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“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep 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 are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Intro: Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter. He Is Risen!!. . .
One of the most enduring and endearing images in the scripture stretching all the way back to the first family, and even appearing in the Revelation to John, is the image of the Sheep and the Shepherd. I have yet, in 35 years not had a family ask that Psalm 23 be included a loved one’s funeral. Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of the more common themes from the life of Christ.
This year we are going to be thinking about what it means to “Taste and See that the Lord is Good.” That tasting is not just food, or drink, it is experiences and relationships. As I read this passage, I found myself thinking about how good it is to know that we are tasting of something new, knowing the one who has prepared it, makes all the difference in the world. When I was in elementary school, my mother decided to fool me on April 1. I got up and got ready for school, then went down for my breakfast. She had made fried eggs and bacon. I ate a slice of bacon and it was great. Then I took my fork to the eggs and in a moment discovered that what I thought were egg whites were actually dream whip around a canned peach! Those were good together, but they were not what I expected. As food, it was good, but as eggs? But here is the thing, I trusted the one who prepared the food, so though it was not what I expected, I knew it was safe and good for me.
Jesus said, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” These words assure us that we will know that whatever we taste, if Jesus has prepared it the way for it, we can be assured that it will be good for us.
There are many things in life that we must enter without knowledge. We often do not know what awaits us when we leave our homes in the morning, or even when we return home at night. The news out of Washington changes on a daily basis. I will never forget woman who never knew where her furniture would be placed when she came home! When she would tell us of her husbands “redesigns”, we would laugh.
These may be matters of unknown, but there is much more that take us to the realm of the unknown. I have spoken to LGBT families for whom renting a house was an unknown because of prejudice and fear. While I know I can sit in a starbucks and wait for a meeting, for some of my black colleagues that simple act is an unknown. For my daughter-in-law, walking into an ice cream parlor is an unknown because of her Indian background. When we journey into the wilderness, we are entering the unknown. Each time we taste something new, we are experiencing the unknown.
But there is one thing we can know. Jesus said, “I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.” The good Shepherd is the one who knows what we need and the one who makes himself known to us. This is why coming to know the voice of the Shepherd is so important.
We like to think we have the voice of God figured out, but often the voice we hear is not as clear as we wish. Esther F. Schmidt tells about the day her daughter-in-law noticed that her two-year-old daughter was ignoring her food, she said, “Keri, why aren’t you eating?” Keri replied, “I can’t eat; God told me not to.” Her mother chided: “God wouldn’t tell you not to eat your supper.” Keri looked up at the ceiling, then conceded, “Well, maybe it was Moses.”
When we don’t know the one who is speaking, we will often place our own words, or at least our own meanings in the mouths of others. We can even place our words and our thoughts in the mouth of God.
We often mistake the voice of God for the voices that we want to hear. We put our words in the mouths of others and even in the mouth of God. Whether it is Moses or our best friends or our stomachs we create God’s voice in our own image. Even when we approach scripture we need to be constantly aware of the voices we are listening to.
In the scriptures we have God’s revelation of God’s self, and we have divine revelation of the truth of humanity. We also have people’s idea of who God is and the people’s ideas of what God wants from people. We say we believe and obey the bible, but how many of us carry a shovel with us wherever we go to deal with out waste? This was a specific plan for the people at a specific time. But how do we identify what is God’s Word for today vs. what is culturally situated? How do we know what is God’s revelation of God’s own self and what is a person’s idea about God? How do we know when we are tasting God and when we are encountering a counterfeit?
This is not a question to pass off, we must learn to recognize the voice of God, and learn to know the taste of God. How does that happen? How can we learn to recognize the voice of the shepherd? All around us are many counterfeits. David Meade has predicted that “according to the Bible” the rapture will occur on April 23, tomorrow and it will coincide with the appearance of Planet X. It is easy to see that this is not real. But how do we know the real?
The temptation for us is to study all the fakes we can find thinking this will help us know the truth. In Bible College I took several courses in cults and learned the signs that were common to cults. I could tell the difference between Sun Myung Moon’s Unification church and Hebert Armstrong’s World Wide Radio Church of God, and many others, but did that get me closer to knowing the voice of Jesus? Not really.
The story of young boy in China who wanted to learn about jade may shed some light on how we know the voice of the Shepherd. This young boy was sent to study with a talented old teacher. The first day of study, this gentle man put a piece of the precious stone into his hand and told him to hold it tight. Then he began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun and almost everything under it. After an hour he took back the stone and sent the boy home. Every day the boy returned and the procedure was repeated for several weeks. The boy became frustrated. When would he be told about the jade? When would he learn how to identify it and value it. He was, though, too polite, to question the wisdom of his venerable teacher. Then one day, when the old man put a stone into his hands, the boy cried out instinctively, ‘That’s not jade!'”
The boy had learned to know the gem by holding it close. He had held it through conversations that were interesting and boring. He had held it through times of eating and meditating. He had held close, and though they had never talked about Jade, he had come to know the gem.
And so today, if we would hear the voice of God in scripture and in the world, we must hold Jesus close. My sheep hear my voice and they know me. The sheep did not study all the other shepherds and eliminate them, no, the sheep looked to the One who was by their side, the One who would protect them, the One who would feed them, the One who would lead them to pastures, the One who would seek out the lost. The sheep came to know the voice of the shepherd by walking with the shepherd.
Every day we are inundated by voices calling to us, claiming to know the way, claiming to reveal truth. It can be confusing. Even when we look at scripture, it can be confusing. What picture of God comes from the culture and what picture of God is faithful to God’s nature? What is the standard we can hold up to know truth?
I am convinced that the standard by which we judged everything is Jesus. Jesus reveals God’s nature, because Jesus is, in the words of one of my mentors, “drenched” in God – love, grace, forgiveness, peace, joy, acceptance. . . He was through and through a child of God, the clearest revelation of God to ever live. He was in the truest sense of the word, God in the flesh! And so we look at our world through the eyes of Jesus and let His compassion draw us those in need. We look at our families through the lens of Jesus and let his patience rule in our homes. We look at our enemies through the lens of Jesus and let grace flow from our hearts. And yes, we even look at the Bible through the lens of Jesus. Jesus is the Word made flesh, Jesus enfleshes all that God is as God relates to us. Read the Bible through the lens of Jesus and you will find the nature and character of God.
So if we want to know the voice of the shepherd, we must follow, walk with, and mimic Jesus. Because the early followers of Christ so imitated Jesus, they became known as Christians which is a Greek way of saying, Little Christ’s. Their words, their mannerisms, their relationships all were governed by Jesus example.
Today, we can do the same thing if we will stop looking at all the counterfeits around us and start looking and holding tightly to Jesus. When we take that step, our vision will begin to clear. When our soul focus is Jesus and the mission he has given us to connect people to God, to one another and to our deepest selves, then we will be whole, they will hear with clarity the voice of Jesus.
That begins by deciding to follow Him. If you have not made that decision, that is the first step. If you have decided to follow him, perhaps it is time for you to be drenched in Jesus through baptism. I don’t know what decisions you must make, but I pray you will turn to Jesus, he knows you, and he invites you to know him.