Sunday 30 April 2023 Fourth Sunday of Easter (Vocations Sunday)
Listening for the voice of Jesus
1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
Context: a Eucharist in a rural village setting for a mainly older congregation who appreciate a clear and simple message
Aim: to emphasize the need to listen for Jesus’s voice
Listening to the radio is part of the ritual of my morning. I still possess an old-fashioned radio with a dial to turn every time you want to change stations. Depending on my mood, it may require whizzing past other voices and music, listening out for the voice I want to hear.
SHEEP AND SHEPHERDING
In our gospel today, Jesus gives us a picture of sheep and a shepherd, describing how the sheep know the voice of the shepherd and follow him, compared with the thieves who try and get into the sheepfold with a bad purpose in mind, and whose voices they ignore.
We are used to seeing sheep in the fields around our village and so the image has resonance for us here. For some urban dwellers, though, this pastoral image may seem quaint and distant. Sometimes it can be helpful for us to think of alternative scenarios where the same truth can be depicted, as it can give us new insights into a familiar story.
Perhaps you might have a suggestion? The voice on a tannoy at the station giving us instruction for our direction and safety? A tour guide with a flag leading from the front? Yet both of these pictures are quite limited as they fail to grasp the intimacy and care of a shepherd caring for his sheep, day by day, night after night, even to the extent that he is prepared to lay down his life for their sake. The image of the gate in verse seven expands this: I understand in those days a shepherd might even lie in the doorway of the sheepfold at night so that marauding sheep stealers couldn’t get near.
This is just one detail outlining how Gospel-writer John’s Middle Eastern readers would have heard this story in a particular way. I understand that in the Middle East sheep are led from the front. They form such a trusting relationship with their shepherd that they won’t stir if he steps carefully around them at night, but if a stranger goes near, they are easily startled and move fast.
Again, in the Middle East, you sometimes see several shepherds arriving with their flocks at a watering place at the same time. Inevitably the flocks get muddled, yet when it is time to move on, each shepherd whistles and the sheep follow their own leader. They know their shepherd’s voice. Similarly, when they are being moved, sheep respond trustingly when the shepherd goes first.
RECOGNISING THE FLOCK
I used to live on the edge of Dartmoor where we met an artist, David Young, well-known for his landscapes of the Moor. David always paints from real life. Once, when a painting of his was on display at a local event, he describes how one of the farmers was greatly surprised to recognise ‘Tuppy’, one of his sheep, in the picture! Sheep in a flock might be completely indistinguishable to us as outsiders, but to the shepherd, each one is known and valued. Jesus goes ahead of us. He knows and values each one of us, too.
LISTENING TO THE CALL
Are we prepared to take time to listen carefully to Jesus’s voice, as it is found in Scripture?
Are we prepared to hear our name being called, and to respond? We all have something of value to offer in this life. We all have treasure within — treasure that God can take and use to make us more complete as human beings, in God, and in God’s service.
Will we listen to the voice calling us?
Sometimes calling us to stay.
Sometimes calling us to move, despite the risks and uncertainties.
Calling us to follow him in our jobs, in our roles in ministry in the churches we belong to, and in the communities we live in.
Calling us for acts of loving service.
Calling us to speak out for him.
Jesus’ call often comes in small, seemingly insignificant ways. Dare we ‘tune in’, I wonder? Dare we listen out, like on my old radio, among the clamour of voices in our noisy, busy, exciting world, so that we may hear the voice of the good shepherd, calling our name and inviting us to follow him?
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