BIBLE READING: John 10:1-10
Jesus tells us that we will recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd as sheep recognize their earthly shepherd. The way a voice sounds can fill us with confidence or instil doubt. It’s not always what you say that counts, but how you say it. Voices tell us a lot about the person speaking. You know how you can tell when someone is just a bit off, but you don’t exactly know how. Voices reveal a lot
Have you ever answered the phone, and recognised who was speaking – even though they hadn’t yet said who they were? I can recall talking to friends from long ago on the phone and while listening to their voice felt that it sounds just the same as it used too. Researchers tell us that voices seem to change very little even though most of us look quite different with the passing of the years. In fact, new security systems are being developed to recognize a person’s voice to unlock a door, turn on a computer or access secure files. Highly sophisticated equipment can tell a lot from our voices, not only who we are, but whether or not we are telling the truth. Our voices are truly unique and revealing of our true identity.
Jesus tells us that we sheep will recognize the voice of our shepherd. But I must admit I often find it hard to separate God’s voice from the many voices which speak to me. I really wish that the voice of God was more apparent and clear. But my experience is that the voice of God is often less than obvious. In fact, I have listened attentively for the voice of God and seldom hear even a whisper.
When people say that God told them to do something, I wonder what they mean. Some people think that God speaks through whatever happens.
Jesus chooses the image of the shepherd to tell us about the voice of God. Its unlikely Jesus spent much time as a shepherd, but he did seem to know how sheep herding worked. Sheep share with almost all domesticated animals the need for a leader, the willingness to follow that leader and the ability to select a human to be their leader. So when Jesus refers to us as the sheep of his pasture, he knows that we need him, want to follow him and that it is in our nature to choose him when our hearts and minds are clear. Jesus paints a picture here of the shepherd who leads his sheep. The shepherd leads rather than drives sheep from one place to another. As Jesus put it, the shepherd goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
Apparently, Jesus is right about this: sheep recognize their leader’s voice and will respond only to the one they know. I read about a man in the 1700’s who was arrested and charged with stealing a sheep. But he claimed that it was one of his own that had been missing for many days. When the case went to court, the judge was puzzled, not knowing how to decide the matter. At last he asked that the sheep be brought into the courtroom. Then he ordered the plaintiff to step outside and call the animal. The sheep made no response except to raise its head and look frightened. The judge then instructed the defendant to go to the courtyard and call the sheep. When the accused man began to make his distinctive call, the sheep bounded toward the door. It was obvious that he recognized the familiar voice of his master.
I have a feeling that tone of voice is important with sheep as with humans and it also helps if you say the right things – to sheep as to anyone else
Have you seen the movie Babe – it’s about a young pig that plays the shepherd and helps us to understand something of the role of Jesus. Babe discovers that the secret of being a good shepherd is to speak softly and gently to the flock.
This is how God speaks to us. He doesn’t drive us from behind, shouting insults and biting our heels. God leads from in front. God leads us to the abundant life primarily by sending Jesus to show the way. And Jesus leads mostly by example – come, follow me, live this way, the answers over here… Walk this way, Jesus promises and you will inherit the kingdom of God.
Some people think that we have the voice of God in the Bible. But our church teaches us that the Bible is the Word of God, not the words of God. The Bible is not the voice of God speaking to us. The Bible is the voice of a great variety of people speaking to us about their experience of God. Some of these people were inspired. Some were not. The Bible may be authoritative for us, but it is not equally authoritative in all its parts. The Bible is not equally valid in all its parts and some of it is even wrong. John Wesley once said, “The Bible aside,” slavery is a wrong which Christians must oppose. Wesley was convinced that God abhorred slavery and so should Christians. The problem was that the Bible did not seem to say this, at least not in so many words. So… “The Bible aside!??” Such a statement sends a shudder through our more fundamentalist brothers and sisters. But we are definitely not Fundamentalists in this and in many other ways. Hearing the voice of God might sometimes mean challenging what is the common understanding and interpretation of scripture.
None of this is easy. We are all listening for the voice of God, which always is loudest when we are most quiet. But even then, it is barely discernible. Often, we have trouble hearing the voice of our good shepherd. A Christian mystic once said that we need to pray the same prayer in the same way for ten years before we will sense and understand God’s response. And even then, we will be surprised by the gentle requests he makes, by the quiet example he sends our way. The voice of God does not often speak in words, much less complete sentences, but it can usually be heard sometime between your getting up and your lying down each day, leading you beside the still waters, restoring your soul.