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Dave Johnson

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Episcopal Church of the Resurrection

“The Voice of Your Good Shepherd” (John 10:27-28)

May 8, 2022

Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today is one of my favorite Sundays of the year: the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday. Every year on Good Shepherd Sunday we are reminded that Jesus Christ is not only the One who created us and died on the cross for us and was raised from the dead for us—he is also our Good Shepherd who is always with us, even when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death, who knows us each by name, and who calls us each by name.

When someone important, whom you look up to, knows you by name and calls you by name—that can make a big difference in your life. You know this. The elementary school I attended back in the Dark Ages went through 6th grade, and of course there was a huge difference between a 5th grader and 6th grader—6th graders were at the top of the food chain, right? When I was in 5th grade, I ended up playing on the same soccer team as the most popular 6th grader in the school: Walter Goldsby. I still remember his name. Walter was the “it” kid at school—an amazing athlete who was a standout in every sport he played and held many of the swim team records at the neighborhood pool, a brilliant student academically, and on the school council. All the girls at school at a crush on Walter which meant all the guys at school simply wished they were Walter.

One day my 5th grade class was walking down the hall to lunch and Walter’s 6th class was coming down the same hall from the opposite direction, and something happened that changed my life. As Walter passed by, we briefly made eye contact and he nodded his head at me, “Hey Dave!” I was stunned and muttered back, “Hey, Walter.” And as we continued down the hall my classmates turned to me—“You know Walter Goldsby?! Walter Goldsby knows who you are?!”—and in that moment the stock of my social standing in the 5th grade of Orange Hunt Elementary School skyrocketed because yes, I knew Walter Goldsby, who more importantly knew me and called me by name. Externally I was smug, but internally I was blown away—and still remember that moment all these years later.

I would guess many of you could share a similar story when someone important to whom you looked up knew your name and spoke
to you by name—and it made a difference in your life. Every year on Good Shepherd Sunday the gospel passage is from the tenth chapter of the Gospel According to John, in which Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). In today’s passage Jesus assures us, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (John 10:27-28).

“My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus says, “I know them, and they follow me.” When your Good Shepherd calls you by name, it can change your life—as we prayed in the beautiful collect for today—“O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice, we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads” (The Book of Common Prayer 225).

So how can you recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd? Some people share about hearing an audible voice from God—maybe you have heard God speak audibly to you and while you may hesitate to share that with others, you know you aren’t making it up. Others share about how God speaks to them through other people—someone may share with you a particular word of wisdom or insight or comfort that in that moment connects exactly with your life in a specific way and goes straight to your heart, and you know that word was from God.

Still others recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd as what scripture calls a “still small voice.” In the Old Testament the prophet Elijah encountered the living God at Mt. Horeb and scripture tells us:

A great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood at the entering in of the cave (1 Kings 19:11-13).

God spoke to Elijah in a “still small voice.” Often this is more an impression or thought than an audible voice, but you recognize it as the voice of the Good Shepherd because it accompanied by clarity and a profound sense of peace.

In my own life I do not recall hearing an audible voice from the Good Shepherd, but I have often heard the voice of the Good Shepherd speaking to me through other people (including some of you here today) and most often have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd as that “still small voice”, that thought or impression in my heart that is always very clear and always accompanied by a profound sense of peace—and you simply know that you know it was from God. Even if that “still small voice” of God tells you something that makes no sense from a human point of view, or is a call to do something utterly impossible in your own power, you simply know that you know it is the Good Shepherd speaking to you. We see this in the Old Testament when God spoke to Abraham, who was wealthy and enjoying his golden years when God spoke to him, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Though others must have thought he was crazy, Abraham obeyed God’s “still small voice.”

Sometimes God will speak to you about the smallest detail. Along these lines, I heard God’s “still small voice” in an unforgettable way. It was over twenty years ago. My family and I were living in a two-bedroom townhouse in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina—four kids at home and a fifth on the way. I was working full-time as a youth minister, taking seminary classes part-time, and gradually working through the ordination process in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

Part of this ordination process involved a battery of examinations—physical exams, psychological exams, criminal and financial background checks, as well as a standardized test called the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). Perhaps you have taken the MAT—it is a standardized test for graduate school consisting of one hundred questions in fifty minutes, designed to assess your analytical and logical skills, or lack thereof. These one hundred questions draw from a huge range of subjects, including math, vocabulary, history, geography, science, the arts.

In preparation I had spent a couple months working through an MAT study guide. On a cool Saturday morning in March 1999, I drove in my 1989 Honda Accord from Mt. Pleasant over the old Cooper River Bridge into Charleston and arrived at The Citadel to take the MAT. As I pulled into the parking lot, I sensed that “still small voice” tell me I should look up the word “bucolic” in my MAT study guide that was in the passenger seat. It felt so random, but I looked it up—“bucolic”: adjective meaning “pastoral.” Then I prayed and went in to take the test.

Four or five questions into the MAT guess what word was in the test question? Yes, “bucolic.” What are the odds of that? I was so overwhelmed with relief I actually started chuckling until the grim test administrator glared at me, “There’s nothing funny about the MAT!” I was thinking, “Apparently there’s nothing funny in your life either.” “Bucolic”—adjective meaning “pastoral”—from a “still small voice” of the greatest Pastor of all, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd. I knew it was not a coincidence that God actually cared about the details of my personal life all the way down to a specific question in a Miller Analogies Test. Could God be any more pastoral than that?

As you know, the world is not always a “bucolic”, pastoral place in the pleasant sense of the word—with green pastures, a light breeze, lots of food and water, lots of love and laughter, no sickness, no anxiety, no stress, no strained relationships, no sideshows of drama. The world is actually full of lost sheep, lost sheep that are scared, lost sheep that are angry lash out at other sheep, lost sheep that are wounded. The world is full of lost sheep vulnerable to the elements, vulnerable to predators, vulnerable to discouragement and distraction and depression, vulnerable to the “thief (who) comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” The world is full of lost sheep who desperately need to hear the “still small voice” of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus did that on Good Friday. He lay down his life for a lost and stressed out world full of lost and stressed out sheep, including you. And on the cross Jesus prayed for the world and for you in a “still small voice”, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). And God the Father answered that prayer. “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus said, “I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (John 10:27-28). In his death and resurrection Jesus Christ your Good Shepherd has given you eternal life and you will never perish.

And my prayer for you is that as you continue walking down the hallways of your life, you will notice the most important Person in the universe, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, looking at you—and recognize his voice as he calls you by name.


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