Readings – Acts 2: 42-47; Psalm 23; I Peter 2: 19-25; John 10: 1-10
Before we approach the text from the Gospel according to St. John, I would like to place it in context. Today’s passage immediately follows the healing of the man born blind. Jesus made mud with his saliva and placed it on his eyes. The blind man went to the Pool of Siloam, washed, and his eyes were opened. The religious authorities vigorously disputed the healing and said that it broke the law banning healing on the Sabbath. In their anger, they threw the man out of the temple.
It was immediately following this healing and the opposition it generated that Jesus taught about the shepherd who enters the sheepfold by the gate and who knows the sheep, and the sheep know him by his voice. The flock follows him. In contrast, there are other shepherds who enter the sheepfold by other means and lead the sheep into harm’s way. His teaching was clearly directed at those who doubted and expelled from the temple the formerly blind man.
Jesus then followed today’s reading with these words:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary… I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. (The Message)
The healing controversy led to the teaching and led to truth-telling about the good shepherd, and how the good shepherd guides the flock.
Now let’s go a bit deeper. Most of us remember the record label, RCA Victor. The Radio Corporation of America was the successor to Marconi Wireless Company which was purchased by the makers of the Victrola. It became the largest producer of early records. Do you remember the label design? A dog was seated in front of a victrola speaker. The dog’s name? Nipper. The caption below the image? “His master’s voice”. You know where I am going with this.
Each Sunday after the announcements and just prior to the procession at the back of the church, I recite this prayer:
O God eternal, help us to keep our thoughts on you, that we may enter into your presence and hear your voice speaking in our hearts. Bless those who lead and all who worship and grant that what we do at this time may be to your honor and to your glory, and to the continuing growth of your kingdom on earth through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
I have been reciting this for years to settle church choirs, acolytes, worship leaders, and myself before worship. It is a prayer to prepare us for the discipline of listening to God’s voice that speaks to our hearts. We, as members of the flock of Jesus, need to discern, need to discriminate, need to separate, from all the other voices of this world, the voice of our good shepherd, our “master’s voice”. There are so many voices pounding our ears, demanding our attention, each and every day. So, we need heart training, just like musicians need ear training.
Our first-century ancestors, as described in our reading from Acts, “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching [Holy Scriptures], and fellowship [gathering in a community], to the breaking of the bread [celebrating the Holy Eucharist] and the prayers [personal devotion].” This is how they trained the ears of their hearts to focus on the “master’s voice”. These four disciplines are also needed today in our environment. These four disciplines are needed by us. These four disciplines are needed by this Jesus flock here at All Saints, Selinsgrove. Daily devotions, like Forward Day-by-Day, Sunday worship, gathering in a community, and reading our Bibles are essential. They are essential for us as we follow the voice of the good shepherd:
who makes [us] lie down in green pastures and who leads [us] beside still waters. [Who] revives [our]soul[s] and [who] guides [us] along right pathways for his name’s sake. Psalm 23: 2-3
God is still speaking, as our sisters and brothers of the United Church of Christ proclaim. Are we listening? We, the flock of Jesus, who is our true pastor, have a tremendous challenge before us. There are so many “thieves and bandits” who seek to steal and divide the flock, as well as many sheep who are distracted and vulnerable. We need to renew our devotion to the teaching of the apostles, to gather in community, to Sunday worship, and to our prayers. We also need to invite others to join with us so that they too may also hear the voice of God speaking in their hearts.