Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 17, 2016
My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. John 10:27-28
Have you ever watched the reality television show The Voice? Now in its tenth season, The Voice producers hold open talent auditions, looking for multiple candidates who might be coached into becoming the best singer/entertainer. Successful artists then perform a “blind audition” where the coaches, famous singers of various genres, listen to each artist and choose their talent teams by pressing a red button if they hear a voice they want to coach. Pressing the red button automatically turns the coach around to see the artist, and the bottom of their chair lights up to say “I want you.” This season artists may be coached by Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Pharrell Williams, or Christina Aguilera.
The idea is to listen for the singer who has “the voice”–those special pipes that by their very dulcet (or powerhouse) tones can charm the coaches into selecting them. Millions tune in and cast their own votes for the winner, and the battle for “the voice” continues as one by one artists are eliminated various rounds.
I wonder; would Jesus win The Voice? Would our Lord’s voice be the one that called out to coaches and television audience alike? I mean we’ve never really “heard” Jesus sing, have we? We don’t KNOW what he sounds like, whether he is a tenor or bass, prefers classic rock or Southern gospel, or has that pop sound or smooth jazz styling. You and I, we’ve never truly heard Jesus’ voice in an audible way, at least not in the talent show or conversational sense. Yet, people have been “hearing” Jesus’ voice and following him for more than 2,000 years. This guy has REAL staying power–the kind not even Elvis can touch.
It’s certainly NOT Jesus’ literal star-quality singing voice that causes the sheep of his pasture to hear his voice and follow him. It’s not the fact that he’s been coached by professional artists from “Team Holy Spirit” to train his voice to woo the masses. No, it’s not about that at all.
The voice of God, the voice of Jesus, calls out to us across the ages, across time and space, through the words of scripture, through wine and bread, through proclamation, through one another’s ministry of consolation, mutual edification, and mercy. The voice of Jesus calls out to the lost, the lonely, the forsaken, the hopeless, and the burdened. Age after age, hour by hour, every day of the year, that precious voice keeps calling to everyone.
Then why, why is THE VOICE above all voices so hard to hear?
Could it be that so many voices clamor for our attention? Is it that some voices have the lure of the mythical siren to drive us to the rocks of our destruction, their seemingly sweet melodies causing us to lose our way, to take our eyes and ears off the Good Shepherd? Perhaps we even quite willfully turn a deaf ear to the very one who seeks to love and save us from ourselves?
Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve taken this analogy between Jesus and a television show in the wrong direction.
What if Jesus is the ultimate VOICE coach (move over Adam Levine), the shepherd of all the ones who sing his song?
You see, Jesus does call to us. We hear his voice. We somehow know deep inside our being that it is HIS voice and not the loud competing noise of the world. And we do follow him–hesitantly, awkwardly, stubbornly, fearfully, complainingly bleating about our lot, and thankfully also at times joyously and faithfully–because Jesus says “I want you,” and ultimately we cannot escape his heart of love for us. What he offers, eternal life, is the song that surpasses all singing.
In following Jesus, we are trained and equipped by the Holy Spirit in the beloved community to use our hands to do God’s work and our voices to proclaim the Good News of the Shepherd King whose song is truly unending.
Today, and every day, make sure to remember whose you are. Don’t be afraid to be a sheep and let Jesus mold and shape and train your precious voice and hands for mission. We have good news to share, you and I. We have the best news ever. Even if we can’t carry a tune in a bucket, we can join in the song, singing with the one who truly is THE VOICE. Amen.
If you want to drive home a point about The Voice, ask if congregants remember Jordan Smith from Hazard, Kentucky. Smith won season nine of The Voice in 2015. His rendition of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” wowed audiences, and three of his songs outpaced Adele’s “Hello” for the number one spot on iTunes. It also hit number 30 on Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100. Invite congregants to sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” saying that we may not be Jordan Smith, but we can sing it like we mean it and then go out and live it.
Revelation is a tough book for anyone–especially youth. However, this week’s passage from Revelation 7 is a beautiful image of those who have come out of great ordeal and tribulation, and now, “The will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat” (v. 16). They will be led to springs of water and God will wipe away their tears. Invite youth to think about what populations in our world have suffered great ordeals and tribuations. They may list those who have been victims of terror attacks, war, earthquake or tsunami, genocide, refugees streaming out of Syria and other parts of the Middle East, people in Sudan and other conflicted areas. They may even mention those who are victims of human trafficking or hunger and poverty. While this passage might provide hope and comfort (precisely what the author intended for his persecuted readers), how can we also be workers with God to bring about a different reality here and now? How can we work for justice, mercy, and peace? How can we help alleviate hunger and stop violence? You might invite youth to write a letter to governmental officials in support of legislation to address hunger, homelessness, or the refugee crisis. Consider an offering of letters through Bread for the World or your denomination’s Advocacy Office.
Bring a small vial of scented anointing oil to your children’s message today. Gather the children around the font and let them smell the oil. If it is your practice to anoint the newly baptized by making the sign of the cross on their foreheads, remind the children that this happened to them when God named and claimed them in baptism. If your congregation has services for healing, tell the children that oil is used to make the sign of the cross with prayers for healing and blessing. Oil is mixed with ashes on Ash Wednesday when we are reminded that are made of dust and will return to dust. This ancient practice of blessing and calling is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, including in Psalm 23:5. Make the sign of the cross in oil on each child’s head (or have them do it to one another) and offer a simple prayer of blessing on each child, calling him or her by name as God’s beloved. If you have access to enough small bottles of oil, give one to each family along with an order for blessing and anointing and simple prayers they can do at home.
(Photos: Alan Levine, Eva Rinaldi, and Elvert Barnes, Creative Commons. Thanks!)