The Father’s Voice

Some Jews began to complain about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that comes down from heaven.” They said, “This is Jesus. We know his father and mother. He is only Joseph’s son. How can he say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

But Jesus said, “Stop complaining to each other. The Father is the one who sent me, and he is the one who brings people to me. I will raise them up on the last day. Anyone the Father does not bring to me cannot come to me. It is written in the prophets: ‘God will teach them all.’ People listen to the Father and learn from him. They are the ones who come to me. I don’t mean that there is anyone who has seen the Father. The only one who has ever seen the Father is the one who came from God. He has seen the Father.

“I can assure you that anyone who believes has eternal life. I am the bread that gives life.”
John 6:41-48

I had a friend in grade school whose father would call him by whistle. The first whistle was my friends name: whenever he heard it, he would yell, “Sir?” The second whistle was either “Come home!” or “Just checking.” My friend knew his father’s whistle. Everybody in the neighborhood knew his father’s whistle.

That was back before cell phones and caller id. Today, we might know who’s calling by ringtone, or by caller ID. Back then, it was his father’s whistle. Sometimes people tried to trick my friend, but it never worked; he knew his father’s whistle.

They say that babies know their mother’s voices because they have heard them from inside the womb. My brother’s girlfriends used to think I was him when I answered the phone. That was a lot of fun. But his daughters never made the same mistake. They know their father’s voice.

In ancient Palestine, and even today in some places, shepherds take their sheep to public grazing lands. There might have been several shepherds and several flocks. But when it came time to take the sheep back to the sheepfold, the shepherd would call and they followed him. They knew his voice. Here’s what Jesus says at John 10:2-5:

“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

There were other ways to direct sheep. You could use sheep dogs. You could use several hired hands to surround the sheep and keep them together. But a committed shepherd, a good shepherd, spent time with the sheep. He or she learned their habits and they, in turn, learned to recognize the shepherd’s voice. They knew the shepherd’s voice meant food and safety, so they follow the shepherd’s voice.

We hear a lot about being called by God. We say that a preacher, minister or missionary is called by God. But I’m here to tell you that every one of you is called by God. God found a way to get you here; you heard the Father’s voice, and it drew you here. You might not know that’s why you are here, but it is. And now, when we consider the teachings and character of Jesus, you hear the Good Shepherd. So on one hand, you have a choice about whether you want to join the flock, go out on your own, or follow another shepherd.

You have a choice about whether to stay or go, to follow or not. But to me, that choice is about accepting a gift. God has specifically called you, by name, and God must have a purpose for that. You have a choice about whether to follow or not, but God has a choice about whom to draw near. God has chosen you.

The way I see it, God has called me, and God has placed me under the care of Jesus. I didn’t call myself, but God called me. It is not my business if someone says they don’t hear that voice or sense that call. I can’t know someone else’s heart. “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” Paul said in Romans 14:4. “To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

And, the way I see it, God has called everyone else here. I might wish God had called someone else, or more people. I might wonder why God called this person or that person. But we are following Jesus, and we were given to Jesus by God. We aren’t following each other.

When I’m in church, I look around and I’m in awe. I know that I am in the presence of people who have been chosen and called by God to be here. I also know that there are people who were called but stayed home, people who got distracted by something else. But whatever else I might think about the people around me, I have to remember that God is in charge, and God called them here. They were drawn by the Father’s voice. No one was forced to come to church; everyone comes because God has called them.

In today’s scripture, Jesus is in essence releasing those who don’t believe, and telling them to leave the followers alone. You don’t know me because you aren’t my sheep, he says. My sheep follow because they know me. The message is for those who want to hear it, and that’s why they follow.

Psalm 95 says that the LORD is our God, and we are the flock under his care. In the New Testament, Hebrews quotes that Psalm: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Hebrews says to encourage each other as long as there is a day called “Today.” We are encouraged to soften our hearts, to be willing to grow and change under Jesus – in other words, to follow him.

If you ask me, we’re the lucky ones. We hear his voice, and we’ve responded. Some people might not hear that voice, and others might harden their hearts and ignore it. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the end. As has just been said: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.’”

Here’s the takeaway; this is my point. I have awesome respect for God’s call, for God’s choices, and for God’s people. They are the people here. They are all the people here.

I grew up a rebel against the church in a very religious community. My high school classmates are shocked to hear that I’m in the ministry, because for so long I hardened my heart. Some of them wonder if I was really called, and others question the wisdom of God to call someone like me.

I don’t dare question the wisdom of God. If God calls someone like me, someone like you, someone like those other folks, into the church, then God must have a plan and a purpose. I know that God doesn’t want to change just one of us; God wants to change all of us. “Today, if you hear his voice…” Do you hear his voice? Has the Father called you?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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