HOMILY & IDEAS

Acts 13: 14, 43-52; Rev 7:9, 14b-17; John 10:27-30.

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas lay underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one."

Whenever I read this text which is part of the overall Good Shepherd reading I recall the numerous stained glass windows I have come across depicting Jesus carrying a lamb upon his shoulders; nevertheless, I am still waiting to stumble upon a beautifully crafted stained glass window of Jesus as the thief who breaks in during the night at an unexpected hour (Luke 12:39-40). I would think that this would be a dream project of any stained glass artisan -- Jesus, masked, with a bag over his shoulder climbing out of the window of an upper class, 1st Century, Palestine home. Anyway, what does this little musing of mine have to do with the Gospel this week? Nothing. Moving right along . . .

My thoughts and prayers this week have mostly centered upon voice recognition and the wonder of this phenomenon.

We all have personal stories of voice recognition. We have friends or family we hear from often and friends and family who we do NOT hear from very often who call us on the telephone and it seems as if we only need to hear the first phonetic utterance from their voices and we know exactly who the individual is -- even if we have not heard from the person in months and sometimes even years!

We may have a person in our lives -- and elderly aunt or even a grandparent who calls us often but humorously always feels the need to identify themselves -- as if we could ever mistake their voices!

Some of us may have a cassette recording of the voice of a loved one who has passed away and it might be years since they have passed away and it may be years since we have heard the recording of his or her voice, but streams of memories flood our mind when we hear his or her voice.

A friend of mine was listening to the news on NPR one day as she was driving and suddenly she was flooded with warmth and love for no apparent reason. She soon realized that she was listening to a report from a newsman reporting from India with whom she attended college and with whom she was dear friends. She did not know that he was working in India at the time and she could not tell me a single fact that was reported -- but just hearing the voice of her friend caused this phenomenon.

The same kind of instant recognition can be observed when a child hears the voice of his mother. For example, picture three young mothers sitting side by side on a park bench on a sunny, weekday afternoon with their toddlers enjoying the adventurous activities found in a playground. The variety of sounds whipping around and through the playground can be many and varied; however nothing cuts through the air to the ear of a toddler who is climbing a bit too high on the jungle gym like the voice of his own mother. It is instantly recognizable. Although the toddler may not exactly obey what the voice is communicating, he hears it above all other competing sounds.

If you have ever traveled through the crowded, narrow streets of the old, walled city of Jerusalem you have experienced the competing calls for your attention by the vendors lined along the way. The voices call out to you from every direction hoping to attract your attention by saying just the right thing, in just the right tone, in your own, native language -- which they try to guess by the clothes you wear, by your hair style and by the way you walk and carry yourself. However, in the end, it all sounds like babble; for they are not recognizable in a personal way.

This is what life can feel like. Sometimes we hear a lot of noise -- a lot of calls -- and we are not sure which way to turn or look. At other times, we hear the voice of our mother -- our friend -- a recording of a deceased loved one and our response is instantaneous and trusting.

The relationship between a shepherd and his sheep is no different.

I once read of the common occurrence of shepherds who would pool their resources to safeguard and patrol their flocks at night against predators such as the wolf. They would agree to shepherd their flocks to a large, common pasture before sunset and then they would set up their shared campsite upon a hillside overlooking the combined flocks -- which could total hundreds of sheep. Each shepherd would take a shift canvassing the flock, its perimeter, and watching for any sudden commotions. The shepherd would stand ready to charge into the large, combined flock armed with a staff, a sling and stones in order to rescue any one of the sheep from danger. At sunrise the Shepherds would ready themselves for another day of work and journey their separate ways.

What amazes me is how the shepherds would separate the sheep in the morning; that is, they would simultaneously call out to them with their voices and hundreds of sheep would instantaneously separate themselves by shuffling in the direction of their own shepherd. The sheep truly did know the voice of their shepherd. The shepherd knew his sheep, and they knew him.

Our challenge today is to hear the voice of Jesus -- to recognize it and to follow it. I wish we lived in a world that mirrored the early morning departures of the shepherds: Where all those being called to where Jesus wishes to lead us would immediately follow without hesitation. Instead, it seems like we are oftentimes funneled and pushed down the vender-lined streets of Jerusalem with no hope of recognizing a personal call.

Perhaps the big question we need to ask ourselves is -- are we listening? Do we take the time out to listen for the voice of Jesus in our prayer? Can we listen for the voice of Jesus coming through others as instruments of his love and concern? Can we continuously fine tune our spiritual ears to pick out the callings from Jesus in our ordinary day to day lives? Would we do well to rid ourselves of the competing babble in our lives?

Another preachable theme may be about the physical positioning of Jesus in the Gospel. Note that Jesus is leading and we are following. Jesus has experienced all human emotion in his life. Jesus knows what agony, suffering, sadness, anger feels like. He is like us in all things but sin. There is no territory where Jesus may lead us through that He has not already experienced. Jesus leads us. He does not prod us from behind making us turn corners, descend ravines or climb steep hills without guidance. Jesus leads us and calls us. It is up to us to respond and follow.

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