30 April 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Dr. Robin A. Reed+
1 Peter 2:19-25
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Episcopal Church
Iglesia Episcopal Jesús de Nazaret, Orlando
Iglesia Episcopal San Cristobal, Orlando
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
If you were an animal, what would you be?
This used to be a favorite question for me to ask new patients. As you might expect, patients usually answered something like I would be a dog. I am social and love being part of a group or an elephant I am loyal and a strong leader or an eagle. I am patient, agile, and attentive to detail.
My favorite response over the years was I would be a penguin because like me penguins love the water, roam freely and mate for life. While they wander in different directions for a season, penguins reunite through mating rituals and recognize each other through bowing, and localizing sounds, penguins are faithful.
No one, however, in over 30 years of my practice ever replied they would like to be a sheep or a baby lamb or even a ram. We tend to stereotype sheep as easily disoriented often lost, certainly smelly and totally dependent upon a shepherd and we all know it is hard for most of us to admit we are dependent upon anyone or anything!
But recent research suggests sheep perhaps aren’t as “dumb” as we label them. Sheep have keen senses, sheep see up to 320 degrees peripherally due to their rectangular pupils, recognize and retain in memory over 50 sheep and human faces, re-direct their ears to recognize bleats, grunts, snorts and even their own names.
But most importantly as John wrote centuries ago; Sheep can identify their shepherd’s voice, a voice of love.
Today, on Good Shepherd Sunday perhaps the sheep have something to teach us.
How do we re-direct our ears to discern Jesus’ voice among the many voices in our world and in our heads?
First of all we have to be aware of the many voices bombarding us day by day, sometimes minute by minute in our world...worldly voices the words, actions, and demands of the media, politicians, corporations and even our well-meaning families and friends that challenge and distract us from following Jesus.
And encourage, and at times demand, we re-focus on ourselves to add to our affluence of wealth, approval, and status that may build us up at least temporarily
but often triggering feelings we are inadequate and risking we will add more pain to the world as divisions of insiders and outsiders are created in the sheepfold of our lives.
When we realize, like the sheep, that our choices are leading us down the wrong path
we can look up, look away, stop chewing on potentially poisonous material and watch and listen for Jesus, the Good Shepherd at work in our lives calling us home with a voice of love, searching for us, even if we are the only one lost.
And even when we listen for Jesus’s voice of love we need to be aware how our external voices can activate our own internal dialogue which is naturally going on in our heads. All of us as we consider how to live, who to follow, engage in internal dialogue. there is one part of ourselves, one voice asking a question, what is the right thing to do, what would Jesus do?
And at least, if not several voices responding. as to which path to take. In our own internal dialogue, memories of past behavior, voices we have followed that have led to pride or self-loathing can haunt and distract us from hearing Jesus’s ever-present voice of love and can at times, linger on impacting our choices, creating more divisions in our hearts.
Now in my experience, many healthy people hear voices in their head, the voices fall along a spectrum of healthy to unhealthy content so unless the voices tell you to hurt yourself or someone else or someone is out to hurt you, you need not be worried.
These voices call you to pay attention to listen and to try to understand them perhaps sitting in prayer with Jesus, in conversation with a trusted friend and most certainly with reading Holy Scripture to identify and see if the voices you hear inside or outside your headline up with God’s story and Jesus’ teachings on earth.
There are times when the voices we hear may be calling us to a new life of health and abundance and freedom from previously unhealthy circumstances. Sometimes, like with the sheep, there is truly danger in our lives and at other times, the voices of thieves and bandits try to distract you from the truth, you are God’s beloved son or daughter. Jesus will go to the ends of the earth to find you, invite you to return to study His word and to turn away from those whose motive is to harm or destroy you
and return to Him.
Not only are we called to be aware, listen, and discern about the voices in our heads and in our world, Jesus teaches us this morning how he is the Good Shepherd and the Gate and he manifest his voice of love through is words and actions by calling us to a life of abundance.
The world calls us to a life of affluence but Jesus embraces abundance, abundant life is how we live, move, and have our being in relationship in, with, and for Christ and each other touching, living, and sharing the divine life; having meaning, creativity, integrity and spiritual wholeness.
Christ’s abundant life calls us build and enhance our own life always in remembrance of his calling. Love God and your neighbor as you love yourself.
This morning, Jesus claims and models for us in our Gospel lesson from John, how we are to live a life of abundance. Jesus embodies two “I am” statements; I am the Good Shepherd and I am the Gate and guides us as to how to discern his loving voice through his loving actions, he speaks with love, he acts with love.
And, Jesus the Good Shepherd seeks to cultivate a long-term relationship with his sheep and with us as evident in his day to day life in the rhythm of going out and in the sheepfold. Each morning, after making sure the way is safe outside the sheepfold Jesus leads and guides the sheep entering the sheepfold through the gate, the way known by the flock, the entrance in and out of the protective sheepfold.
Jesus seeks and walks safe paths, alert for those who try to take a short-cut over the fence. The Thief or the robber, animal or human who enter deceitfully bypassing the gate, climbing over the wall, hiding in the pen, stealing others’ resources; wool for warmth or a sheep for a quick meal.
Jesus does not covet what is not his but protects and cares deeply for the sheep God has bestowed upon Him. Jesus never abandons his flock. Once safely in the sheepfold the Shepherd calls to the flock a specific “flock-wide call” that all understand and then an individual call by their very name (call people by name.....)
Being called by our name and not just “Hey you” alerts us, turns our heads, opens our hearts to two- way communication where we are seen, heard, known and valued by God.
Perhaps you remember a good shepherd in your faith journey, a person who called you by name, encouraging you, walking with you, hearing your questions and doubts, sharing with you their story of faith.
This is a good shepherd whom we are all called to be reflecting Jesus’ voice and actions of love.
Unlike a good shepherd our interactions with thieves, robbers and even hirelings
tend to be one-sided often they don’t worry about leading you astray, tend to value your voice and may put you down leaving you feeling “less than...”
Jesus the Good shepherd with his voice and actions demonstrates his deep abiding love. He goes ahead of the sheep and us out the gate guiding us to safe paths, inviting the sheep and us to frolic and play, graze and water, rest and renew just as we heard King David celebrate in Psalm 23.
And at the end of day, Jesus leads the sheep back to the protective sheep fold where at the opening lays his rod low, invites the sheep to bend below so he can assess for feverish or injured sheep and later tend to their wounds. Jesus loves all his sheep, loves all of us and wants us to be healed and whole.
And once the sheep are tended to, bedded down in a rudimentary pen in the hills Jesus lays with his own body across the pens’ opening offering himself as the first line of defense, willing to sacrifice himself for our well-being, a preview to his crucifixion on the Cross. Jesus, Good Shepherd becomes the Gate....closing at night to protect his sheep with his very life opening at daybreak to lead us out into the world to live a life of abundance.
This is the very rhythm we see in our worship Jesus leads us in where we are fed with Holy Scripture, music, time to reflect and the most precious gifts of his body and blood and leads us out to the world to live from a place of His love.
And so in the rhythm of your life this week be aware and listen for the voices in your life both the voices that lead you to start down the wrong paths and the voice of Jesus, the voice of love, the Good Shepherd that cares for you deeply, leads you in and out and was willing to lay down his life for you.
Be like the sheep re-direct your ears!!
 Lori Marino, Ph.D. and Debra Merskin, Ph.D., THINKING SHEEP, for Farm Sanctuary A Review of Cognition, Emotion, and Social Complexity in Domestic Sheep.
Cover Image: https://www.poems-to-ponder.com/resources/Jesus%20sheep%20on%20shoulderfr.JPG