In Lois Tverberg’s (“tuh-Ver-berg”) blog, Our Rabbi Jesus, she tells the story of a Ph.D. student who spends several months a year in Israel as a part of her studies. One day while walking on a road near Bethlehem, she watched as three shepherd converged with their separate flocks of sheep. They all greeted one another and then began talking. While they were talking, the sheep wandered and intermingled, melting into one big flock.
Witnessing this she began to wonder how the three shepherds would ever be able to identify their own sheep . . . so, she waited. When the time came for each of the shepherds to head their own ways, she watched with fascination as each of the shepherds called out to their sheep. At the sound of the shepherd’s voice . . . like magic . . . the sheep separated into three flocks.
After thousands of years . . . nothing has changed. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.
Jesus has called us by name. He has called each of us by name, and we have responded to that voice . . . we have embraced his call upon our lives to follow him. And, we know that he walks with us as our Shepherd. How does the song go? You know the song . . . In the Garden:
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am his own
Like the sheep we know the Shepherd by his voice . . . in the way that he says our name.
In our scripture reading this morning, it is the winter . . . probably around December . . . and the Jews have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Dedication, or what we know as Hanukah. One day Jesus is walking through Solomon’s Colonnade . . . a very special and sacred place . . . when he is confronted by a group of very devout Jews who begin to question him about when he is going to come right out and tell everyone that he is the Messiah. These are devout Jews . . . devout people of the faith . . . who are curious about whether or not Jesus is the One, if he is the Messiah.
Of course, Jesus answers them . . . answers them quite bluntly. He tells him that he has already told them who he is . . . he has done it in the words that he spoke and the actions—the miracles—that he has done. Then he tells them that basically, they were not listening. Had they been listening they would have heard, and if they had heard they would be following him . . . they would be one of his flock. They would have recognized it in his voice . . . in the way that he said their names.
Years ago, Hebert Brokering wrote a small book of modern parables called, I Openings. In one of the parables he tells the story of a couple who go to a marriage counselor because they are ready to get a divorce. Instead of talk therapy, the counselor grabs two chairs that she puts back to back in a room. He tells the husband and wife to sit down in the chairs. Then he tells them that their task is to call out each other’s names . . . and to keep doing it until they hear their names once again in that way that they did when they fell in love. She tells them to not come out until it happens . . . then she leaves.
Now I doubt if any couple who were contemplating divorce would put up with such a strange request; yet, at the same time, the counselor understood. The counselor understood the power of the voice . . . how the voice can break through and bring hope. It is all in remembering how the beloved has called our names . . . it is in that voice that we recognize the Shepherd.
How many countless movies have we seen the plot when someone is terribly mangled . . . mangled to the point that he or she is no longer recognizable; but when the person speaks to those closest to them . . . they recognize their loved one. Or those movies where two people, as children fall in love, move away from each other, and later discover one another again . . . in the way that they said each other’s names. So it is with Jesus. We recognize him in the way he says our names . . . we recognize his voice . . . and, we follow.
One of the things about being a shepherd is the responsibility of finding food for the sheep . . . not an easy task, especially in a place like Israel where the grass is valued commodity because of its rareness. Thus the shepherd moves from place to place, rarely staying in the same spot. After all, the sheep are not fenced in with the feed being brought to them . . . no, they are going wherever the shepherd leads them. And, they follow because they recognize the voice in the way that the shepherd calls them to follow him in his footsteps.
Well, Jesus is not a feedlot operator . . . no, he is a shepherd . . . a shepherd who always seems to be on the move . . . from one place to another, from one cause to another. Jesus doesn’t seem to stand still for too long. He is always on the move . . . always calling us . . . always calling us to follow.
Think about it.
I would be shocked if any of you who are here this morning wouldn’t
admit that your relationship with Jesus . . . that your journey with Jesus . . .
is different than it was when you first heard Jesus call your name. That you
are not in the place you were when you first decided to follow that voice. I
think that we are all in deeper and closer relationships with Jesus . . . and, I
think it would be honest to admit that it has not always been easy, and that
we have not always recognized the voice of Jesus in our lives. Jesus has
taken us to some places we had rather not go . . . at least not until we
heard him call us by name . . . until we recognized his voice in those places
These religiously devote Jews who questioned Jesus about whether or
not he was just going to come out and tell them he was the Messiah, well,
they just could not recognize the voice for whatever reason. Until they
could recognize the voice of God through Jesus, they just were not going to
Of course, those who hear and recognize their name in the voice of the
Shepherd . . . well, they get it all. They get all the protection, all the grace,
all the hope, all the promise, and all of the companionship that the
Shepherd provides. Jesus tells the group that is gathered around him this:
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give
them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them
out of my hand.” The key is in following the voice that calls . . . that
wandering voice that pulls us through life into new situations and
relationship each and every day . . . calls us into service of others . . . calls
us into compassion . . . calls us into mission. Not always the places we
want to go. And, when we do not want to go, we have harder time hearing
and recognizing the voice of the Shepherd.
In the song, In the Garden, we sing:
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And he tells me I am His own
It is in the way that He says our name that we recognize Jesus . . . in the
good times, bad times, and all the times in-between. We follow where the
Shepherd leads. Amen.