Preached on Sunday 17th April 2016, The Fourth Sunday of Easter by Kate Bowers.
As a small child my parents taught me to pray – every evening before bed. I can remember asking my mother why it was that when I talked to God he didn’t answer me. My mother as a wise woman who told me that if I carried on praying I would learn to hear God’s voice.
In our Gospel reading today Jesus tells the religious authorities:
“My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish.”
I have been reading, The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks (The Herdwick Shepherd on Twitter), which is a fascinating account of the life of a shepherd in the Lake District, the shepherding he describes is rather different from the shepherding Jesus’ hearers would have seen around them. James Rebanks describes how the community of shepherds work together with their dogs to drive the sheep to new pastures at different times of the year. The shepherds in bible times and in many parts of the Middle East today led their
sheep from place to place. The sheep learned to hear and to follow their shepherd. If you have a dog you will know how your dog responds to your voice – I watch my neighbour’s dog, Patch, each morning as he comes out through the front door. He runs along in front of the houses having a good sniff but as soon as my neighbour calls him he races back to his master.
Many of you will remember the record label with picture of a dog listening to a wind up
gramophone with the words His Master’s Voice – later abbreviated to HMV.
The trademark image comes from a painting by the artist Francis Barraud and titled His Master’s Voice. It was acquired from the artist in 1899 by the newly formed Gramophone Company. According to their publicity material, the dog, a terrier named Nipper, had originally belonged to Barraud’s brother Mark. When Mark Barraud died, Francis inherited Nipper, along with a cylinder phonograph and a number of recordings of Mark’s voice.
Francis noted the peculiar interest that the dog took in the recorded voice of his late master coming from the horn of the gramophone, and had the idea for the painting.
Jesus tells us “my sheep hear my voice.” But how do we hear it? Those who were questioning Jesus about whether he was the Messiah were told to look at his works.
A few years ago wrist bands with WWJD – “what would Jesus do?” were popular in a section of the church. Although the question is simplistic and needs to be recognised as such we can look at the way Jesus lived His life to understand how we should live our lives, we can do this by reading the bible – especially the gospels. We can help our children do this by introducing them to bible stories – in books, or through bringing them to church and Sunday club.
To go back to the analogy of the sheep and the shepherd, the sheep are part of a flock – the sheep wandering off on its own is likely to get lost and fall into danger. We need to be part of the church so we are all listening for the Master’s Voice. That is not to say we should follow blindly – don’t forget that often Jesus’ harshest words were for the religious people of his time.
Those who questioned Jesus probably did not want Jesus to be telling the truth. Why? Because what he was telling them was demanding – they wanted to tame their God to the point where he didn’t make too much difference to their lives! We so want to do that too – but Jesus doesn’t let people do that. He wants us to choose.
In a few moments Mahaeleth’s parents and Godparents will make a choice – for themselves and for Mahaeleth. You will chose to bring Mahaeleth up as part of God’s flock; to help her to hear Jesus’ voice and to follow Him.
It is a choice we all must make every day, every week – because if we listen to our Shepherd we cannot just go our own way, with what we do on Sunday making no difference to how we live out our lives on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
We have heard from this pulpit many times in recent weeks and months of the plight of refugees and been challenged to respond as Christians. It is often hard to know what we can do but yesterday the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols talked about the inadequacy of Britain’s response and his belief that many people would welcome more of the migrants here. He talked of the difficulty for politicians who know that there are fears about allowing in greater numbers and their concern that public opinion would not be with them. So perhaps an action you and I could take today –or this week is to write to your M.P. and ask for a more welcoming and generous response here to desperate men, women and children?
The beautiful little story of Tabitha, our first reading today, reinforces Jesus’ message in the Gospel, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” Tabitha is someone who has chosen to follow Jesus, to share his life and his love with all those around her. She chooses the living God, and her reward is life.
Both these readings call us to choose life. The choice is ours, but let us choose life – for ourselves and for Mahaeleth.