Text: John 10:11-18
A voice creates a relationship. When I think about my late grandparents, the first thing I remember after their faces is their voices. Except a few words I treasure most I don’t remember what they said to me, but I do remember the tones of their voices, and what their voices did to me: they made me feel loved, cared for, and important. Remembering their voices not only brings me back to the memories of my early childhood when I was growing up with my grandparents, but also reminds me the relationship I have with them even now as if they are still watching over me.
A voice creates intimacy. Before we were born, while we were in our mother’s womb, we knew her voice. The voice was the first sound we could recognize after we were born. Hearing is the last sense to go in the dying process. We are told to talk to the person as if they can hear us, even if they appear to be unconscious or restless. People who were born deaf and have been deaf their whole lives can have a voice in their heads – not sound-based but visual based.
All of us, no matter who we are, and what different ability we have, have our inner voice. You might call it the voice of conscience or the voice of the Holy Spirit. Mahatma Gandhi said, for him the Voice of God, or Conscience, of Truth or the Inner Voice or the still small Voice mean one and the same thing. Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiment with Truth shows how he followed that Voice throughout his life. Gandhi, just like anyone else, made mistakes, and faced many obstacles in his life. He was so open to telling stories that none of us would feel comfortable sharing – his experiences of shame and guilt, and his pain and inner struggles that came after those experiences. What made him great was his determination to follow the inner voice not just with words alone but with concrete actions.
We all can recognize the voice from within. We have heard the voice. In fact, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the voice. The voice comforts us, moves us, challenges and changes us.
Looking back, my spiritual journey began when I first recognized the voice. We can’t recognize things we haven’t experienced before. There was a time in my life when I didn’t have any purpose or meaning for living. I was at the bottom of a deep hole where the only option available for me was to go up without a ladder. At that time, I enrolled myself to a Discipleship training school for three months of intentional community living and another three months of missionary work. One day I found myself praying hard, skipping breakfast. It felt like I was wrestling with somebody like Jacob did in the Bible. I was determined to not to let it go unless I was given an answer. My soul cried out ‘Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.’ Filled with doubt and anger, I could not love myself, and I could not trust anybody. Even though I was praying for forgiveness for all the things I had done wrong, I didn’t want to forgive myself. I was dealing with fundamental questions: ‘Why am I here on earth?’ ‘Is my life worth living?’
I remember a voice speaking to my heart, ‘I love you.’ It was more than an inner voice, as it was also coming from outside of me – something familiar yet strange. It was so clear but I still couldn’t accept the words. So I had to ask ‘Do you really love me?’ The voice said, ‘Yes, I love you.’ I went further – anything important has to happen three times as in the Bible. I challenged the voice one more time, ‘What if I forget you, or refuse to listen to you?’ And the voice said, ‘Nevertheless, I love you.’ Finally I came to believe that. That conversation was short but powerful enough to change my life. How? It has led me to believe that everyone regardless who they are, where they come from or what they believe, can hear that voice.
Following the voice of God doesn’t make us hold onto what has been only familiar to us. Instead it makes us to be more open, broadening our circle of relationships, and expanding our horizons. The voice invites us to be aware of the others who listen to the same voice. Our spiritual journey begins with the recognition of the voice, but the journey can be deepened and evolved only if we recognize the same voice speaking through many voices – different culture, language, those who are different.
Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. My sheep follow me because they know my voice.” It is the voice of the good shepherd that creates intimate relationships with sheep. But their relationships are challenged because this good shepherd also says that “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
To follow the voice of the good shepherd is to celebrate other sheep. In other words, following Jesus means celebrating God in otherness. That is actually deeply embedded in our faith but we don’t always acknowledge it. We say with the New Creed that we believe in God who works in us and others by the Spirit. Without this recognition, even the radical statement of Jesus, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly” can serve only a select few, the privileged.
We all have heard the voice, the voice of the good shepherd. The voice comforts us, moves us, challenges and changes us. The voice surprises us with a message of acceptance and unconditional love. The voice is also calling us to look beyond our fences to celebrate God in every place, every person, every creature, and every plant because there is one flock and one shepherd, and we all can listen to the same voice.