21 June 2010

Easter 4 C - The Shepherd’s Voice

St. Luke’s Church, Burlington

24 April 2010

Psalm 23

John 10: 22-30

by Stuart Pike

How many people here recognized the psalm that we read? We read it frequently at funerals because of the comforting words. Perhaps the words are so familiar to us that they have lost their meaning for us. Here is a paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm by Jim Taylor:

God has walked with me; I could ask nothing more.

God has given me green meadows to laugh in,

clear streams to think beside,

untrodden paths to explore.

When I thought the world rested on my shoulders,

God put things into perspective.

When I lashed out at an unfair world, God calmed me down.

When I drifted into harmful ways, God straightened me out.

God was with me all the way.

I do not know what lies ahead, but I am not afraid.

I know you will be with me.

Even in death, I will not despair.

You will comfort and support me.

Though my eye dims and my mind dulls,

you will continue to care about me.

Your touch will soothe the tension in my temples;

my fears will fade away.

I am content.

"In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with me."

All through life, I have found goodness in people.

When life ends, I expect to be gathered

into the ultimate goodness of God.

Jim Taylor - Paraphrase of Psalm 23

I Know We Know the Psalm, But Do We Know The Shepherd?"

The image of Christ being the Good Shepherd is one of the most recognized and loved by Christians. It was also an image which was recognizable by the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking when he used this imagery. The Scribes and the Pharisees would have been shocked by Jesus’ words, for the image of the Shepherd of Israel was used to describe God’s own image with Israel. The term was also applied to Kings of Israel of old.

It was also a good image because it was one which every Jew could picture. And even today, in the holy land, the Bedouin

people still look after their sheep in much the same way that they did in Jesus’ time. You will still see shepherds leading their flock out to the pasture during the day and guiding them at dusk to the watering hole. At the watering hole many flocks gather together to drink, but when it is time to return home for the night, the shepherds don’t worry about their flocks getting mixed up. Each shepherd has their own distinctive call and their sheep know the shepherd’s voice and will follow.

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks about how his sheep know his voice. Jesus says that he knows them and they follow him. That is the relationship which Psalm 23 is about. It is about knowing Jesus voice and following him.

Many voices compete for our attention these days. We live our lives in a cacophony of voices which are competing for our attention. I think it is harder and harder for people to hear the voice of Jesus calling us amidst the noise of our everyday existence.

A sheep’s ear is attuned to the master. How about us? Can we - individuals or the Christian community pick out Christ's voice in the noise that calls out for our attention?

That is one of the reasons why I have really valued my time at silent retreat, where there is no T.V., no radio and no noise but the sound of worship each day. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” I think that we need to find ways to turn off the noise for some time each day, to be able to listen for Jesus’ voice - the voice of our Good Shepherd. It is only by doing this regularly that we can get acquainted with his voice, that we can know his voice. Can we hear the good news?

Some might think that this message isn’t consonant with the idea of having a Jazz mass, but I don’t think so. You see, when I speak about turning off the noise, I’m not talking primarily about sounds. I’m talking mostly about the noise inside our heads. The cacophony of voices are mostly the noise of our thoughts as we try to process the business of our lives, the details of our day and our own emotional responses. We desperately need a way to turn all of that noise off, and to simply be.

Music is one of the ways that we can be brought out of ourselves, we can let go of the noise of our thoughts and be brought to a new place. That music can be classical, or sacred or jazz.

At the Jazz mass which we had last year I mentioned a little about the story of Duke Ellington. And I’d like to mention him again today.

So many of the greats of jazz recognized God’s hand in their music. The year before he died, Duke Ellington published his autobiography and he wrote this:

"There have been times when I thought I had a glimpse of God. Sometimes, even when my eyes were closed, I saw. Then when I tried to set my eyes--closed or open--back to the same focus, I had no success, of course. The unprovable fact is that I believe I have had a glimpse of God many times. I believe because believing is believable, and no one can prove it unbelievable....”

Duke Ellington wasn’t able to fully express his experience of God in words, but I think he expressed it through his music. Later in life, during the last decade of his life he wrote music for and performed his sacred concerts, but even before that, his jazz was filled with holy creativity.

When we are brought out of ourselves and our own noisy heads, we might be ready to really hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

And, of course, the Good News - the Gospel - is concerned with where Christ will lead us. Christ will lead us home, ultimately. Even though we might have to experience the worst at times in our lives, Christ will still guide us in the right way. Even though we might be in the Valley of the shadow of death, Christ will lead us.

The Good shepherd is the image of care for us. We know that no matter how deep and dark the valley of the shadow of death is for us, Christ's voice is calling us to guide us in the way for us.

So let us let go of the noise of our thoughts and be brought by the music to a new place, where we can listen and recognize our own shepherd’s voice. Amen.

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