[Readings: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30]
Grace, peace, and mercy to you from the Triune God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Recently, I got to hear a friend reminisce about her seminary days. It started with a conversation about U2– a love we share, although I don’t know whether I (or anyone) can claim to be as big of a fan as she is– and how she started listening to them in the 80s, while attending General Theological Seminary in New York City. Anyway, she ended up telling me about a very interesting elective course she was taking when the Joshua Tree album came out. The class was called “Vision and Audition in the Bible”, which explored the right-brained side of God’s self-revelation to humanity– like the visions of Amos and other prophets, various dreams, and so forth.
For her final grade in the class, she was required to create a right-brained sort of project, like dance, music, art, poetry, etc. Here’s how she described her project, which (of course) included a U2 song:
I made a video (using 1987 technology) of “With or Without You”, a day-in-the-life of New York City, that also expressed different ways “you give yourself away” – from the host at the communion rail and Jesus on the cross, to the prostitutes on Times Square. I worked on it obsessively and earned an A+!
As I was reading the texts for this week, I couldn’t help thinking about that class my friend took. It sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? I would love to have been a fly on the wall during that class– never mind the fact that I wasn’t born at the time.
I think a lot of us– myself included– often think of faith as an intellectual, left-brained exercise. And that’s not wrong. Reason is a part of faith. At baptism, we pray that God will grant the newly baptized “an inquiring and discerning heart.” We have been blessed with memory, reason, and intellect, and that’s part of how we experience God. Do you attend a Bible study? Have you read any good books about theology or religion lately? (I’m reading a great new book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.) Those are all good–and important– ways of encountering God.
But what about the more right-brained “vision and audition” piece of experiencing God’s presence?
For example, a common thread in today’s readings is the theme of voice and hearing.
In the passage we heard from St. John’s Gospel, Jesus is celebrating the Feast of Dedication. If you’re curious to learn more about the Feast of Dedication and its history, the story can be found in the books of First and Second Maccabees in the Old Testament. You probably know this Jewish holiday by another name: Hanukkah.
Jesus was walking around the temple, and he was accosted by a group of people. They wanted to know– in very plain terms– whether or not Jesus was the Messiah.
Instead, he spoke words of comfort. He talked about himself as the Good Shepherd, who loves and knows each of his sheep, and cares for them as a loving shepherd. This is definitely consistent with the way Jesus lived on earth. He was humble, like a shepherd. He lived among his people, and took care of those in need. He acted as a guide and a guardian, shielding them from harm and leading them on the right path. The shepherd knows his sheep, but as Jesus said, the sheep also know and listen to the voice of their shepherd. (I have a feeling that “my sheep know my voice” was meant as a dig at those who were demanding that Jesus make some dramatic statement about who he is.)
By calling himself a shepherd, he is evoking an image very familiar to those gathered around him: Psalm 23, the one we just read today. “The Lord is my shepherd,” the familiar Psalm begins. Jesus is identifying himself with the images of God as a shepherd that appear in this Psalm. I think that his listeners, all of whom were Jewish, would have immediately gotten the reference.
And then we have this story from the Acts of the Apostles, with St. Peter.
Do you remember last week’s story, where St. Peter showed up? Remember how Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love me?” When Peter said, “You know I love you,” what did Jesus say? How did he respond? “Tend my lambs,” he said. “Feed my sheep.”
This week, he appears in a story that involves a woman named Tabitha. I think it’s important to point out that Tabitha is identified as a disciple– the feminine form of the exact same Greek noun used to refer to the twelve disciples Jesus called. Anyway, Tabitha had become very ill and died. St. Peter gets called to the scene. He speaks, telling Tabitha to get up, and she does. With his voice, he is able to bring about the reality of resurrection.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He said that while he was still here among us, walking around on Earth, healing the sick, feeding people, caring for the oppressed, preaching justice, and raising the dead.
But eventually, he ascended into Heaven, right? And, in so doing, he left us– his followers– to do his work here on earth.
Like St. Peter, we are called to raise our voices and proclaim resurrection. We are called to tend God’s flock, caring for the marginalized and watching over the vulnerable.
We are called to be the voice of God in the lives of others. We are called to proclaim freedom to captives, healing to the sick, and hope to the hopeless. We are called to proclaim peace on earth.
The book of Revelation is a series of visions given to St. John the Divine. (Not to be confused with St. John the Beloved Apostle– some people try to argue that they’re the same person, but I find that very unlikely.) In the passage we read today, John hears the voices of the multitude– an enormous crowd gathered, representing many nations, languages, and people groups– crying out with one voice. There is power in our voices– especially when we raise them together, unified as the Body of Christ.
When, and how, are we called to be the voice that brings new life into the world? How are we called to convey the message of salvation– of healing and resurrection, of broken things restored and dead things brought back to life– to God’s people?
Our voices are a powerful gift. How are you called to use yours to help make the Kingdom of God a reality?
Or, if you like U2… How are you called to give yourself away?