Sermon for Sunday, May 8, 2022 || Easter 4C || John 12:22-30
Two weeks ago in our Gospel reading, we heard Jesus say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Last week Jesus told Simon Peter (and by extension, us the readers) “Follow me.” And today, we hear him say something else from earlier in the Gospel. He has just talked all about being the Good Shepherd, who calls the sheep by name, who brings the sheep out of the sheepfold, who lays down his life for the sheep. And then he says this. He says, “My sheep listen to my voice.”
The trouble for people reading or hearing the Gospel way back then is the same trouble we have today. None of them and none of us have ever audibly heard Jesus say anything. And yet, we follow. We believe. We listen. The question we’re going to ponder together for the next few minutes is “How.” How do we listen to Jesus’ voice? How do we listen to someone who lived nineteen centuries ago and who inhabited the other side of the world and who spoke a language that no longer exists?
This morning let’s talk about four ways we sheep listen to the voice of Jesus, all those barriers notwithstanding. We listen to Jesus’ voice in the prayerful reading of scripture, in the community of the faithful, in the witness of those most marginalized from society, and in the soulful depths within ourselves. These four voices harmonize together into the voice of Jesus, who still speaks to us in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s begin with the reading of scripture. We read Jesus’ words and actions slowly, prayerfully, carefully, and audibly. That last one is important. It might feel weird, especially if you’re alone, but I encourage you to try reading the Bible out loud. That way your body gets involved in Jesus’ words. They come from your breath, your vocal cords. Listen to the sound of your own voice speaking the words of Jesus:
- “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
- “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
- “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
- “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Hear the voice of Jesus welling up from within you. Feel your mouth and tongue and breath work in concert to form those life-giving words. When you encounter a particular verse or passage that shimmers for you, don’t rush through the words. Sit with them. Say them aloud and hear Jesus speaking through you to you. Make those words your breath prayer. Practice making the voice of Jesus the first thing that comes to your own lips in idle moments and joyful moments and fearful moments and all the moments. As Paul says to the church of the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” We sheep hear Jesus’ voice in the words of scripture when we attend to them and attune to them and orient our lives around them.
Second, we listen to Jesus’ voice in the collective voice of our beloved community of the faithful. We listen for Jesus’ voice in each other, just as we look for the face of Christ in each other’s faces. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” Paul says, and he continues, “Teach and admonish one another with all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing…songs to God.” Without this conversation, this communion, with one another, we struggle to discern the voice of Jesus in our lives. Trusted spiritual companions serve as mirrors for us, reflecting back what they hear Jesus speaking into our hearts.
Third, we listen to Jesus’ voice in the witness of those whom the dominant group has pushed to the margins of society. In Jesus’ day, these were the people he spent the most time with, listening to them, diverting attention to them, emptying his own power into them. For myself, I recognize that I own many unearned, overlapping privileged positions in our society, so it’s really easy to trick myself into thinking Jesus would have spoken out from those same positions. But what Jesus actually did was take whatever privilege he did have and use it to amplify the voices of those without power. By seeking out and amplifying those voices now, we can listen to Jesus speaking through the lives and experiences of those who have historically been barred from power and privilege.
Fourth, we listen to Jesus’ voice speaking from the depths of our own souls. At the outset of his own trek through the inward life, St. Augustine says, “My God, I would have no being, I would not have any existence, unless you were in me. Or rather, I would have no being if I were not in you.” Because we are in God and God somehow dwells within us, we can listen for the voice of Jesus within ourselves. I know I just said it was dangerous to listen for Jesus in myself because of all that unearned privilege, but this is different. The voice of Jesus we listen for inside ourselves actively rejects power and privilege, so it actually works as a corrective, if we listen well, with the support of our community.
The internal voice of Jesus is the same “still, small voice” that Elijah hears on the mountain after the wind and the earthquake and the fire pass by. This is the same voice that the psalmist hears when God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The voice of Jesus speaks truth into our souls every moment of every day, and every once in a great while, we might happen to stop and hear that truth. The best way to discern this truth is to listen to our bodies, to be in touch with what our bodies are telling us. Call it intuition. Call it a gut feeling. Our bodies know things that our minds can’t put into words. When we’re talking about the paths Jesus calls us to follow, I am convinced that our bodies can feel better than our minds can process. When we are faced with a decision, turn inward and pray. Which choice helps your body settle? Which causes anxiety? Which leads to expansion and openness? Which leads to contraction and tightness? Being attentive to our bodies helps us discern that soulful interior voice of Jesus.
These are four ways we listen for Jesus in our lives: the voice of scripture, the voice of the faithful community, the voice of those marginalized from power and privilege, and the voice speaking from our own souls. These four ways intertwine like the four voices in (contrapuntal) choral singing: soprano, alto, tenor bass. Taken separately, each voice carries a melody. But each melody only makes sense when it weaves together with the other three. This is the harmony of Jesus’ voice, speaking harmony into our lives and the life of the world. I pray that, with God’s help, each of us listens well.
Season 5, Episode 2
“The Encanto Family System”
In this episode we’re talking about Encanto, specifically the family system of the Madrigals. We’re also continuing our book club, reading Becky Chambers’s award-winning sci-fi novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.