Sermon: “Listening to the Shepherd”
Lectionary Series C; Fourth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 12, 2019
Gospel Reading: John 10:22-30; Psalm 23
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
How good are you at listening? Scripture repeatedly says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” God speaks through His Word, and the expectation is that we will listen to Him.
How good are you at listening? Today is Mother’s Day. Today is a day we celebrate the gift of our moms. Thinking about our sermon theme for today, as well as the fact that it is Mother’s Day, how well do we do at listening to our moms? As a child, how many times did our mom have to tell us to do something before we did it? What would our moms say about our listening skills if we asked them? We may not want to know.
How good are you at listening? Husbands often get put into the category of selective listeners. Often for good reason. Selective listening is where one chooses to listen to the things that matter to them, where the rest is disregarded.
How good are you at listening? In pre-marital counseling, I will often teach a couple about reflective listening. This is different than active listening. Active listening is listening in an effort to actively provide a response once the other person is done speaking. Reflective listening is paying attention so closely that you are able to repeat back to the person what they said, and then ask, “Did I understand you correctly?” If the message was understood correctly, then you respond.
How good are you at listening? Most of us would probably be forced to confess that we are not the greatest at listening. We are either too busy, too distracted, or we simply don’t care enough to listen to the person talking to us. Either way, we fail at listening.
Why do we need to listen? Well, think of it this way. Before the world of the GPS, and if you didn’t have a map, you needed to listen to someone give you directions. If you didn’t listen well, what would happen? You would get lost. The same can be said of a student who doesn’t listen to their teacher or a worker who doesn’t listen to their boss. The student who doesn’t listen to instructions will not do their assignment correctly. The worker who doesn’t listen to their boss’s directions, will not complete the work project well. We could no doubt come up with several other applications for why listening is essential.
Our text provides just that. Listen again: At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock (John 10:22-26).
The Jews would not listen to Jesus. Even though the works of Jesus had pointed to the fact that He was Christ, they still wouldn’t listen. They wouldn’t believe His Word. So, Jesus made clear to them that if they wouldn’t listen, they were not part of His flock.
This should serve as a warning to all of us. When Jesus speaks, we are called upon to listen. He is the Shepherd, and we are the sheep. We are called upon to follow Him. But to not do so runs the risk of grave consequences. If we choose not to follow Him we are choosing to not be a part of the Good Shepherd’s flock, and that leads to eternal damnation. That’s why I ask, how good are you at listening? Listening to Jesus in His word is essential to our salvation, as well as our safety along the way.
Just look at what happened to Jesus. Here he is walking in the temple during a time of celebration, and a pack of ravenous wolves came up to pounce on Him. The Jews had no desire to listen. They had every desire to devour. In fact, just after our text, if we were to read one verse further, they picked up stones to stone Him.
Just like it was for Jesus, so it will be for us. But such attacks may not be as obvious as the one Jesus faced. It might be more subtle. Remember, the evil one works through deception. He is prowling around seeking to devour us to drive us away from the Good Shepherd so he can cast us into despair and ultimately, eternal death.
That’s why it is so important for us to be in the Word. In the meaning of the third commandment (Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy), it says, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and ‘gladly’ ‘hear and learn’ it.” We listen to God’s Word ever so intently so we can be wise and discerning. There are so many messages thrown at us on a daily basis that it can be overwhelming to try and weed through them all to figure out what the truth is anymore.
Ask yourself: What are the voices that you listen to? Who is speaking to you? Are they leading you to Christ, or are they leading you away from Him? Are you able to discern between the voices to determine what is good, right, and salutary, and what are flat out lies? How often are you in the Word to listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice? (Pause)
At this time of year, I can’t help but think about all those youth who will be graduating. Graduation is such an awesome time of celebration. But it is also a time of great temptation. There is such a great temptation to abandon the regular rhythm of listening to God’s Word in worship. The independent life screams for freedom, and all too often that includes freedom ‘from’ having to go to church.
This is why it is so vital for parents to help their kids by making worship a regular priority during the formidable years of high school. Confirmation is not graduation. It is merely a stepping stone in the faith. The years of high school are essential years to listen to God’s Word to fine tune those listening ears so that when they get out into the real world, they are fortified against the attacks of the wolves. Then, when their child does go off to college, parents ought to help them get connected to a local Lutheran Church that helps them to remain faithful to the point of death and so receive the crown of eternal life (Just as they vowed in their confirmation).
And this is true for all of us. We all need to be intentional about prioritizing our time to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. The devil is working so hard to pull people away from the Shepherd. And the sad reality here in America, is that he doesn’t have to work that hard. He does it through subtle voices calling us to things like a life of greed. He makes us think that we never have enough. Enough money, enough power, enough stuff.
Our pursuit of greener pastures tempts us to constantly trade in our time to listen to the Good Shepherd. How often would we rather listen to the voices that tell us to do what we want to do, than take the time to be with the One who makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters? (Pause)
Our Good Shepherd knows how slippery the slope is to fall away from Him completely. He knows just how crafty the devil and his pack of wolves are. He knows the dangers out there, and that’s why He calls upon His sheep to listen to Him.
Jesus said: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one (John 10:27-30).
Fellow sheep, how good are you at listening? Through His Word, Jesus calls each of you by name. He knows that far too often you have wandered from Him. Maybe you are in that position now. Maybe you are stuck in a sin right now, and you just can’t figure out how to make your way back to the Shepherd.
And that’s what is so awesome about your Shepherd. When you are lost, He goes out looking for you. He leaves the ninety-nine sheep in the fold to search for His lost sheep. That’s how much He loves His sheep. That’s how much He loves you. And that’s why He has called you here today. To listen to His voice. To hear that call to repentance. To confess your sins. To be forgiven.
He who called you to the still waters of your baptism still calls you by name. You belong to Him. His grip on you is ever so tight. You are wrapped up in the hand of the Son, in the hand of the Father, because they are One. And they have a hold on you. So fear not! The wolves are no match for your shepherd. You are held in His righteous right hand.
Jesus listened to the voice of His Father and willingly stretched out His hands on the cross to save you. The same hand that was stretched out on Calvary to save you, holds you. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and He lays down His life for His sheep. And you are His sheep. Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you need not fear any evil, for your Good Shepherd is with you. His goodness and mercy follows you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in His house forever.
So, my fellow sheep, listen to your shepherd’s voice. For faith comes by hearing. Listen to His Word. He will not lead you astray. He will guide you, guard you, and protect you. He will keep you safe and secure until that day that you will behold with your own eyes: The Lamb in the midst of the throne who is your shepherd, who will guide you to springs of living water, and He will wipe every tear from your eyes. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.