It's not that great anyway, so I'm kind of glad the Holy Spirit gave me something else to say at noon today.
One of the resources I use in sermon preparation dares to call itself “The Center for Excellence in Preaching.” It is a rather heady resource offered by Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Before last week, I would have called it a “awfully heady resource,” but then, in their illustration idea section they shared this story.
Several years ago there was a story carried in various newspapers about a woman from Missouri who was startled out of a dead sleep one night by some desperate cries of "Help! Help!" You know how it is when you awake to some sound: you are not at all certain whether you really heard something or if it was just a dream. At first she thought perhaps her husband had cried out, but he was sleeping soundly next to her. Then suddenly she heard the cries again: "Help! Help!" Finally she threw back the covers and headed downstairs toward their living room. "Help!" went the plaintive voice yet again. "Where are you?" the woman replied. "In the fireplace," came the rather shocking answer.
And sure enough, dangling in the fireplace with his head sticking through the flue was a burglar, upside down and quite snugly stuck! The police and fire department got him out eventually, though not before having to disassemble the mantle and some of the masonry. Perhaps the best part of the story was what this woman did in the meantime. She flipped on all the lights and videotaped the whole thing. I don't know what the two talked about while waiting for the police and company to arrive, but had I been she, I think I would have hauled out a Bible and given the crook a pointed reading of John 10: "Verily I tell you, anyone who does not enter by the door but climbs in another way is a thief and a robber!"
On Sunday morning, I talked about the ways in which advertisers attempt to climb over the fences of our lives in order to get inside our heads and convince us to listen to their voice, but it certainly isn't just advertisers. Politicians tell us they have the answers to our national ails. News corporations sell the opinions of a talking head as fact, and try to convince us that their spin is right, and everyone else is wrong. Pharmaceutical corporations create diagnoses in order to sell the new pill they've developed to fix it. There is an almost constant barrage of thieves and robbers who do their best to sneak inside the sheepfold. Once they get there, often times they sound a whole lot like Jesus, but as we all know, there is only one Good Shepherd.
A few years ago, Keith told a story about he and Lynn at a banquet. The room was full of people and even more full of their sound. Hundreds of conversations, all happening at once, forks rattling against plates, the hum of the chocolate fountain motor, and yet, in the midst of all that ambient sound, and with Lynn across the room, all he had to say, not shout, but say, was “Lynn” and she heard his voice and found him.
As the sheep of the Good Shepherd, our only real job is to be able to discern the voices that call our in our lives. Lynn could hear and know Keith's voice because of a 30 plus years of conversations. It seems to me, then, that we too ought to take advantage of our two ears and one mouth and listen for Jesus twice as often as we talk. Over a lifetime of listening, we grow to know the one true voice, the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who doesn't just give us life, but gives us life abundantly. There are a lot of voices out there, each vying for your attention, but if you'll listen carefully, you'll hear the Good Shepherd calling for you by name. Listen. Believe. Follow. Find abundant life. Amen.