Sunday, May 7, 2017

Recognizing the Shepherd's Voice

Easter 4th Sunday - 2017 Yr A
Ss. Peter & Paul - Danville, KY

A few years ago I spent the summer working as a chaplain at St. Joseph hospital in Lexington.  I was often the only on-call chaplain for the whole system, which included the Women & Children’s Center at St. Joseph East out on Richmond Road.  Let me tell you:  Newborns are adorable, and new moms and dads are precious to behold.  It is difficult to be welcomed into the moment of new life without feeling uplifted.

I often watched in amazement at how these newborns recognized their fathers.  It was really no surprise to me that there was a natural attachment and response to the mother – after all, the infants had spent every moment since their conception with mom.  But I was amazed at their ability to recognize their fathers.  What was most interesting to me was what they most often seemed to recognize.  Dad’s touch was more scary than anything else – little baby David had never met dad’s touch before, it would take him time to learn that dad’s touch was safe, protective, tender, and warm.  But Dad’s voice was very often instantly recognized and tremendously calming.  Even from across the room.
  
I’ll never forget meeting a very grumpy little infant.  Newborns are able to produce a volume and pitch of sound completely disproportionate to their size.  This little guy could have provided the early warning system for all of Boyle County.  I’d been there for three or four minutes, listening to him scream and wail while the doctors were taking care of his momma, when the most amazing thing happened:  dad walked into the room and – from clear across the room – quietly said, ‘What’s the matter little guy?’  It was magic – it was amazing – the silence and calm that descended over the room was as comforting and peaceful as warm blankets on a cold night.  He hadn’t come within 15 feet of his little one – but the sound of his voice calmed and soothed him.  This newborn – just hours old – instantly recognized his dad’s voice – and it calmed him…made everything all right.

I marveled to these new parents about what had just taken place.  ‘Isn’t it amazing that your son recognized his father’s voice,’ I asked.  The new mother smiled with such love up to her husband as she gently took his hand and said, ‘Not really all that amazing, actually.  He’s been talking to him for months now – it just makes sense that he knows his voice.

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That’s the message of Easter – that’s what Jesus says in today’s Gospel.  Even before we were knit together in our mother’s womb, Jesus was talking to us, calling our name, reaching out to us.  And, though perhaps not at first – and certainly not every time and in every way – but eventually, we begin to recognize His voice.  Why?  Because He knows us.  Don’t you see – the message of Easter is that the One through whom all things were created, like a shepherd, continually calls to us.  Even when we run from Him, even when we stray from Him, He calls.  He calls us because He knows us – and eventually hearing His voice becomes recognizing His voice – and with time, and grace, and relationship and the sacraments, recognizing His voice becomes following His voice.

“…the sheep hear His voice, as the Shepherd calls His own sheep by name and leads them out…He walks ahead of them, and they follow Him, because they recognize His voice…”

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Brothers and sisters, we are an Easter people.  We are far from perfect – we are not always the best sheep – we don’t always follow, we aren’t always listening.  But our story is an Easter story; we have an Easter destiny.  Even when we are imperfect, frail, afraid, stubborn, or downright obstinate, the Good Shepherd calls our name, and we hear His voice.  He calls us today – calls us to gather at this altar – calls us to Himself.

Can you hear Him?  Do you recognize His voice? 

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