Our world has many that claim to be shepherds, leaders, deals, bargains, attractions…we are asked to hear me, follow me, buy me, see me, believe me. It can be overwhelming. Some leaders appear to be taking us in one direction, but their lives reflect another. Some claim to be on the right track and want others to follow, but you have to wonder why God only gave them the right track. Others try to attract us with fancy shows, big promises, and even material wealth. Just follow me, they say, and all will be well. Everyone seems to be searching for a follower, a buyer, a student, seeker. And so many feel as though they have the answer. They call…be rich like me, be smart like me, be free like me, be judgmental like me…or whatever. Whether it is religion, politics, sales, or the like, it all seems to scream, we are the right way!
So what is the right way? You are reading or worshiping this morning and so I am sure that you feel like you know the answer. But there are many in spaces of worship trying to give us a way that is not true, is not valuable, is not right. I am not going to tell you what to do…I am simply going to point out what I choose and why.
John 10:1-18 (full scripture below)
My sheep know my voice and they follow me. This is the voice I want to follow. I want Jesus to be my shepherd because Jesus is leading me to a life of love. He is guiding me to a path of peace and grace and forgiveness. He has a plan that is good and joyful and full of abundant life. He offers life…real life, true life. But in a world full of voices, how do we know the voice of Jesus? How do we know if it is really Jesus?
There are a few ways that I think we can detect the voice of Jesus. And for me, it begins with more than just a feeling. Sometimes we get caught up in what feels the best, what is the easiest, what seems to be the most attainable. Unfortunately, nothing about the way that Jesus leads indicates this is the way. While Jesus promises us peace and love, joy and grace, he doesn’t promise it will be easy. Actually to love is one of the most difficult things he calls us to do – as he calls us to love everyone. The way of peace will often make others upset because it isn’t what they wanted to believe. Grace is such a gift some will not want to accept it – feeling completely unworthy. It is beautiful but I don’t find it easy. It also isn’t full of earthy belongings. Following Jesus isn’t about getting the biggest house or the nicest car or holding in what you have so tight that you are financially secure. It is about giving and sacrificing and letting go. So if we are simply looking to our feelings, we might want to dig a little deeper. Jesus will give us peace, but our abundant life may not feel like we would want it to feel.
So how does it begin? I think Jesus speaks to us when we use all of our senses. He calls in the wind, the songs of birds, the laughter of children, the growth of vegetables, the smell of fresh flowers, the taste of fresh produce, the embrace of a loved one, the eyes of a stranger. I think he speaks to us in those that do not speak our language and we do not understand except through love. I think he speaks to us in those that have no food and those that need to know they are worthy. He speaks to us through a home cooked meal and a fresh baked pie. He speaks to us in the most unusual ways that we often miss. But we don’t know it if we aren’t learning about what it means to follow.
All too often, we have our ideas of what it means to follow. We have defined how we think Jesus would call, how he would lead, what he would want us to have, what we think it means to love, and how we have the right to judge. But if take the time to study how Jesus lived and how he led, we might find something completely different. We just might find we are following others and not Jesus. We might find we are following leaders rather than Jesus. We might find we are worshiping people and not Jesus. It is so easy to do…to slip in behind the magnetic personality…to be drawn in with the promises of wealth or goods…to be enamored with the glitz and glamour. But that isn’t Jesus at all. That isn’t how he led or what he taught or how he called at all. But don’t take my word for it. I want you to experience it for yourself.
Maybe it is time that we took the opportunity to study God’s word…took the time to read the teachings of Jesus…see how he lived and what he actually did…find out how he lived. Maybe we read it with open eyes and an open heart – without judgment or trying to decide how it fits in our lives. Maybe we just read and learn from the shepherd. I think when we do that, we begin to hear him, we begin to see him at work, we begin to understand who we might be following. We need a shepherd…and Jesus is calling us to follow him. He is, after all, the good shepherd. We don’t need all those other things that seem so valuable, we simply need to follow. Let’s follow Jesus together.
John 10:1-18 (NRSV)
10 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 “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.”