Fourth Sunday in Easter
April 25, 2021
“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says. “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:14-16). And they will listen to my voice.
We know this about God. If God wishes to make something happen, it’s going to happen. The sheep will hear his voice. There will be one flock. It’s a beautiful, loving, endearing image. Jesus will be the good shepherd of our souls. Jesus will take care of us, guide us home, bandage up our wounds, care for us. That is what we hear when God speaks. We hear loving-kindness, and grace, and mercy. The Lord God wishes to spread a table before us in the presence of our enemies. The good shepherd wants to anoint our heads with oil and overfill our cups. What a beautiful image – to dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23). This is what God has in mind for us. All very well and good.
But what is that one voice against all the other voices? In such a chaotic world, how can the voice of Jesus cut through the noise? Think about it – the average American watches four hours of TV a day (https://www.statista.com/chart/15224/daily-tv-consumption-by-us-adults/). Four hours. I get what – ten minutes on a Sunday morning? How many of you would be rolling your eyes or making your shopping lists if I went for twenty? Plus, they’re everywhere. Every waiting room in every car dealership, bank, and barbershop has a tv. I go to the dentist now and they even have a tv on the ceiling. What chance does the church have against the ubiquitous, highly produced, money making machine that is the entertainment industry? What chance does the good shepherd have to be heard over all this noise?
Maybe it’s just me, but this makes me sad. It’s sad that we are all so uncomfortable with our own thoughts and our own inner dialogue, that we have to drown it out. Now, I’m not pointing the finger at “the media.” That’s far too easy. Rather, I think we should point the finger at ourselves. When it comes down to it, we are the ones choosing to spend our days listening to all the other voices instead of listening to the one, true voice. We are the ones turning on the tv and getting dragged into internet rabbit holes. It’s like our eyes are magnetically drawn to the screen. It’s just so easy to flip on the tv, turn off our brains, and let the time slide away.
And we are reaping what we have sown. Jesus wishes to call us together into one flock. Jesus wishes us to be unified with him and with each other. It is a beautiful, noble calling to be part of this one flock. Not so with the powers of this world. They would have us divided. There’s more profit in it that way. That’s why you can find a cable news channel to fit your specific ideological persuasion. Rather than one voice calling us together, we have opted for many voices that divide us. I tell you, we are reaping what we have sown. It is not “their” fault. It is our fault. For our ears have been stopped up.
The irony of this sermon is not lost on me. Here I am giving a sermon about tv, podcasts, and social media – a sermon which many people will watch on their tvs, listen to on their iPhones, and see on YouTube. I wrote this sermon on a computer screen. I’ll probably fall asleep on the couch this afternoon while watching a golf tournament on tv. I don’t want to come across as a Luddite, as someone who is opposed to new technologies. That’s the height of hypocrisy. And I’m well aware of my historical setting. I know that many clergy before me have given similar sermons – I’ve read them. One hundred and fifty years ago clergy would rail against mass printed books, because they said that since people were reading so much that they weren’t coming to church (Lectures on Preaching, Phillips Brooks).
We are sick. And the problem is not the tv, or your smartphone, or a good book. Don’t confuse the sickness and the symptoms. The symptoms are all the things that we use to drown out God. The sickness is that our human hearts are broken down and in need of repair. We would rather be divided, we would rather hand over our money to the hired hands. The real sickness is that we choose to listen for other voices. The sickness is that we would rather listen for the hired hands. We have become so used to the voices of hurt, and fear, and blame that our ears are unaccustomed to the voice of love. The sickness is our sin.
But rather than pointing what is wrong all the time, rather than suffering from my own criticism, I want to give a positive vision for what could be better. Or, as Jesus puts it, what could be good. As we continue our 2021 – Year of Prayer here at Holy Comforter, I ask you to recommit to your life of prayer. Prayer is not only telling God what we want – it’s mostly about listening to God. Prayer is taking the time to stop, to be silent, and to hear that voice of the good shepherd calling you. Prayer is being by yourself and with others to open your ears to God. Even when all the other voices are drowning God out, we must have the courage to listen and to listen deeply. Throwing away your tv may help you grow closer to God, or it may not. But listening for the Holy Spirit most definitely will.
I don’t know what this means for your specific spiritual practices. But I do know this – what the Lord God is speaking to us is good, and beautiful, and noble. And that is the way you can discern which voices to listen to and which voices to mute. When you are being bombarded by so much noise from so many voices, ask yourself – “is this voice speaking beauty? Is this voice saying good things? Is this voice calling me to be or to do something noble?” That is what you ought to follow. Be careful about those voices that are just trying to sell you something, be careful about those voices that numb your mind. Be wary of the voices that stir up anger inside of you, that are inciting you to rage. Do not let the sin-sick world claim you. Let those voices pass by and listen for God.
And then you’ll find something awfully refreshing, and maybe surprising. Jesus is speaking to you all the time. Jesus is speaking even more than the constant drone of the television and the endless internet. The Holy Spirit is speaking to you through the mouths of other people, the Spirit is speaking to you through the holy scriptures. The Lord God is speaking to you through the beauty of the world and through the wonder of life (Book of Common Prayer, 836). We also know this about God – God is ubiquitous. Don’t blame anybody else for your inability to listen. We can all listen if only we open our ears. Jesus may not have the loudest voice, but what he says will be good.