What was that? What did he say?

John 10:1-10
My 15, 2011
Steve Hammond

Who else has hearing aids here besides me? Not everybody likes to admit they need them. But, hey, I’m glad to have mine. It took a bit of encouragement from people like my wife and Sarah Lockard who took away all excuses by giving me Vinio’s hearing aids. But now I wear mine all the time. It’s amazing the things I am able to hear that I couldn’t before. I like being able to hear the little things like paper rustling, a cup being set down on the counter, the keys in my pocket, not to mention more important things like what people are actually saying.

Hearing aids come in a variety of price ranges. But my experience, and what others have told me, as well, is that hearing aids are an example of you get what you pay for. You get cheap hearing aids, they don’t help very much. If you spend the big bucks they can help a lot.

Now everybody, of course, isn’t a fortunate as I have been. Some people just aren’t helped that much by hearing aids. And the fact is that no matter how good your hearing aids are, there are some things you are not going to hear. And it has nothing to do with the ears.

I get distracted easily. So I can miss a lot of things, not because they didn’t register in my ears, but because they didn’t register in my brain. “My sheep hear my voice.” Well, sometimes. But there are the distractions.

There are things like militarism, nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and consumerism that are really loud and distracting, not to mention, often appealing. Think about all those celebrations when word was released that Osama bin Laden had been killed. If people were listening, what might they have heard Jesus saying? Lady Gaga was The American Idol the other night. She wasn’t wearing a lot of clothes. That is a show a lot of young girls watch. If we had been listening, what do you think Jesus was saying?

There are also things, though, like the bills that need to be paid, trouble at work, home, or school. There are roofs to be fixed, cars that need repaired, obnoxious neighbors, or broken relationships with families that need healed. There are medical tests, kids in jail, sick parents or sick children. There are all kinds of things that we are hearing while Jesus is trying to get our attention, there are all kinds of distractions that can keep us from hearing his voice.

It’s not like we are a bunch of monks who have the calling and ability to go off somewhere and spend hours and hours everyday listening for what Jesus is saying to us. And monks really have other things to do, as well. Like raise food, or money, and do all the things you have to do to keep a community together.

Most of us are always going to have distractions that keep us from hearing the shepherd. One challenge is to learn how to hear him even when there is so much else going on. Another is not to mistake another voice as his. Those other voices may not have our best interest in mind, like the shepherd does.

It’s no wonder, as we are reminded in the scriptures, “we are all like sheep who have gone astray.” It’s no wonder that we find ourselves lost. But Jesus is a good shepherd. He keeps calling us. We can still hear his voice in all the chaos and clutter. And it’s the voice of life.

I don’t think sheep are as stupid as we imagine them to be. They, at least, have enough sense to listen for the voice of the shepherd. We aren’t always so good that. They know the shepherd is not like one of the hirelings or sheep rustlers that Jesus talked about. They don’t trust those voices and even run away from them. The shepherd really cares about his or her sheep, and the sheep know that.

The sheep are also smart enough to know that there is safety in numbers. They need the rest of the flock for their survival. That’s why Jesus kept and keeps telling us we need each other. We need the community church provides. We need to be in this thing with each other. There may be times when we aren’t listening for the shepherd because we are distracted. But the others are there to help us see the shepherd is taking on to new pastures.

I also think we give sheep a bit of a bum rap when we imagine they are all pretty much alike and don’t have much going for themselves. We don’t live in a culture where sheep and shepherds are a common sight. But when Jesus was saying this, sheep and shepherds were common. Because sheep and shepherds spent so much time together (“while shepherds watched their flocks by night”), the shepherds got to know their sheep pretty well. They knew their different personalities and even named them. They could tell one sheep from the next.

I do realize I have fallen into the trap that most passages about sheep and shepherds can lead to. This story isn’t really about the sheep, it’s about the shepherd. If we hear the voice of the shepherd and know it’s a voice of safety and life, then the real question is not what it means to be sheep, but what is the shepherd saying? Trust God. Welcome the outsider. Be compassionate. Be merciful. Make peace. Tear down the walls that divide you from each other. Love God with all your heart, and mind, and soul. Love your neighbor as yourself. God loves you. It’s not about money or status or even being religious. I am the living water that bubbles up into eternal life. I am the resurrection and the life. I am with you to the end of the age. Don’t let your hearts be troubled. [What else?] That’s what we need to be listening for no matter what the distractions are, because that’s what the shepherd, who is willing to lay his life down for the sheep, is saying to us.

What’s makes the Good Shepherd so good, is that even when we aren’t listening, even when we find ourselves lost in the wilderness, going away from him rather than toward him, he still comes looking for us. The shepherd goes after the lost ones, even if there are 99 who aren’t causing any trouble. How did Jesus put it that time? “It’s not God’s desire that any of us perish.”

Whether we are good sheep or bad sheep doesn’t really matter in the story. What does matter is that the Shepherd is good. And it matters that we keep listening for that voice as if our lives depended on it.

So I’ve got these hearing aids. The first cornea transplant was done in January and the next one is coming up in three weeks. Eyes to see and ears to hear? Not really. It’s a metaphor that has nothing to do with miniature electronics and somebody else’s corneas. I need to pay attention, to hear the voice of the shepherd in spite of the distractions, like any sheep who knows what’s good for her.

There’s another thing I have learned about hearing aids. You need to start using them before you really need them. If you wait until your hearing is really bad, it’s hard to get used to them because you have grown so accustomed to the silence. Many people end up keeping those expensive hearing aids in the drawer because they can never readjust to all the background noise that confront us.

The background noise is always going to be there. But if we find ways to keep listening for the voice of the shepherd we just might have ears to hear, even if it takes a hearing aid or two.

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