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Who Are You Listening To?

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Sermon

Who Are You Listening To?

Ezekiel 34:1-24; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:1-21

Rev. Aaron B. Kesson

February 15, 2009

Emmanuel UMC

Introduction

            So many things compete for our attention today.  With the various forms of media that are available to us, including television, print, radio, the internet, blogs, podcasts, and so many other things, it becomes difficult for us to simply listen to one piece of information.  I forget the source, but I had heard that 10 years ago it was found that in order to effectively communicate a point; one would have to say the point three different times using three different means of media.  With today’s blast of information hurling toward each of us, it is said that in order for any of us to really soak in a point, it needs to be said seven different times, seven different ways!

            Now, in order for you to soak in this morning’s sermon, I could preach it seven times this morning, each time a little different.   Or we can rely on the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts and minds to understand what it is He wants to say to us this morning.  As you listen to this morning’s sermon, I invite you to be an active participant by allowing yourself to be changed and transformed by God’s presence.  No doubt you will be tempted to veer off and think of other things, maybe very important things, but again let me encourage you to make it a point to really listen to what God is saying to you this morning.

Voice of the Shepherd   

Our texts for this morning highlight the importance of the sheep knowing the voice of the shepherd, and that there are also others who try to entice the sheep to go with them.  Right away, we are thrown into a hostile environment in our Gospel reading where we see that there are those who do not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but instead break in through other means.  Obviously their intent is not one of care or compassion for the sheep, but of selfish ambition and with no care for the welfare of the sheep in the flock.

Anyone who understands what a sheepfold looks like in Palestine would understand Jesus’ words right away.  For us, in Western civilization, we might need a description: “The sheepfold was a place of security, not a place for intruders. Such a sheepfold would likely have been either a circular or square enclosure, probably constructed like a high stone fence or wall and perhaps topped with vines. The entrance would have been the only break in the wall, and once the sheep were safely inside at night, the watchman/guard (either a servant or a shepherd, usually an assistant) would lie down across the opening and serve both as the protector for the sheep and as a gate to the sheepfold. Unless an intruder was willing to confront the watchman, the only way into the sheepfold was to climb the wall (cf. 10:1).”[1]  The New American Commentary adds that the shepherd could enter the sheepfold at any time because he was known by both the sheep and by the watchman/guard.  There is a sense of security and trust between the sheep and the shepherd.

In John 10:3, we read something very interesting about a shepherd and his sheep: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”[2]  You see, every morning the shepherd would lead his sheep out of the sheepfold to go and graze and get something to drink.  But, this process was not just another routine; the shepherd would call his own sheep by name

The naming of the sheep is important for a couple of reasons: First, if we recall Adam’s responsibility in Genesis 2 to name all the living creatures, we see God’s care and respect for what He has created.  Second, by naming the sheep and calling them by name, one understands the deep commitment the shepherd has to caring for his flock.  Not only does the shepherd care deeply for the flock, but cares for each sheep individually and we can assume that the shepherd also knows every need of every individual sheep.

Jesus’ Example of Leadership“I am the Door”

By Jesus’ comparison of Himself to a shepherd, we have been given a glimpse at what it means to follow Him, but we have also been given a glimpse as to what it means for ourselves to be leaders.  Jesus exemplified for us what it means to love others and to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  But, Jesus’ way of leadership was totally different than what can be expected in the world.  Looking again at our Gospel lesson, we see that not only does Jesus refer to Himself as the shepherd (v.11), but also refers to Himself as being the gate, or door itself (v.7).  This means that Jesus’ concern for the flock is much more than a job or a duty, it is His life calling.  Why else in verse 7 would Jesus say that the shepherd lays down His life for His sheep?  Of course, Jesus was foreshadowing His own death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, but He was also making reference to the idea of servant-leadership.  This is not the only place where Jesus refers to this radical idea of giving one’s life for the sake of another.  If you recall from Matthew 20:28, Jesus’ words to the disciples: “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”, and John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  Friends, the idea of servant leadership is a model we need to incorporate today into our everyday lives, especially within the context of our understanding that we are all called to be ministers of the Gospel.

Shepherds with selfish ambitions

You heard me mention earlier, that there are also those who would try to break into the sheepfold, with ill-intention and evil desires (v.1).  In Ezekiel 34, we are given examples of those who have shown these selfish ambitions, even those who have claimed to be shepherds.  In Ezekiel 34:1-6, we read Ezekiel’s words to the shepherds of Israel, condemning them for looking out for their own desires rather than for the sake of their flock.  As a matter of fact, the shepherds were using their flock of sheep for food for themselves! (v.10).  As we read further, we see that God is fed up with the shepherds’ selfish desires and says that He Himself will seek out His sheep (v.11). 

