Sermon on John 10:1-10, 4th Sunday of Easter 2020, "Know His Voice"

  1. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. 
    A rapidly growing technology in our everyday lives is Voice Recognition, which tells one person’s voice from another. They say that our “voiceprint” is unique, just like our fingerprints.  The technology is rapidly being developed, even though it’s been around since the dawn of mankind. God designed our brains to be incredible information processing systems, and all of the mind-boggling “technology” of Voice Recognition is programmed into your mind, and works without you even having to understand how! 
    Just because it's so ordinary and common to us that we recognize so many unique “voiceprints”--we don’t ever really stop to be amazed by the huge processing and identification task that our brains go through instantaneously when we recognize, oh, that’s mom, or dad, or my sister or my friend from work or church or wherever. Not only do we need a finely tuned and working ear, but also a brain that can analyze, filter, and distinguish almost instantaneously. Our brain is constantly processing enormous amounts of sensory input from all our working senses. Most of us can probably identify dozens of voices, so long as no one is distorting or disguising their voice. One French test of 44 adults found 99.9% accuracy in identifying friends and family by voice alone, just by hearing the phrase “merci beacoup” pronounced. 4 syllables! And machines were only 92% accurate! But as good as we are at recognizing those we know, obviously we don’t recognize the voices of strangers, and the less familiar we are with someone, the less reliably we could ID their voice. But what an amazing feat of hearing and brain power! And what’s even more amazing is that even newborn infants can do it--we are born with this ability!!--so this is one of the deepest hardwired (or wet-wired?) capacities of our human brain. And animals like dogs and sheep do the same!
    First we should marvel and praise God that we are fearfully and wonderfully made! Any new technology modeled after something God built into creation witnesses to His handiwork, whether the inventors or engineers meant to or not! All the works of God praise the Lord! Secondly, this “Voice Recognition” technology in our human minds can move us to reflect on our reading today, and how we recognize the voice of our Shepherd Jesus. Of all the billions of human voices on planet Earth, One is more important to know than all the rest. The good and loving voice of our Shepherd who calls us by name.
    I know only one way to learn how to recognize someone’s voice. Familiarity. Hearing the sound of their voice frequently. This is how babies learn their mother’s voice in their womb, even before a baby knows how to speak, or what words mean. Newborn infants can identify their mother's voice, and even distinguish the sounds of foreign languages, according to researchers!  It’s the same way we learn the voices of our family and friends, we meet and talk with them often. And so also, if you want to know the voice of Jesus, you have to listen to Him often! You won’t recognize it if you never listen to His Word--He’s One person from whom we should NOT be social distancing! Come into His presence! Read and hear the Words of His voice. 
    Notice how it says that Jesus calls His sheep by name and leads them out, and they know His voice? How precious and tender is it to be known and loved and called by name? Many are experiencing loneliness and isolation with all the social distancing right now. Now more than ever we should reach out to those who are lonely and isolated around us. A simple call can brighten someone’s day. Do you know what it’s like to long for the phone to ring, or to hear the familiar voice of a friend or loved one? Or anyone? What does it feel like when there is no one to call us? It can be a sad thought. But we have One who has called each of us by name, who knows us and loves us! And we can always call on Him! Jesus our Shepherd. His voice calls out to us in the Scriptures, and invites us to come to Him. In the waters of baptism He called you by name, and puts His precious name on you--you are His and He is yours. When you have a personal relationship with Jesus, He constant and faithful; He knows the deepest troubles of your heart, and loves you with a powerful, sacrificial love. He laid down His life for His sheep when He died for you on the cross.  
    Even at our loneliest times, when no other voices are calling, Jesus is always calling us to come follow Him. His Word is always available in the Bible, and when we read it, not just as dry history or stories about other people--but as God’s story to us, and about us, we find that His Word speaks to you and me! It speaks comfort to our hearts, correction to our errors, guidance for our uncertainty. Just as relevant and lively today as it was thousands of years ago. 
    But other voices are calling for our attention. Sometimes we are so filled with longing that we fall prey to voices who plan harm for us. Jesus calls them thieves and robbers, who sneak past the gatekeeper, climb over the fences, and steal or harm the sheep. Elsewhere they are called false teachers or false prophets. They are clever at disguising themselves in sheep’s clothing, or disguising their voice to sound like the shepherd. We need to beware of fakes, and not fall for them! The best way is to be very familiar with the voice of Jesus. The better we know His voice, the less susceptible we are to be suckered by a fake. 
    A strange voice called to Eve in the Garden of Eden. A seductive voice that lured her into thinking that God was short-changing her, and sin was an attractive way to become more like God. So today we have seductive voices that lure us into all kinds of sin. Sexual immorality, greed, pride, illegal gain, vanity, addiction, anger. Hiding in those sins are the shackles and chains that the devil snaps on our wrists, ankles, hearts and minds as soon as we fall for his lies. He whispers “it’s just a little’s not like its murder”, or “nobody has to know” or “it won’t hurt anybody”; “it’s your choice, what business it is of God or the church?”; “it’s just this ONCE” and his old familiar lie: “did God REALLY say?” And whenever that thief, the devil, comes to steal, kill, and destroy with these lies, we need to stop our ears and turn our back on Him, and find the voice of Jesus. 
    That is just a sampling of the thief’s lies, however. We see his divisiveness at work as thousands of people are dying from the coronavirus, and the devil stirs our fears and our anger into blaming each other, people becoming greedy and hoarding, people taking advantage of others distress, or being filled with bitterness and despair. You can bet that human misery and its exploitation is the continuing work of the thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. One of Pastor Bowditch’s old midweek encouragements had a segment from Paul Harvey, who many years ago said if he were the devil, one of the things he would do was to get Americans to pray, instead of “Our Father who art in heaven…” to pray “Our father who art in Washington…” And people of all parties are guilty of imagining that if only THEIR candidate or THEIR party is in power, then all would be right with the country. And so we make idols of our rulers and grant them powers greater than they rightfully possess or need. But our human nature shows again and again that we'll always SEEK powers greater than we rightfully possess or need.
    But the devil is content with whatever substitute we find for God. Whether we make an idol out of government and rulers, or medicine and technology, or wealth and prosperity, or sports and leisure--it doesn’t matter what we put in God’s place, so long as we stop listening to His voice. That’s the chief aim of the devil: to separate us from God. Which is why we have to be ever watchful for his attacks, and continually tune our ears into Jesus’ Words. 
    So how do we know Jesus’ voice? Not by whether it's higher or lower pitched, or about the distinctive sound, but by the Truth He consistently spoke. We don’t have a voice recording of Jesus, but we have His Word written down for us in the Gospels. We have the sound pattern of His words all through the Bible. We must always measure the words of any preacher, teacher, or evangelist, who say they are preaching the Gospel, by the Bible. Is Christ proclaimed and upheld, or someone else? Is it contradicting God’s Word, or disputing God’s Divine authority? We recognize Christ’s Word when we are pointed to Him, who has the words of eternal life. When our sin is condemned and we are called to repentance, and forgiveness is proclaimed as the free gift in Jesus’ Name. When the words line up with the rest of the Gospels. When we are called to put our trust in Him alone, and not in ourselves or any other earthly power.
    On the one hand, the devil points us to the easy path to glory, around the suffering, and through the sin, but Christ calls us to the high road through suffering and by obedience. When the devil’s words bring chains, Jesus’ Word cuts through the chains and loudly calls us to freedom and life! When the devil calls us to hate each other, to divide and attack and accuse, Christ shows us that flesh and blood (ie other humans) aren’t our enemies, but the devil’s dark spiritual enterprise is our enemy. So Christ shows us the difficult path of forgiveness, reconciliation, seeking the truth and turning away from lies and error. Down the hard pathway of the cross there is joy and freedom already now but more fully in the life to come!
    Christ’s voice spoke Peace, Shalom, Wholeness to His fearful disciples on Easter evening. It is Christ who knows every one of you sheep, down to all your little quirks and weaknesses, but who also made you unique and loves you more deeply than anyone! It is Christ who feels your pain when any one of His sheep is wounded, and who draws near to bind up your wounds. So hear His voice--know His voice, through constant listening and answering in the conversation of prayer and praise to Him. Call on His Name and ask for His help in the depths of your challenges--in the joys and in the triumphs, raise a glad song of praise! It’s a joy to know His voice, and to be called by Him, our Good Shepherd. Amen. 

