Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Voice


1 Corinthians 1:4-9, John 10:1-10
May 7, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry


The Apostle Paul is known to us because of his dramatic conversion to Christ on the road to Damascus, and because of his work with churches in the years that followed. Many books of the New Testament are attributed to Paul; those books are letters to churches, in which Paul advises, encourages, and confronts those new communities to help them become more Christ-like. Here is part of Paul’s greeting to one such church, the church in Corinth. . Let’s listen for his words of encouragement and God’s word for us from First Corinthians 1:4-9

I thank my God always for you, because of God’s grace that was given to you in Christ Jesus. That is, you were made rich through him in everything: in all your communication and every kind of knowledge, in the same way that the testimony about Christ was confirmed with you. The result is that you aren’t missing any spiritual gift while you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also confirm your testimony about Christ until the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and you were called by him to partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.


The gospel reading for today from John’s gospel presents us with a familiar image, that of Jesus as our Good Shepherd, the one who leads and protects and cares for the sheep. This is a part of the “I Am” statements of Jesus, in which he begins by describing himself as the shepherd, then shifts the metaphor to describe himself as the gate to the sheepfold. Let’s listen for God’s gracious word to us in John 10:1-10

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers." Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

The word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.


The Lord is my shepherd…
for many of us, those words trigger the memory of the entire 23rd Psalm.
Among many Christians, all it takes is those five words,
and the Psalm comes back to them in its entirety.
Those words also conjure for us the image of the good shepherd,
the image that also emerges from this reading in the gospel of John.

Interestingly, Jesus does not even say “I am the good shepherd”
in this reading – that comes in the next verse.
In that part of John, Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd,
contrasted with the hired hand.
Jesus lays down his life for the sheep;
the hired hand runs away at the first sign of trouble.
So if you hear a minister described as a “hireling” by another minister,
you should know that that is an insult –
implying that the “hired hand” is a false teacher, leading people astray.
\In any case, we tend to prefer the image of Jesus as a shepherd
to the image of Jesus as a gate!
But what captures my attention in this gospel reading
is the idea of the voice:
“….the sheep hear his voice.
He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them,
and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

We know from actual shepherds that sheep do know their voice –
you can find some really charming videos on Youtube that show this –

Sheep listening to their shepherd

One of them depicts several different people calling the sheep,
using the same words as the shepherd, but with no response.
Then the shepherd calls them.
Their heads pop up from where they are grazing.
They turn toward the shepherd, and then they run to gather near him.

So, Jesus says, it’s like that.
You know my voice, so you come when I call, and you follow.
Then he shifts the imagery.
Jesus says, “I am the gate. You come into life abundant through me.
I’m the one who keeps you in the right place,
the place where you can thrive.”

Some of us really like those metaphors – imagery that helps us understand
in ways that more concrete descriptions can’t.
It’s easy to draw the parallels – the pastor like the sheepdog,
the bellwether sheep who leads the flock like an elder,
the sheepfold like the church, or like the life of faith.
But some of us need something a little more practical.
How, exactly, does Jesus lead us, and how exactly, are we to follow?
And, not being sheep, how do we sort out the voice of Jesus
from all the other voices that are muttering and shouting
and whispering and calling to us?

We can’t do it like that television show – The Voice,
where they listen and judge and advance to the finals.
We have to figure out, sometimes in a split second,
without celebrity judges, whether a voice is worth listening to or not.
That’s a good deal of what we discuss in confirmation class:
how to listen for Jesus in our own lives, and in our daily decisions.
I’ve told the kids repeatedly what I tell every group –
this class is not about you memorizing answers to get them right on a test;
this class is not about you repeating something you have learned,
whether you mean it or not;
this class is not even really about making up your mind once and for all
about every article of faith expressed in the Apostles’ creed.

No, this class is about asking questions,
and helping you learn how to explore questions of faith,
so that as you get older, and learn more,
your beliefs will be a strong foundation for your Christian life,
and you’ll be able to consider new questions or challenges
through a lens of faith and belief, without losing your religion!

In other words, you can believe, and change your mind,
and still believe, or believe anew,
and grow and develop as Christians.
That can happen because you know how to listen
to the voice of the Shepherd – in scripture, in the community,
and in your heart as you sense the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Knowing that God is acting in our daily lives through those avenues
empowers us to live courageously and faithfully.
That’s what Paul is referring to in our Epistle reading.
The text uses that word, “confirm” – here it is again:
“you were made rich through him in everything:
in all your communication and every kind of knowledge,
in the same way that the testimony about Christ was confirmed with you. 
The result is that you aren’t missing any spiritual gift
while you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.
He will also confirm your testimony about Christ until the end
so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This confirmation process and this ceremony we go through
is as much about God confirming our testimony
as is it about these three young people confirming for themselves
the promises that were made for them in their baptisms.
This ritual we go through is a reminder to us that the Good Shepherd,
who leads us, also called us his friends,
entering into a dialogue with us that can continue throughout our lives.
In a few minutes, we’ll call Sarah and Caroline and Vincent up here,
and we’ll ask them to confirm the promises made on their behalf.
We will ask them if they will do their very best
to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd,
and if they will follow Jesus – not just say they believe,
but commit to living as faithful Christians.

We’ll invite everyone here to confirm those promises as well,
as we are reminded that “God is faithful,
and you were called by him to partnership
with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord”
He knows you, and loves you, and calls you by name, to come and follow.
Can you hear him?

Thanks be to God for the voice! 
Amen!

1 comment:

  1. Wish I had been at the service to participate in the confirmation ceramonie. Good sermon- I'm going to look up your reference on youtube.

    ReplyDelete