“A Promise and A Challenge”

Cathy Harris – 5/10/20 – John 10:1-6, 14-16 – PFM

Welcome this morning to our worship services at PFM on May 10, and Happy Mother’s Day!

John 10:1-6, 14-16
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
When I go visit Edna Mae (a delightful woman in our Meeting), one of the things we enjoy talking about is farm life. She grew up on a farm, and helped her father plant fields in the spring as well as helped to take care of the livestock. When Edna Mae’s father died, she got out the tractor and worked the land and planted the crops herself.

I didn’t grow up on a farm, but my grandparents were farmers, and I loved being over at their house on the farm. When I was in high school, my grandfather was sick, and I helped my uncle disk the fields – in the spring before he planted the crops, and in the fall after they were harvested, we plowed the fields – something I enjoyed very much. Edna Mae and I each have a connection with the farm land and houses that have been in each of our families for many years.

Edna Mae is a pretty amazing woman. She’s around 90 years old – is very active – and she still raises cows and sheep – and Edna Mae loves her cows and sheep. Her grandson and his wife, as well as some of her great-grandchildren – come over every day to help feed the sheep.

Last Fall – around November or December, she told me she was hoping her ewes would give birth on Christmas Day – or at least very close to Christmas Day. She was thinking how special it would be to help the ewes to give birth on Christmas Day.

Edna Mae grew up learning how to take care of farm animals.
And when she began raising her own sheep and cattle, she taught her children, then grandchildren and great-grandchildren – how to take care of the animals.
The younger children help bottle feed any baby lambs whose mothers are unable to feed them. And – as they grow older, they learn how to keep sheep healthy, how to care for them, how to guide them and move them from pasture to pasture to the barn. They spend some cold nights in the barn – watching – helping – with a ewe to deliver her baby lamb.
When I was growing up – in the front of my meeting house (church) – there was a large picture of Jesus as a shepherd – walking on a path, carrying a little lamb with the other sheep walking close to him. It is a peaceful, comforting, sweet scene.

A few years ago, I read a book by Flora Slosson Wuellner – a pastor as well as a professor – wrote:
“A picture that was hung in my room when I was a child changed my life. It was a picture of a shepherd climbing down a rugged Cliffside; with one hand he gripped a rock and with the other he reached down to a sheep that had fallen to a ledge below. Its face looked up in terror and trust. A bird of prey circled overhead. I could not see the shepherd’s face as he strained down to the sheep, but I could see the knotted muscles, the bleeding hands and arms gashed by thorns, the twisted garment torn in the steep descent.

“That’s the Good Shepherd. That’s Jesus,” my parents told me.

I stared in amazement. This picture was very different from the one of the Good Shepherd on the wall of my Sunday school room. In that one, a placid shepherd in a spotless white robe strolled along a grassy level path, carrying an equally spotless and placid lamb.

The shepherd in my picture was paying a real and painful price. I could see from the concentrated body and the compassionate authority of the outstretched hand that to reach the hurt and crying animal mattered more to him than anything else in the world. And I knew as I gazed at the picture that that sheep would be reached, held, healed, and lifted to life.

Through the years, God and the meaning of God came to me through that picture and changed me. Perhaps each of us can remember some such pivotal incident, some event, some book or picture or poem, some person, some experience of love or pain, that began to open to us something of the passion and compassion of God who enters our pain and stretches out healing hands forever.” (“Prayer, Stress, and Our Inner Wounds” by Flora Slosson Wuellner).

That picture gave Flor Slosson Wuellner a different image of God – and changed her life. In that picture, she saw how much Jesus loved that lamb – how much he loved her – and she got a glimpse of God’s passion and compassion for us – his sheep.

After reading that in her book, I searched online for a picture of Jesus reaching over the edge of a cliff – and found this picture. It, too, changed my image of Jesus.

In a book study I helped lead at Spiceland several years ago, Wes (the youth pastor) and I asked people to bring in their favorite picture of Jesus. Wes and I also went all over the church and gathered up different paintings/pictures of Jesus.

It was actually quite interesting. A friend of mine – Janet – brought a picture of a shepherd (Jesus) riding on a horse – in the night, carrying a lantern, holding a calf – in the midst of the storm. I really like that picture of Jesus and felt drawn to it.

I also have a sketch picture of Jesus – carving wood – a carpenter, and a print of Jesus throwing his head back – laughing.

I like all of these images of Jesus, and I think each of them speak to us in different ways – depending on where we are at and what is going on in our lives.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” We are in the 10th Chapter of John’s Gospel, which is full of statements by Jesus about those who hear and those who recognize his voice.

