Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C 2019
“Many Voices; One Voice”
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you, from God our Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our text for today’s message is the Gospel lesson, John 10:22-30, with a focus on these words: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
Upsetting the Equilibrium
Everything had been fine for 14 years. Everyone got along. Everyone talked. And then one day…silence! She just stopped talking. She would look down or away when most anyone spoke to her; if she said anything at all, it often came in the form of a grunt or a glare.
What had happened? That’s what her mother wanted to know. She had always been close with her daughter. But something had changed. Was it their relationship? Was it something at school? The girl’s mother was wise enough to know that teen’s go through “phases” …she had gone through hers certainly. So the mother called her mother for some perspective.
“Mom…when I was a teenager, was there a time when I just stopped talking to you?
She heard a tremendous chortle, then a guffaw, then brazen, out-and-out laughter on the other end of the phone.
“Mother! I’m serious! My daughter isn’t talking to me at all. And it’s more than a phase. I just want to know what’s happening.”
Her mother managed her mirth and settled into a more serious tone. “Honey, you went through a period where your father and I could barely get a syllable out of you.” She paused, and then continued. “Tell me more, though, about what’s going on with my granddaughter.”
So, for the next 45 minutes, she told her mother everything she had seen and witnessed over the past several weeks. When she was finished, her mother was silent for a moment. “You know…some of this sounds pretty normal. There’s always teen stuff, changes of life, hormones…but I have to say…” Her mother paused. “Do you remember the time when I “found” your diary?”
“Found it??? Uh, yeah! I went ballistic. Total invasion of privacy! I still can’t believe you read my private thoughts and feelings!”
“Well, get over it. Cause I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Privacy is one thing, boundaries are important, but that was how I discovered that you were listening to some other voices. Do you remember?”
Her daughter reflected for a moment. Yeah, she remembered. She had fallen in with a different crowd, and was hanging around this guy…
“I remember, Mom. I shut you out, because I was ashamed about what I was doing, and who I was doing it with…”
Analyzing the Discrepancy
“Exactly. Honey let me tell you something. It wasn’t the silence that troubled me. It was the listening. Whose voice were you listening to? That’s what I wanted to know, and why I read your diary. What voices were having influence over you? That was my question. And I’m glad I did what I did. Cause there are people out there, forces out there that seek to do us…including your daughter—my granddaughter—real harm.”
Her daughter reflected a moment. She nodded. “Right. Like St. Paul says in Ephesians, “…for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers in this present darkness.”
“And Jesus also says in John 10,” her mother added, “that the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. This danger that Paul and Jesus speak of are not simple metaphors, but they are speaking of the voices vying for control over all of us. Has she been going to church?”
“No. Not lately. We haven’t been making her. It’s such a battle! The only time she talks is to snap at me. And she says she doesn’t want to go.”
“Honey, I am going to pray for her…and for you. Not talking is often a sign of a war going on in a person’s life. Not talking can be a sign that she has started listening to other voices. Now, I’m not saying to do what I did…but know this: this is a crucial time in her life. She needs to hear the voice of Jesus. Every week. Every day.”
“You’re right, Mom. Thanks. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
(pause for transition)
Disclosing the Resolution
Reflecting on this conversation, I want to ask you a question: what voices do you listen to? And related…what does the voice of a wolf sound like? And do we know a wolf’s voice when we hear it?
Again, hear the voice of the Shepherd: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Well…if this is true, (and it is!), why must we even worry about “other voices”? Why the talk about wolves?
Because of sin. We live in a fallen world. Our sinful ears are tempted to listen to other voices. They are attracted to other sounds. These sounds can seem pleasing. These voices can appear soothing. But Jesus is saying these words in the midst of a debate with opponents who ultimately want to destroy Him—in fact, they pick up stones to stone Him! His words are spoken, to…well…wolves. And the problem is, not all wolves’ voices are easily identified as wolves. St. Paul says that even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. There is real danger in the world. And that danger is driven by sin. Lust. Greed. Anger. Pride. Bitterness. Sexual Immorality. The Fall. And for example, just to give “the wolf” a face and form, social media is one of the most powerful voices in the lives of many, many people. And many of your lives. But let’s be honest about this voice—a voice often cloaked in a sheep skin of anonymity, but shedding the need for any decency and kindness, and emboldened by a lack of any accountability. Facebook is the playground of Satan. Twitter is a window into the depravity and cowardice of man. And I know what you’re thinking: Pastor, give me a break! But if you think I am overreacting and being hyperbolic, I want you to actually consider the voices you routinely hear on those platforms. Not every voice, mind you. I’m not talking about cat videos or someone who tweets out Cardinal birthdays. But what voices are the most attractive? Have the most followers? What do they sound like?
