Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Easter – April 15, 2018
“Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd.”
YOU HEAR MY VOICE and you understand my speech. It’s an everyday occurrence. Each of us knows a hundred, maybe hundreds of voices after they speak just a few words, or just sing a line or two of a familiar song. Your recognition of the uniqueness of voices is a gift from God. How do you distinguish one person’s voice from another?
A voice, like a fingerprint, is unique to each of us. We have machines today that will identify a voice-print that is as specific to one individual as fingerprints are, or the iris of one’s eye, or our DNA. More than mere arrangements of patterns of skin or iris color, a voice is an action that begins down in the lungs, where air is pushed through trachea and larynx, the voice box, through vocal cords that vibrate at various pitches. As in any instrument, a single note may be formed, but even that has many accidentals, quiet or loud secondary notes that add texture to the sound.
Then this buzzing sound of many notes comes through uniquely shaped throat and mouth, across tongue and gums, through teeth and lips, all shaping that buzz into special sounds that resemble what we have created as language. The notes say things. That message travels through air in sounds waves, patterns intended to land on someone else’s ear.
Speaking is miraculous. We think an abstract thought, put the thought into language in our minds. The impetus to speak drives that speech mechanism to form sounds that emulate the words we believe express our thoughts, and drive those words into space. There a corresponding miracle takes place.
Your ear funnels those sound-words into and onto a drum. The drum vibrates with the pressure of the sound waves, activating sensors that turn the vibrations into nerve signals that now travel into your brain. Thousands of information bits per second are translated into sound bits making words, strung together to make sentences that again translate into thoughts that your mind recognize. I have touched your mind with my mind, all with my hands in my pockets.
Add to that your recognition of my own voice, and perhaps the tenor of my voice giving you the sense that I am happy, or angry, excited or bored, urgent or fearful or just fooling around—or maybe I’m singing it, adding the language of notes and melody. You hear all that. So why can’t you hear the voice of God?
The dual miracles of speaking and hearing, I think, surpass that of seeing. All of our senses bring the outside world, with its inhabitants, into our perception and comprehension. We were created to be receivers. Add to that taste and smell and sense of touch, and you have the physical parts of a human receiver. Today we know that we are more than the physical body with its sensations, just as our mentality is more than just a three-pound brain, wonderful though that is. There are higher senses, and there is a higher mind that transcends the physical. Evidence abounds that we are more than flesh, and if more, then what? What are we?
It appears that our bodies resemble in some ways our non-physical selves through the apprehensions and senses higher than mere nerve processes that we are still aware of. Our brains process stimuli, but our minds consider the stars, and philosophy, and poems, music, art, and love. We believe that closely associated with our physical brain is a mind, and that mind is in communion with our spirit, and our spirit in touch with God. Likewise, the body may feel pleasure, pain and fear, but our heart, a term we use for the center of emotion and motivation, feels joy, dread, aching loneliness, and passionate love. Above our animal instincts to hide, or run, or draw toward something is a will that may contradict our nature, yet overcomes it by a secret strength. All this may be called the soul.
Spirit is higher still. Our spirits are capable of travel while the soul and body still live. Higher causes appeal to our spirits, deeper truths speak, more powerful themes and knowledge of eternal things impress us. Our spirits are mysteries to us, and yet if we knew them, we might discover senses there that find and receive and see and touch the face of God. We know what Jesus Christ said: that we hear His Voice. Do you hear His Voice?
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. A hired hand isn’t a shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep. When he sees a wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and quickly runs away. So the wolf drags the sheep away and scatters the flock. The hired hand is concerned about what he’s going to get paid and not about the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep as the Father knows me. My sheep know me as I know the Father. So I give my life for my sheep. I also have other sheep that are not from this pen. I must lead them. They, too, will respond to my voice. So they will be one flock with one shepherd.” Jn 10:11-16
Do you hear that voice? Now, my voice was reading the passage, familiar to us because we’ve heard is since we were children. You heard my voice, but did you hear another?
If you have trouble hearing God’s Voice, and knowing that you hear Him, there are just a few pointers I might make. But comfort yourself in this. You are here. You already heard His Voice, or you would be doing something else. You don’t know what you already know. You just didn’t recognize the process, maybe, and called it something else. You don’t feel mystical, spiritual, magical, so you say this church experience is good for you, or it is your duty, or that it answers to some sense of God you once had. Your senses are still working perfectly, my friends. You may be rationalizing them away, or blocking them. Think a little on truth. Truth will lead you. Truth will set you free.
