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

Saturday, April 24, 2010

2010-04-25 John 10:22-29

2010-04-25 John 10:22-29

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

You and your loved one sit down in the restaurant for a quiet dinner, just the two of you. But then, you see “them” out the window, coming up the sidewalk. You know the restaurant gods loathe you, and have sent them to be seated at a table near you.

A young couple, with four outwardly lovely children. Oh, they look innocent enough, like Jon and Kate in the early seasons. The sensibly shoed mom holding a little boy's hand, his other hand swooping an X-wing fighter. The dad, pressed polo shirt, penny loafers, no socks, carrying the convertible, quick-release car seat, a Consumer Reports Best Buy, the handle festooned with clip-on twirly-squeaky baby toys, red & black, because experts say those are the first colors infants recognize. The other kids are circling, bumping, pushing each other. The perfect storm. And here they come. The universe is conspiring against you.

You know what's next. With a dining room of empty tables, they're seated at the one nearest you. It's predestined. The two circlers are fighting over crayons. A glass of water is knocked over. The baby screams. Waa! Big brother's banging his fighter plane on the table. Bang! Bang! Waa! Waa! Bang, bang. Waa. Bang, bang, waa. Bang, bang, waa. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad can't decide if they should get fajitas for two or their own southwestern salads. It's as if they're not even there.

We're so lucky. Our children never screamed or banged or disturbed a restaurant in any way. To the best of my memory, that's the truth. It's amazing how after you become parents, God gives you a mental mute button. In fact, it seems the rowdier your children are, the more gifted you become at tuning them out. As long as there's no blood, and sometimes even if there is, the parents never go above Terror Alert Yellow. I never understood this. And then we had kids. Selective hearing loss: It's a good thing.

Except when it's a bad thing. Like in today's scripture. The religious people have selective hearing loss when it comes to Jesus. And it messes up their dinner party.


“So... they said to him, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.' ...Jesus answered, 'I have told you, and you do not believe.' [Jesus said,] My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.'”

Here's a case where selective hearing loss is a bad thing. The people of religion see Jesus' lips moving, but hear nothing. Jesus is like Charlie Brown's teacher: “Wah, wah. Wah wah wah wah.” These men hear, but they don't hear. Which, some believe, proves they were married. They look, but they don't see; they hear, but they don't understand. (“Helloooo. Anybody home?”) They just don't get it. “Are you the Messiah? Tell us. How long are you going to keep us in suspense?” But in Jesus' mind, it's perfectly clear. In his mind, he has already told them. He has already shown them. In Jesus' mind, it's as simple as how sheep follow a shepherd. The shepherd whistles, the sheep follow, end of story.

Don't you wish faith were that easy? Maybe it is for you. If so, praise God. I think most of us, though, are somewhere between the religious hard-heads and the 100% obedient, trusting sheep. I'm guessing that in reality, Jesus's followers were kind of in the middle, too, trying to decide which voices to listen to, which explains a lot about how often they messed up. Even the disciples, especially the disciples, didn't get what Jesus was saying most of the time. The Bible says Jesus got frustrated with them a lot. Sometimes they thought they were owed the best seat in the house, away from all the obnoxious kids. And sometimes they were like obnoxious kids, messing up Jesus' dining experience. They weren't that different from us. Sometimes we get Jesus. Sometimes we're filled with the sound of his voice, a sublime, rapturous, praise the Lord I-get-it kind of feeling. And sometimes – maybe most of the time – we're struggling to make sense of it all. Like the religious men in the story, we want to ask, “Come on, Jesus. Tell us plainly what you want, where you are, what choice to make.” The difference, I think, between the people of religion who argued with Jesus, and the “sheep” who followed him came down to choice. Choice of which voices they were going to hear.

So, if the people of religion weren't able to hear Jesus, what did they hear? Selective hearing loss in one ear implies selective hearing gain in the other. It's a matter of selection. It's a matter of choice. You choose what you will hear. (And for those of us with physical hearing loss, know that I'm speaking metaphorically here. Some of us physically can't hear as well as we used to. Sometimes that's not such a bad thing. But that's a different sermon.) But for the most part, we choose what we hear. Parents don't hear screaming children because they've chosen to hear something else. You don't hear your beloved because you've chosen to hear the TV. You don't hear different opinions because you've chosen to hear your own. You can't choose not to hear one thing without choosing to hear another. Or, to say it the other way, you can't choose what you will hear without also choosing what you won't. I will hear my music in the car because I won't listen to Justin Bieber. There's a choice. Sometimes it's exclusive and often it's an expression of power. My car, my rules. So what do you think these men of religion chose to hear instead of Jesus? They were men of religion. They chose to hear their religion, of course. Their religion was louder than Jesus. It's really very common. Do you know people for whom religion is more important than faith? Do you know people for whom keeping their religion pure is more important than encountering the Living Lord? No? Let me invite you to a minister's luncheon someday. You'll find out why Jesus preferred sheep. When your religion is more important than other people, when your religion is maybe even more important than Jesus, then you have chosen to turn your religion into an idol. The religious people confronting Jesus were idol-worshipers. Even Christianity can be idolatrous.

Did you know you can make an idol of your religion? It's really very easy. You don't have to be a scribe or a pharisee to do it. Here's a quick test: Do you worry that someone's going to say something wrong about Jesus? Are you annoyed, or even angered, by people who believe differently about Jesus than you do? If so, you've turned Jesus into an idol. Or try this: Do you worry that you're going to say something wrong about Jesus? Do you worry that you're going to embarrass yourself by not knowing meaningless religious trivia? Such as, confusing the Red Sea with the Reed Sea, or mispronouncing Nebuchadnezzar? If so, you have chosen to fill your ears with fear. You have chosen to fill your ears with the fear of getting your religion wrong. Idols love fear. Idols feast on fear. Idols ruin your dining experience. Idols grow fat and leave you empty.

The men of religion said, “Tell us plainly.” Jesus said, “I already have.” He said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” It's not because they were chosen that they followed; it's that they chose to listen. This made them want to follow. The people who chose to hear Jesus chose not to hear the people of religion. This made the people of religion very angry. Angry religious people are dangerous. The people who heard Jesus chose to follow him, rather than idolize him. The people who heard Jesus heard him because they chose to hear him, chose to hear him over voices of culture, chose to hear him over voices of wealth, chose to hear him over voices of possessions, chose to hear him over voices of nations. They heard because they chose to listen to him, and not to listen elsewhere. Instead of a selective hearing loss, they had a selective hearing gain.


Meanwhile, back at the restaurant. A few more tables have been seated. The management has turned the music up a little louder, and the lights a little lower. The perfect storm family has settled down to an occasional rumble. Or maybe it's just that you've gotten into the rhythm of the chaos. The world doesn't revolve around you, after all. While this nugget doesn't make things any quieter, it does make the noise less noisy. You and your beloved raise a glass and toast, “To a peaceful evening. May we have one someday.” You choose to chill. Out of the corner of your eye, you notice the baby at the table next door is leaning forward in her carseat. She smiles at you. She reaches toward you with both arms. Kind of like a benediction. It's close enough.