“Seek the Voice of our Shepherd”
A sermon by Dinushka De Silva, Diaconal Intern
Revelation 7:9-17 and John 10:22-30
Happy Mother’s Day to all! A part of today’s Gospel story talks about Jesus being the shepherd and us the sheep. I think so many mothers are shepherds, herding their children into safety, trying to prevent them from straying and getting lost.
It is not easy to be the shepherd. Sheep have a strong instinct to follow the sheep in front of them. When one sheep decides to go somewhere, the rest of the flock usually follows, even if it is not a good “decision.” For example, sheep will follow each other to slaughter. If one sheep jumps over a cliff, the others are likely to follow. If you have a couple of rams, then you’re dealing with a more aggressive kind of sheep, who won’t necessarily be compliant to their shepherd, but would be willing fight their shepherd and each other if not handled properly. (https://neeness.com/are-sheep-stubborn-animals/)
Let’s just say, sheep may be kind of similar to some teenagers! I say this because I have a teenager and let’s say he kind of fits some of these descriptions.
There are many times where I feel he is following the “flock,” the “herd,” and forgetting to hear my voice. But I am reminded today, that even I must continue to learn to hear my shepherd’s voice.
Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
There are moments where the sheep hear their shepherd’s voice and obey and other times where sheep are too far away and can’t hear their shepherd’s call and so they get confused and unsure.
The group of men, who question Jesus today when he is in the Temple, ask him if he is the Messiah. Jesus replies “yes, I have told you, and you do not believe.”
Jesus constantly has to explain himself because men struggle to understand God and God’s desire to be in personal relationship with them. God, through Jesus, is offering himself as the eternal parent, the eternal shepherd who wants to guide us all.
The truth is, many of us who are happy to call Jesus our shepherd and us his sheep, still struggle with learning to depend on our God, and God’s will for our life versus OUR own will. We are still learning to trust God’s understanding versus leaning on our own understanding of the world.
We must accept that we are still young in our understanding of life and the world. We get caught up in our own knowledge, only to discover our mistakes too late. We once thought the world was flat, then discovered it was round. We thought the Sun revolved around the Earth when in reality the Earth revolves around the sun.
We have even struggled with basic moral codes. As humans we have colonized and conquered in the name of our tribe. We have suppressed women, preventing them from leadership positions.
We see in Jesus’s time the acceptance in stoning someone to death for adultery. We have punished with severity and brutality. We must accept we are still learning and growing and in need of our God’s help.
We need our shepherd. We need to hear the voice of our shepherd and listen to what he wants of us. He is calling us into empathy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love.
So how do we know when it is the shepherd who is talking to us, calling us versus the other voices of society?
For me, God speaks to me in my heart. When I feel something is true from God, I literally feel a pull in my heart, telling me this is real, this is true.
For my Autistic son, listening to his heart is more complicated. He struggles with emotions in general. Often he looks to me to see if what he has done is correct, is good. To hear God’s voice calling you isn’t an easy thing. It can take years of mistakes, being influenced by the “herd,” and getting lost before we discover the truth and connect to God.
I am reminded, though, that God seeks us out. God continues to search for his lost sheep.
A few months ago, I came across a pediatric patient who use to follow the “herd” and tried to be like all the other sheep, trying desperately to be “normal.” Maria was maybe only 14 years old when I met her. She was struggling with the value of her life.
She was wondering why she was created so differently from everyone else. She felt tormented and for a brief moment contemplated taking her own life.
Maria wished to be called Mario. She/he shared with me that she knew from the age of 5 that she was really a boy. “I have always felt like a boy my whole life,” he said. “I never wanted to play with dolls, I never liked pink. I even had my first crush on a girl at age 5.”
Mario went on to talk about the fact that he had been raised in a conservative church environment where his identity was deemed unacceptable but he still went to the church every week, despite the fact no one could see him for who he was, despite the fact they kept asking him “Who and what are you?”
He did his best to please the “church herd” and the “family herd” by wearing dresses and trying to be more feminine, but he couldn’t take it anymore and reverted back to his more masculine self.
When I asked Mario why he kept going back, his response was, “I love God and God loves me. God might be the only one who really does love me for me.”
When I read today’s Gospel story, I imagine Mario, like Jesus walking around the Temple being questioned about who he is, but still staying firm on the fact that he belongs to God.
Mario is so brave. As he uncovers the truth of who he is, he is actually discovering God’s will for his life, not just his own will.
He may be young but his wisdom and strength of heart make him seem like such an old soul. Mario said to me, “Chaplain I don’t want to live a lie. Didn’t God tell us ‘Thou shall not lie’ ?”
“Yes Mario,” I said, “God said don’t lie. We shouldn’t lie to ourselves, we shouldn’t lie to others. We should live in full truth.” Mario belongs to God as God belongs to him. Jesus is Mario’s shepherd.
God reminds us in today’s Revelation reading that God’s sheep represent the world, so diverse, so immense, “…a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne.”
Walk in this world, looking for God’s presence, seeking the voice of your shepherd who will guide you to God’s truth, God’s eternal love. Look at your neighbors as not only Earthly neighbors but also Heavenly neighbors, praying that they too may hear God’s voice and God’s call to love.
Let us pray. Lord God you are the very breath we breathe. Come into our hearts. Shepherd our lives, helping us to live in truth, leading us to love. And help us shepherd others with love too. Amen.