About Me

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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"It's Me"

John 10:22-30
“The Shepherd’s Voice”
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
May 3, 1998, April 13, 2008 v.2

There was an episode of “Seinfeld” where the entire show was built around people answering the phone and hearing, “It's me.”
Only “Seinfeld” could build an entire show around people answering the phone and hearing, “It's me.”
But it's actually a pretty significant thing.
You answer the phone and someone says, “It's me” -- the implication is that you'd BETTER know who “me” is.
On Seinfeld, where everyone was perpetually single, getting an “It’s me” was a sign of a serious relationship.
If someone you were dating called and gave you an “It’s me,” you’d better be ready for a commitment.

We all have people to whom we do the, “It’s me.” Or people who do it do us.
We might do it a little differently - “It’s me” may be a New York, Seinfeld thing.
In the South, it’s more like a, “Hey.” or “Hey there.” or, “Hey, Barn.” – and then launch into the conversation.
Some people know that with Caller ID, you already know who's calling so they don't even identify themselves.
“Hello,” is all the prodding they need to launch into five minutes of breathless exhale.
Which is fine, if you have Caller ID and if you check it before you pick up.
But if not, the pressure's really on.

What's worst is when you answer the phone and you get an “It's me,” or a “Hey,” and you have no idea who it is.
So you try to pretend.
“Heyyyyy. What's up... man?”
You troll for clues.
“What else is going on?”
“How's the family?”
“How did that thing turn out with all that stuff the other day?”
Three or four minutes in, you're still clueless.
Of course, by this point you're way to far along to just stop and confess,
“OK. I've spent the last five minutes pretending I know who you are, and I've got to come clean.... I'm pretty sure you're either my friend from Bridge Club, or my ex-husband, or... Angelina Jolie.”

The hymn we're going to sing in a minute goes, “Jesus calls us, o'er the tumult of life's wild, restless sea.”
In the Bible, Jesus himself says he'd call us with an, “It's me,” and we'd know his voice.
He said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
He also said, “[My sheep] will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
(Jesus apparently never got calls from telemarketers.)
“I know my sheep and my sheep know me,” he said.
So, if you were to answer a call – maybe a phone call, maybe a different kind of call – and if you heard the voice of Jesus saying, “It’s me,” -- would you recognize him?
Or would you be checking the Caller ID and trying to figure out what it meant by, “Waaay Out of Area.”

Assuming you didn't let Jesus go to voice mail... and assuming you did recognize his voice – if you make it that far, you would also know a couple of additional things.
First, you would get his, “It's me,” and you would know, as with the Seinfeld episode, he’s ready for a commitment.
He's assuming you're already in a committed relationship with him, because he doesn't say, “Hello. This is Jesus. Of Nazareth? King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Perhaps you've heard of me? Could I speak to the head of the household?”
No, he gives you the, “It's me.”
You might not want to admit it, but you know who it is.
You're convicted.
You know the voice, you know who “me” is, and “me” knows who “you” is, too.
He says, “It's me,” and you know he thinks he's in a commitment.

Second thing you'd know when you got the “It's me,” from Jesus -- you'd know he’s assuming a commitment back from you.
He knows you know the sound of his voice.
So now the situation's reversed; you get the, “It's me,” and you DO know who it is.
And your gut twists, “Ohmygosh. It's him. I am in SO much trouble.”
Do you pretend you DON'T know who it is?
You're the sheep.
You know the shepherd's voice.
Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?
What do you do?

These scriptures about farming really throw me.
Last time we had one about wheat and tares, all the people who grew up on farms shook my hand as they were going out the door and said, “You've never set foot on a farm, have you?”
Maybe once, but I stepped in something, and I left.
If Jesus had talked about the Internet instead of farming, you'd have such a better preacher.
Pretty much everything I know about sheep and shepherding comes from the movie, “Babe,” about the pig who herds sheep.
Two thumbs, way up. It's entertaining and educational.
If you've seen the movie, you know that sheep are not the smartest of God’s creatures.
(At least that’s what the sheep dogs thought.)
But the sheep surprised the dogs (and those of us watching the movie) by being surprisingly obedient when the right call came.
Babe, the pig who thought he was a sheep dog, knew the secret code of the herd, and when the sheep heard his voice, they responded in a miraculous way.
The relationship was sealed.

When I did my post-doctoral work in sheep-calling, I learned the shepherds of Jesus’ time did exactly the same thing as the dogs and pigs in “Babe.”
Back in Jesus’ time, shepherds would stand near the fence of a field full of different herds of sheep and with a unique mix of calls and whistles would signal to their herd alone that it was time to go.
The sheep knew their own shepherd’s call and would ignore the calls of others.
The sheep weren't real smart, but they had been trained.
They were used to hearing their shepherd’s call and (although sheep are not the smartest of God’s creatures) they knew enough to follow their shepherd and their shepherd alone.
In other words, the shepherd called the sheep and said, “It’s me,” and they knew.

