Monday, April 18, 2016

My Sheep Hear My Voice

22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, [1] is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” (John 10:22-30 (ESV)
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life.”
Today we know the Feast of Dedication as Hanukah. Yes, even Jesus our Lord celebrated Hanukah. It was/ is a beautiful holiday celebrating the victory against all odds of the Maccabees over Epiphanes Antiochus who wanted to force assimilation of the Jewish people into the Greek/ Hellenistic culture of his empire and so desecrated the temple with Pig’s blood. The Maccabees led a revolt and managed to gain independence for the Jewish nation and rededicate the temple. The people rightly saw this as divine intervention. And so even without explicit command in Scripture, the holiday came to be celebrated every year. It was a patriotic festival and a religious festival.
Today there are many who would pass judgment on Christians for celebrating a festival or new moon or a Sabbath as it says in Colossians where we are told not to let anyone pass judgement on us for such things. We are free to celebrate what holidays we want, though we might take care in how we do so. We do not need an explicit command from scripture saying we can celebrate this holiday but not that one. We can point to the example of Jesus who celebrates his freedom at every turn, healing on the Sabbath on the one hand, and celebrating military victory on the other.
“My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they listen to me. I give them eternal life.”
It’s winter in Jerusalem. Hanukah, the winds blow down from the Levant, the Syrian hinterland, and they blow cold across the desert and through the city. The people huddle under the lee of Solomon’s portico, an Eastern wall of the temple that gives shelter from the winter wind. The Jews decide to take the opportunity to catch up Jesus, trick him so they can stone him. “Tell us true, are you the Messiah?”
There had been many pretenders, many who tried to say they were the Messiah, who would lead men into battle hoping to be the next Maccabee. Perhaps the same way you see presidential candidates clamoring to be the next Ronald Reagan. At a patriotic celebration of independence long lost, the atmosphere was charged with intrigue here in the temple Jesus would say had been turned into a den of robbers, the term the Romans used for terrorists, those the Jews called freedom fighters. The kind with whom Jesus would be crucified. Most of these men came from the land of Galilee.
So Jesus doesn’t answer. He knows if he tells them he is the Messiah they will take him for an upstart, a rabble rouser, and a political pretender. The concept of the Messiah had become muddied so that even today people think Jesus is going to come back to be the Messiah and set up a new world order if he truly was the Messiah. They don’t get it. But Jesus had told them who he was before and they didn’t listen because their hearts were hardened. Cynical of so many failed revolts they didn’t even believe in the Messiah anymore. So worried about temporal problems, they couldn’t hear what Jesus had to say about their spiritual condition.
“My Sheep hear my voice. I know them. They follow me. I give them eternal life.”
In Palestine, shepherds would call their sheep with a song. It was a bit like yodeling. Each shepherd had their own. Their sheep would easily be separated if they got mixed with sheep from another fold. They would hear the voice of their shepherd singing his song. And like the parting of the red sea, the two flocks would separate.
So Jesus speaks and his sheep listen. They hear his voice. His Song of Love Unknown. They understand who he is. And he knows his sheep.
He knows them. He knows you. Jesus has been there through every turn of your life. He poured water over you in his name when you were born. Put his brand on you, tagged your ear, gave you the penicillin shot against sin, death and the devil. He knows you, because he watched you play in the green grass accompanying the spring of life, even as he leads you through the seasons of life, finding water for you in the heat of summer, and nourishing your soul through the fall and winter. For man does not live on bread alone, but every word that comes from the mouth of the Father. And he and the Father are one. He knows you. And so you follow.
So you follow him. This is what sheep do! They don’t know where the shepherd is taking them, but they follow his voice through the craggy mountain passes, the rocky cliffs of the desert, the lairs of lion and wolf, the valley of the shadow of death. Then? The green grass of Bashan opens to them in mountain meadows. And he lies you down by still waters. You listen to him, follow him. It’s perilous at times, treacherous, and sometimes it is just hard.
I mean what does it mean to follow him? You don’t do this alone. You are not the only sheep in his pasture. There are other sheep as helpless as you, as nasty and selfish, conceited and arrogant. There are other sheep whom the shepherd knows as he knows you even to the darkest recesses of your soul, prone to lust and envy, slothful and lazy. Other sheep like you who in the valley of the shadow of death let their fears run rampant, get stuck in briars, caught in crags, spooked by every rustling of the wind. And he calls them as he calls you, all a part of one flock where you hear his word together, bow in prayer together, kneel at the alter together forgiving each other’s sins, supporting and carrying one another in their weakness, bearing with one another along the way, because you belong to the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. You hear his voice. You follow him because he knows you and gives you eternal life.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, Keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.

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