11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own 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 do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Elocution – the skill of clear and expressive speech. I consider myself to be an exceptional speaker. But it has not come with ease. In fact, when I was a child I stuttered profusely. Speech therapists said my mind was moving faster than my mouth, and I just needed to slow things down up there, to allow my mouth time to catch up down here. I hated for people to ask me what my name was because I had the most trouble with the “U” sound. “Myy myy my name is UUUUUUUB.” That’s okay y’all can laugh, I’m over it. My brothers and sisters made fun of me all the time, because kids are cruel. There’s home video of us at a birthday party and their interviewing each kid, name and age. And there I was on tape stinking up the place smh. I was so embarrassed to speak that I only did it when absolutely necessary. In the process of not speaking, I became very proficient in listening.
Today, I consider myself to be a pretty exceptional speaker, but even more so, I consider myself to be a phenomenal listener. It’s why I did so well in school. I listened, and listening is learning. The greek philosopher Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” In leadership, the person in charge should never be the one doing the most talking; he/she should be the one doing the most listening, because listening is leadership. You can neither learn nor lead effectively if you’re always running your mouth and never listening to what’s being taught or the concerns of others around you who look to you for guidance. Possibly my most favorite proverb, is an Arabic one, “Open your mouth only if what you are going to say is more beautiful than silence.” We talk a lot! And listen a little. When it should probably be the other way around.
So what does any of this have to do with this morning’s text? This familiar story of the good shepherd? This gospel narrative that highlights all of the positive attributes of the risen savior Jesus Christ our shepherd, and all that is not of a good shepherd in the hired hand? Oh and lets not forget about the wolf. Just in the first 3 verses of this gospel reading we get a clear understanding of each:
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
So right away we know who the good shepherd is and that he lays down his life for the sheep. We also know who the hired hand is and that he runs away when he sees the wolf, who came to steal and scatter the sheep. But we as Jesus’s flock, as the sheep to the good shepherd, what can we glean from this? The answer to this question is one of the most fascinating realities of this text and it’s in plain sight but is rarely addressed. Jesus’ claims point to one key fact that permeates this passage: recognition of the shepherd’s voice (verse 16). It reads again,
“16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
Of the 4 primary characters in this gospel, the good shepherd, the hired hand, the wolf, and the sheep, Jesus only attributes one characteristic to the sheep: their ability to recognize his voice, their ability to listen.
Embedded in this statement is a basic fact that is recognized and studied in the field of speech communication: listening. Prior to recognizing and responding to a sound, one must listen. In their pioneering research work entitled “Listening,” co-authors Wolvin and Coakley identify five basic types of listening: discriminative, comprehensive, critical, therapeutic and appreciative. These interrelated types start with the very basic ability of an individual to hear sounds and then move to other tiers of analysis, critique, concern, and appreciation. If the link between Jesus and his flock is mediated by recognition of the Master’s voice, what does that mean for the kind of spiritual listening involved in responding to him?
In a culture and church which is heavily focused on word and speaking, the emphasis on listening as a prior condition and state can be overlooked. Yet, listening has a rich spiritual and personal biblical history in the area of spiritual formation and discernment. Listening is the prior requirement for any type of effective speaking environment. The Wolvin and Coakley paradigm offers some interesting possibilities for the way we hear God; and when I say “hear” I say that with the understanding that listening is far more than merely hearing, listening is also responding to what is heard. So, what does the herd hear?!
Certainly the ability to recognize the shepherd’s voice at all is what preaching the Gospel is about. But this attitude of listening predates the gospel. In the Hebrew scriptures, a sound proceeding from some invisible source was considered a heavenly voice, since the revelation on Sinai was given in that way in Deuteronomy 4:12: “Ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice”. In this account, God reveals himself to man through his organs of hearing, not through those of sight. Even the prophet Ezekiel, who sees many visions, “heard a voice of one that spake”; similarly, Elijah recognized God by a “still, small voice,” and a voice addressed him; sometimes God’s voice rang from the heights, from Jerusalem, from Zion; and God’s voice was heard in the thunder and in the roar of the sea.
Martin Luther would later write in his Smalcald Articles, that the effective functioning of the means of grace is mediated by the ear! In other words, without the prior attitude of listening to the Lord’s voice through preaching, the sacraments, the words of forgiveness, and the church itself, our relationship to the shepherd would be rendered meaningless. We daringly claim to speak for God, by our voice to bring the Voice which calls us to life, salvation, new hope, and safety. It is a voice which the Church has had the wisdom to recognize must be spoken repeatedly without cessation to all who recognize it and to those who are unfamiliar with it. It is that same shepherd’s voice that prompts Christians to say to one another, “We have heard the Lord!”
