Sermons That Work

In a Little Town…, Easter 4 (C) – 2004

May 02, 2004

In a little town in a little church in southwest Missouri, the children and their Sunday school teacher were talking about Jesus. “Did Jesus speak English or Spanish?” the children wanted to know. For the most part, their parents speak Spanish as their “first” language. Their teachers, for the most part, speak English. The kids are pretty good at both languages. So they could only imagine that Jesus must have spoken one or the other, or maybe even both. That living 2,000 years ago and in a faraway place, Jesus might have spoken some other language, had not even occurred to them. They found it incredible, literally, when the teacher told them that Jesus didn’t speak English or Spanish. He spoke Aramaic, and some Hebrew, she said, at least while he was living on this earth.

Although this did not fit in with their world view, the children were relieved to learn that Jesus did, however, understand all languages and that they could talk to him in English or Spanish (or for that matter, in any other language), and he would know what they were saying.

“Lord, hear our prayer,” is a familiar petition used in our prayers. But as a matter of fact, God has no trouble hearing our prayer. There is nothing wrong with God’s hearing. God has no need for a hearing aid.

We’re the ones who need the hearing aid when it comes to hearing God’s voice. In today’s Gospel story, on this “Good Shepherd Sunday,” Jesus is comparing two sets of people: those who belong to his flock of sheep, and those who don’t. “You do not believe,” Jesus says to those who are questioning him, “because you do not belong to my sheep.” Of those who do not belong to his sheep, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Obviously, we would all want to believe that we are among those who are part of that flock, who belong among those sheep! But if that is the case, it appears that we had better be able to hear God’s voice—and that is where we might need a “hearing aid,” or, perhaps, a “listening aid.”

The most obvious “listening aid” is simply to pay attention. God isn’t likely to address us in a booming voice coming out of the sky. God is, however, always trying to get our attention, so a little alertness is called for.

Let’s start by giving God a chance to be heard. We might do this by “switching off and tuning out.” There are some fine programs on television and the radio can also be good company and even help us stay awake when we’re driving. Surely we can turn them off for awhile, and listen to some good old-fashioned silence.

Some of us are afraid of silence. Maybe that’s why we have to have some “background noise.” What could it be that we are afraid of hearing? Hmm, do we really want to hear what God has to say? May we really don’t want to hear that “still small voice.”

But turning off the TV and the radio and other mechanical devices isn’t enough. We also have to tune out that internal noise. This is even harder. What about that running commentary that is always going on in our head? Can we shut that up for just a few minutes? This is harder than it sounds. Even if we have set aside time for prayer, we tend to fill up that time with the sound of our own voice—even if it’s only internal voice. Maybe we could try to do less talking and more listening.

A priest came back from a religious retreat having learned a way of praying with scripture: Slowly and prayerfully read through a short passage of scripture. Read it several times, if necessary. Then take a piece of paper and write, “Dear God,” and tell God what you think this passage is about. Then start a new paragraph. Write, “Dear God—,” and put your own name in the blank. Then put down your pen and be quiet. Just listen to what God might have to say. When there seems to be nothing more, take up your pen again and write. You’ll be surprised at what God might say to you.

Of course, God doesn’t only speak to us in scripture and prayer. Look around you at the beauties of nature. Listen to the voices of your brothers and sisters. Pay attention to the happenings of your daily life and think about what they might mean. You will find that most of what God is saying is about love: “I love you, Jack. See that great sunset?” or, “Mary, I love that little child; be kind to her; or, maybe, “Henry, that old man needs help; please go and help him because I love him;” or, “Did you hear what Sue said about going to prayer group with her? I sent you that message because I love you and it will be a good thing for you.”

“We are his people and the sheep of his pasture,” we read in today’s Psalm. If we really want to be God’s sheep, God’s people, we’d better really listen to God’s voice. Similar thought is to be found in Psalm 95, paraphrased here: “For he is our God, and we are the people of God’s pasture and the sheep of God’s hand. Oh, that today we would hearken to God’s voice!” Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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