Hearing and moving.

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.”

Good morning, Church! I am so thankful you have chosen to worship with us this Sunday as we declare: Christ is risen! He is truly risen! Alleluia!

Today we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday as the fourth Sunday of Easter is always known. We encounter the shortest Gospel concerning the Good Shepherd, only four verses. In other years it is either eight or ten verses. Yet in these four verses we clearly see the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd – the Shepherd Who cares for and protects us, the Good Shepherd Who lives up to His promises and speaks to us.

Last week we heard about Jesus’ feeding of His Apostles by the seaside. He also spoke a command to them, and to us, that we are to feed and tend His flock.

Now, we should take a moment to check in. Did we hear what Jesus asked of us concerning tending and feeding? This is important.

Today’s gospel contains a great promise to all followers of the Christ. Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice!” He does not say we could hear his voice, or we should hear his voice, or we might hear his voice. Rather, Jesus is exceptionally clear that we do hear His voice.

As such, we should always be alert, awake, and ready to act on what God is speaking to us. It may sound strong… but if we are not hearing anything, if all we hear is silence, or if we ignore what we hear, then we are not walking in the Lord’s will. We have placed ourselves outside the sheepfold.

Think of it this way. When our moms called out to us, or call out to us, did or do we hear them? I can tell you from personal experience, when my mom wanted her will done, I could hear her, even down the block. Jimmy, Jimmy… I wanted to bury my head in the dirt, but the call and the request for a response were real. I responded.

That is what the Good Shepherd is saying. We cannot help but hear and if we are within the sheepfold we must then act.

We easily know God’s call to us because His voice is clear, right here in Holy Scripture, in Holy Tradition, in the Holy Spirit guided teaching of the Church. We indeed know God’s will and desire for us.

On top of that, we have the voice of the Holy Spirit we have each received. He leads us to the places He wishes and asks us to carry out the work He needs done: witnessing, serving, evangelizing, and more.

When the Good Shepherd’s voice is stirred in us His words are words of life. Jimmy must get up, get going and do. We all must so we may live in His sheepfold forever.

Working to change.

But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

Lent calls us to change, to reform. Lenten discipline presupposes that we need reform. We may need reform because we lack an understanding of God’s call, or our religious practice has become just habit, or we are just going through the motions without knowing why, or just maybe, we are comfortable and do not want to change or reform.

Throughout our shared Lenten journey, we are studying the means and methods by which we achieve conversion, change and reform. We study to help us reset our lives, right set our expectations, and get to the change and reform necessary to be ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

In the first week of Lent, we focused on fasting. We learned that as we fast from what pulls us away from the gospel, we feel Jesus filling the space we cleared with new longing to live the gospel.

Last week we studied giving. Giving or sacrifice is a call from God that awaits a response. If we respond without holding back and grumbling, God recognizes our devotion. He not only sees it, but also blesses us more than we could ever imagine.

In the coming weeks we will continue with the subjects of prayer and proclamation. Today we focus on study.

Study is a long-valued Lenten tradition. In these forty days we are called to increase our study of the bible, and beyond that to find worthy reading materials that help us to understand God better. That reading may be a work by a Church Father, a study on the life of a saint, strategies for growing the kingdom through evangelism (i.e., how to talk to others about Jesus), or perhaps a book on how a person overcame a struggle we may face to become a more faithful follower of Jesus.

God had commanded the Jewish people to keep His word ever in their thoughts and before them. That is why faithful Jewish people recite the Sh’ma Yisrael twice a day: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one” which references to the Ten Commandments we heard today. They place the Sh’ma on the doorpost of their homes fulfilling the command to, “write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house.” The Orthodox wear Tefillin on their heads and arms, containing verses from the Torah.

Faithfulness requires us to do more than recite words or place them in our homes. We are called to go deeper into God’s word, His direction for our lives, to cherish His word and to put it into action. Let us resolve to do so by our study this Lent, and by study know God’s nature even better.

Unless

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

…and we know the rest of the story. The lawyer quotes the Law of God correctly, love God and neighbor. Unfortunately, he could not connect that Law to his reality. As Jesus often does when people don’t get it, He attempts to teach the lawyer by illustration. He tells the story of a man in need of help. He increases the tension, the man is laying there in pain, unable to help himself, as a priest and Levite pass by ignoring him.  We can almost hear the man’s cries for help as he is ignored. Finally, someone comes along and stops to help.

The man who stopped to help fulfills the Law of God in the reality of his life. He doesn’t do it because he is an expert in the Law of God, he probably did not know any of its technicalities especially since he was not Jewish. He didn’t do it because it was convenient. It probably wasn’t, he was on his way to do business and this would kill his schedule. He did it because unless…

The one who stopped was answering God’s law written in his heart. As Jeremiah records: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts.

So the Law on his heart says to him: Unless I stop this man will suffer. Unless I stop this man may die. Unless I stop, I will add to the harm committed. Unless I stop, the world will be a worse place, for then no one will stop for me. Unless I stop, I will be less in my own conscience and eyes. Unless I stop, the Law written in my heart will convict me.

On this special Sunday, the Holy Church calls us to reflect upon our unless. We have all faced those moments, drive by, go on, or stop.  We have all faced our own consciences and any conviction due us when we fail to act in love.

The lawyer wanted a nice, neat, organized understanding of God’s Law and what he had to do. We like that too. No messes in his or our understanding, but then there’s this beaten man on the side of the road. The Law says to us, Unless. How do I act?

We must answer yes to love and love’s action when confronted with our unlesses. We cannot ignore the unless, nor minimize it, nor put what we want or need first. Our schedule or convenience really does not matter to God if it is put before love’s action.

St. John reminds us that anyone calling themselves Christian must respond to every unless with love.  If we do not, we will have no confidence for the day of judgment. Therefore, let us face every unless with love.

In
advance.

You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.

God is great at wake-up calls. As personally expert at the snooze button, thanks be that He is eternally diligent with those wake-up calls.

The first to hear the wake-up call were the prophets. Jesus told us that “many prophets and righteous people longed to see [his arrival].” The prophets hearing God’s call took action. The proclaimed what was to come. They set forth, as Isaiah does today, a message of hope, peace, and joy. They lived in urgent and active expectation of what was to come.

We often get impatient in expectation of great things and can, at the same time, snooze. Maybe we snooze as an excuse. If I close my eyes, time may pass more quickly. But that isn’t what God wants of us. It is why He issues constant wake-up calls. He wants us awake and active, living His way and truth.

The anticipation and longing of the prophets, who for thousands of years knew by the Spirit that the Messiah would come, teach us how to prepare our hearts in this season of Advent. 

The prophets kept reminding Israel of their call to prepare and to live faithfully in expectation of the Messiah. Unfortunately, they did not listen and kept falling back. That failure to heed did not play out well.

The experiences of the prophets, their active anticipation, reminds us that Advent can be a season of reflection and repentance as we remember why Jesus came to earth. They teach us to faithfully endure as we await Jesus’s Second Coming. As we wait, let’s remember our waiting is necessary preparation in becoming the people He is forming and transforming us to be – living members of the Kingdom. Use the time wisely.

Paul calls us to active living, realizing what has already happened and what is to come. He calls us to throw off all that holds us back, to be awake and ready.

God is diligent at wake-up calls. He gives us this opportunity of Advent in advance so that we may be prepared. He gave us the first coming of His Son which we will commemorate in a few short weeks, and through that moment He gives us His life and word as model so that awake and active we live as He did and expectant for His return.