Evensong: Who's on Your Playlist? The Wolf, the Hired Hand, and the Good Shepherd

A Meditation for Choral Evensong
John 10: 11-18
The Reverend Tyler B. Doherty, Priest-in-Charge
Since we are gathered together in worship this evening and listening to so many beautiful voices singing the likes of Tallis, Rutter, and Bach, I wanted to think with you about the role slightly different voices play in our lives. In our Gospel for this evening, we hear that there are those who “know that they are known” and listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, and those whose are lead astray, duped, tricked by the voices of the hired hand and the snarl of the wolf.
We could think of the voice of the wolf as the voice of division, the voice that scatters, isolates, and keeps us trapped in the feedback loop of fear. It’s the voice that frightens children at night when they read the story of the Three Little Pigs—“I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow the house down!” Our lives are dominated by the voices of fear and division—cable news, social media, a political system that has forgotten civility and the shared pursuit of common ground in dialogue and co-operation with each other—all of these contribute to, and are symptoms of, listening to the voice of wolf. It’s the voice that seeks out easy victims to blame our problems on. It’s the voice of simmering resentment. It’s the voice of gossip that sows seeds of dissension and creates divisions between different groups. It’s the voice of hyperbole and caricature that loses sight of the humanity of the person or group of people we are talking about and turns them into a projection of our own fear-driven minds.
            There’s also the voice of the hired hand. That’s the voice I like to think of as the voice that will say just about anything to anyone in order to preserve its own skin. The voice of the hired hand is all about security and comfort. Maintaining the status quo, with an eye toward getting whatever is best for the hired hand. “Looking out for number one,” we call it. Notice that the hired hand runs away when the going gets rough. Self-preservation is paramount. The hired hand cares only about him or herself. Like the voice of the wolf, the voice of the hired hand scatters as well. It’s a voice that tells us that we are the only thing that matters—our interests, our bank account, our safety and security, our reputation. Listening to the voice of the hired hand leaves us fearful and anxious—constantly fretting that our carefully maintained and manicured image might be revealed for the sham it really is.
But there is another voice, a different voice that doesn’t set one group against another, infect others with our own hostility, and lead us to pursue lives as if what I needed was the most important thing of all. It’s the voice of the Good Shepherd. It’s the voice of God incarnate in the person of Jesus—the perfect embodiment of radical hospitality and indiscriminate welcome. It’s the voice that opens our eyes to those rendered invisible by a predatory system of maintaining wealth, power, and privilege at the expense of the least of these. It’s the voice that tells us that seeking safety, security, power, control, affection and esteem as the way to ultimate and lasting happiness is deluded and ends in hell in of our own making. The voice of the Good Shepherd tells us that it is in opening ourselves, giving ourselves away, living for others, laying down our life for them—that we discover true purpose, meaning, and happiness. Will it be the kind of happiness we get from a flash sale at Target? No. Will it be the kind of happiness that will carry us through loss, illness, conflict, and help us face our own eventual death? You bet your life.
So what can we do to listen to the for the voice of the Good Shepherd, especially since silence is God’s first language and everything else is a poor translation? Well the first thing is to name and recognize those other voices that also bang around in our heads—that cocktail party of the mind that we so often mistake for the reality of who we are. We begin by noticing what captures our attention. Where do we abide? What stories and voices occupy us on a regular basis. We can do this at the end of day in a quiet moment—just review the kinds of things we told ourselves about ourselves, about other people, about the world, and about God. Where were we living? What was the effect of living there and of listening to those voices? It’s best to do this with a sense of humor, and light touch. Just try to gently and dispassionately as possible recognize and name the main characters in the drama of our minds.
Once you’ve named the main characters—again I suggest a little humor here—we start to develop a basic understanding of the voices in our heads, the songs on our top ten hit parade that shape us and our relationships with others, and with God. In the naming, we have already earned a measure of freedom. We realize first of all that we spend most of our time listening to really bad pop music, and filling our minds and hearts with voices that are toxic. But we also realize that we actually have a choice as to whether we believe those stories and listen to those voices. We can listen, instead, to the voice of the Good Shepherd, the voice of the Beloved. We learn that we don’t have to be held captive by the cocktail party in our minds inherited from teachers, parents, and nation. We can listen instead to that still, small voice, the voice that spoke to Elijah in the “sheer silence” of Mount Horeb. We can practice gently laying aside those other voices and turning instead to be present to the presence of the love of the Good Shepherd that dwells in our hearts, that speaks our precious name out of the stillness and openness when those other voices are seen through. We slowly enter into the depths of who we really are—a beloved child of God whose deepest desire is to unite us with Himself—and learn to abide there, to dwell there, in the unconditional love of God in Christ that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. “This is my Son, the beloved in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” In that voice is abundance and happiness. In that voice is a clear-sighted recognition of how we waste our time on what doesn’t really matter. In that voice is a peace that passes understanding, which no snarling wolf or hucksterish hired hand can take away. Let’s listen.


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