God created you. He made you for Himself. You are not alien to His world, so you have the equipment, by divine design, to apprehend your Creator. It’s silly to think or say otherwise. Just believe that and half the battle is over. If you know that He is, and you are speaking to Him, and He to you, then all you need is to listen in the way that His familiar voice will occur to you as His communication. He’s been speaking to you all your life. That’s part of the trouble. You thought it was just your thoughts, or background noise, or a nagging conscience.
You have to want to hear His Voice. God can break in on a person or conversation by force, as pleases Him. Most of the time it doesn’t please Him, but He wants you to seek for Him. He is not your genie in a bottle, your special spirit friend. He holds your eternity. Come to Him as your King, and you, His subject. Your reason for hearing Him is to obey what He says, not to get the outcome of the game, or a parking place.
If you can’t tell God’s messages from all the voices in your head, that might just be your own ideas, ready answers, and conflicting emotions, then practice hearing God’s Voice. How? Read His Words. God speaks in the Bible. I just read a passage of Jesus’ speech. Read all His words. Read Old Testament passages where God speaks. The entire Bible is God-breathed, so you will hear Him underneath the human accounts as well. If you don’t know the Messiah of scripture, you meet a stranger at the Eucharist.
If you ask a question of Him, there may be silence. He chooses to speak, or not to. The question may be inappropriate, or the wrong question to ask, or not answerable now: the answer not being good for you. It’s up to Him, not you.
Your prayer may already be a form of His Voice. The Holy Spirit urges us to pray, to seek God, to voice a concern, and thus our prayer may hold part of the answer we are seeking. It’s His process. Go with it. Listen to how He leads you to pray.
His Voice is not always a voice. We may “get” what He’s telling us by mental impressions, images, brief mental videos, or a sense of His emotional tenor. If you ask a question and feel resistance or disapproval, figure this was a No, or that He wants another kind of communication at this time. Don’t press it. He also may delay answering and then give you a series of events that translate into His answer, played out on the stage of your life. And it may be a still small voice, just a whisper, with nothing dramatic connected with it, yet you know that was His answer.
Clean up your thoughts. The world bombards us with distractions, images, urges, advertisements, and shallow entertainments—all designed to tie up our mental equipment, higher minds and even spirits with junk. Take time to exhale. Just let it out. Get into His Presence, as you are here, and read slowly the eternal truths, speak what you already know, like the Creed, and marinate your grey cells with truth. Our minds are over-stimulated with the world’s junk food. We have to re-acquire our appetite for heavenly food. And we have to retrain ourselves away from lies. The devil is a liar. Your minds have been peppered with his deviously implanted ideas. Find them. Change your thinking.
Pay attention to other voices—sometimes. God may speak through others speaking. I hope that these messages from up here might always be that for you. I am a funnel. He pours these messages through me to you, so far as I know. I hope to keep the process clear of my own nonsense, but forgive me if I don’t manage it perfectly. Others in your life will speak God’s words to you. If you’re listening, and expecting Him to speak, you’ll hear His Voice.
Weed out contradictions from what you already know. The Bible lays out certain truths and ways of living that will not change just for you. Sexual sin by definition doesn’t change just because you fell in love. Greed, envy, pride, malice, and other sins we know are sins don’t become virtues, nor do any of God’s definitions change. The circumstances change, applications may be needed, advice taken, but God’s Word remains. Some answers were given long ago. Don’t ask again.
Be patient. Sometimes God lets you wait for His Voice, knowing you need the rest. It’s fine to be a Quaker for 15 minutes, or an hour, not hearing anything but filling your mind with Truth that you already know. Read the Psalms, the Beatitudes, Proverbs, a good book. Listen, be silent, dwell in His Presence and His Love. That may be all the communication you need at one time or other.
St. Peter praises anyone who “for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.” Endurance under fire means you may not get relief or answers during a painful season. Endurance, or long-suffering, patience in our current usage, means it’s bad, and we know it’s unavoidable, and that God has us here for His purposes, and there it is. Just endure it. All we get from on high is His quiet approval. This is His assignment, so you just stand there and take it. I’m sorry if that’s an unpleasant teaching, but it wouldn’t do to let you think the God-stuff is all tea parties. Sometimes it’s Gethsemane. When that’s the case, you are going to learn things about God, and about yourself and human nature, that no other training on earth can give you. Buckle up. This is graduate level stuff. Endure.
This is called Shepherd Sunday. We are told, as was Pilate, that Jesus’ Voice is heard by all who have a part in Him. You heard His Voice and came today. You’re hearing His Voice now. He loves you and wants all good things for you. He laid down His life for you, and raised Himself up again for you. He calls many to join His flock. There is only one flock, and only one Good Shepherd.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6