“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me”
I want to begin this week by saying a bit about the human voice. It’s something hugely significant in scripture – God speaks the world into being, God dictates the ten commandments to Moses, God’s voice splits cedar trees and triggers lightning in the psalms, the Spirit of God speaks through the prophets as we hear in the Creed, and Jesus the Word of God comes to verbalise the announcement of the kingdom of God and eternal life for all who follow him.
We don’t know much about the origins of language itself, but spoken languages with structure and intent do seem to be unique to humans. Most of us use our voices to communicate, and those to whom we speak are equipped with ears and all the right decoding apparatus to hear and understand what we say – at least when we share the same language. And of course, for some that means using a sign language to do the speaking and the ‘hearing’ too.
The other thing I find fascinating about voices is how unique they are – we each have our own voice which grows and develops as we get older. But voices are recognisable throughout our lives. I have a recording of me chatting to my grand-parents when I was aged 14, and I think if I played it (which I’m not going to) you’d find it instantly recognisable as me.
We remember peoples’ voices very clearly. I wonder – can you recall or imagine the voices of a few well-known people? Margaret Thatcher? Nelson Mandela? Judy Dench? Danny Dyer? Brian Blessed? Claudia Winkleman? Ian Hislop?
If you know them at all you’ll recall how their voices sound. We can remember voices we haven’t heard in years – I certainly remember the voices of my parents and grand-parents and many more.
And if we add singing to spoken voices we find we can recall words much more easily – I’m sure we all have our store of song lyrics we can sing along to. It’s much easier to remember words if you sing them – that’s one of the reasons we like to sing together in church, and why it’s important to join in even if you don’t feel you have much of a singing voice. Personally, I often feel a strong sense of the presence of God as I sing – whether that’s plainchant or a choral anthem or a contemporary worship song.
But Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me”
So how do we hear the voice of Jesus? How do we learn it so it is recognisable?
I think perhaps this is one of the things people worry about most as they begin to be part of a church community. How is my prayer answered? What sort of superpower have these Christians got who can hear Jesus speaking to them?
Well, perhaps some people do literally hear the voice of Jesus, but I don’t think that’s usually what we mean when we say we hear Jesus’ voice – mostly we mean developing our relationship with Jesus. So here are a few ways we do get more familiar with that voice, and with a sense of being close to Jesus and recognising him as friend:
First, the tradition of the church is that we can find God in silence. We are bidden to be still, to listen. Having time in our day to put aside the noise and bustle of daily life and simply be with Jesus in prayer is pretty important.
That’s why it’s so good that Mollie is starting up the new contemplative prayer sessions a couple of times a month. I’m sure that will be a really helpful way in to that stillness if you can make it. Quiet Days and Retreats can also be great for giving yourself this space.
Then second, of course there is the bible itself. As we explore the written word so we come to know the living Word of God – Jesus. You might do this in daily reading, and there are plenty of apps or printed notes that can help with that, or you might take a gospel and read it through in the course of a month.
Or, of course, you’d be welcome to join our All Saints Plus zoom group on Tuesday evenings when we explore the gospel passage for the following Sunday. That’s an informal way in – no experience is necessary, and you’ll find a warm welcome as we simply chat through what might be important about the passage, and what that prompts in us.
Or thirdly, you might combine some of that and spend time praying before the Blessed Sacrament kept in our Lady Chapel for that purpose – praying in a space where Jesus is close really helps us focus.
As we do those things, we start to know Jesus better and better, and so we begin to be able to realise in what ways he is calling us to follow him. So whilst we may not directly hear his voice, little by little on our journey as disciples (followers) we have a closer relationship with Jesus. Hopefully, we are able to share our joys and sorrows more easily, and we are more able to feel, to know in our hearts, his loving assurance in response.
Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me”
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I confess I don’t find the whole sheep/shepherd image all that helpful – I think all those pictures of white Jesus holding a cuddly lamb rather put me off it in my youth and the reality of middle eastern shepherding is rather different.
But this Sunday is a reminder that we are supposed to be listening out for the voice of Jesus, and then to follow his call.
So to end with, as we pray for a closer relationship with our Saviour, I want to use a well-known traditional hymn lyric as we invite Jesus to be heard in our lives more clearly…
O let me hear thee speaking in accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will;
O speak to reassure me, to hasten, or control;
O speak, and make me listen, thou Guardian of my soul.
Derek Lancaster, LLM