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Did You Hear That?

Updated: Apr 30


a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

April 21, 2024

John 10:11-18 NRSV

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

I know a certain couple that have fallen into a communication pattern.  He says something, she says, “What?”  She says something, he says, “Huh?”  Closed captioning is on every television program.  I’m not being judgmental, but I wonder if we have the same kind of hearing problems with our physical hearing, what about our spiritual hearing?


At this moment I have to pause because of several concerns.  I am mindful that we offer sign interpretation for those who have hearing issues, and I am grateful to Tammy for doing this as her ministry.  I am mindful that hearing and listening are two different things.  I am aware there are different things that happen when we hear someone speak.  As one wise person put it, “I don’t think what you think I said is what I think I said.” As a preacher I am also a bit concerned that my friend and fellow preacher, the Rev. Dr. Terry Hudson shared a booklet with the sayings of Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher.  I am concerned because one of those sayings was, “One who speaks does not know.  One who knows does not speak!”  What’s a preacher to do?  Terry?  And it is in the booklet twice!  So as I bring my thoughts to you this morning I am aware of these things. I hope you hear me.


On top of those concerns, I hope you understand, as I do, that I am not the Good Shepherd.  Jesus is.  Says so clearly here.  Second, I hope you don’t see me as just a “hired hand,” who says stuff just to preserve my own job and the institution we call “Church.”  I pray I never fall victim of either accusation – believing I am the Good Shepherd, or acting like just another “hired hand.”  I also hope I don’t sound too defensive about that!  Anyway, all these prefaces aside, let me ask you:  Did you hear that?


Hear what you ask?  The Gospel tells us Jesus has his own sheep, and they, “listen to [His] voice.”  In the face of everything else this passage says, this seems to me to be the most important takeaway.  There is a lot of stuff here, let’s be honest.  Jesus declares he is the Good Shepherd, he declares that there are others who are leading sheep – er, people – away, and also leaving them at risk.  He says he knows his sheep and they know him, and that he has sheep from more than one fold.  He says he must – he will – “bring” them also.  And he states clearly that he lays down his life by his own choice and power and takes it up again by his own power, yet he does this because he has this command from his Parent.  One might say that this is a “target rich” environment for a preacher.  In other words, a lot things I could focus on.  Let me try to give a brief background for all this and then get back to our auditory issues.


Scholars know that this was written about 3 generations after Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Scholars believe that John’s church faced a lot of opposition and conflict with the leaders of Jewish synagogues.  All the early followers of Jesus did.  Ultimately the community that claimed Jesus was the Messiah had to move out of the synagogue and became a separate religion.  The early church faced internal and external conflicts as it tried to define who they believed Jesus was, who they were and what this new movement of Jesus’ followers would become.  Imagine that!  A human organization having conflict! 


So, having reviewed all that, let me go back to my first question:  Did you hear that?  What do I mean by “that?”  I mean did you hear that Jesus expects us to hear his voice and know him.  I will confess to you right now that I can not honestly claim to have heard a voice that I knew was Jesus telling me anything.  I have heard a lot of voices who claim to have heard Jesus’ voice.  I do not dismiss all of these claims unless they involve the person claiming Jesus told them to tell me to give them a lot of money to buy a jet or build a mansion for them.  I believe many mystics have experienced what they believe was an authentic voice of the Risen Christ.  I can’t make that claim. 


But maybe the problem is in me.  Maybe I am not listening well enough.  Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to understand “a basic fact recognized and studied in the field of speech communication: listening. Prior to recognizing and responding to a sound, one must listen.”  In a book titled, Listening, the authors “identify five basic types of listening: discriminative, comprehensive, critical, therapeutic and appreciative.[1]”  I’m not even going to try to cover all that.  Let’s just say listening, really listening, takes effort.


So, you can’t imagine how much I appreciate you even pretending to listen to me for the 15-20 minutes I drone on each week.  To me it is a miracle that you – or anyone – in this day and age bothers.  Church attendance decline indicates fewer and fewer do.  But here’s the other thing I keep in mind.  I do not presume to tell you that everything I say is “the Word of God,” or that you must agree with me, if you are even listening and not just hearing me.  I invite you to mentally argue with me or even speak to me directly if you have questions, alternative beliefs etc.  Even when I don’t say specifically, “I believe,” something, I invite you to hear what I say as what I believe and to reflect on that in relationship to what you believe.  I invite you to listen for the Spirit of God to use my words to speak something you and God believe you need to hear.  When it comes down to it, you and I together must discern whether we are hearing the Good Shepherd’s message – mediated through my mind, spirit, and voice - and whether we are listening enough to respond to it faithfully.


Now, enough with all that.  I want to proceed from here by saying I agree totally with the husband who once said he has heard the voice of God often.  He said, “It usually comes from my wife’s mouth - and I better obey!”  All kidding aside, what I mean is I believe, there I said it again, I believe that Christ’s Spirit often speaks through the people I hear enough to listen to.  In other words, I believe Christ often speaks truth to us through other voices.  I believe Christ can use others to speak truth to us in a way we can hear it.  But even that is tricky, right?  There are plenty of voices out there who CLAIM to be the voice of Jesus, but you and I know that much of that doesn’t quite sound right.


There are a lot of voices claiming to speak for Jesus - words that are hateful, divisive, and even evil, in my opinion.  I put those in the same category as some on the political front who I assume the way you can tell whether they are lying or not is the answer to the question, “Well, if he’s breathing, he’s lying.”  All those caveats aside, what do I hear the Good Shepherd saying?  The words of the chorus and third verse we sang just a short while ago in the song, “You Say,” speak to me in a way that sounds a lot like the Jesus I know.  When we sang that did you hear that?  Were you listening? 


You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing

You say I am strong when I think I am weak

You say I am held when I am falling short

And when I don’t belong, oh, You say I am Yours

And I believe, oh I believe

What You say of me, I believe

Verse 3

The only thing that matters now

Is ev'rything You think of me

In You I find my worth

In You I find my identity

Oh, I believe, I believe.

What do you hear when you listen for the voice of Christ?  Do listen for condemnation and judgment?  Let me invite you to listen for love, forgiveness, and acceptance.  Do you hear hatred or exclusion?  Let me invite you to listen for more than “just” love, listen for infinite, unconditional love and a never-ending welcome.  Do you hear hurtful or angry things?  Let me invite you to listen to this: the Good Shepherd speaks only grace, forgiveness, a welcome home.  Did you hear that?  AMEN.

[1] Andrew Wolvin and Carolynn Gwynn Coakley, Listening, 5th edition (McGraw-Hill, Columbus, OH, 1995, referenced by Susan Hedahl,, May 3, 2009.


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