Acts 9: 36-43, John 10: 22-30
One of my all-time favourite tv comedy programmes is “One Foot in the Grave”. The main character was Victor Meldrew and I never quite decided whether to feel sorry for him or to be angry with him. Whenever anything happened that he thought was wrong, or someone said something that he didn’t like his famous words were always “I don’t believe it!”). It didn’t matter if what he’d heard was true, or what had happened was for the greater good, or things actually played out to prove it…if he didn’t like it, it made him angry and well there was no changing his mind. To a certain extent I think we can all be a bit like this at times. I take after my mum in many ways – all good things. But one of her habits and it is also one of mine is that whenever someone tells me some amazing news, my reaction is often “No! Really?”. The news or information is true, but so amazing to me that I can’t quite believe it. Well in our Gospel reading we hear that this is the reaction of the Jews around Jesus as he walked in the temple courts. Despite having heard him speak, or heard of him speak. Despite seeing or hearing of the miracles he has performed. Despite hearing him declare who he really is – the Messiah, the Son of God – They still ask him “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” They are still challenging him as to whether he is really is the Christ. I can almost replace them with Victor Meldrew saying “I don’t believe it!” They want him to make a clear statement, not talk in parables or images or similes. Jesus tells them that his teaching and actions are clear evidence of who he is. But they cannot accept that Jesus and God the Father are calling people to salvation and giving them eternal life. They find his claims of closeness to God an outrageous blasphemy, and again threaten to stone him. But Jesus reminds them and indeed us that he is the Good Shepherd. He tells them that they don’t believe him because they aren’t one of his sheep, they do not know him, they do not recognize his voice. And so, we are reminded that he is the voice of God – he is our teacher and our guide.
Which poses for us two important questions, I think.
What does it mean for us to listen to the voice of God?
As disciples, we are called to listen – we must be willing to listen to the voice that speaks to us – the voice that calls us to follow.
But, what does this voice sound like?
Is it one voice or many?
Is it loud or is it a soft voice?
How do we recognise the voice of God?
I think for each of us it is different.
For example, In the Old Testament, we’re told that Job heard the voice of God speaking to him from the whirlwind. Moses heard the voice of God speaking to him from the burning bush. And many in both the Old and New Testament heard God speak to them through His angel messengers. Job and Moses, along with many others heard the voice of God in some way and they listened to it. They allowed themselves to be led to a new place. And, along the way, they discovered a new way of living – a new hope and deeper meaning. In a way, I think these examples of calling show us that the wisdom of God – the wisdom of the good shepherd can be experienced in many different ways. The voice of God can be a loud voice or a softly spoken voice – it can be one voice or it can be many. The voice can come from within or it can come from somewhere else. My personal experience is that I have heard the voice of God in different ways in different situations. From a small whisper, through the words of others. Sometimes quietly, sometimes with a very large shout! For example, my call from God to be ordained began some 15 years ago as a small whisper. Which I first of all ignored. I mean why on earth would he call someone like me – I am not worthy. So, people came in to my life, some only briefly or a one-off meeting, who raised the question “are you thinking of being Ordained”,
“I think you are being called to ordination”. Eventually I plucked up the courage to speak to my then Incumbent – fully expecting him to laugh me out of the room. But he didn’t – instead he told me “It’s about time!” So, God spoke to me through others until he had made me stop and listen and follow.
Things didn’t immediately work out and instead of being ordained I became a Licensed Lay Minister. Thinking I had pleased God enough I tried to put the thought of Ordination out of my head. However! We are talking about God and that was not what he was trying to say to me. So, more people spoke to me about ordination. There was a small matter of not being married to Richard which had prevented me from going forward for ordination. He was adamant he didn’t want to get married. However! Out of the blue he proposed. I left it a respectable 2 days before asking what had changed his mind. And this is the loud shout I spoke of earlier! He said he’d had a dream and someone told him he had to marry me. He had the dream several more times so he thought he should do as he was told. Richard does not do church. He isn’t a Christian though he does believe in God.
He has no idea who this voice was. And yet he still followed. And of course, I do know whose voice that was. So, we married, I was ordained and now I’m here with you. That is my testimony. But we can all hear the voice of God if we only stop and listen. It can be heard all around us.
It is the voice of compassion and forgiveness – it is the voice of reason and understanding. Of course, we need to filter out and ignore many other voices that fill our world today. Those that tell us to only be concerned with ourselves, to live for the moment, to take care of only our own immediate needs. To live for all the pleasures, power and wealth that we can gather, even at the expense of others. But, the Good Shepherd, as described in our reading today, speaks with God’s voice – sharing with us a very different message. The voice of God tells us that he loves us and that only love is endless. The voice of God is a voice of love and friendship and community.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd who knows us. Isn’t that just so amazing – Jesus knows each and every one of us? We are His sheep and so we follow him. We trust Him to lead us in the right and safe way. We know we can never be taken from Him, from God the Father. We know he gives us eternal life. We know Jesus and God the Father are one. So, I pray that this service today will remind us of our calling to listen carefully for the voice of God speaking to us. Whether that be speaking from the whirlwind, or from the burning voice, speaking through the life of the apostles and all the saints, or speaking through the people of this church. Whether that voice be loud or softly spoken. Whether that voice comes from within or from another place.
I pray that we will receive it in our hearts, we will listen and we will respond to the voice that calls to us. I pray that we follow and we serve.