    Sermon Talking Points
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    1. John 10:1-10 sets up a sharp contrast between thieves/robbers, and the true shepherd. What is different in their actions? What is different about their intentions? Why do the sheep trust and know the voice of their shepherd? How can one gain this familiarity with Jesus, our Good Shepherd? 
    2. Who is the “thief” who means to harm the sheep? (think first of our number one spiritual enemy--but also who else comes with destructive aims, both physically and spiritually against God’s people?) How do we guard against those thieves and robbers who want to harm the flock? 
    3. Write down a description of what you know about Jesus, your Shepherd, and how you can recognize Him, apart from any fakes. What sets Him apart? How do you know His voice? What qualities best describe Him? 
    4. Describe what it means to you to know that Jesus calls you by name, and that you know His voice? By contrast, what would it mean to have no one calling your name, or to have thieves and robbers calling, who intend to do harm to you? 
    5. In Acts 17:10-15, read about the Christians in Berea. What were they commended for? Whose teaching did they scrutinize to make sure that it was Biblical? What does that teach us? 
    6. What voices or messages of false teachers (i.e. thieves and robbers) do you hear around you today? How do they attack or undermine God’s Word? How do they turn the focus off of Jesus? How can you avoid their influence? 
    7. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Christ comes to give us life abundantly. Is this material wealth and earthly power or success? See Matthew 6:19-21. How does Jesus give spiritual abundance to us? John 20:31; Psalm 23; John 10:15-18. 


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