Listening for Jesus: by Pastor Dan Haugen (April 21st)

Listening for Jesus 

By Pastor Dan Haugen  

 

Every now and again, the lessons will seem to drift off to what seems like an unusual direction. Before Christmas, it seemed the Gospel lessons were meant more for Easter and now it seems that we have a lesson that has little to do with the season of Easter when we speak of the glory of Christ’s resurrection. Our Gospel lesson in John takes place before the events of Passion Week, before Jesus’ death on a cross, before His resurrection. So why does this happen from time to time and why this lesson now?

It’s because they have everything to do with the season when you take the time to listen and think about them. At Christmas we have passion week lessons because it was for this reason that Christ was born and now we have this lesson during the Easter season to remind us of exactly who Christ was and the importance of us, His sheep, listening to Him. What good are all of the events of Passion Week if we refuse to listen to the lessons God would have us learn through them?

The last three Sundays we have been looking at the texts that tell us that Jesus had, indeed, risen from the dead. We’ve seen Him appear to Thomas, we have heard of when He appeared in the upper room, we have witnessed through the Word as He fed his disciples along the shore of the lake.

The last three Sundays have relayed the glorious message of Christ’s resurrection. We have been reminded of fulfilled promises and our place in God’s kingdom. But today we see who Jesus really is, the Son of God, the Good Shepherd.

First, our lesson shows that Jesus and the Father are one. We get to see beyond the resurrection. Today we, once again, take the opportunity to listen as Jesus reminds all of us of the places He plans to take those who put their trust in Him.

Our lesson starts out with Jesus walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon as Jews gather around Him asking, “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 work’s 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. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life.”

Jesus says those who trust in Him will hear His voice. He is telling the Jews gathered there that he is the Christ. He tells them that He has told them over and over again who He is, but they still refuse to believe. Unfortunately, this is also what happens with far too many people today, many, even, who call themselves Christian, He speaks and they do not hear.

This is the lesson that God has been bringing to us for several weeks now as we go through a transition He says, “listen to my voice, understand your calling, let me lead you as a shepherd leads his flock.”

Jesus wants you to hear His words. He wants you to understand who He is and what He wants to give us in this life. He wants us to know and believe that He is our shepherd and we are His sheep. He wants us to follow His voice, to hear His words, to experience the peace and comfort he has to offer us in our lives. But, too often, we have a difficult time hearing through all the clutter and noise of the world. Our goal should be to have such a relationship with Christ that His voice is all we can hear over the chatter and chaos that the world offers.

An elderly lady whose hearing had all but failed experienced a lot of difficulty understanding what was being said to her by people. They would try getting real close, talking real loud and even cupping their hands and screaming in her ears to little avail. She had been married for over 60 years to a kind and patient man and they loved each other very much. It was strange to many that when her husband talked to her she could hear him when she couldn’t hear anyone else. He would take her hand in his, look deeply into her eyes and speak in a tone which was only slightly louder than normal and his wife always heard and understood.

Those of us who have been married for awhile know that there really is nothing strange about this. It’s a matter of relationship and understanding. It’s about a special kind of love and compassion, a link connecting two people. There was a bond of awareness, trust, mutual love and sympathy that enabled the man to have the patience to communicate with his wife in such a way. There was these same attributes that allowed her to surrender to her husband in her time of need.

Our goal is to have this same kind of relationship with God. He’s done His part in His patience with us hard-of-hearing sheep, we need to learn to surrender to God in our time of need and really listen as we gaze into our very souls searching for the tender eyes of Christ.

One of the consequences of the resurrection and one of the things that God is asking us to understand about our Risen Lord, is that we need to hear His voice and follow that voice despite the sounds of dissention all around us.

 Though we might struggle at times to hear His still small voice, though it seems we are often deaf to His words, Jesus, in our lesson, is reminding us that He is patient with us. Jesus wants a bond of trust and understanding between us so that we can hear His voice and trust in Him to guide us to the places and purpose He has already chosen for us.

Yet we are so easily distracted in all the rush of life. Part of the reason we get so lost and deaf to His voice is that we have learned to hear only what we want to hear and we tune out Jesus and tune in all the sounds and words of the world as it rushes by. Maybe part of our problem is that we don’t yet have that trusting relationship so essential to the goal of listening only to Him. And maybe part of our problem is that if the word’s God offers us don’t match what we want to hear, then we simply stop listening and this, in turn, causes us to miss all the things we should be hearing. Far too much of our listening is centered somewhere other than Jesus.

I found another story then can help explain this: ‘Two men were walking along a crowded city street. Suddenly, one of the men remarked, “Listen to the lovely sound of the cricket.” But, as hard as he tried, the other man could not hear it. He asked his friend how he could possible hear the sound of a cricket amid the roar of the traffic and the sounds of all the people. The first man, who was a zoologist, had trained himself to hear the sounds of nature. He didn’t explain to his friend in words how he could hear the sound of the cricket, but instead, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a half-dollar coin, dropped it on the sidewalk, and watched closely as a dozen people began to look for the coin as they heard it clanking around amid the sounds of the traffic and the other people. He turned to his friend and said, “We hear what we listen for.”

Maybe that’s our problem with the voice of Jesus as He tries to guide us to those places he has chosen for us. We hear everything else but Him because were not willing to listen. We haven’t taken the time to train our ears. We don’t want to hear His voice because it might be saying something that will challenge us, or convict us. In the meantime we’ve learned to tune out His voice instead of focusing on it.

