Rev. Rich Heinz
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."
“Hear My voice.” Have you ever watched a baby’s reaction to his mother’s voice? He reacts. He turns toward his mother, and is soothed by the comfort of His mother’s voice. He has heard her from within the womb, and finds comfort and nurture and care in her voice.
Dr. Shinichi Suzuki recognized the importance of listening, even when we are not aware of it. He stressed the importance of listening to a piece of music over and over to help in learning to play it. Playing that same piece well is aided immensely by repeatedly listening to it played well. And he even noted instances when children recognized pieces of music in utero.
The same is true for the pastor’s voice. A family that comes to the Lord’s house throughout pregnancy, will have a child that recognizes his pastor’s voice, and responds. Like his mother, the infant finds comfort and nurture and care in the voice of his pastor. And even if not from infancy, the more a person gathers around Christ’s gifts in the Church, the more he will know the voice of the Shepherd, and the more he is nourished and known by Christ, and thus follow Him.
In Holy Baptism, the Good Shepherd stretched His hand out over the waters, and pulled you to Himself. He called you by name, placing His own Name upon you, and brought you to hear His voice. As God’s new, baptized creature, you recognize His voice through His Sacred Scriptures, as well as the voice of His servant through whom He speaks to you.
Yet you do not always want to listen. There are many voices out there competing with the Lord, and to the sinful mind, sometimes they sound better. In fact, sometimes your own voice sounds better to your sinful self.
The contestant stares blankly, dumbfounded. “No. I am the best,” she thinks. “I am the next American Idol! These judges don’t know what they are talking about. They don’t know real talent!” In her frustration, and perhaps even delusion, the singer is refusing to listen. She does not hear the voice of the judge that says, “I’m sorry. It’s just not for you.” She lives in her own fantasy, hearing that she is great, talented, and amazing!
You do too, when your Old Adam is winning. You fancy yourself as great, talented, and amazing, rather than recognize the sin in your life that makes you as lowly, dumb, and plain as a sheep.
But Christ, our Good Shepherd, overcomes Old Adam. Our Lord has saved you, and He knows you. Yes, your Shepherd knows you! And it’s not just some passing knowledge!
In English we lump it all together with the verb “to know.” But our German crowd here at St. John’s could tell you there is a difference between “wissen” and “kennen.” “Wissen” is to know as in to know facts and things. “Kennen” is knowing something or someone with whom you have a relationship. The Lord knows you. Not simply as an object or fact. Der HErr kennt euch! The Lord KNOWS you, personally!
Christ, our Good Shepherd, knows each and every one whom He has saved and forgiven. He calls out to His sheep and leads them -- not blindly or generically, but personally and with deep thought and care, for He knows them.
For one hundred years, the Good Shepherd has tended His youthful sheep at Luther Institute, and then Luther High School-North. When lambs have strayed, He has searched for them, and carried them home. While the school walks through the valley of the shadow of debt, in reality He has not abandoned the lambs or sheep of the school; His rod and staff of His Law and Gospel will see every one through the hardship, and the Table He spreads will lavish His Means of Grace upon us all. How so? He knows us! He knows us personally as His own. We know [His] voice, and follow [Him.]
So just how do we know His voice? Where do we hear Him? The confirmands can tell you. They spent Friday night’s lock-in hearing about these Means of Grace: Baptism, Absolution, Gospel and (the Lord’s) Supper. In these holy and precious gifts, the Good Shepherd speaks to us and we hear His voice. He nurtures His relationship with us, and so He continues to truly know us! He brings us to regularly and faithfully receive these gifts, and thus we are following Him.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The Good Shepherd called out: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And He knows the child whom He has called, and that baptized Christian follows Him.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
The Good Shepherd cries out again and again: “I forgive you all your sin, in the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” And you are absolved – the sin is gone; you are freed from it! You hear the voice of God that has passed judgment – a judgment that makes you “not guilty!” He does this out of love for you, as He truly knows you, and He now leads you to follow Him.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
The most important words that blessed voice utters each week: “This is My Body, given for you. This is My Blood, shed for you.” Jesus gives absolutely everything to protect and nourish and nurture His sheep. He even gives Himself! When you hear these sweet and blessed words, you are embraced by them, wrapped up in the ultimate and boundless love of Jesus. You hear His voice – the voice of God’s mercy – the voice of our Good Shepherd who knows you perfectly – better than you know yourself! And He brings you to follow Him!
Other voices may clamor for your attention. Others may claim to know you. But your sweet, loving Savior is your Good Shepherd. And now and always, He causes you to hear His voice, and He knows you, and you follow Him. Amen!
The Rev. Rich Heinz is Pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church & School, Chicago, IL. Having grown up in a congregation with a large window depicting our Good Shepherd, and continuing to love the art and music associated with the day, this Sunday of Easter is especially dear to him. The reference to Luther North is regarding our local Lutheran high school. Luther North is working through some major financial challenges, and is undergoing a national campaign for funds.
Created: April 27th, 2010