Hearing Our Lord
4th Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)
May 7th/8th, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
The human eye is an incredible creation composed of over 2 million working parts. There has never been a successful eye transplant because the eye is so intricate, connected to the brain by more than 1 million microscopic nerve fibers. But the eye incredible not only because of how precisely and intricately designed it is, but because of the impact it has on us as people. Sight is the primary sense in human beings. Some people estimate that 80% of our memories are determined by what we see, and 80% of what we learn is learned through the eyes. The only organ more complex in the entire body is the brain itself, but over half of the brain is devoted to processing visual stimuli. Vision is the primary sense for the vast majority of human beings – it forms our most basic understanding of the world around us. Of course, the bodies and brains of those who are blind learn to rely on other senses to make up for the lack of vision. But generally speaking, sight is the primary sense in people.
But what about the children of God? What is to be the primary sense for the children of God? Which sense are we to rely upon most for our understanding of the world around us?
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Our Epistle reading reminds us that we were at one time straying like lost sheep, but we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. The Psalm for today is Psalm 23, one of the most beloved sections in all the Scriptures. The Lord is my shepherd; I am his sheep. The Gospel reading for today records for us words of our Lord that have become known as the Good Shepherd Discourse. The image of shepherd and sheep is one of the consistent images that runs through the entire history of God’s people. It’s a prominent image in the Old Testament. It’s a prominent image in the New Testament. It’s a prominent image in the church today. It’s in our hymnody. It is in our artwork. Here at St. John we have a painting by the elevator depicting Jesus as a shepherd, and we have a stained glass window dedicated to the same idea. Today’s Gospel reading helps us understand a bit more about why this image is a favorite one of our Lord, and why he consistently places it before us. And believe it or not, it has a lot to do with sight.
Today’s Gospel reading from John chapter 10 follows on the heels of an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees where sight was the main topic. John chapter 9 records for us the account of a man born blind who had his sight restored by Jesus. The man is questioned by the Pharisees, as are his parents, and eventually he is cast out of the synagogue for confessing Jesus as Christ. When Jesus heard that the man had been cast out of the synagogue, he went and found him and said, “For judgment have I come into the world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” When the Pharisees heard this, they asked Jesus, “Are we also blind?” To which Jesus replied, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say you see, your guilt remains.” He then immediately launches into the Good Shepherd Discourse, including this discussion about how true sheep hear the voice of their shepherd, relying on their ears, not their eyes.
That’s our call as the children of God: to rely on our ears, not our eyes.
Our eyes will deceive us. Our eyes will fill us with fear. Our eyes will fill us with anxiety and doubt. Our eyes will look out at the world around us and see rising unrest. They will see a polarized political existence in our country. They will see racial tensions. They will see professional baseball players subjected to racial slurs in a Major League Ballpark. They will see tensions rising between those fighting for religious liberty on one side and those fighting for SOGI laws on the other. Our eyes will see flooding in Missouri and Texas. They will see tornados and earthquakes and hurricanes. They will see cancer and disease and death within our own families and church and school. Our eyes will give us every reason to fear.
But our Shepherd beckons us to believe our ears, not our eyes. For faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ. Christ our Shepherd invites us to cast all our anxiety on him, for he cares for us. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. He leads us to the still waters. He makes us to lie down in green pastures. He fills our cups overflowing with his mercy. Though the mountains crumble and the earth gives way, the steadfast love of our Lord never ceases. Behold, the Son of God, with whom the Father is well pleased. Listen to him. Don’t let your eyes fill you with fear. Let your ears fill you with peace.
But our eyes are powerful. We’ve learned to rely so much on vision. We’ve trained ourselves that seeing is believing. It is not only fear and anxiety that our sight tempt us to believe more than we believe the promises of God. It is greed and lust. Our eyes see the fruit of the world, and seeing that the fruit looks good for eating, we are tempted to take a bite. Our eyes take in the new car our neighbor drives, the new house our friends purchased, the new phone, the new Apple watch, the new iPad, the new this the new that. Our eyes gluttonously devour all the toys and possessions that are not ours, and our eyes tell us that we deserve more, that we deserve better, that we want what others have.
But our Shepherd beckons us to believe our ears, not our eyes. Our ears hear the voice of our Shepherd saying , “Do not covet.” It those words is more than a command; in those words is a promise of freedom. The one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The one whose eyes are addicted to greed becomes a slave to greed. But if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Free from the worry that comes with discontent and coveting. Free from the temptation that is always hiding in the shadow of those shiny new things. The temptation to cut back giving to God so that we can afford a nicer car or more extravagant vacation. The temptation to neglect quality time with our spouse or children because we are spending so many hours working for a bigger paycheck. The temptation to play with the numbers a little so that the government doesn’t really know how much we make. The growing hatred in our hearts as we look at the possessions of the people around us and, rather than rejoicing in the good gifts our Lord has given someone else, hating them for getting what we want. The temptation to tear down the reputation of another person or to speak ill of them or to sabotage them because we are jealous.
Our Lord’s Word sets us free from all of that when it says, “Do not covet. But receive from the Lord with thanksgiving that which is yours.” Our ears give us the peace of a thankful heart. Our ears hear the Lord’s call to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” And our ears trust that our Lord will give us such bread, neither giving us so much extra that we think we have no need of our Lord, nor giving us so little that we fall into theft and so dishonor the name of the Lord. Our ears hear that our heavenly Father knows we need food and clothing and shelter, and that he desires to give us these things. Our ears, not our eyes, fill us with such peace.
Our eyes see the pleasures of the world around us. Our eyes lust after the flesh, after the bottle, after the next high or the next thrill. Our ears hear the voice of our Lord calling us back to his fold. These other voices are not the shepherd. They have not entered our lives or our hearts or our minds by the door, but have climbed in by some other means. They come to steal and kill and destroy. To steal our joy and kill our relationships and destroy the life our Lord has designed for us – a life of faith toward him and love toward others. Jesus has come that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Jesus has come, and he speaks. He comes with his Word. He comes to our ears, not our eyes.
He comes in a splash of water on a baby’s forehead. The eye sees tap water. The ear hears the Word of God and knows that by itself that water would be plain water, but because it is combined with God’s Word it is the life-giving water of baptism. The eye sees bread and wine. The ear hears the Word of God and knows that the crucified and risen Christ himself is present in this meal to bring us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. It is our ears, not our eyes, to which our Lord makes his appeal. It is through our ears, not our eyes, that our Lord is present among us today.
When a person loses their sense of sight, their body responds by directing some of the parts of the brain that would normally be used to process visual stimuli to process sounds, smells, tastes, and touch instead. That’s partly why people close their eyes when the kiss or when they take a bite of a particularly tasty steak or when they take a long deep breath to absorb the smell of flowers in the springtime. Our other senses are strengthened when sight is taken away. Jesus says that he came into the world so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind. Those who trust the eyes more than the ears will never see the Lord for who he is. As far as we trust our eyes, the painful and disappointing circumstances of our lives, the temptations and siren songs of the world around us, more than we trust the Word of the Lord in our ears, so far will we miss Jesus for who he truly is.
Repent of idolizing your eyes. Hear the voice of your Shepherd. Learn to recognize the voice of your Shepherd. When you hear the voice of another, do not follow it. Flee. Learn to hear the voice of your Shepherd in the proclamation of his Word, and follow that voice. For he alone is the Good Shepherd. All others are thieves and robbers. Do not listen to them. Hear the voice of your Shepherd calling you to repentance. Hear the voice of your Shepherd promising you forgiveness. Hear the voice of your Shepherd and follow him. For He has come to give you life, and to give it to you abundantly.