What does Jesus say in this chapter? He says:

  • The good shepherd will lead his sheep. They will hear his voice. They will follow because they recognize his voice.
  • The sheep who are in the flock of the good shepherd do not follow strangers, because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice
  •  Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know mine, and mine know me. They will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” And all of this is summarized in what Jesus says in today’s passage: “My sheep hear my voice… and they follow me.” Jesus is the shepherd, the leader, the master. We are his sheep, valued members of his flock, the ones entrusted to his care.

How will we know how to follow? Jesus said it: his sheep “hear his voice.” In that one line there is a promise, and a challenge. The promise is this –Jesus promises to speak to us.

Our shepherd – Jesus – knows that we have questions, that we desire guidance and truth.
That’s the promise – that Jesus will speak to us.
And the challenge is this: In order to hear Jesus speaking to us, we need to take time to listen for God’s voice. There are many voices in our world, clamoring for our attention, making demands of us, extending empty promises to us, and sometimes there are even voices that try to deceive us.

So – how do we tell the difference between God’s voice and the other voices in the world that are clamoring for our attention?

We start by listening. Listening for God’s voice. Yes, I know it is difficult sometimes to know which voice is God’s – what is it that God wants me to do? Which is the best way for me to move forward? Is this something I want to make happen? Or is it God leading me a particular direction?

And so, we listen. We try to figure it out.
Listening for God’s voice takes practice on our part – and by ‘practice’, I mean taking time to not only talk with God, but to be still and listen to God also.

What does God’s voice sound like?
People rarely say that they hear God speak to them in an actual voice – although it is entirely possible.
It’s more likely to “hear” God – by God nudging us, guiding us, answering us – through intuitions that come while we pray… or by thoughts that persist… a sense of peace that fills us when we consider one option over others.

Then, we can hold those personal, prayerful intuitions to see if they are congruent with the truth of the Scriptures – or test them with our faith community. As Friends/Quakers, if someone wants to “test a leading” – wanting help in discerning which voices are truly God’s voice speaking into our lives – Quakers offer a Clearness Committee – not to give us advice – not to tell us what we should do – but it creates a safe place to share all the pieces that we are listening for – and the Committee asks questions to help us sort things out and clarify our way forward.

That’s how the shepherd’s voice often comes to us – a nudge, an intuition, thoughts that persist, a sense of peace, or through the voice of a trusted friend.

Michael Renninger – a Catholic priest – writes that: “After 25 years of ministry, I still feel like a beginner at prayer. There is so much more for me to learn about the Lord that I love.
There is so much depth to the mystery of God. I stand humbly before that mystery.
But I have begun to notice a few patterns – patterns which help me discern whether I am hearing the voice the Lord, or whether the message is coming from somewhere else.

What have I learned?

  •  If the voice you hear encourages you to trust…then it’s probably the Lord. If the voice you hear leads you to cynicism, then it’s probably an imposter.
  •  If the voice you hear calls you to be generous and self-transcending, then it’s from the Lord. If the voice calls you to selfishness, self-centeredness, it’s an imposter.
  •  If the voice you hear calls you to be faithful, to be true to your word, to keep your promises, it’s from the Lord. If the voice invites you to break your promise and lie, it’s probably an imposter.
  •  If you hear an invitation to spend more of your life focused on others, to measure your success by the difference you make in someone else’s life, it’s probably from the Lord.
  • If the voice you hear calls you to be a peacemaker, a justice-doer, a hope-giver, it’s from the Lord.
  •  If you hear an encouragement to treasure life, set aside angers, forgive and forgive some more, it’s from the Lord.
  •  If the voice you hear tells you that you are deeply loved by the eternal God, if the voice you hear tells you that you have a dignity that no one can take away from you, if you hear a reminder that that Jesus loved you so much that he was willing to die for you…then that voice is from the Lord. But if the voice you hear tells you that you’re not worth it, that there is no hope for you… It’s a lie, from a Liar.”

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. My sheep hear my voice. I lay down my life for them.”
He laid down his life for you. That’s how much he loves you.

And in our daily struggle to know what’s right and do what’s right, the best thing that we can do is to pray, which means … to talk with God and to listen. We will discover – not only how much God love us, but how God is calling us to love others.

Eugene Peterson: All of us can choose Jesus – the Good Shepherd – as the model of how we are going to live our lives as good shepherds who become interested in the people around us as persons – not problems – not projects – not puzzles. Persons we will look to serve, to lay down our lives for.

Jesus says, I am the good shepherd and the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
Why didn’t Jesus ask, I am the great teacher and you are my brilliant, attentive students – and you can do anything you set your mind to. Jesus didn’t say he was the great CEO working in the office, and we are his second level managers working out on the floor.

As Jesus prepares to leave his disciples, he says, I am the loving, searching, seeking, self-sacrificing Good Shepherd. My sheep know me and I know them – I speak to them and they know my voice.

A promise and a challenge.
Jesus promises to speak to us.
We are challenged to listen.

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