Last Christmas A bought me a sat nav...I do a fair bit of driving, often to far flung parts of the diocese and it has on the whole been a godsend, though the pronounciation of some place names is peculiar to say the least. Generally, though, I do end up where I want to be.....which is more than could be said for the relative of a member of Chelsea FC. She had been given VIP tickets for a home match, - her first visit to a game – and had programmed her sat nav to take her to Chelsea's home ground of Stamford Bridge from her home near Heathrow. She listened to the instructions, followed them to the letter, obeying every left and right turn, but as kick off time drew near, she was distraught that she seemed to be driving through open country with the ground nowhere in sight.....Her satnav had taken her straight up the motorway to Stamford, Lincolnshire.
It matters, you see, just whose voice you are following...and you might need, too, to be alert to the landscape around you.
That's what Jesus tells his disciples, as he shows them what they can expect as they journey with him.
The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
Whether we know it or not, we are here, each one of us, because we've responded to that voice.
Whether a decision was made for us years ago, or whether we met God in a surprising way later in life and found our lives changed, we are here, Sunday by Sunday, because of that call.
Here we gather as the shepherd's flock, each of us marked in baptism with that sign that proclaims us His own forever – and we rejoice that here in the fold we are safely at home.
But I wonder, do we listen for his voice during the week? There are só many other competing voices, - many of them inviting us to do good and useful things.
It can be hard to be sure that we're actually following the Shepherd – though we can be sure that if we're NOT listening, we're bound to go astray. Friends and family, politicians and the media, all are intent on telling us how to live our lives.
It’s ever more crucial, and ever more difficult, for us to listen to Jesus’ voice if we want to be his followers and make a difference in the world for his sake.
So what does it mean, practically speaking, to “listen to Jesus’ voice?”
First of all, listening to Jesus’ voice isn’t some strange mystical thing which only some extra-religious people can “do” – we do similar things in the rest of our lives.
I’m sure you will have experienced being faced with a decision and remembering advice from someone you trusted – you may even have remembered how they sounded when they were giving it. Hearing Jesus voice is like that.
Listening to Jesus is a deliberate choice. It means seeking him out, and focussing on his voice among the many others.
There are things we can do to make it easier, starting with being well informed. This means reading in the Bible about Jesus so we know what he said and how he behaved; and it means praying, opening ourselves, heart and mind, to the influence of God’s Holy Spirit.
Then, as we apply our minds to deciding what we should say and do in our lives, and as we listen to our consciences, the words that come to us will be Jesus’ words – the voice we hear will be Jesus’ voice.
As we hear his voice in this way, we can follow him by living our lives in the ways he demonstrated. That doesn’t mean it’s all about saying or doing the “right” things, or living our lives according to a set of rules.
It means that, gradually, the landscape of our lives will change só that we become, step by tiny step, more and more like Jesus.
That footballer's relative might have noticed that she was being led astray if she had bothered to look through about her and notice that the streets of London were giving way to open countryside. Getting lost is not an instant process but rather a series of wrong turnings from which it is harder and harder to find your way home...and that can be só in our Christian journey too.
Só how do we know if we are truly following the Good Shepherd?
Let's look, for a moment, at the description of the early church that we heard in Acts.
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
2:44 All who believed were together and had all things in common;
2:45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
It sounds as if, as a church, we might have gone just a little off course...
According to that template, there could be no rich churches, no rich Christians while people starve – and as Christian Aid Week begins, perhaps we need to remember that.
What's more, this little flock devote themselves to prayer, the Sacraments, to teaching and to fellowship....DEVOTE themselves. Living out their faith is the fundamental, over-arching concern of their lives....not a bolt-on, optional extra to be fitted in as and when it suits.
If we're listening for the voice of the Good Shepherd – the landscape of our lives will, slowly but surely be transformed.
I wonder how that makes you feel? Does it scare you, the thought that we might reach a place where that voice and its calling really WAS all in all for us?
Is it just too difficult, that demand that we give up our own wills, our own egos and trust that the Shepherd can lead us safely home?
We have His word that the destination is worth aiming for.....
“I am come that they may have life, and have it in abundance”
Abundance – overflowing, beyond our needs, beyond our dreams.
The only other place that St John uses that word is in his account of the feeding of 5000, when he tells us about the 12 baskets of left overs – more than could be imagined as the disciples looked in desperation at the original offering of loaves and fishes.....
Abundance – God's generosity, filling and transforming every corner of our lives
Those who see in Christianity a route of painful denial, and endless succession of “thou shalt nots” taken a wrong turning, misheard the voice of the Shepherd.
Yes, we are called to give up our own agendas, to let go of our selfish core – but in return we will be given not just all that we need but more and more and more......
We can follow where those loud, demanding egos lead, and get by – of course we can.
We may even feel that we're doing rather well – materially secure, emotionally satisfied by relationship with family and friends...but in the end, there will always be something missing – that God-shaped hole at the centre of our beings will remain unfilled and our journey through life will be characterised by a nagging fear – that there might not be enough to go round, -enough food, enough things, even enough love.
But if we follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, the journey will be altogether different – perhaps a little harder, rather more challenging, but always, always we will know that we are secure.....as he leads us from the death of self to the abundant life of God's Kingdom.