rod and staff in hand.
But back to my beginning…to those 8th graders…who are just learning to navigate through this noisy and at times confusing world…a world that might be as confusing right now as it ever has been in our own life-times…we too have to learn, for this is not an 8th grade thing…but a life-long thing…we too have to learn to sift through all the noise in order to really hear the voices…including most especially the Good Shepherd’s own voice…that truly lead us to a life worth living…a life that leads to abundance and that keeps us safe.
But here’s the thing, listening to another…and even more so…following where their voice is leading us…requires vulnerability…and making ourselves vulnerable to another requires trust. So, how do we learn to trust another’s voice and how do we ourselves become trustworthy. And I think, as Dr. Brene Brown suggested in our opening video, trust is earned over much time and through many small and large acts of self-giving love. So, looking back into our own lives…who has earned your trust by their own acts of generosity and care and presence in your own life. For these are the voices we should seek out and listen to and follow in the midst of the whirlwind of noise that surrounds life in this world…these are, as Brene Brown described them, our marble jar people. These are the people who have filled our jars with marbles…for our jars are our very lives and the marbles are their small and large acts of love placed one at a time into our lives. The list of people, when honestly considered, may be smaller than you expect…but hopefully you can name them…maybe even take some time today to write them down…when we pray in moment…you might offer prayers of gratitude to God for them…and you might reach out to them soon to let the know how important their voices are in your life.
And, when you need to know the truth about yourself…how wonderful, capable and beautiful you really are…when you need to find your way to safety in the dark times in life…when you need to find new ways to be fed and grow and be productive…listen for their voices speaking to you in the midst of all the noise and listen to them. For I believe, again with all of my heart, that you will not just hear their voices speaking to you…but you will hear the very voice of the God of Love, the Good Shepherd of our souls, Jesus our risen and present Lord speaking to you through them.
For I know, from my own lifetime of experience, in the light times and in the dark times, that as I have listened through all the noise to these voices in my own life, to Ashley and Mary Ellen and Amelia and Ellen and JB and Mary and Glenn and Kelly and Tony and John and others, some who are with us online right now, if I will close my eyes, take a deep breath and listen, really listen…I hear in their own voices…the One who knew my name even before I came out of my mother’s womb…Jesus the Good Shepherd, the very God of Life and Love…saying to me…I love you…you are my child…I am so pleased with you…I will never let you go…I will walk with you through life…through death…and beyond.
I often say that, as Christ’s own beloved, we are God’s heart and hands in this world…but we are often also entrusted to be God’s voice. May we be trustworthy of such a gift and use our God-given and, often, God-used voice well…one with another. Amen.