Jesus’ statement in verse 16 prompts as much thoughtful discussion today as it did in centuries past. The fact that this text is preached as part of the Easter season begs the question that If God in the risen Christ speaks even yet, in what ways do we listen to that voice? Are we even listening to the right voice? Can you recognize Christ’s voice? Discern his voice from that of the enemy or even that of your own?
Consider this: the story of the good shepherd is a story about relationships. A relationship between Jesus the Son and God the Father; a relationship between Jesus the shepherd and we the sheep; the lack of relationship between the hired hand and the sheep. Verse 13 says, “The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.” He didn’t know the sheep and therefore did not care about their wellbeing. The hired hand had no deep relationship with God’s flock. Relationships are important in the listening process. This dynamic can be seen in perhaps the most intimate relationship within humanity, the bond between mother and child.
Research reveals that fetuses can hear sounds as early as 30 weeks. In particular, fetuses actively listen to the mother’s voice in the final 10 weeks of pregnancy. A study was done where 60 women in the final stage of pregnancy were tested. All the mothers were recorded as a they read a poem out loud. Then the mothers were divided into 2 groups. Half the fetuses heard the recordings of their own mothers, the other half heard another mother, but not their own. In both cases the poem caused a change in the babies heart rate. The heart rate accelerated among those who heard their own mother’s voice, and decelerated among those who heard a voice other than their mother’s. The acceleration in heart rate is a result of excitement and joy in hearing what’s familiar. It’s like “oh hey I know who that is!” On the other hand, deceleration of the heart rate signifies an “attention mechanism.” The heart beat among fetuses who heard an unfamiliar voice slowed down because they were paying close attention to a voice they did not recognize. In other words, they were trying to figure out who was talking because they knew it wasn’t their mom.
And so I challenge you this morning saints, what do you feel in your heart when you hear the voice of God or what you think is the voice of God? Does your heart speed up in excitement and joy of hearing a familiar voice? Or does it slow down because the voice of God is unfamiliar and unrecognizable to your spiritual ear? If the latter is true, then you might not be in a deep enough relationship with God and you might be following a hired hand, or even worse a wolf. If you neither know Christ nor follow Christ, you will not know how to hear Christ’s voice. So before I take my seat I’d like to offer 3 ways to recognize God’s voice from that of the hired hands and the wolves.
Knowing God’s Voice by The Approach
1. God calls and soothes us with the gentle, confident and comforting voice of a shepherd who leads his sheep. Like a ravening wolf, Satan seeks to drive the sheep into panic. He threatens, demands and intimidates.
2. The Lord’s voice is quiet and deeply internal. Satan’s voice is intrusive.
Knowing God’s Voice by The Content
1. God always speaks in ways that concur with major principles of Scripture and His revealed attributes.
2. God’s voice drips with mercy and grace toward us and toward others. He does not condemn our personal worth.
3. The Lord’s voice usually focuses on changing us rather than on urging us to change others.
4. God’s voice is grounded in truth and hope in contrast to being grounded in past, negative experiences.
Knowing God’s Voice by The Effects
1. We will have more hope rather than less when God speaks to us. Satan’s voice speaks hopeless despair.
2. Hearing God’s voice produces more empathy for others. Satan wants us to despise and/or envy others.
3. Listening to God brings a greater sense of peace even when our outward circumstances do not change. (Story about mother’s passing).
You know years ago a show called American Idol took the country by storm. Who would be the next great vocal talent? Since then many other shows like it have emerged, the most recent and now most popular show being, “The Voice.” I like The Voice because The Voice is uniquely different from the other shows in that it sheds the judges of all their biases and prejudices and prejudgements to where they are blind to the singer’s appearance and must make a decision to turn their chairs around in favor of a singer based only on what they hear. The singer then chooses who they’d like to build a relationship with to compete for the show’s top spot. My brothers and sisters in Christ, we sit in those judges chairs daily, with only what we can hear and blind faith. And there are many voices to choose from: good for nothing family members, disloyal friends, conniving coworkers, prosperity preachers, hired hands, and wolves. But only one of those voices is THE Voice. Only one can be THE Voice of God, and THE Voice desires to be in relationship with each and every one of you. Shed yourself of the doubt, the confusion, and fear and turn your chair around for The Voice, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord who lives and reigns among us. Amen.