Following the Herd, Following the Good Shepherd

Easter 4A’20

3 March 2020

Ps.23; John 10.1-10

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

(Facebook Live)

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone


O God, in your compassion you sent your Son into the world because we were wandering like sheep without a shepherd: Open the ears of our hearts, that we may hear, know, and follw the Good Shepherd wherever he leads. Amen.

 "The Voice” is my family's favorite TV show. Each week the voice coaches, Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, John Legend, and Blake Shelton, listen carefully to the voices of each singer as they audition and try to pick the most talented and then mentor them to win the competition. When they hear someone, they believe has ‘the magic’ they hit a button in front of their seats. The singer then has to carefully discern and choose who their mentor will be from among the coaches who hit their buzzers. 

The Latin root of the word “voice” is “voc” which means “to call.” Never before in history has there ever been so many voices that are calling to us 24/7/365. Thanks to technology we are communicating more than ever before, but in all the verbiage the truth can be hard to come by. With so many voices, our own inner voice, and the voice of God can be drowned out. Poet and Anglican, T.S. Eliot nailed this in his poem “Ash Wednesday”:

The right time and the right place are not here

No place of grace for those who avoid the face

No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise   

and deny the voice.

Without hearing “the Voice” that Eliot mentioned, we are sitting ducks for something social scientists cals as “the herd mentality.” Humans, like so many cattle or sheep all grouped together are easily swayed by whatever direction the herd is going. Like sheep, without a shepherd

An American Psychologist, Solomon Asch way back in 1951 conducted a series of experiments to demonstrate the power of “the herd.”

50 male students from Swarthmore College participated in a vision test with a line judgement task.

They were divided into groups each with one naive participant put into a room with seven actors who were in on the secret. The actors had agreed in advance to all give the same answer. The participant was not aware of this and was told that the actors were also like himself, naive participants. The actors purposefully gave the wrong answer on 12 trials. The naive participant usually went with the group and gave the wrong answer. Through 18 trials total, Asch found that one third (33%) of naive participants conformed with the clearly incorrect majority every time, with 75% of participants conforming to the majority at least once. Out of all the groups there was one group with no actors, only naïve participants. Less than 1% of those participants gave the wrong answer.

[1] The herd mentality really is a thing! The bigger the herd the easier it is to doubt ourselves and our opinions, and to become confused and are more easily manipulated.  As one old southern preacher noted, “when we are led by the herd we are “taken farther than we meant to go, where we stayed longer than we meant to stay, and it cost us more than we meant to pay!”

Jesus refers to the ‘other voices’ in today’s gospel: “Truly I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.” These strange voices of the herd try to draw us away from the sheepfold and the Shepherd, and to get us lost in a maze of voices. 

Priest and spiritual writer Henri Nouwen, stressed the importance of our listening to the right voice: “Without listening, we become “deaf” to the voice of Love.” He points out that “the Latin word for deaf is surdus. The Latin word for total deafness is absurdus, in English – absurd!”  When we fail to listen for God’s voice of love through prayer, our lives become absurd!  

What’s the antidote to our being manipulated by the voices of the herd and of or our own demons? The Voice of the Good Shepherd. The One Voice that will never fail us and that we must hear is the voice of the Good Shepherd. Is this a literal voice outside our bodies 99.9% of the time the answer would be “no.”  It’s my observation that the “Voice” of the Good Shepherd is tailored to the individual, in other words, God knows how to communicate uniquely with us. The Voice may come through our circumstances, our dreams in the night, synchronicities, a song on the radio, a license plate or billboard, through the mouths of strangers or preachers, and, if we become quiet and still enough, the soft and gentle voice: Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and they know me and follow me.”

Our task as followers of Christ is to train ourselves to listen for his voice, whichever voice we follow will make all the difference: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

The old testament writer was on to something when they wrote:

"The Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire [a]a still small voice.” I Kings 19.11-13 NKJV




[1] Asch Conformity Experiment"Simply Psychology. Retrieved 2019-02-04.

 

 

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