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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

“Can You Hear What He’s Saying?”

Fourth Sunday of Easter

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:1-10

Have you ever watched the mothers who are hanging out in the fast food playland areas with their kids? Some of these moms are alone at their tables, nibbling on fries, writing notes or something, reading a book or tapping something into their laptops. Most of them look relaxed, probably because they’re getting a break while the kids play in a contained area.

Some of the moms are there chatting with friends, occasionally looking up to see one of their kids waving from behind the plexiglass wall. And whether the moms are alone or with a friend, most of them seem to be at ease and enjoying themselves… Until a kid lets out a shriek and starts to scream or cry. And that kid’s mom pops up like she’s on a coiled spring! Loving mothers know their kid’s voices, and how to react when they hear their kids call out. It doesn’t matter how many other kids are screaming at the top of their lungs, if her kid is crying or yelling, mom hears it!

I’ve been in churches that have had several kids in the nursery. All was quiet until one kid started to cry, and one mom got up to go see what happened. Just one mom because she recognized her child’s voice – and the others didn’t.

Jesus understood this type of voice recognition. In His teaching that’s recorded in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus crafted an analogy around this concept to help us better understand how we can pick Him out in a crowd of voices, regardless of all the noises that distract us. And there certainly are plenty of distracting voices around us! Jesus began His analogy like this: “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.”

And then Jesus continues to build on the contrast between the robber and the shepherd throughout this passage. The sheep listen to the voice of the shepherd because they recognize it but run away from the stranger because they’re not familiar with his sound. There’s something about the stranger’s voice that makes the animals uneasy.

The ”stranger” of whom Jesus speaks, is not a nice guy! Jesus used words like “thief”, “robber”, “killer”, and “destroyer” to describe him. The stranger is a person who pretends to be a shepherd but is not a follower of the Good Shepherd. He’s a person who adds works to the Gospel, thereby taking away from the Gospel. He’s a person who teaches that there are many gates to the sheep pen, or many paths to God and Heaven. The stranger is a person who believes and claims that we will enter the pen of the Good Shepherd because we have been such upright, loving, caring people and have done so many good deeds. The church in every age has had to deal with those who try to climb over the fence to take over the flock, claiming to be the gate, while denying Jesus’ words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) We have churches in town which are “strangers”, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), the Christian Scientists, and the Unitarian-Universalists.

When I was in seminary, a discussion arose about lodges – Masons and others. When we’re pastors, what should we do about lodge members? I remember that I said we should treat them like bank tellers. I had heard that bank tellers studied currency – especially 20-dollar bills – so that they knew all the details, designs, etc. Then, if someone gave them a counterfeit bill, it wouldn’t look right somehow – and then they could compare it with a real one.

So, if a person knew the Scriptures – understood Law and Gospel – if they heard something that didn’t sound right, they could check it against the Bible.

Well, when I arrived at my church in New Hampshire, there were a few people waiting for a membership instruction class. At our first meeting a young man began the meeting with, “I heard that there are no Masons in the Lutheran Church; is that true? Because if it is, there’s no need for me to be in this class, because I am a Mason.” I said, “No, that’s not true, because I know some Lutherans who are Masons. But what is true is that the Masonic Lodge teaches some things that are contrary to our beliefs. You know what the Masons believe. Stay with the class and learn what we believe, and then decide for yourself what you believe.” “That’s fair enough,” he said, “I’ll do that.” He did. Then he quit going to lodge meetings and joined the church – and even made a testimony in church one Sunday, something we seldom do.

Quite often after Jesus offered a parable or a metaphor to explain a certain concept, the disciples weren’t sure of the meaning. Their confusion appeared again after this story, so Jesus made it plain for them. He told them what each person or object in the analogy represented. Surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t identify Himself as the shepherd in this word picture, but rather as the “Gate”. If you’ve seen a picture of a stone sheep pen that was commonly used in the first century, you can see how Jesus could be both the gate and the shepherd. Shepherds commonly let their sheep graze during the day. But they were prone to wander, especially when they might not be able to see the other sheep or their familiar shepherd. So, the herder built large circular pens for the sheep made out of the many small boulders available in the Holy Land. After completing most of the stone circle, the shepherds left a five or six-foot opening for the sheep to come in and go out. The walls were usually three or four feet high.

At night, the shepherd slept across the opening, using his body as a type of “gate.” If any sheep tried to get out by walking over him, he woke up and shooed them back. And if any wolf tried to get to the flock through the opening, the shepherd would be the first to know. That’s why the “robbers, thieves, and destroyers” have to “climb in some other way” in order to avoid the protective attention of the shepherd. And as Jesus pointed out, the sheep only pay attention to the voice of their shepherd, not to those who break in.

Sometimes the noise that life creates is like the din of a hundred radios. We need to be able to shut out all that noise and tune into the whisper which the prophet Isaiah described: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21)

So how do we hear and recognize the voice of God? First, we need to immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, for the voice of God speaks through them. Nothing the Lord may say to us in any other context will contradict what the Bible says. That means reading the Bible and studying the Bible – like a bank teller studies a 20-dollar bill. Those who come to “steal and destroy” however, will always echo the doubt-generating words of the serpent in the garden. “Did God really say that?” And likewise, “Did God really do that?” If we are faithful in absorbing the Word of God, we will stand a better chance of hearing His voice over the din of “strangers.”

The second thing we need to do is turn off those hundred radios! Solitude and silence are great helpers in hearing God’s voice. If you’re facing a difficult situation, have a decision to make, are feeling blue or disturbed, have plans to make, trying to know right from wrong, or any of a thousand situations, get together with God. Listen to Him in His Word, speak to Him in prayer, asking for His guidance and help – and you’ll hear His voice, the voice of our Good Shepherd.


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