The Jews heard, but they did not believe. They saw the signs but they didn’t get the message. We can say, “those terrible ignorant sinners” but that would only mean we haven’t taken account of our own ignorance. We have heard his words over and over again throughout our lives. Through bible study and preaching, in the sacrament and from fellow Christians we hear the message but our hearts remain cold and we don’t believe. If we did believe we would live our lives as a testimony to that. We still find it difficult to center our lives around Christ. We still resist His attempts to guide us.

In one way we have an advantage over the Jew’s of Jesus’ time, we have the whole story. We have seen in scripture the powerful work of God. Since Easter Sunday we have heard incredible testimony of our risen Lord. If we take these testimonies to heart then we should be able to trust in Him, follow Him, and believe in His loving intentions for our lives.

But sadly, many people still doubt and because of that doubt, fail to trust in Jesus as their true Savior. Many people are still searching for an answer, still searching for meaning and purpose in their lives. With all of life’s burdens, they have found no one to help them carry the load.

Many people are still wandering aimlessly in life, with no real direction, no goals, no idea of what to make of their lives, what they really want to accomplish or what to do with the gifts God gave them.

I think one reason so many people have no direction is because they have not decided in their hearts to let Jesus have control, they have not surrendered to Him so that He can be their shepherd in whose voice they find protection and comfort. It’s our Savior in whom we will find the direction in our lives that we seek. It’s in Him that Redeemer will find the path to the goals he has set for us.

I want to end with a story that speaks of a guide who will show us the path through the abyss of life:

A traveler was returning to his home from a journey to a distant country. At nightfall he arrived at the entrance to a vast forest. Unable either to delay his journey or retrace his steps, he was prepared to traverse the sullen forest when he came upon an old shepherd from whom he asked the way. “Alas!” cried the shepherd. “It is not easy to point it out, for the forest is criss-crossed by hundreds of paths winding in every direction. They are almost all similar in appearance, though all with one exception lead to the Great Abyss.” “What is the Great Abyss?” the traveler inquired. “It is the abyss which surrounds the forest,” replied the shepherd. “Moreover, the forest is filled with robbers and wild beasts. In particular, it is ravaged by an enormous serpent, so that scarcely a day passes but we find the remains of some unfortunate traveler who fell prey to it. Still,” the shepherd continued, ” as it is impossible to arrive at the place where you are going without traversing the forest, I have, through a motive of compassion, stationed myself at the entrance of the forest to assist and direct travelers. I have also placed my sons at different intervals to assist me in the same good work. Their services and mine are at your disposal, and I am ready to accompany you if you so desire. The candor and venerable appearance of the old man satisfied the traveler, and he accepted the proposal. The shepherd held a lantern with one hand and with the other took the arm of the traveler. They then set out upon their journey through the dark forest. After walking for some distance, the traveler felt his strength waning. “Lean on me,” said the shepherd. The traveler did so, and was able to continue the journey. At length the lamp began to flicker. “Ah!” groaned the traveler. “The oil is nearly spent, and the light will soon be gone. What will become of us now?” “Do not fear,” consoled the shepherd. “We shall soon meet one of my sons, who will supply us with more oil.” Just then the traveler perceived a glimmer of light shining through the darkness. The light shone from a small cabin by the side of the narrow path. At the sound of the shepherd’s well-known voice, the cabin door swung open. A seat was offered to the weary traveler, and some plain but substantial food was set before him. Thus refreshed, the traveler set out again, guided by the shepherd’s son. In this manner the traveler journeyed on for the rest of the night. From time to time, they stopped at different cabins built along the path. At each stop he obtained refreshment, a bit of rest and was furnished with a new guide. With the dawning of daylight, the traveler arrived, without incident, at the farthest boundary of the forest. Only then did he appreciate the magnitude of the service rendered him by the shepherd and his sons. At the very edge of the forest, right before his feet, lay a frightful precipice, at the bottom of which he could distinguish the roar of an angry current. “This,” said his guide, “is the Great Abyss which my father spoke about. No one knows its depth, for it is always covered with a thick fog which no eye can penetrate. As he spoke, he heaved a deep sigh, and wiped a tear from his eves. “You seem grieved,” said the traveler. “How can it be otherwise?” replied his guide. “Can I look at the abyss without thinking of the thousands of unfortunate people who every day are swallowed up in it? In vain do my father and my brothers offer our services. Very few accept them, and of those few the greater portion, after journeying for a few hours, accuse us of needlessly alarming them. They despise our advice and set out on paths of their own choosing. The consequence is that they soon lose their way and are devoured by the serpent, murdered by robbers, or plunge headlong into the abyss. You see there is only this one little bridge by which the Great Abyss can be crossed, and the way which leads to the bridge is known to us alone. Pass over with confidence,” continued the guide. He turned to the traveler, embraced him and said, “On the other side is your true home.” The traveler, overcome with gratitude, thanked his charitable guide and promised never to forget him. He crossed the narrow bridge and discovered he was now in his own land. His family was there to welcome him.

Jesus is our guide both personally and as a family in Christ who will guide us home, we have but to filter out the sounds of the world and listen for His still small voice. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” Trust in Him to lead you where you should go. Amen.

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