A Bunch of Confused Animals
REV. JENNIFER ADAMS – May 15, 2011 – Easter 4, Year A: John 10:1-10
“The sheep follow me because they know my voice,” Jesus said in the gospel passage we just heard. The sheep hear the Good Shepherd form the moment he opens the gate and they follow. And that’s just how it goes. Which all sounds kind of simple really and somewhat comforting and attractive. Later on in this Chapter Ten of John’s gospel, Jesus goes further. Apparently sheep from other folds will follow too because they also will recognize his voice and listen to what he says. And the result of all of this listening and following is that “there will be one flock, one Shepherd.” Which is a beautiful and hopeful image to hold onto and there are days when I long for an experience of that peaceful and unified life in the pasture.
But it also makes me want to know why … if this is true that all we need to do is simply listen to the voice, then why is it that “followers of Christ” seem to be moving in so many different directions all the time? Denominations are all over the map on just about everything and if there is one voice to listen to, then why aren’t we all just following all together now? Are some of us listening and some of us not? Are some of us very bad listeners?
Are we fooling ourselves a lot of the time or are THOSE SHEEP fooling THEMSELVES just about all of the time and one of and one of us is NOT following the voice? Should we even take any steps at all down the road of asking who are the good at listening sheep and who are the bad at listening sheep, because if we do, we also have to decide on who gets to decide and then it could get ugly fast. Since I’m a firm believer in avoiding the ugly sermon whenever possible, I’m going to shift gears and try another approach. Instead of pursuing this line of thinking any further, I’m going to tell you a story.
When I was on vacation one year with family, we had a somewhat large and unfortunately public meltdown. There were eight of us and we’d arrived at the beach mid-morning. We had managed to get out the door of where we were staying, drive to our destination, park two cars and find each other again (all of which were small miracles in themselves), and before we knew it (or were totally prepared for it) we were unpacked from the cars and straggling down the beach. And whoa, were we a sight. We were arguing about where we should plant ourselves – all talking at the same time. We had coolers over our shoulders, varieties of floaty things draped around our necks or dragging behind us. There were towels strewn on the path that we had made in the sand, sunglasses slipping down our faces or balanced on a finger or two, and one child already sitting cross legged, head in his hands, frustrated and now refusing to move about twenty yards behind the rest of us. Get the picture?
We were completely unable to agree on just about anything but then smack in the middle of this family disaster a nephew (who was about seven at the time) stopped us all, raised his hands up in the air, shook his head and shouted, “We look like a bunch of confused animals!”
And he was right. And we laughed at ourselves and we settled down and then suddenly as if a curtain had been raised, we noticed that there was a beautiful ocean in front of us and endless grains of sand under our feet and a sunshine so amazing that we were warmed to our core. And as we settled in, we listened to the sound of the waves and we remembered that that was why we were there. And for a few minutes anyway, (until family meltdown number three hundred eighty seven came around,) we were one. And there was a sweet and genuine holiness to it all.
And so I think about that story when I think about the many, many of us sheep out there who struggle to be one, who can’t seem to manage to get anywhere all together, who are walking our faith journeys with varieties of floaty devices hanging around our necks, coolers full of feasts strung over our arms and the occasional child (of any age) sitting twenty yards back legs crossed, frustrated and refusing to move forward. I think about us, the many, many sheep who can’t even agree on where to plant ourselves and who can get so focused on our disagreement that we miss the beauty of Creation (among other things) – and I wonder like that day on the beach – are we just a bunch of confused animals?
And I think that yes, we probably are. And I don’t only mean that the “Them” who follow The Voice a little differently than I do are confused – – the “Usses” I’m a part of are confused too. Because it’s so easy for any of us sheep to lose sight of the ocean. It’s so easy to forget the warmth of the sun. It’s so easy to forget that there are grains of sand too numerous for us to count under our feet all the time, and the Creator has made each and every one of them. And we get so stuck arguing about who is planted where on the beach that we lose sight of the fact that it doesn’t really matter that much – it doesn’t matter because the ocean touches it all.
And so then I wonder if the voice we are trying to listen to this morning is more like the voice of the ocean than it is like the voice of one single human being. Because I bet that God could pull that off – coming to us in Christ, yet speaking to us with the voice of an ocean – vast and wide and steady and deep touching beaches all the way up and down a very, very long and varied coast.
I even bet that every family of God goes through what my family did that day and maybe on a very, very large scale that’s what the human family experiences just about all the time. We look like a bunch of confused animals, trying to find our way on the beach. But even in our confusion there is a togetherness of sorts, a figuring it out of sorts; even in our confusion there is (if there is nothing else) a desire for more good sun, more experiences of the water, more peace on the beach.
So maybe if we allow ourselves to listen out of that place of desire we’ll know that the voice is there and it’s always there, and it’s there for all people. The voice is calling so many names all at one time, like waves. Like waves, the voice is there — calling us to peace, calling us to love, calling us into God.