Our world is full of noises clamoring for our attention, demanding an immediate response. Our attempts to balance it all leaves us exhausted and overwhelmed. We even use noise cancelling headphones to silence the ambient sounds. It is estimated that we hear around 30,000 words and see 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements each day. These voices affect the decisions we make and the actions we take. With such a multitude and complexity of voices entering our minds each day, how do we determine which ones to believe, trust and follow, and which ones to disregard? Discernment becomes a vital skill in the decision-making process. The bottom line is that the voices we listen to form and shape our lives. The voices we allow into our hearts become a personal decision left to us, a decision of utmost importance. This weekend, the gospel of John expands on the theme of discerning the voice that speaks wisdom, life, love, compassion, beauty, generosity, hope and joy into our hearts. It is the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Jesus knows his sheep by name, leads, goes ahead of them, and his sheep follow because they recognize his voice (John 10:3-4). As gatekeepers of our own lives, we choose whose voice we will listen to and let enter into our hearts. Guarding our hearts means staying awake, being watchful, and remaining diligent to what we open or close our hearts to. Sometimes we need to open the gate and sometimes we need to keep the gate closed. The gates in our life are threshold places, times of discernment, moments of transition, and decisions to be made. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who revives, leads, protects, feeds, waters, and pastures. But what about you and me? Are we not also called to do those things? Are we not called to be shepherd? Who are the people we ae being called to shepherd, guide, nurture and protect? When have we been shepherded by another? A shepherd is anyone or anything that nourishes, fosters, empowers, guards and protects life. It could be God, Jesus, you and me. Shepherding then is most importantly about relationships. It is not about quantity, wealth, success, approval, popularity, security or being number one. Shepherding is about meaning, integrity, purpose, creativity, relationship and wholeness. Shepherding adds to the life of others and the world. It’s a life that leads to life, a love that leads to love, a joy that leads to joy, a hope that leads to hope, a kindness that leads to kindness, a generosity that leads to generosity, a beauty that leads to beauty, and a gratitude that leads to gratitude. It does not add to the pain of the world, but adds to and enhances life, our own as well as others. The gospel of John provides a warning that there are also thieves and marauders in the world who are seeking to steal our time, attention, and even our very lives. Thieves are stealthy. We often don’t know they’ve been there until later. They come in the night when we are most vulnerable, asleep and unaware. Thieves are sneaky and they often wear the disguise of acceptance, work, money, productivity, knowledge, a relationship, meeting others’ needs and expectations, saying yes and being available, striving for quality in what we do. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things until they begin to take over and thief our life. And sometimes they do. Marauders on the other hand are overpowering. They come in the daylight. They don’t even try to hide. We know when they are here and when we are being robbed of our time and attention. It’s those times when we know our life is less than we want it to be, we recognize the patterns and behaviors that are destructive, we know there is a better and different choice to be made, but we continue down the same path. It’s falling down and not being able to get right back up. It’s recognizing our brokenness and not asking for help and support. It’s getting stuck in our resentments and anger and being able to forgive. It’s feeling the pain and not knowing where or to whom to go for treatment. It’s knowing what will give life but living in fear. The gospel of John invites us to open our hearts to the good shepherd. We must ask him to reveal his love and will to us. It means telling him about our hopes and dreams and our hurts and fears, and it means asking him for forgiveness, direction and wisdom. When this is at the heart of our prayer, whatever method we choose, we can be sure that we will come to know Jesus’ voice intimately. Knowing his voice will heal and change our hearts. The Good Shepherd calls us in His voice and in His name. He seeks, gathers and comes to His people. Through each of us, He invites all to find peace, purpose, healing and joy in the fullness of His love and on His path. Let us lead by example and minister by love. A true Shepherd-Leader knows, serves and sacrifices for his sheep. Good Shepherd, within your embrace we are safe and secure. Within your embrace we know that we are precious in your sight. Within your embrace we feel the warmth of family and belonging. Within your embrace we grow and are nurtured together as one flock, the people of your pasture under your loving care and protection. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.