Reading John 10:1-10
Preacher Revd Wilma Roest
Have you ever experienced this?
The phone rings, you pick up and say ‘hello’ and the person on the other end of the line immediately starts talking. You listen, but as you listen you think ‘who on earth is this? I don’t recognize the voice’. It has certainly happened to me a few times! Trying to work out who the person on the other end of the line is, can be quite a challenge!
Maybe you also recognize this scenario: the phone rings, you pick up, the person on the other end of the line says ‘hello Wilma’ and you know immediately that you are in touch with a dear friend or a member of your family. You recognize the voice and enter into a conversation.
You may remember the story of Mary Magdalene who meets a man whom she thinks is the gardener. She is distressed and asks where the body of Jesus has been laid. But the moment the man calls her name, she knows it is Jesus. She hears his voice and recognition happens.
Often when people ask me why I became a priest, I get the feeling they expect an answer that includes a voice from heaven. ‘When did you get called’ I am sometimes asked. Of course the truth is that many people in ministry have not had a voice calling them out of the blue, saying ‘I want you’ and that is how you know.
For many the calling to a particular kind of ministry has been a gradual process, a journey of discovery. In my case, the calling happened through the voices of members of the congregation of St Stephen’s Church in Thornton Heath, where I worshipped. ‘Have you thought about ….’ some people said, others added ‘I can see a priest in you….’ It was a gradual process, certainly not a phone call from heaven!
Yet, it was important to listen to these voices that were speaking, for they represented the voice of God. It took me a while before I recognised that.
Today’s Gospel reading is about sheep and shepherds and about voice recognition. As lovely as this reading is, there is the danger that it makes us very passive. It’s all about the shepherd, and I am only a sheep, with a small brain and a natural sense to follow.
But we miss two points if we hold that view. First of all, we belong to a flock. You are not just an individual sheep, but part of a group. St Mary Magdalene is a flock of sheep, as is St John the Divine, as is St Matthias, and we need to keep an eye out for each other. We need to respond to each other, support each other. That is what being church is all about. Not I, an individual, and God, but we, corporately, and God. We have a responsibility to each other.
Secondly we need to ensure that the voice of the shepherd can be heard. If we make a lot of noise, how will people outside ever hear the voice of the shepherd? If we are focussed only on ourselves, how will those who have never heard of God’s loving kindness ever get the message?
I wonder if those who offered themselves last week for various kinds of jobs, did so in response to a call. Maybe a very quiet one, maybe even an almost silent one, but a call nonetheless: to stand as churchwarden, as PCC member, Deanery Synod rep, Church Committee rep. We thank Jackie and Charles for answering the call to stand as our Churchwardens for this coming year and we promise to support them and pray for them. We thank David and Alice for being our representatives on PCC and promise to pray and support you. We thank Anna and Charles for serving on Deanery Synod on our behalf and we will pray for you as you take on this role.
And we thank the 10 people who will be on Church Committee to be the voice of all in church and to help build and strengthen this place.
Being church is at times far from easy. Sometimes we are asked to do things that be counter cultural, sometimes it may mean setting our individual opinions aside. Or to put it back in sheep language, sometimes the shepherd may take the sheep through tough terrain, where it may feel dangerous or lonely or just difficult. It is not that the shepherd does this to make the sheep suffer, but because the shepherd knows that beyond the difficulty lays a green pasture, a safe haven.
We are very blessed at St Mary Magdalene with many good things, but sometimes we will feel that it can be tough, being a church in the town centre where we are asked at times to deal with challenging things. You and I are asked to remember that we never face any of that on our own; it is not about one individual, but about all of us, working together, being together, growing together.
I hope and pray that this church will be a place where visitors can come and find a safe home, be that for a short time or for many years; where all of us may hear the voice of God, spoken in a multitude of ways; and where together we may be led to green pastures.