I am so happy to be with you all and to explore God’s Word with you.
If we are to really understand the Gospel today, we have to understand at least some of the context of nomadic herding…which is different than herding in many other parts of the world. And we have to understand the terminology….or our minds put onto Sacred Scripture something other than what it possibly means.
So lets lay it out… .we could easily ask Jesus… dude are you confused or what? Are you the Shepherd or the Sheepgate? It seems there are two different stories… two different images… and our minds wander all over.
So let me explain a little about ancient/and even still often today…. middle eastern sheep herding….. First…. in the west and many other parts of the world…. a shepherd walks behind the heard… but in the middle eastern world…. many shepherds walk in front of the heard… they often have a particular
sound they make or a whistle or even a song they sing as they walk.
Secondly, the shepherd also calls the sheep by name…. not just any name, but just like any pet, a shepherd knows their sheep… individually and spends countless hours grazing the hillsides and watching over them….. that one is Bey, that one is Stumble, that one is Bouncy…. and the sheep, just like any pet, they respond to hearing their name.
By the way… just so you know when a sheep is in full coat… if they somehow stumble and fall and end up on their back, it is impossible for them to right themselves… thus the Shepherds hook… a Bishops staff… they reach down in the panic and with the hook they lift the sheep to an upright position on its hind legs so they can go the rest of the way forward and walk again.
And third and finally, a sheepgate… that is not a mechanical gate…. in the middle east…. scattered throughout the hillsides, there are small enclosures of stones—commonly referred to as a Sheepfold….. usually circular and often 10-30 feet in diameter… the stones have bramble stuck into them… a thorny bush like barberry…that acts as a deterrent to coyotes and wolves and other predators. At night the shepherd gathers the herd into a sheep fold for their safety and then because it has only one small opening, the shepherd sleeps on the ground at that entrance. The shepherd is the Sheepgate….it’s a person—a chosen Shepherd, and little known fact…it is also the source of the saying….”Over my dead body”…because a sheepgate’s life depended on the safety of the fold and other shepherds depended on that Sheepgate to maintain the heard.
Ok enough historical context…the question for us is so what? So what Jesus is the Shepherd or the Sheepgate… I don’t think this pericope is about any of that…. I think it is about what is almost hidden in the text…. the shepherd calls them by name… and they follow….. that I think is the key.
If it is, then the question for us becomes…who’s voice is calling our name and who are we following? Now that is a good question…. who’s voice is calling our name and who are we following?
I did a little experiment on Thursday of this week. And I spent the day recording the number of times someone called me by name: I never realized how many times someone calls me by name… I would bet it would surprise you as well how many times someone calls you by name. And I mean I counted every method as well, verbal and electronic…. 386 times someone called me by name in just that one day.
I also decided I would record the number of voices that I heard in that day…. not just the voices that called my name, but the voices that I heard…. not sounds… but voices…. from newscasters, to radio
broadcasters, and those that called me by name and those who were talking about other things. You may find it an amazing exercise as well…. anyway 1238 voices… blow me away…
And it hit me….if I am not too “a typical”…although I know I might be a little…but let’s just say not too much….then no wonder it is a challenge for us as people to hear the voice of God…
Voices come at us from every direction….our world is filled with them…no wonder it is challenging to hear “the still small voice of God”….
If there is a gift in these days of staying at home…and I do believe there are gifts in this even painful experience…. maybe one of the gifts could be allowing ourselves to experience some silence, some time away from all the voices…some time to listen…. not only with our ears but with our hearts…
You see my friends, I do not believe God will force his voice into our lives, but rather we have to take the initiative, to create the space in which we can hear God’s voice…
If my years have taught me anything, it has taught me that when I stop, I pray, I open myself to the stream of the Divine river that flows through our lives and I allow myself to listen I hear the voice of God, spoken in ways I never even realized. In the simple words like….I love you..have a good day honey.
Or Thank you for listening….
or Thanks for the advice…or thanks for the card…
or that was a really good supper…
or let me do the dishes…or can I fold the clothes for you…
or maybe just a simple thank you.
The voice of God will never invade our consciousness. We have to create the space for our hearts to hear. It is an amazing journey into awareness.
In that awareness, we will find the God who has come that we might have life and have it most abundantly.
This is my challenge this week for us all. Write a letter or note to someone who has brought you comfort in some struggle you have encountered in your life or some joy you have shared. Someone who called you by name to be and to become your best self. And let them know that because of their words you have had life and had it most abundantly. Who knows…they might hear the voice of God in yours!