Contributed by Jay McDivett, Waukesha, WI
How do you know who you should listen to in a world full of sounds and voices? What voices matter or mean more than others?
Which Voice Do You Listen To?
On Tuesday, April 29, Donald Sterling, the owner of the LA Clippers NBA team, was banned from the NBA for life, after the recording of a private conversation containing what virtually everyone considers racist comments became public. The firestorm over these comments led to a silent protest by his own players, calls to boycott his team, and then these proposed sanctions. The sanctions, which await only the rubber stamp of the rest of the owners, would likely force him out of the league. Most agree that the owners will move quickly to distance themselves from Sterling and his racist views. This is only the latest in a long line of racist comments and actions in Sterling’s life (all of which are part of the public record), but it is likely to have the longest lasting impact on him and the NBA.
Sterling now joins the growing ranks of folks who have probably always harbored racist views, but only get in trouble when their private thoughts become known by an ill-timed public rant or, in this case, a private conversation becoming public. In the wake of this most recent display of racism, it remains to be seen if this incident will provoke any lasting dialog regarding race and racism in the U.S.
History suggests that by the time this issue of Faith Lens is published, this incident and any fruitful conversation about race arising from it may well be ancient history—until someone else lets his or her racist self out of the closet and stirs up the news cycle for 24-48 hours again.
- How do you feel about the way the NBA and the media have handled the Sterling case? How could any of this be handled differently or better?
- How often do you or your friends/family/classmates/teachers talk about race or racism in the U.S.? How comfortable are you with having a conversation about it?
- Who do you have in your life who can help you have a meaningful conversation about racism and diversity?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May, 11, 2014 (Fourth Sunday of Easter)
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Today, Jesus offers a powerful “figure of speech” to describe his relationship to those who belong to him. They are like sheep who “know the voice” of the good shepherd. Sheep aren’t known for being brilliant, but they apparently are quite good at recognizing familiar voices and they are trained to follow the voice of the one whose job is to care for them. If they follow that familiar voice, they will live. If not, chances are they will die. It’s hard out there for a sheep.
This is meaningful for us, because we live in a world where we are constantly surrounded by voices and sounds. It’s a noisy world, and some would argue that we’ve lost the ability to determine which voices are worth listening to and which are not. Parents? Friends? Teachers? Pastors and youth leaders? Authors? Politicians? Celebrities? Books? Blogs? Cable news? Who do we believe? What do these voices tell us about who we are? Who our neighbors are? What is important?
Today, Jesus both challenges and encourages us. He challenges us to pay attention to whom we pay attention. Whose voices do we act on? All of the folks listed above, from parents to cable news, can disappoint us. Some try harder than others to be good and helpful and right, but all of us have forces inside us that come to the surface and twist our words and our world into something less than good or helpful or right. Like it or not, there’s a little bit of Donald Sterling in each of us – especially those of us who have gotten used to being in charge. And when the nasty stuff comes to the surface, it’s all too easy to wag the finger, make that guy out to be the bad guy and then move on, without taking seriously the fact that this whole system and culture and world in which we live is deeply troubled and plagued by sin and death.
But be not afraid: Jesus offers deep encouragement, too: If we can learn to listen for his voice, then his voice will lead us to life – abundant life. Listen and follow after Jesus, and you will know true life. Great news…and kind of hard to wrap our heads around.
So turn it around a little: If you want to know who and what to listen to, listen for what will lead to abundant life. Are your parents teaching you how to be safe and loving? Listen to them. Are your favorite celebrities teaching you to value the goodness inside of you and everyone you meet? Listen to them. Are you hearing good news from your pastor or youth leader about how God loves you – and everyone – without condition or restraint? Listen to them. Are your friends leading you to do and say the things that make for joy and life? Listen to them. And follow them. Work with them to make abundant life real and possible for all people.
And when (not if’) any of those folks slips up and tell you something that makes you or anyone else less alive, less worthy, less valued, less lovable, don’t listen to them. When people you thought you admired or trusted say something stupid, hurtful, or wrong about you or anyone else, love and forgive them. But don’t let them get away with it. You have a voice and a right to use it to help them and you become more fully alive – more loving, more encouraging, more hopeful. The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but we have a Savior who wants so much more for us and for this whole world: Real. Abundant. Life.
- What does the voice of Jesus sound like to you? How do you know you’re hearing Jesus’ voice?
- When have you been disappointed by someone you love and respect?
- When have you challenged someone, especially a friend or family member, when she or he has said or done something cruel or wrong?
- What would or could bring “abundant life” to the situation with the LA Clippers?
You need blindfolds (or, in a pinch, they can close their eyes really tightly and promise not to open them). One person will be a “sheep” – and gets a blindfold. One person will be the “shepherd.” You also need a Leader. The “shepherd” speaks first: “I am the shepherd. Follow me.” Ask the sheep if they heard the shepherd’s voice and can recognize it. If not, have the shepherd speak again: “I am the shepherd. Follow me.” Once the sheep knows the shepherd’s voice, spread out all over the room.
The sheep’s job is to find the shepherd. The shepherd finds one place to be and stays put. When the Leader raises her/his hand, the shepherd and all the other folks say: “I am the shepherd. Follow me” at the same time. The sheep then tries to walk towards the shepherd. All the other folks can move, but the shepherd stands still. The other folks should try and sound like the shepherd as much as possible. The Leader can turn the sheep around a few times, or help move the other folks in the way. Keep repeating the lines until the sheep finds the shepherd.
Good Shepherd Jesus, thank you for teaching us how to hear your voice and follow. help us to listen for you always. Lead us and your whole world into abundant life. Amen.