The Rev. Melanie L. McCarley
Take a moment, reach back into your memories, and recall the ancient days of yore, before the advent of cell phones and caller id—when land-lines were the way of the world and wi-fi was but a distant dream and I was a teenager. The phone would ring, and I would answer it with: “Hello.” Inevitably, the person on the other end of the line—if they were a family member, would reply: “Rita?” and proceed to launch into conversation. I would issue a corrective and the person would reply: “You sound just like your mother.” At the age of fifteen—that was not a compliment.
In truth, I do sound very much like my mother—and my sister sounds very much like her as well. The intonations, accent, and turns of phrase are the same. My sister and I are our mother—and, I suspect, if you reach back, my mother sounds much like her mother and so on. As a side—I cannot tell you how delighted I am when this happens today to our daughter, Hannah, and every once in a while people will assume she is her mother.
In the Gospel lesson for today Jesus says: “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
Consider all the competing voices you hear in a single day: there are voices on the radio, on television and other media devices, the voices of fellow students, parents, children, co-workers, friends, teachers, doctors, lawyers, people walking on the street, the couple sitting next to you on the train. Voices abound. To which of these do we pay attention? Whose voice is it that fills your heart with hope—and which voices do you tune out? What voices cause you to sit up and pay attention, and which voices fill you with dread? What are the voices that hold authority for you? Which do you dismiss as insignificant? With all the noise surrounding us each day—to whom do we choose to listen—and how might we discern the voice of Jesus in all the competing voices in the world? If Jesus were calling our name? Would we know enough to listen? And if we listened, would we be brave enough to follow?
Take a moment and consider how you became a follower of Christ. For many of us, we first learned the words of our Savior from our parents—from those who love us best and wanted to gift us with what it was that had brought meaning, joy and in hope in their lives. We gathered more information in Sunday School, and finally when we could pick up the Bible we were able to read the stories on our own. For others, we came to hear the voice of Christ through other means, whether that was through reading and meditating on the Bible, or through the guidance of a good friend or person we respect. For some of us, it simply came from a desire to know God. Somehow, most all of us here made a decision to follow—and in making that decision, we embarked upon a lifetime of learning to discern the voice of Christ from the multitude of competing voices in the world.
Even so, how am I to be certain that the voice I am following belongs to Christ, and not someone else? The truth is, there is no substitute for reading the Bible and praying. If you read the Bible—if only the Gospels—you will familiarize yourself with the voice of God. If you pray—taking time to listen, you will—in time, become familiar with the urging of the Holy Spirit. And if you listen to the voices of those you respect, and compare what they say with what you have learned about Jesus through Holy Scripture and the teaching of the church, you will have a pretty good idea of how to discern the voice of Christ when it is calling to you from the multitude of voices we hear on a daily basis. Knowing the voice of Christ comes from spending time with Jesus and the family of God.
Now, ask yourself this: How am I the voice of Christ to those around me? You see, it is one thing to hear the voice of Jesus and follow. It is quite another to be that voice for others. How do we do this?
It is a particular blessing that today we will celebrate the baptism of Will Moore at our 10:00 a.m. service. Now Will, in my mind, is exceptional. He is someone who experienced God in his life and decided to learn more about Christianity. And so he joined our Confirmation Class. Today, he has chosen to be baptized, to follow Christ and become a member of the Family of God. With his baptism in mind, I would like to draw your attention to one of the questions posed in our baptismal covenant. “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” This is one of those questions which put the rubber to the road—so to speak. Baptism isn’t simply bestowed upon us as a form of membership—it also endows us with a charge—a mission. That mission is to find a way through our lives to witness to the love of God not just in deed—but also in word. Consider how you might bring the voice of Jesus—speaking words of consolation, hope and perhaps even wisdom to others.
Here’s how I think this happens. Just as family members, after living with one another for many years, may come to vocally sound like each other in inflection and ways of saying things, the same thing happens after time spent in our Christian family. After years of listening to the voice of Jesus, we hopefully begin to sound like him as well. What we say—and hopefully, what we do—becomes consistent with the message of the Gospel. In an increasingly secularized society, where many folks are Christian in name—but not in practice, it might well be that yours will be the only voice of Jesus that some may ever hear. A pagan writer in the early days of the Christian church—after disparaging the beliefs of Christians, said this: but notice how they love one another.” To me, that “sounds” like Jesus. When our words echo those of the Gospel, and when our deeds match with what we say—then we can be certain that we are not only listening to the voice of our Good Shepherd, we are following as well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.