In my previous career before going to study at Seminary, I worked as a counsellor. Now one of the things that I realised early on is that as a society where are terrible at listening to each other. A significant number of people just needed someone to actually listen to them, and then they were able to move forward. But it is not just listening to others that is a problem, for us at Christians it is also about the fact that we struggle to listen to God himself. Hearing and listening to God is not something that is very easy for many.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus says these words: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” If I were to ask you “how do you know Jesus voice” how would you answer? One way I hope that you might respond is by saying that you would read your bible, for this contains His words to us. So if I read my bible I will know his voice. However this is not as easy as it sounds is it? How many different ways are there, in the world we live in today, to interpret the bible? Some may interpret Jesus words one way, others interpret another way. So how do we know if we are listening to his voice or not?
This struggle is not something that is new. In fact it has always been a problem. We see this particularly, in John’s Gospel. Often when Jesus speaks his Word and teaches the people, his Word often evokes discussion among those who hear. Some believe, in response to his word, that he is the messiah; others believe that he is crazy, demon possessed; some just don’t understand him; and others believe that he is a blasphemer who deserves to die. Often when Jesus speaks, it brings division among the people.
And it did so again just before today’s reading. In John 10:19-21, where in response to Jesus, when had just finished speaking to them about the fact that he was the Good Shepherd, it says: “19 The Jews who heard these words were again divided. 20 Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”21 But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
What you read the Gospel of John you will see that the words and works of Jesus are open to many interpretations. They always have been from then until this very day. So the question then becomes how do we know if we are interpreting his word right. How do we know if we are listening to him?
Just as there are many voices and opinions of Jesus and his Word in scripture, so too there are today. There are many voices calling out to us to get our attention, and many of them claim to speak for God. The thing is that it is often difficult to recognize voices that may lead us away from the Good Shepherd. For example there are those argue that in order to grow closer to God, we must have certain religious experiences; We must be filled with the Holy Spirit, we must be able to feel the Holy Spirit working in us, this is how we know that we are hearting and listening to God; then there are others who say this is not right, it is about having the right teaching. Only when we are 100% doctrinally sound do we know we are hearing Jesus’ voice; others may disagree again and say that it is by our actions that we know we are listening to Jesus. We listen when we do what he says, if we do not do what he says we are not listening to his voice. These are just examples I am sure that there are many more I could use. And if we are honest many faithful Christians find themselves confused about what they believe, because there are too many voices to listen to.
As Lutherans, we are not immune from this. There are many different voices in the Lutheran church, and it is just as confusing for many.
One of the ways our Lutheran tradition can help us here is in the fact we say that it is only with the eyes of faith that one can see the truth concerning Jesus. We know that we are full of sin and cannot sort this out by our own strength, rather Jesus our Good Shepherd has to come and make himself known to us first. Those who belong to Jesus, who hear and recognize his voice and follow him, have been given to him by the Father (10:29). Everything depends on God’s initiative and God’s actions. God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (3:16-17).
This is very good news for us because by contrast to the many voices that tell us what we need to do to get close to God and hear him, our Lord Jesus the Good Shepherd tells us that everything depends on belonging to him. What this means for you and me is that how we stand before God, does not depend on how we feel, it does not depend on having the right experience, it does not depend on being free of doubt, and it most certainly does not depend on what we do for God.
It depends on one thing only: that is that you and I are known by our shepherd: again it says “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (John 10:28).
The voice our Lord Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd is a voice that brings freedom rather than burden. His voice does not say, Do this and that, or experience this or that, and then maybe you will be good enough to be one of my sheep. Rather he says to you and me, you belong to me already. And because you belong to me, “no one can snatch you out of my hand.” Because we are known by him, because no one can snatch us out of his hand, we are free to live the abundant life of which Jesus spoke earlier in the chapter when he says: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
This abundant life of which Jesus speaks is not about abundance in years, or in wealth and riches, or in status, or in our own accomplishments. No it is life that is abundant in the love of God made known to you and me in Jesus Christ, love that then overflows to others (John 13:34-35). It is the promise of life eternal because its source is in God who is eternal (17:3), and in Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life (11:25-26).
Hearing the voice of Jesus our Good Shepherd is not so much about our trying harder to hear him, it is not about necessarily understanding straight away everything he says to us in his Word, because there are lots of things we have to grapple with. But listening to his voice is about trust. Trusting his word of promise to you that you are his, you belong to him, that he gives you eternal life. Trusting his Word that it is true that no one will be able to snatch you out of his hand (10:28).
We live in a world we there are many voices calling for our attention, and these voices are not just different voices among Christians. Because we live in a word that saturates us with their voices. Voices that evoke fear in us; voices that make burdensome demands on us; voices that are continually giving us advice; and the truth is that this can lead us to be confused and to distract us from the voice of the Good Shepherd.
I encourage each of you as you live your lives in amongst all these voices, to continually be in the Word. Too read His Word often, and as you do I encourage you to listen to the Good Shepherd, who speaks to you a Word of promise. Who speaks to you with the voice that calls you by name and claims you as God’s child because he has laid down his life and taken it up again for you. To listen to His Word of promise, because this is the voice of the Good Shepherd.