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You know the Voice [sermon for April 13, 2008]

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His Masters VoiceFourth Sunday of Easter

April 13, 2008—Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Let’s say you breed beautiful, valuable hunting dogs. You have new puppies. You keep them in your fenced yard.

One afternoon, you come home early, walk into the house, look out the kitchen window. You’re watch the puppies play – when a stranger pops his head up beyond the fence, looks around, throws one leg over, and rolls over into the yard.

What’s this guy up to? You know.

And that’s Jesus’ first point. Read with me, John 10 [from Bibles]

1″I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.

Obvious, isn’t it? But it’s sheep we’re talking about here. And Jesus uses two examples. The first one is of a town sheep pen. People would take their sheep out of it during the day, and at evening, all the people of the town would bring their sheep back for the night. One of them would watch thru the night.

2The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

So, what do we know so far? There are sheep. Someone tries to steal them. He has to sneak in to do it, because if he came in at the gate, the sheep wouldn’t follow him. They know their master’s voice, but they would run from a stranger.

And now he uses a different example. Shepherds would take their sheep into the country to graze. Maybe they have to go far enough that they don’t make it back to town. The shepherd knows a place where he can pen the sheep for the night – maybe he’s made it, maybe it’s a natural rock formation. But he leads the sheep into it, and then he lies down across the opening so they can’t get out. Let’s see what he says:

6Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. 7Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Constant contrast – between what and what? Thieves and robbers, who come to kill and destroy, and the shepherd (and here he lets his metaphor slip away) who comes that his sheep may have life, and have it to the full.

And again he mentions, in 8, the voice – the sheep didn’t listen to the thieves.

We’ll come back to this, but let’s look a little more at the shepherd. It’s a familiar metaphor in Jewish stories – for who is the shepherd in Jewish history? David, the ancestor of the Messiah.

Psalm 23
A psalm of David.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, [a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

What, then, is the shepherd like? What does he do? [I wait for answers to both of these]

That’s trustworthy reality. He will be there, no matter what.

Back to John 10. Jesus says he’s the gate and anyone who comes in any other way is a thief. Some take this to mean that Jesus is saying no one on earth goes to heaven except people who’ve been explicitly taught how to ask Jesus himself for forgiveness.

But there’s something strange about that. We’ve watched Jesus with insiders and outsiders, and condemnation is not what he’s up to. That seems different than the shepherd’s voice that we’ve seen in Luke and Matthew. And it seems different than the shepherd of Psalm 23. And why would he just come out of nowhere and say something like that?

In politics, in the news, and in the Bible, it’s the context that tells you what things really mean. Look with me.

All of C9 is about one thing – what is it? Man healed who was born blind.

Look at it. In 1-12: healing, and Jesus slips away, and people can’t believe it

At 13: Oho, it was on the Sabbath, so the Pharisees are hot. Everybody knows a godly person wouldn’t mix mud and put it on eyes and heal blindness on the Sabbath. Everybody knows a godly person wouldn’t break the rules of religion. Never mind the healing part, never mind that the poor guy had waited long enough, this just isn’t right.

And the rest of the C is arguments. They’re determined to prove it’s all made up, he’s not from God, and the man says, “Well here I am. I don’t know that the Devil does stuff like this.”

Finally they excommunicate him, and Jesus finds him again, they talk, and the man puts his trust in Jesus. And as the chapter closes, the Pharisees are still complaining, and Jesus calls them guilty, and implies that they’re blind by choice. And then … [I stood on the edge of the platform leaning forward to show the momentum carrying us into the next chapter]

Now remember, there are no chapters in the original N.T., and so John has Jesus, as his very next statement, as if in response to that story of argument, tell the story of the shepherd, the flock, and the thieves.

See any connections?

Think of this: in the shepherd story, Jesus says his sheep know his voice and follow him. In the man born blind story, all the man had to know Jesus by, at first, was his voice. The man ends up following Jesus.

But there were people trying to talk him out of it. Jesus had come to him pure and simple, and had spoken to him, and had changed him – and he knew it. But the religious heavies had no relationship with him; they just claimed authority over him, and insisted he should follow them, not some obviously wicked character who knows no better than to heal on the Sabbath.

Could it be that Jesus is saying to the man “You know. You know that voice that was present when you were healed. You know.” The Pharisees are trying to steal him away, but he knows the Shepherd’s voice, and he’ll follow the Shepherd, not religion, no thanks. He’s excommunicated, and gets saved in the process. All because he listens for the Voice he knows.

So Jesus is not giving a theological discourse on how people of other faiths come to God. In the context, he’s pointing out that this man born blind knew the Shepherd’s voice and followed it, despite being condemned for it by the religious authorities of his day. Jesus gives us no reason for applying his words more broadly than that.

And you have known that voice. Maybe not a voice in the “out-loud” sense, but you’ve known the Voice of the Shepherd.

Can we share a little, about what that Voice is like? Or a time when you came to know something that just rang true with the Voice?

So how do we become a community of the Voice? How do we become a connected set of people who look and act like the Voice speaks? After all, the Shepherd story is about a religious community that was working against the Voice, and not like it at all. If we’re like the Voice, what will we be like?

Acts 2:42
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

How had the Voice become a people?

As Dan Clendennin points out in Journey with Jesus:

Later he describes how “no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. There were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” Barnabas “sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:32-37). A few pages later Luke describes financial assistance for widows (Acts 6) and famine relief efforts (11:29)

A generation or two after the events described by Luke, the theologian Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) summarized the appeal of Christian community: “We who once took most pleasure in accumulating wealth and property now share with everyone in need; we who hated and killed one another and would not associate with men of different tribes because of their different customs now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them and pray for our enemies.”

Tertullian (AD 155-220) similarly wrote about the Christians’s well-known and well-deserved reputation for socio-economic generosity that built bridges of community rather than walls of separation: “Our care for the derelict and our active love have become our distinctive sign before the enemy. . . . See, they say, how they love one another and how ready they are to die for each other.”

If we fast-forward to today, Garry Wills observes in his book What Jesus Meant (2006) that giving more rather than getting more has a long and strong tradition – among “Eastern monks, the first Franciscans, the Shakers, Catholic Workers, worker priests, base communities [in Latin America], and Christian communities like Jonah House.” The Catholic Worker Movement, for example, was founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933. It espouses a strong belief in the God-given dignity of every human being. Today over 185 Catholic Worker communities remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken.

I read recently a study of how money relates to happiness: researchers discovered that when people gave money away, they reported greater happiness than when they bought something for themselves.

Generosity is the hallmark of the Church. Been thinking about someone to whom you’d like to give a bit of what you have?
May we know the Voice and show the Voice.

Tags: , , , , , , , Monte Asbury

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