God’s desire to seek out the lost, the downtrodden, the outcast, and the disadvantaged, those who have been entrusted in others’ care, and those who are considered “the least of these” is outlined in these few verses of Ezekiel 34.  The parallels with John 10 continue to highlight the compassion God has for His sheep, even to the point of bringing Himself to our level, humbling Himself as one of us, so that we might have eternal life.  We need to remember the words of Philippians 2:8 “ …but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.   And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

A Great Responsibility

            As a pastor, I have been given an opportunity few people ever get to experience.  I have been given the responsibility of shepherding a flock of sheep.  One time, while explaining my role as pastor to a friend of mine who is spiritually seeking, I referred to my congregation as my “flock”.  My friend has not forgotten the terminology I used that day, and has asked several questions as well as made several comments related to the relationship a shepherd has with his flock.  As a matter of fact, while talking with others about me, he refers to me as a shepherd.  Now, of course I am not the shepherd, as that space is reserved for one person alone, Jesus Christ.  But, I see my role as pastor being that of one of the servants of the shepherd, a sub-shepherd if you will, with the responsibility of caring for the sheep while the shepherd is out preparing the field for the sheep.

            This responsibility is far-reaching and a responsibility I do not take lightly.  It is my role to be an example of a servant leader in your midst, and to protect my flock from “wolves” and others who come to destroy.  I have made it a priority in my life to listen to the lead-shepherd, Jesus Christ and to heed His call on my life.  I encourage you to do the same.  The imagery I just spoke of a few moments ago about the shepherd preparing the fields while the servant watches the sheep sounds a lot like that which Jesus referred to in John 14:2-3 when He mentioned to the disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them, so that when He returns for them, they may be with Him.

Jesus – The Only Way

Make no mistake; Jesus is the only way to God.  He is the door, He is the light.  Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” – John 14:6.  God’s grace is far reaching and covers a multitude of sins.  Let me encourage you this morning, if you have not made a commitment to Christ, I want to invite you to do so now.  If you have made a commitment to Christ already, let me encourage you to re-commit your life to Him.  There are many voices out there calling for our attention, and some are wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.  They claim Jesus is not the only way, and that all roads lead to God.  I am here to tell you that a day is coming when we will all experience God’s judgment and on that day “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”-Phil 2:10.  Come, experience God’s grace and mercy.  It is a gift to you from the Shepherd.

Conclusion

            I simply want to leave you with this glimpse of Heaven from our reading in Revelation 7:9-17:

9 After this I looked, and behold, ba great multitude that no one could number, cfrom every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dclothed in white robes, with epalm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, f“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and gthe four living creatures, and they hfell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 isaying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, dclothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of jthe great tribulation. kThey have washed their robes and lmade them white min the blood of the Lamb.

15     “Therefore they are before the throne of God,

and nserve him day and night in his temple;

and he who sits on the throne owill shelter them with his presence.

16     pThey shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;

qthe sun shall not strike them,

nor any scorching heat.

17     For the Lamb in the midst of the throne rwill be their shepherd,

and he will guide them to springs of sliving water,

and tGod will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”[3]


----

[1]Borchert, Gerald L.: John 1-11. electronic ed. Nashville : Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1996 (Logos Library System; The New American Commentary 25A), S. 331

[2] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Jn 10:3

b [Rom. 11:25]

c ch. 5:9

d ver. 14; See ch. 3:4

e [Lev. 23:40; John 12:13]

f ch. 12:10; 19:1; See Ps. 3:8

g ch. 4:6

h See ch. 4:10

i ch. 5:14; 19:4; [1 Chr. 29:10, 11]

d [See ver. 9 above]

j See Matt. 24:21

k ch. 22:14; [Isa. 1:18; Zech. 3:3–5]

l [Dan. 12:10; 1 John 1:7]

m ch. 1:5

n ch. 22:3

o ch. 21:3; [Isa. 4:5, 6]

p Isa. 49:10

q Ps. 121:6

r Ps. 23:1, 2; [Matt. 2:6]; See John 10:11

s ch. 22:1; [Ps. 36:8, 9; John 4:14]

t ch. 21:4; Isa. 25:8

[3] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Re 7:9-17

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