Answering the Right Voice
Bill Donahue an author relates a story from his youth pastor days. He was in seminary and visited a farm where two of the students he worked with lived. Their father decided to teach a lesson to his kid's pastor.
"He asked if I could help call in the sheep. I enthusiastically agreed. Sheep calling was like preaching. We stood at the pasture fence, watching 25 sheep graze.
"Go ahead," he dared me. "Call them in."
"What do you say?" I asked.
"I just say, 'Hey, sheep! C'mon in!'"
No sweat, I thought. A city kid with a bad back and hay fever could do this. I began in a normal speaking voice, but Tom interrupted. "You are 75 yards away, downwind, and they have their backs to you. Yell! Use your diaphragm, like they teach you in preaching class."
So I took a deep breath and put every inch of stomach muscle into a yell that revival preachers around the world would envy: "Hey, sheep! C'mon in!" The blessed creatures didn't move an inch. None even turned an ear.
Tom smiled sarcastically. "Do they teach you the Bible in that seminary? Have you ever read, 'My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me'?" Raising his voice only slightly, he said: "Hey, sheep! C'mon in!" All 25 sheep turned and ambled toward us. Tom seized this teachable moment.
"Now, don't you ever forget," he said. "You are the shepherd to my kids."[i]
I shouldn't have to say much more on this passage in John. Jesus is the good shepherd and His sheep know his voice and follow. Jesus tells us His sheep are given eternal life and that no one can take them away from either Him or the Father. In short, those who Jesus knows and who knows Jesus are safe no matter what the outside world threatens or promises.
Yet, in our culture, even among those who should know the truth of Jesus, there are those who fail to listen to Christ. How else does one explain a lack of belief in the physical resurrection by clerics who should champion the news? How else can you explain the thousands of self-identified Christians who never read their bible, hardly ever pray and who's moral life doesn't look much different than the rest of the world around them. [ii]
In Against the Night Chuck Colson reports on a survey which said 81% of Americans agree with the statement "an individual should arrive at his or her own religious beliefs independent of any church or synagogue" Ms. Ed Sullivan she never felt the need to seek another's faith because her own beliefs were enough. "But, if millions believe some other way, who am I to argue? The important thing is to believe the world has a reason and a plan."[iii]
The important thing seems to be to respond to the right voice and follow its instruction. What Jesus tells us in this part of John 10 is that not everyone who hears His voice listens to Him. The Jewish leaders heard Jesus' teachings. They saw the miracles Jesus did. They spoke with those healed. Yet on this winter day they are not interested in listening to Jesus in order to follow, they want to trap Him and dispose of Him.
To answer Jesus' voice can mean going into danger. In the 23rd Psalm verse 4 says, "Even though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil for You are with me." Why is Jesus there? It is because we've been led there. The same one who leads to green pastures and besides still waters leads us into and through those scary places.
This dark valley isn't only about grief and suffering, it is about being any place in which the sheep of Jesus run headlong into the wolves of the world. It is about answering our shepherds voice to be faithful, to preserver and to, as the elder in Revelation 7 describes, "come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,
"they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
Salvation depends on answering the voice of Christ in obedience. And answering the voice changes our world for the better. Kenton, right now, is in the midst of trying to answer our shepherd's voice and follow Jesus into where he wants us. Those of you who were here after worship last week understand a bit of what that might cost and it's not cheap.
Yet there is more to it than whether this building would be ours to use or not. The bigger item is whether we will listen to Jesus as he calls us to a new way of sharing God's love for North Portland and the world, and when His calling takes us way outside of our comfort zones.
Historically God has done this with his people, the Church. William Wilberforce and others took on the economically profitable slave trade and ended it in Great Britain. They weren't popular in doing so. In the first few centuries of the Churches existence one thing Christians were known for were for saving babies left to die on the street because they were unwanted. During World War II the Confessing Church in Germany stood against the Nazi and the official German Lutheran Church as they answered Jesus' voice.
Slavery split almost every denomination in our nation less than 150 years ago. Forty-some years ago, similar splits occurred over Vietnam and the issue of civil rights. Our Lord has been and will continually lead His sheep into confronting those cultural, social, and moral issues that are not in line with His Word and His will. I believe that many of the changes, Jesus will lead the Church and individual congregations into will be a surprising mixture of huge, pan global issues as well as local, individual places of service.
And this is how we know we are answering our shepherd's voice and not doing what we want to do. Jesus' voice does not contradict His Word. The Jesus Seminar and elsewhere speak about following Jesus, but the direction isn't Biblical. It comes from what the Reverend Dr. Eugene Marsh describes as, "the implicit message of the Bible that all the world belongs to God, the gracious and loving shepherd of all”[iv]. This implicit message ignores Jesus' self-revelation. Jesus isn't the mediator, source of salvation to those who believe. He's become the one who makes everything all better. For Dr. Marsh answering the shepherds call is all about the warm stall not the hard reality of life in the pasture.
Jesus' voice leads us into the lives of others. Very seldom will Jesus tell us we are at the center of His plan. Those standing and praising Jesus in Revelation 7 haven't been hunkered down in warm cozy churches on Sunday mornings. They have kept their faith in the midst of the tribulation. What does that mean? Consider what James says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."[v] Those who came out of the tribulation lived out this faith.
Being drawn into the lives of others, into the places where they hurt, allows the Holy Spirit to impact their lives. But that impact doesn't stop there. I believe we, Kenton Church, you and I, have been placed where we are to make a lasting impact on the life of North Portland and the world. The last 50 years this congregation and missionaries sent out have touched our world and lives in countless ways. Do you think we are done making that type of difference in our world? Listen for your shepherd; follow Him aware of His love. Seek His power and safety and stand firm when confronting the evil in our world for Christ's sake.
[i] Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson, Building a Church of Small Groups (Zondervan, 2001), p. 106-107
[ii] http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=249 "Born again Busters were somewhat less likely to illegally download music, to smoke, to view pornography, to purchase a lottery ticket, or to use profanity. However, young believers were actually more likely than non-believers to try to get back at someone and to have stolen something. Moreover, on eight of the 16 behaviors, the profile of born again Busters was virtually identical to that of non-born again Busters. Click on link to read the whole article
[iii] Against the Night Charles Colson pg.
[iv] http://classicalpresbyterian.blogspot.com/2005/05/my-response-to-horizons-article-by-dr.html Last accessed April 26, 2007
[v] James 1:27 NIV