Sermon for May 15, 2011

John 10:1-10 (Fourth Sunday of Easter—Series A)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 15, 2011

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Gospel Reading recorded in John 10:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

I have a program for my computer called “Dragon Naturally Speaking.”  This program is voice recognition software.  The idea is that people can speak faster than they can type.  So by speaking or reading into a microphone, your words are then typed for you into your word processing program.  It is supposed to make things faster and easier.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way.  The program actually has to be trained to understand my voice, my accent, and the way I pronounce words.  If the program doesn’t recognize my voice properly, some very interesting word combinations appear on the screen.  For example, as I dictated the words “appear on the screen,” the software heard “make you scream.”  Hopefully this sermon won’t make you do that!  When the software doesn’t type what I spoke, I have to go back and correct it.  And that takes more time than if I had just typed it in myself.  Of course, I could spend more time and energy training the software and then maybe it would get more things right.  Needless to say, for me, it’s not very helpful software.  It’s very frustrating when the computer doesn’t recognize my voice and puts words on the page that I didn’t say.

And that’s the topic we find in our Gospel lesson on this Good Shepherd Sunday.  If you and I aren’t able to recognize the voice of our Shepherd when He speaks to us in His Word, we are likely to get things wrong.  And that is more than just frustrating.  It can be a matter of eternal life or eternal death.

How are we able to recognize the voice of our Good Shepherd and differentiate it from the voice of thieves and robbers?  If a computer can mistake the phrase “appear on the screen” for “make you scream,” don’t you think you and I could mistake the phrases of thieves and robbers for the voice of Jesus?  It’s all too easy to do just that.

Let’s consider the voices of thieves and robbers to be the voices of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  These enemies of the Christian come in various forms.  The devil, the world, and our flesh speak lies through “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  False teachers run amuck in our world, posing to even be Christian teachers, but speaking half-truths that seem good and right to us at the time.  It’s the age old scheme of that ancient snake, “Did God really say?”

  • “Did God really say that homosexuality is sinful?  Is it really wrong for two same-sex people who are in love and committed to each other to be married?”
  • “Did God really say that you are a sinner and that there is, by nature, no good in you?  And you actually believed that?  You can’t be all that bad.  Sure, some mistakes and failings, but you are only human.  God won’t count that against you.”
  • “Did God really say that the only way to eternal life is through faith in Jesus Christ?  There are a lot of religions and spiritual beliefs out there.  Do you really think Christians have the only claim to fame?  How selfish can you be—don’t you all really worship the same God any way, just different roads to get there, right?”

These are examples of things which you and I are being bombarded with day in and day out through television, radio, and internet media, in newspapers and magazines, and from churches and religious organization.  If the devil himself were standing before you, would you believe anything he said?  Probably not.  But when the devil disguises his voice, it gets quite a bit harder to distinguish the truth from the lie.  The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh work very hard to sound a lot like Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  And sometimes, it is very, very hard to distinguish between the two.  Our voice recognition software has problems telling who is saying what to us.

For example, who can tell me if there is anything wrong with this quotation from John 1:1?  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a god.”  It should read, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” not “a god.”  But the Bible used by Jehovah’s Witnesses calls Jesus “a god” not “God.”  Extremely subtle, isn’t it?  They changed one little word.  And if our recognition software isn’t trained properly, we might miss it and be led astray.

But what if the teaching comes from a Christian church?  Consider what has happened in the Episcopal Church—USA or even in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the ELCA).  In the ELCA a task force was put together to bring before the church a discussion on homosexuality.  In their report Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith, they strongly advocate the acceptance of homosexuality as a viable lifestyle within the church concluding that even if the Bible’s judgment on same-sex acts is clearly negative, this does not necessarily determine the significance of the text for us today.  The report, while affirming that our sexuality is God’s good gift intended to be lived out in loving relationships with others, states that for the homosexual this may involve a partner of the same sex.  For nineteen hundred years the Church was absolutely clear and united on this issue.  Has the Church been wrong for so long?  Is what the Bible says on the matter wrong because a Christian church has come out and said that it thinks so?  Whose voice will we listen to?