Jesus isn’t a sheep-shepherd; Jesus is a people shepherd.
But he does the same thing.
In the scripture lesson today, Jesus tries to talk to a group of people (a group of good, religious people) and tell them who he is.
It’s not that they aren’t listening.
They just don’t recognize the voice.
And so they aren’t sure what to do.
Jesus is talking to the Pharisees in this passage, not his disciples, but the Pharisees - people who don't know him, at least not in an, “It's me,” kind of way.
They think, “Should we pretend to know who he is? Or should we stop him and say, 'OK., we've been faking it. Who are you really?'”
The confused Pharisees scratch their heads and wonder, “Well the voice SOUNDS familiar, but could you give us a few more clues?”
“How long will you keep us in suspense?” they ask him in verse 24.
“If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
The Pharisees were good, religious people who were just so hung up on getting their doctrine right, they forgot that faith isn't about right doctrine, it's about having a right relationship with Jesus.
Sounds a lot like most Mainline Protestant churches in America in 2008.
We spend so much time arguing over who's doing things the right way – do we dunk the them, or sprinkle them, or spray them with a hose? -
Can they be gay or straight or single or married or played on a pipe organ or projected on a screen --
we spend so much time arguing over who's doing things the right way that we have to let the let the calls from Jesus go to voice mail.
So we can deal with Jesus when we have some free time.
I have a lot of sympathy for the Pharisees, and Jesus did, too; because he spent so much time talking to them, or trying to talk with them.
“Can you hear me now?” “Can you hear me now?” “OK, how about now?”
We’re good, religious people, too.
We go to church, we pay our pledge, we don't murder, we don't steal (unless it's downloading music – and that's just the college students).
But when it comes to knowing the sound of Christ’s voice, sometimes – sometimes - we act as though we are NOT the smartest of God’s creatures.
Lord help us, we're not the disciples in the stories; sometimes we're the Pharisees.
And it's not a sophisticated lesson.
John actually seems to apologize in verse 6 for all the sheep and shepherds talk, “He used this figure of speech with them.”
Jesus isn't preaching a grown-up sermon; he's giving the Pharisees the Children's Sermon.
Which is probably good, because that's the one everybody remembers, anyway.
In 2008, we read this scripture and we think, “Thank goodness he's putting in simple terms, so maybe our kids will get it, even if we don't.”
But no, the Pharisees' lesson is OUR lesson, and the resurrected Christ wants us – in 2008 - to hear the lesson just as much as he wanted the religious people of Jerusalem to hear.

“I am the good shepherd,” said Jesus.
“I lay down my life for the sheep.”
“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”
It's not that complicated.
Christ’s message is just as clear as it was when he walked the earth.
Which is good, on one hand – because it means the message hasn’t changed.
On the other hand, it’s hard, because Christ’s message is just as clear to us as it was to the people in the Bible.
You would think that after 2000 years we would have solved this hearing problem.
But we haven't.
He still says, “It's me,” and we still say, “Who's that?”

How many voices do you hear in a day?
You hear the voice of the disk jockey when the radio-alarm clock goes off.
You hear the voice of morning TV-people as you get ready for the day’s events.
You hear the voices of reporters telling you what’s important.
You hear the voices of your family.
You hear the dog saying, “Sausages. Sausages. Sausages.”
You hear the voices of people at work or at school or at the store.

We hear colleagues.
We hear competitors.
We hear friends.
We hear enemies.
We hear strangers.
We hear people we’ve known all our lives.
We hear voices from all over, from Knoxville and beyond.
We can hear voices from all over the world.

But can we hear Jesus saying, “It’s me?”

Last Sunday, I asked you to do an experiment.
I asked you to dedicate one day, one day, when you would imagine that everyone you met was Jesus in disguise.
I'd love to know how that worked for you.
If we take Jesus at his word, that whenever we do something for the “least of these,” whenever we care for and listen to people, and treat them as though they were Jesus himself...
If we take Jesus at his word, how many, “It's me's” do we get in the course of a single day?
How many “It’s me’s” do we get – in times of trouble?
How many “It's me's” do we get – when life is great?
How many “It’s me’s” do we let go to spiritual voice mail because we’re too busy listening for another voice?
Or too busy listening to other voices?
The shepherd calls and we say, “Oh, just leave a message, we’ll get back to you.”
Jesus said to the Pharisees, said to the good, religious people, “I have told you... and you do not believe.”
Who’s to say Jesus isn’t saying exactly the same thing to us?

The “sheep” – the followers who heard Jesus’ voice, the people who actually listened and became his disciples – nine times out of ten were not sophisticated.
They weren’t educated.
They didn’t know a lot of big theological words, but they knew their master's voice.
They knew their master's voice and they answered when he called.
They may not have been smart, but they were trainable.
Like good sheep, they had let themselves be trained to hear THROUGH all the competing, confusing voices.
They had trained themselves to listen.
God’s call comes to people who have trained themselves to hear it.
God’s call comes to people who want to hear it, and who take a chance when the “it’s me” hits them.
It could come from a guy in a boat – it did at least a couple of times in Gallilee.
It could come from someone you hardly even know, but who brings rescue, relief – the kind of salvation you need on any given day.
We good, religious people often work harder at being smarter, when we ought to work harder at being trainable.

The answer of Jesus, the resurrected Lord, is that God still says, “It’s me,” to each of us, personally.
You're going to hear it, very soon, maybe even right now.
Jesus gives us the answer before the call.
So, when Jesus calls you “o'er the tumult of life's wild, restless sea,” how are you going to answer back?
Will you pretend not to know who it is?
Will you fake your way through?
Or will you say, “OK. It's me, too”?