Scripture: John 10:22-30
Often when I get home from work, Kristy is watching a show that I never thought I would ever like, the Dog whisperer. This show, as many of you know, is filled with the craziest dogs. I love dogs but some of these dogs are so crazy that I can hardly imagine their owners held onto them. Then this one guy comes in and in the matter of moments he has them behaving like a dream pet.
I mention this because I enjoy dogs. I enjoy watching the cunning boarder collie as it maneuvers a flock of sheep or a herd of cattle. I enjoy the crazy, nearly unimaginable tricks that can be pulled off by a Jack Russell Terrier. Some of the most amazing things are to see a service dog at work. Many of us know one of these dogs, Howe, and Howe is trained to help a sight impaired person get around and stay safe in a busy city. Service animals can be trained to warn a person of seizures, dangerous blood sugar levels, and to perform tricks to assist the hearing impaired and elderly that someone is at the door. These working dogs can assist military and law enforcement agencies to smell out explosives or controlled substances. The trained and disciplined dog is an amazing animal that not only serves a purpose but can also provides a great companion. The untrained dog is one that leaves much to be desired.
This is why the dog whisperer is so amazing. This guy actually understands the way dogs think and through his encouragement he can prompt the dog to adapt into something different without altering the personality of the dog. Cesar does this by entering into the world of the dog, the pack. In many cases he can provide the adaptation on site, or in others he brings other dogs in to assist. In extreme cases he takes the dog out of the environment and introduces them to a different pack and as they adjust he then brings them back into the pack of the family. He has rehabilitated dogs that were literally walking the green mile, and has saved their lives. This pack therapy that Cesar does with the dogs is a contemporary parable of the gospel, which speaks through this passage of scripture.
The religious leaders demand answers, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Tell us plainly. Have we ever been like this? We do not like to have the run around, we have an idea of how or what things should be and if something does not seem to fit in our preconceived ideals we want an explanation. I might be hitting a bit to close to home, and I do this because guess what I’m there too. It is part of our human condition. Tell us plainly. They had listened and watched Jesus and they notice that there is something going on. They are intrigued but there is just something about him that is not quite fitting, they are in suspense. They thought that they knew everything about the messiah and God, but if Jesus were the messiah then they would have to rewrite and think everything they thought they knew. This presents a very interesting problem can we know God completely?
Going back to the dog whisperer. Most of us think we know how to handle a k-9 fairly well. We yell, swat, and command. For the most part the animals seem to react well, and then there are times where instead of being the beast masters, the dog controls us. Cesar steps in and shows us that we cannot force the dog to change, but we must facilitate an adaptation. We as humans must in some way mimic the natural instincts of a dog. The domesticated dog has a linage to the wild packs of the coyote or wolf. In these packs there is a hierarchy among the members, and which ever is dominant leads the pack. Cesar is known as a dog whisperer but what he really does is trains people to exert the leadership characteristics of the dog packs. When the humans are able to do this then the dog will respond accordingly and enter into a calm submissive state. The dog and the family become the pack they were meant to be.
Jesus responds to the religious leaders in a similar way. “I have told you, but you do not believe. The works that I do in my Fathers name testify…” He says. Jesus like Cesar has entered into a world unlike their own. Cesar enters into the world of a K-9 while Jesus enters the world of mankind. Cesar brings dog and man together to create a harmonious pack out of something unnatural. Of course humanity has been doing this for centuries but not quite as well as Cesar. The religious leaders were attempting to do the same thing. The realms of humanity and the divine are separate as well, but if scripture is accurate, which I believe it is, they were created to have some sort of relationship. In the earliest stories God walked with man in the beautiful harmonious garden but then mankind rebelled forcing them into a chaotic realm. From that moment on God, like the domesticators of the dogs, has been restoring order. Out of this religion develops. The problem with religion is we tend to think that we are controlling God instead of letting God lead us. Just as the rebellious dog tries to control the family with its behavior, we as humans try to take control of the world through our. Religion at its best is like a great dog show, we have various breeds running through hoops, weaving through stakes, going up and down ramps, sitting and staying, speaking on cue all for treats. We gain pleasure from the show, but the show is not the whole story. The dog show is not only a competition between the animals, but it is also a display between the animal and the trainer. If a dog fails to listen there are penalties.
Religious leaders gain status among the populous, they become more dominant in the culture and as they gain dominance over the others. They begin to study the techniques God had used and try to mimic them as they lead others. Suddenly these dominant leaders begin to construct images of God based on their understandings and those that question those understandings are driven out of the pack and disqualified from the show. It is a story that has been told throughout history. One that God had to get control of, people were being marginalized and personalities were being silenced. They fail to listen to the trainer and they begin to lose. They begin to lose their true identity as companions of God. At that moment the soul whisperer enters the realm.
Jesus comes to show us how to truly be human and how to relate to God as a human. He did this through his cycles of worship, prayer, and service. This scripture begins in worship because these religious leaders find Jesus at the temple, during the Feast of Dedication. He says that the works testify to his status, not his words. This baffles a culture built on words, law, and religion. Works or actions speak louder than any words that we may say. When we are raising children it is ridiculous for us to tell our children to abstain from things while they observe us participating in those very actions. Our words and our works do not always match.
The religious leaders had developed a system of words to justify their lifestyles, but their actions did not always seem to reflect what they said. This prompted criticism from Jesus, he began to teach his disciple a different way. This is seen in the very calling of the disciples, Jesus called them to come and see, to follow him. He did not demand obedience but calls people to observe. And in this observation of actions the disciples begin to hear the very voice of God. Jesus shows them the relational rhythm of a life with God, a rhythm of prayer, worship, and service to others. They followed Jesus into the isolated areas where he prayed. They were lead into the synagogues to worship with their teacher. They also were directed to follow as Jesus interacted with the people where Jesus would heal, feed, and teach.
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” This is not the words of religion, but the words of relationship and companionship. Those that follow Jesus hear his voice. They hear. How often do we hear his voice?
The Religious Society of Friends has developed a worship tradition around the listening to the voice of God. But the holy silence of our worship is pointless if we are not listening to the whispers of God. The time of holy expectancy is nothing but a void if we do not only expect to hear but to put into action what we hear. That is the beauty of the earliest Friends. They would listen and follow. They followed even if they did not know what the outcome would be. They would follow even if they knew the outcome would be harmful to them personally. They would follow even if they knew the world around them would reject their ideas. But they would listen to the voice of God; they would rest on the assurance that what the Father had given Jesus was greater than all else. They would receive a vision of what could be and they would work to make it happen.
Our world is a chaotic place, but it has been chaotic for as long as humans have been able to express themselves. Yet even in this world God is building something amazing. God is working today as much as He did back in the dawning of the Friends, just as much as he did in the dawning of the protestant reformation, and the apostolic age. To be a part of the amazing work God is doing is to listen for His voice, and to follow His leading.
As we enter into this time of Holy Expectancy, this time of open worship and communion with God. Let us center down, quiet the chaos around us and just listen to the voice of God. As we sit are we like the religious leaders demanding for an answer as we wait in suspense or do we sit in companionship like a sheep lounging by the shepherd? Are we willing to let go of images of God that we have created, continue to perform and put on a display of talent, like a bunch of show dogs? Or will we embrace an image that He is revealing to us as we join into a relationship with the soul whisperer?