The Fourth Sunday of Easter (5/3/2009)

The Voice of the Shepherd

Lessons:      Acts  4:5-12      Psalm 23      1st John 3:16-24      St. John 10:11-18

Prayer of the Day:     O Lord Christ, good shepherd of the sheep, you seek the lost and guide us into your fold. Feed us, and we shall be satisfied; heal us, and we shall be whole. Make us one with you, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

10:11 [Jesus said:] "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away - and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."

St. John 10:11-18, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

I once saw a television special about middle-east shepherds - people who live a life that isn't radically different from that of their first century counter-parts. It was fascinating to see the lives they led, wandering endlessly in search of fields where their sheep might graze. Every night, the sheep were led into a protected area - a "sheepfold." Sometimes, there would be three or four or five flocks gathered by a number of shepherds into the same area. The shepherds would take shifts staying up throughout the night, making sure that wolves or other wild animals weren't able to make their way into the protected area. In the morning, a person would wonder if there was any hope of separating one flock from another. But interestingly enough, it was a very simple matter. Each shepherd went to opposite corners of the field and began to call the sheep. As the sheep heard the shepherds' voices they immediately began to move towards the one that belonged to their shepherd. After a few minutes all the sheep were separated into their own flocks, and the shepherds lead them away.

Sheep know the voice of their own shepherd, and they follow it. Jesus said:

[The shepherd] calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. [St. John 10:4]

The shepherd is the one whose voice is known. The shepherd's voice calls the sheep forward. The shepherd is the one to whom they instinctively respond - sometimes without even thinking. The shepherd is the one who provides safety, security, and direction in life.

There are many voices that call to us in this world: the voice of materialism, the voice of fame, the voice of power, the voice of entertainment, the voice of addiction... All these voices come our way, and in some respects we are like sheep that have just awakened and hear a number of different voices calling to us. How can we distinguish which of these voices comes from our God? That question can be answered with one simple word: practice. Sheep know the voice of their master because they hear it every day of their lives. They are able to distinguish it from the many other voices they hear, because they listen to it over and over and over again.

To what does the voice of the shepherd call us today? Does it call us to share our faith with the world around us, even when that makes us uncomfortable? Does it call us to support the work of our own congregation with our time and our finances, even though there are many other ways to invest our time and money? Does it call us to stand up for justice and righteousness, even when so many in our world refuse to do so? Does it call us to center the life and activities of our family around the gift of faith, even when so many other interests and commitments crowd our calendars? Does it call us to let faith and scripture shape the values of our lives, instead of popular culture? Our Good Shepherd is one who promises to comfort us and guide us, but the path this Shepherd takes is not always the path the rest of the world follows.

The Good Shepherd first called us by name through the waters of our baptism. That shepherd now calls us through the bread and wine, through the proclamation of the word, and through the gathered community. May we be diligent in our attempts to listen, that we might learn his voice, and follow his leading.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Gospel:

  1. What is compelling about the image of a shepherd?
  2. Jesus' original listeners were quite familiar with sheep and shepherds. What similar image in today's world might convey the same message to us?
  3. What are the benefits, to a sheep, of knowing the shepherd's voice?

Connecting with This Week's Gospel:

  1. What secular voices do I hear on a regular basis?
  2. How do I discipline myself to listen for God's voice?
  3. When has God (or God's voice) "shepherded" me in a direction that might have been different than the one the world calls me to follow?