My sheep know my voice, these words are recorded as the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel today, the Middle Eastern Shepherds didn’t work with dogs from behind the sheep as we see here in the UK, but led them, and called them, and the sheep knew the voice of their shepherd, this makes sense of Jesus words here and of Psalm 23, he leads me beside the still waters, and even through the valley of the shadow of death, going ahead, making a way. This is hardly new of radical information for many I am sure, but it does beg the question, do I know the voice of the Shepherd, and then, am I following that voice?
If only it were that simple, if the voice of Christ came to us loud and clear, uncomplicated by other calls and other distractions, it voices claiming to be speaking for The Voice, we not so contradictory and even at times downright nasty, excluding many for a myriad of reasons, writing new rules, laws and codes of behaviours that we are expected to adhere to, some are spoken and others are silent expectations that we may of may not pick up on.
How then do we hear the voice of Christ, the call that is safe and true. I must admit that I struggle with this, sometimes it comes as a certain inner knowing, and sometimes I think I completely miss it, I question myself, wouldn’t I be living better if I were really following, then I remember that the voice leads me even through the valley of the shadow of death, and knows my stumbling’s and fumbling’s along the way, the voice is the one who calls to me when I get stuck and lost and caught up in the thorns and brambles of life, who seeks me out even when I don’t want to be found.
Sometimes I find the voice within myself, something that is both of me and not of me at the same time, making the incarnation possible even in me! Somehow as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins put it in his poem That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.
Does the voice of the Good Shepherd call me, even me an immortal diamond, something so precious, and made for and of eternity? Well yes, how hard is that to take in? Maybe that’s why we don’t hear, because it is utterly overwhelming for us, and we think that this can’t possibly be possible! In Psalm 23 a table is laid, a banquet thrown, and we are invited to sit and eat, even in the presence of our enemies, which are often in my mind the voices within that shout loudly you are not worthy, and this can’t possibly be for you, you’re not good enough, and you know it! This is reflected by another poet, George Herbert this time, in his poem, “Love”
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’
‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.
The poet needed to be persuaded by love to sit and eat, to be served, to accept all that love is and not to shrink from it. I remember being told a story of a farm worker who would come into the village church on his lunch break and simply sit gazing at the cross and the stained glass windows. Finally curiosity got the better of the vicar and he asked the farm worker what he was doing, the answer is profound and simple. He smiled and said, “I look at him, and he looks at me, and we tell each other how much we love each other.”
We tell each other how much we love each other…. I wonder if like me you expect to hear the shepherd calling you not to dawdle, to hurry up, or to sight with frustration when I wander off distracted again? Maybe what we need more than anything is to attune ourselves to the voice of love, for it is love who calls our name, love that called us into being, and love that longs to hold, welcome and celebrate us. Love of course does not come barging in, but is singing a song of love, if only we might hear the eternal melody, woven through all creation, even within in you and me!
Come to my heart, O thou wonderful love,
come and abide,
lifting my life till it rises above
envy and falsehood and pride:
seeking to be
lowly and humble, a learner of thee.