May 7, 2017

 Pastor Tammy Sharp

Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10
Have you ever listened to a recording of yourself? How many of you hear your own voice on a recording and think: “That is not what my voice sounds like”? I hate listening to my own voice. It makes me painfully aware of why the telemarketers seem to always think I a man. Are there voices that you love to hear? Be near someone whose loved one has been fighting in a war (or military conflict) when they get a call from that loved one. There is a peace that comes over them, just knowing that this person is safe. Or be at the bedside with a family when someone they love has been through a serious surgery or they have been in an accident and they wake up and start to talk. There is nothing more comforting, just knowing they are okay. Watch a high school kid play any sport, with a mom, or in my case a grandma, is in the stands and is the loudest, some might even say obnoxious voice in the crowd. They will play like they are embarrassed, but knowing that person is there means everything. When you don’t hear that voice, it is hard to focus and be the best you can on the field or court.
Voices matter. Who we listen to; what we listen to; it matters. In modern history, every individual has a multitude of voices that beg for your respect and attention. Sometimes those voices are saying opposite things and you have to discern which voice you will listen to. Just about every teenager will tell you that their parents are clueless when it comes to understanding what is important in a teenager’s life. Parents say don’t drink. But the friends are saying that this party on Saturday will be the best ever and everyone that matters will be there. Why can’t the parents say, “oh go to any party you like and do whatever you want, because all that matters is that you have a good time for the moment?” Because what may seem like the best thing in the moment, can have lifelong consequences. Consequences can’t seem to see. Who we listen to at any given moment matters. The voices that are calling to us are exhaustive: peers, parents, employers, and what you hear on TV are just a few. Whose voice do you listen to? Whose voice to you want to hear when life is the most difficult? Are we forgetting or maybe ignoring the one voice that matters the most? Jesus? How can we possibly know THAT voice?
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus says he is the shepherd and that he leads his sheep and they follow because they know his voice. But really, how are we supposed to not just hear the voice of Jesus in our daily lives, but discern which of the many voices that call to us, is in fact the voice of Jesus? It says that I will know his voice, but there are so many voices.
There you have it. You love Jesus, right? So, you will know his voice. RIGHT? Oh how I wish it were that simple. It should be that simple. We should be so connected to God through faith in Jesus Christ that discerning His voice is just what we do. But it isn’t that simple. It isn’t that simple because we have filled our lives with so many other things; things that we place great importance on. The voices of our culture are so loud and constantly present, that we have little time, or desire to stop and listen to voice of God. For many people, that voice has taken a back seat for so long that we have a hard time recognizing it. And when we do hear that voice, and it contradicts what the voices of our society are saying, it is easy, maybe even understandable that we second guess if that is the voice of God at all. But we are here in this church, presumably to hear the voice of God.
No, I am in no way saying that I am the voice of God. But, that is why we are in church. Or for those of you reading this on line, I am guessing that is what you are looking for this morning. As people of faith, our desire, our goal, should be that we are so connected to God through faith that, like me hearing the voice of my grandma at my volleyball games, above all the other voices in the crowd; it should be easy for us to distinguish which voice in our world is the voice of God. As we hear that voice, our lives will follow. So, What can we do to be more able to discern God’s voice above all the others?
It starts with taking the time away from the insanity of this world to simply be with God. I realize that is no easy task. But coming to church on Sunday mornings helps. Being a part of a Bible Study that encourages you to ask questions in order to better understand what scripture says, is a great resource. Taking some time out of each day to be silent; closing off all the noise that our society produces, will do wonders. We will never recognize the voice of God if we have not taken time to listen to God through scripture.
Then there is the reality that many different preachers will give you many different understandings of what the voice of Jesus is. How are you and I supposed to know which voice is right? The answer goes back to knowing God through scripture. To understand the voice of Jesus you have to spend time in the gospels. What did Jesus say to people he encountered in his time of ministry? What things angered him? What things did he celebrate? What things seemed to break his heart? Who did Jesus criticize for what they were doing and who did Jesus lift up as examples? If we are to recognize the voice of Jesus and follow faithfully, then we have to ask, and find answers to these questions.