However, just getting off of or even limiting your exposure to social media doesn’t mean the voices stop. Other voices will keep coming—in the form of a raunchy tv series, tasteless jokes, pornography, inappropriate relationships…that one friend you have that always brings the worst out in you. But even if we lived as monks and nuns, without contact with anyone, we would still be tempted and targeted by the inner voice of our own sinful flesh. Which seeks to turn us into…wolves ourselves. Luther says that even the devil dwells in the desert.
Experiencing the Gospel
Which should drive us back to the voice of Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd. He calls to His own and leads them to safety. And He took everything on Himself, all of our sin, all of our desire to listen to other voices, all of our straying…He picks it up and takes it to the cross. He tells the Jewish leaders that they are not among His sheep, because they don’t believe. That is the dividing line between sheep and wolves, between safety and danger. What voice do you follow? Jesus says, follow His. Listen to Him. When His sheep hear His voice, they come to Him and He leads them out…of danger into safety.
However, lest we think that there are a cacophony of voices that are all vying for our attention, and Jesus’ is just one among many, Jesus gives us the greatest assurance. No one will snatch you out of His hand; no one will snatch you out of the Father’s hand. No One. Following Jesus means you are safe. His voice is the only voice that matters. The rest of it is just background noise. But once He has you in His hand, He will not ever, ever let you go. Ever. He called you by name. You are His. This fact does not negate the assaults you are under. It does not nullify the potential danger of all of the voices vying for your attention. This fact as ones in Christ, though, gives you the greatest certainty that He will always protect you.
Anticipating the Consequences
She knocked lightly on her daughter’s door and entered. She was listening to her headphones. Her mother made a motion to remove them.
“What are you listening to?”
Pause. “I am going to talk, and you are going to listen. Okay?”
“Look; I don’t know what is going on with you… and why your aren’t speaking to me…but I want to remind you of something. I love you. I am your mother and I love you. More than you could possibly know. But I want to show you something.”
Her mother pulled out her phone and opened the photos app. “I have had these pictures saved, and I just downloaded them from the cloud. I want you to look at them.”
The girl could see a baby, and her pastor (much younger!) and her family gathered around. Her pastor was holding the baby and standing in front of the font. It was the day of her baptism.
“I had my sister take these pictures. I had almost forgotten about them.”
“Yeah, more than cool. I want you to know, that whatever is happening with you, whatever, whomever you are listening to, you can always talk to me. I am your mother, and it is my job to be nosy. But more than that, I wanted you to see this moment in time. For this is the moment God called you by name and made you His. This is where He gave you a promise, that you are His child, and you are His sheep. And there is nothing that can take you away from Him. Nothing.”
Her daughter looked up. There was a tear in her eye. So, mother and daughter, for the first time in a long time, talked. For 45 minutes, her daughter shared all the things that had been going on with her.
When they finished, the daughter looked back at the baptismal picture. “It’s like that hymn you taught me. God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It.” (Sing)
Her mother smiled, “You remember that one?”
“Sure. You made me memorize it!”
“I’m glad I did. I’m glad you still remember it.”
“Yeah, I’ve been having trouble sleeping, and instead of counting sheep, I sing that hymn. It’s helpful. (Pause) I’m sorry I’ve been so awful, mama.”
“Honey…you know what: you are forgiven. It’s like Pastor reminds us, ‘You just haven’t been forgiven—you stand forgiven. In Jesus, you are forgiven’.
“I know. I didn’t used to understand that…but he’s talking about baptism and Jesus never letting you go.” They share a smile.
Her mother turns to leave. “We’re going to church tomorrow.”
“I know. Hey, mom?”
“Happy Mother’s Day a day early. I love you.”
“Thanks, baby. I love you, too.”
We may experience turmoil, and temptation. We may stray from our Shepherd at times. Many other voices tickle our ear drums and attempt to entice us away. But know that God has called you by name and you are His. Listen to the voice of your Shepherd. Continue to be fed by the voice of your Shepherd. There are many wolves out there. In our daily life, the question is: is the voice of our Shepherd amplified? Or is it competing with a plethora of others? Know that no one can snatch you out of the hand of the Father and the Son. Know that you are safe. Keep listening to His voice. It’s the only one that matters. Amen.
St. Paul's Lutheran Church