I've mentioned before, probably a few times I think, that there is a dog that lives at our house. Nikita is my partner Lori's dog. Let me say that again, just to be clear: Nikita is Lori's dog.
I don't mean that like a possession. She's not a purse or a jacket. And anybody who has a pet knows you don't really "own" a pet. But you know when they're "yours." And they know when they're "yours," too.
Nikita will play with me, for example, when Lori's not around. And she allows me to feed her, when Lori's not around. And she'll go for a walk with me … when Lori's not around. But I get worried sometimes, especially in the spring, when she goes off in search of good smells. Or runs ahead of me, completely oblivious to the world around her. She doesn't like a leash, you see. But she also doesn't always respond when I call her. So when she runs into the street expecting the world to make a way for her, and doesn't respond when I call to save her from that oncoming truck, I get a little nervous.
|Are you talking to me? I'm sleeping ....|
Lori, she listens to. Me, no.
See, Nikita hears her voice and "knows" she should respond with appropriate action because she trusts that voice. Okay, maybe not always. There are times when she just wants to do her own thing. And then, after it goes wrong, she actively seeks the "voice" to help her deal with the consequences.
The fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. Each year, we hear a part of the tenth chapter of John's Gospel, in which Jesus describes our relationship with him as like the sheep with The Good Shepherd.
We could spend - we probably do spend - lots of time deciding if that whole we're-sheep-Jesus-is-the-shepherd thing is a relevant image today. Who wants to be sheep? And what does a shepherd do, anyway? I'm sure that's really interesting, the historical context and all. And I know some great shepherds, so no disrespect intended. But that's not really the point, is it? It's this: "my sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me" (John 10: 27).
We have a relationship with Jesus. We know Jesus, and we are known by the manner in which we follow. It's not about simply saying "we follow Jesus" as if we're wearing some big woolly bumper sticker that says "I'm one of Jesus' sheep." Nor does our knowing Jesus mean that we're part of an exclusive flock. To live as one who knows Jesus means constantly inviting and welcoming newcomers to the fold. To truly know Jesus means we live as Jesus taught.
But we know something else, as well. Just like our ovine friends - and Nikita, too - when we are hurt or afraid, we turn for comfort and security to the shepherd whose voice we know. Jesus knows that, too. "The Father and I are one," says Jesus (John 10:30) in this same shepherd discourse, calling to mind the words of the psalmist, "the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
Listen: the voice of Jesus speaks truth, and living true to Jesus' teaching is to follow that voice and to know it. That same voice speaks to us in green pastures and dark valleys, and promises comfort and peace.