Easter 4C 2019
Easter 4C 2019
Good Shepherd Sunday
Texts: Acts 9:36-43
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me…No one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10: 27-28
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen
Have any of you ever been lost? I mean really, really lost?
Has your GPS ever told you to go the wrong way?
One time, when I was on sabbatical a few years back, I was driving in Indiana. I don’t remember where I was headed but I do remember my GPS’s smooth-talking voice telling me to turn left. I don’t know about you, but I always think my GPS voice sounds so confident, so sure of herself, so right. Ever the one to follow directions, especially directional directions, I turned left.
A few minutes later David got this panicked phone call from a crazy woman ranting that her GPS told her to go the wrong way and she was driving in circles and she couldn’t get out of where she was because it was a dead end.
How you go in circles in a dead end I have yet to understand, but be that as it may, I was going in circles and didn’t know where I was or how I got there (other than making that left turn), and I was angry and I was frustrated and I was very near tears. All I could picture was that I was never going to get where I needed to be and that I would be going around in circles forever.
The conversation went like this-
“Doris,” David said, “Turn your GPS off.”
“What do you mean, turn it off? This is the only way I know where I am!”
“Do you know where you are?”
“No! That’s why I called you!”
“So, your GPS is telling you where to go, but what it is telling you isn’t correct.”
“And the only reason your GPS is on is because you are convinced that it is the only way you know where you are, but you really don’t know where you are and you aren’t going in the right direction.”
Finally, David was seeing the gravity of the situation.
“Turn the stupid thing off!”
Don’t you just hate it when people make sense and you don’t?
To add insult to injury-my husband is a trained cartographer. He has created maps of places all over the world.
David can usually get himself anywhere but on the exceedingly rare occasion that he does get lost, let’s just say If you think it’s hard to get a regular husband to stop and ask for directions-try being married to a cartographer!
Well, I finally came to my senses and decided to listen to David, the one who knew better and who knew me better than the false, smooth talking voice of my GPS, which was giving me wrong directions.
David was able to pull up where I was on Google maps, look at the satellite imagery, zoom in and talk me through that endless circle to get me where I needed to be, back to the road that was going to take me to my real destination. He could see roads that I couldn’t.
And what’s more, when I calmed down enough to listen to him, I realized he wouldn’t lead me the wrong way; he loves me. I knew he could and he would, get me on the right road again. Once I made the decision to trust him and not some confident sounding manufactured voice, I could hear what he was trying to tell me.
In today’s Gospel reading, we have something pretty similar. Jesus is walking in the Temple. It was the festival of the Dedication, what we know as Hanukkah. That’s what Hanukkah means, dedication. It was the celebration of the rededication of the Temple 200 years after it had been desecrated by the Roman Emperor, Antiochus Epiphanes.
The religious elites of the time were asking Jesus why he was keeping them in suspense. “If you are the Messiah, just tell us!”
Jesus says that he has told them, he has even showed them, but they can’t hear; they won’t listen because they already have a predetermined mindset, a predetermined agenda that is blinding them to other possibilities.
That things could be different than they have believed or known all this while, is beyond them at this time. That Jesus could actually be who he said he was is absolutely inconceivable.
Jesus tells them that they can’t hear his voice because they won’t listen for his voice. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.” Being a follower of Jesus means to listen for Jesus’ voice.
Remembering my situation in Indiana led me to ask two questions as I was thinking about this text, “When do we know that the voice we hear is the voice of Jesus and not some false voice?” and “When do we know that the way and the one we are following is truly the Good Shepherd?”
In order to answer those questions I want to tell you another lost story because in this story lies some deep wisdom.
Deborah Smith Douglas is an Episcopal laywoman. She had flown into Kansas City for a meeting and to spend some time with friends. She rented a car at the Kansas City airport and very quickly looked at a map as to where she was supposed to meet up with these people. She had never been in Kansas City before and she had arrived during rush hour and it was getting dark.
This was before cell phones came with directional programs like WAZE and Google Maps. She was given a paper map when she got the rental car, but she didn’t pay much attention to it and, as a result, it didn’t take her long to get completely lost.
She found herself off the interstate and in an area of abandoned buildings, dark warehouses and no people. With every mile she drove, she was getting more and more anxious and angry and frustrated. She writes, “On a rising tide of panic, I began to fear as one does in a nightmare, that I would be lost forever.”
Finally, off in the distance she saw a sign for a 24 hour coffee shop. She was thrilled to be among civilization once more and she goes into the coffee shop to ask directions to the hotel where she was staying. Unfortunately, the woman at the counter had no idea where this hotel was.
A homeless man approaches her. He looked like he had had a rough life. Teeth were missing, he was dressed in rags and he was dirty, but his eyes were kind. He asked if he could help her and she told him that she was lost. He knew where she was and he knew where she was going. He took her map that had been crumbled up in frustration, smoothes it out and traced her way on it with his dirty finger.
“You’re just off of Broadway here,” the man told her. “You can be on it in a minute. Once you get on that road, you just stay on it. The name of the street will change, but don’t you mind that. You’ll come to train tracks by the river, and it will be confusing, but don’t mind that either. You just keep going forward. You’ll come to a bridge. Go over it. Stay on that street. After a while, you’ll see signs for downtown. Then pretty soon you’ll see the name of the street you want, and you’ll turn left. But until then you just keep going on the road you’re on.”
“Do you mean,” Deborah asks, “that all I have to do is get on Broadway at the next corner and then just drive straight to my hotel?”
“No, ma’am” he corrected her very firmly. “It ain’t straight at all. Ain’t nothin’ straight about it. But you just keep going forward, and you’ll get there all right.”
How do we know when the voice we are listening to is the voice of Jesus and not some false voice? We know because it aligns with everything we know about God. That God, with God’s whole being, wants what’s best for us. That God, as shown to us in Jesus, is trustworthy and true. That God loves us with a fierce intensity that will not let us go.
When we calm down enough from our everyday anxieties and fears to really listen, we will have some peace, perhaps not total peace, but peace that the direction we are moving is the right direction. Not necessarily a straight direction, but a right direction.
The other thing we may find out when listening for Jesus’ voice is that the way we thought we were to go is not the road we are to take at all. When we set aside our predetermined mindset, our predetermined agendas, we open ourselves up to amazing possibilities, possibilities that were previously inconceivable.
When we listen, when we open ourselves up to discernment, when we allow ourselves to follow Jesus, we will get to where we are meant to be.
We know that despite evil and death, despite everything that the world throws at us, God’s will for us, God’s will for St. Luke’s will prevail. We can rest assured that we are protected and that our very lives are in God’s hands.
For both Deborah and myself, it was only when we realized that we were lost and asked for help that we were able to get on the right road again. It was only when we admitted to being lost that we could begin to find our way. When we follow Jesus we are assured of being on the right road. Not the easiest road necessarily, not the fastest or widest road, but the right road.
And when we are on the right road we will be given the courage to stay on it even though it may be difficult, scary, and not very straight.
My dear St. Luke’s, keep moving forward. You will get to where God wants you to be. And I have no doubt, no doubt whatsoever, that you will get there all right.