Don’t worry, I am not going to go through all of those questions, but we are going to look at a few of them.
Who did Jesus get angry with?
The Self-righteous. Usually that meant the religious leaders of the day. These were men, and yes, in that time of history, it was all men; who were leaders of the faith. The Pharisees and the Sadducees. The anger that Jesus expressed to these groups were the way they lorded adherence to the law above caring for one another. Jesus pointed his finger over and over again at these groups because in every situation, following the law was more important that showing care and concern for the people. When they claimed that Jesus was not of God because he healed a blind man on the sabbath, he quickly points out that they would save their livestock if they were in danger on the sabbath, yet, they were unwilling to celebrate the fact that a man born blind was now able to see. Over and over again, Jesus confronts those who hold following the law above love and care for the people around them. The voice of Jesus always calls for the care and love of others.
Hypocrisy. When were gathered around a woman who had been caught in adultery, stones in hand, ready to stone her; Jesus stands beside her and says “he who is without sin cast the first stone”. How could they be the judges when they too had sin to bear? Jesus says to the crowd, “how can you say you will take the spec out of someone else’s eye, when there is a log in your eye?” The voice of Jesus tells us to be humble and to point to our own sin and not place judgement on others.
Greed. The single greatest example of the reality that Jesus could get angry is found when he turns over the money changers in the temple. It isn’t that these individuals were selling animals for the sacrifice at the temple. That was actually a wonderful service they provided. The anger was motivated by the fact that these individuals were taking advantage of people who were coming to the temple in order to sacrifice. Bringing animals with them was not always possible, so having them available helped. But because they needed these animals, the money changers jacked up the prices. The people could not choose to go somewhere else, so they had to pay whatever price the merchant asked, weather it was reasonable or not. Being concerned for and respectful of others, no matter who they were mattered to Jesus.
So if those are the people who angered or disappointed Jesus, who does Jesus lift up as examples?
The easiest answer to that question is the children. In a society where children were really to be seen and not heard, Jesus lifted them into his lap and made them an example of how our faith should be. We should love God above all else. Our belief in and love for God should not be tainted by the insanity of the world. The voice of Jesus welcomes the innocent and honors the complete dependence we find in children.
Then there is the sinful woman who washes Jesus feet with her tears and anoints them with oil. When the Pharisee who invited him to dinner comments on the fact that this sinful woman is doing this, Jesus lifts her up as an example. This sinful woman was fully aware of her sinfulness and yet she came to serve Jesus. She knew the power of Jesus’ love and worshiped him by serving him. The Pharisee, feeling he was not a person of sin like this woman, expected a pat on the back, yet Jesus doesn’t give that. The voice of Jesus honors humility and honesty about who we are and our need for the love and forgiveness of God.
The voice of Jesus lifts up the lowly and honors those who humbly seek his face. The voice of God confronts the self-righteousness and greed in us, and calls us to humble service and love of others. When we read the gospels we can begin to recognize the voice of Jesus. It is a voice that brings love above all else. It is a voice that serves others before gaining for one’s self. It is a voice that offers forgiveness and new life.
How do we know which of these voices we hear is in fact the voice of God?
Ask these questions. Does this voice call me to love and care for others, or is it calling me to do more for myself? Does this voice offer grace and forgiveness to those I encounter or is it calling me to point my finger and to point out the sinfulness of others rather than acknowledging my own sinfulness and need for grace?
When the voice calls us to love and care for our neighbors, we hear the voice of God. When the voice calls us to forgive and show grace and mercy, we hear the voice of God. When the voice calls us to worry about others first, we hear the voice of God.
I pray that you find time to really listen this week. Give yourself some time of silence so that you can listen. If we can weed through the many voices that scream at us every day, then, we will be able to recognize the voice of God and follow.