The Fourth Sunday of Easter
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
John 10:22-30; Psalm 23
Baa baa baa baa baa, baa baa baa baa baa baa – baa baa – baa baa baa baa. Imagine if the world were full of sheep: here a “baa,” there a “baa,” everywhere a “baa baa.” Each year, the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter present an image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. They also remind us that we are very much like sheep. And from what we hear, the world is, in fact, full of sheep. I’ve only seen pictures of big flocks of sheep, spread out like wooly snow across vast areas of pasture, but when I imagine what that must sound like in real life, all I can hear is the noise of those sheep going, “Baa.” Little baa’s, long baa’s, loud baa’s – each of the sheep making its own sound, one adding up on another, until the flock starts to sound like one of the teachers from the old Charlie Brown animated specials: just so much noise.
There’s a lot of noise out there, noise that makes it hard to focus. Certainly, some of that noise comes through what we hear with our ears. It might be a helpful voice, like the announcement on the Metro that lets me know that the train doors are closing and that I should stand clear of said doors. Other times, the words we hear are like carnival barkers, clamoring for our attention – doesn’t it seem like the ads on TV are louder than the program you’d just been watching? So many voices are calling for our attention each day: friends, parents, children, coworkers, salespeople, reporters. It might even seem like what we hear in the church comes across as “baa, baa, baa, baa, baa.” It can be hard to make sense it all when we have to filter the din of the noise around us.
Really, though, sometimes the loudest “baa” we hear is our own. Each of us has to contend with internal “voices,” too. These inclinations and impulses call for our attention, inviting – and sometimes demanding – that we follow. This could be the voice that tells us we can put off that thing we’re supposed to be working on for just a little bit longer. We might listen when it tells us that we’re right, regardless of what someone else says. Like sheep, we’re prone to do whatever we feel like at the time, heeding the familiar voice of our own desires over and against the noise. And even if we might not like to admit it, following the sound of our own baa-ing often gets us into trouble, or lost. Sheep need a shepherd.
In our Gospel reading from John today, we hear the voices of the chief priests and Pharisees. They’re calling out to Jesus, asking him to tell them who he is. But in his answer, he reveals that they have already heard who he is. Jesus has already told them that he is the good shepherd, the one who lays down his life for the sheep. Problem is, these sheep don’t want a shepherd – even a good one. A shepherd guides his flock. He’s disruptive. His voice calls the flock to follow him. This doesn’t appeal to the sheep that are accustomed to following the sound of their own voice.
Jesus’ voice cuts through the noise. The voice of the Good Shepherd, the voice of God, calls out to the sheep. But where does Jesus lead his flock? Take a look at Psalm 23 to find out! Those sheep that Jesus calls into his flock follow him as he leads them. He leads his sheep to pastures of refreshed grass where they find nourishment. He guides them not to “still waters,” but to “waters of stillness:” a place of rest and quiet apart from the noise of the world. He doesn’t just refresh the soul, but the mind and body as well. One’s whole being benefits from the Good Shepherd’s guidance.
Jesus is calling to you today to follow him, to know the reality of Psalm 23 in your own life. Don’t get me wrong: following the Good Shepherd isn’t about living in some isolated valley where the noise of the world never reaches you. If you continue reading Psalm 23, you’ll hear part of what Jesus tells the chief priests and the Pharisees. Many English translations of this psalm render the start of verse 4 as, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”; a clearer way of expressing the original Hebrew could be “the valley of deepest darkness” or “the valley of extreme danger.” Jesus watches over his flock even in times of hardship and temptation. He has walked the path through the valley ahead of us: he never sends us out into the dark alone. There will even be those who try to snatch the sheep from Jesus’ hand, to steal them away. If we stop listening to his voice, if we wander off on our own listening to other voices, we put ourselves at great risk. That’s running off into the valley of extreme danger all alone. But the assurance that Jesus gives in both John 10 and Psalm 23 is that those who hear his voice and follow him remain in his care, finding comfort in his strength. He is the Messiah, the Son of God. He is more powerful than any of the wolves that would try to take us from him, than any of the enemies who would hold us captive.
There’s a lot of noise in our world. I heard someone say that we’ve gone from living in the “Information Age” to the “Filtering of Information Age.” If you’re looking for somewhere to go or something to do on a night off, like a good restaurant or a fun time out with friends, you could just do a Google search or open the phone book. You’d probably find pages and pages of options, one not looking all that much different from the rest. There’s very little there that would speak to the “experience.” You’re better off asking friends for recommendations or looking at blogs run by folks with interests similar to your own. You’re more inclined to trust the voice of someone who’d be looking out for you, someone who’d want what would be best for you. You’d want to listen to a voice that was clear, relevant, and caring, wouldn’t you? In a world full of the noise of “baa” this and “baa” that, we need to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Where do we hear Jesus’ voice? You and I are hearing it today, in this very hour! When we gather around the cross in worship, God speaks to us. He cuts through the noise of the world, even if we might not have been listening. And should the pastor’s sermon sound like “baa baa baa baa baa…”, the scripture readings we hear and songs we sing ring out the story of God’s power over sin and death. When we go up to the altar to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd saying “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you.” He prepares a table before us to the mortification of our enemies; He anoints us as sheep in His flock, our cup overflows. His goodness and mercy follow us as we go back to school, to work, and anywhere as we follow His voice through the noise around us.
Jesus’ caring voice brings clarity over and against the din of the noise of the world, the noise we hear from others and the noise we make ourselves. With his voice leading you, you don’t need to wander off on your own to look for greener pastures. Instead, you can just be still and listen, knowing that he will lead you in right paths to waters of stillness. Listen to the God who knows you and keeps you in His hand, even in the valley of the deepest darkness. And so, as people who are kept in God’s hand, let our baa-ing be: “Lord, I hear your voice. Lead on.”
Amen – or, “Baa.”
other sermons in this series