Whose voice will be listened to when society clamors that people are basically good, but just make mistakes?  Whose voice will be listened to when you are told that there are many other ways to get to God, and that Christianity is just one way to salvation, but not the only way?  Will you decide that you have no need for forgiveness since you are “not that bad”?  Will you decide that it isn’t necessary to have Jesus as your Savior since it really doesn’t matter what you believe since all roads lead to heaven?

Like sheep, you and I hear the voices of the Shepherd and of thieves and robbers calling us—the voice of Jesus, the voice of the devil, the cry of the world, the call of our sinful flesh.  Sometimes they sound so alike.  Sometimes one sounds so much more tempting than the other that it resonates with our sinful lusts and desires, yet it is the voice of a stranger.  Or is it?  It’s so hard to tell.  Did the voice say “appear on the screen” or “make you scream”?

If our spiritual voice recognition software isn’t trained properly, we might miss the voice of the Good Shepherd and be led astray into eternal destruction.  So how do we learn to recognize the voice of Jesus?  How do we learn to know the accent of the devil, the disguises of the world and our flesh?  As 1 John  4:1 tells us, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  Test the spirits, test the voices to see whether they are found in the pages of God’s Holy Word.  That’s the only way to train our spiritual voice recognition software.  We must be men and women, girls and boys of the Word!

2 Timothy 3 reminds us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)  So how do we become people in the Word who are equipped for every good work, who know the voice of the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ?  Quite simply, we use the Word.  We read it.  We meditate on it.  We study it at home and with other Christians in Bible classes.  We listen to it read in God’s House and proclaimed from the pulpit.  We make time with God’s Word a part of our daily routines and schedules.  Start with 5 minutes a day.  You’re your Bibles.  Learn the order of the books.  Turn the pages.  Read a Psalm.  Read the lessons for the next Sunday which are printed in the worship folder each week.  Use Portals of Prayer or another devotion that you find helpful that puts you in the Word.  Pretty soon, 5 minutes in the Word won’t be enough.  You will crave more and more time with the voice of your Savior and Shepherd.  And you will grow in faith and in knowledge of His holy truth.

So let’s take the voice of the one calling to the sheep, “You are basically good and don’t need to worry about sin and hell.”  What does the Bible say?  “All we, like sheep, have gone astray.” (Is. 53:6)  “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)  “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  If we were basically good and didn’t have to worry about sin, then why did God send us Jesus?  The whole account of Good Friday and Easter would be absolutely pointless.  Yet, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tim. 1:15)  That’s the voice of the Good Shepherd speaking to us in the Word, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  Our abundant life comes through Jesus’ death on the cross where He won our forgiveness because we are sinners.  Being in the Word, studying the Word, we can then recognize the lie for what it is and so we know not to listen to that voice that says, “We are basically good.”  As people in the Word, we recognize the lies of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh that wants to pervert and misuse God’s gift of sexuality and marriage.  And as people in the Word, we will discover immediately any changes that people try to make in that Word of truth, whether they are Jehovah’s Witnesses or anyone else.  And as people in the Word, we know the voice of our Shepherd Jesus, who says, “I AM the door of the sheep.  If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.  I AM the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  And we read in the Book of Acts the guarantee that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4)

As computer voice recognition software needs training so that it can best recognize the user’s voice, so we as Christians need to continue in the Word of Christ so that we can best recognize the voice of our Good Shepherd.  We do not want to heed the voice of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.  Rather, we will flee from them and listen only to the voice of Jesus as we come to know more and more of the truth of His Word.  So be people in the Word.  Hear the voice of your Good Shepherd as He speaks to you words of forgiveness, life, and peace.  Amen.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)

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