Today I’ve got to pull Good Shepherd Sunday at Church of the Good Shepherd together with Mother’s Day. And so, naturally, I turn to penguins; specifically, a movie called March of the Penguins.
March of the Penguins documents how emperor penguins survive and even thrive in the world’s harshest environment. By harsh, I mean the temperature gets as low as minus 80 degrees. And it’s windy, at times up to hurricane-force winds. The female lays just one egg and keeps it on her feet because they have no nests. She transfers it very carefully to the male’s feet. If they drop the egg or expose it to the intense cold for more than a few moments, it will die. The female then waddles off to the sea – which can be as far as 70 or more miles away. That waddle takes up to a week. She eats and eats for a couple of months, then waddles back, switches places with the male, then he waddles up to 70 miles so he can eat.
They survive the cold and wind by huddling together and taking turns rotating to the outside of the huddle where it is coldest, all while balancing the egg on their feet.
When the male and female come back and forth from feeding and do the exchange, they find each other by voice. When the chick hatches, it knows its parents by voice. They know their mate and child and their mate and their child know them. In the harshest environment in the world, their survival as individuals and their flock depend on that recognition.
In that voice is provision for food and water. It is the provision of shelter; warmth, protection from the elements and the predators that exist even there – all of which is fundamental to life.
That’s motherhood. All of us owe our lives to the woman who birthed us. And however motherhood actually worked out for us – or didn’t – we know what motherhood is and ought to be. In its fundamental elements, it bears a striking resemblance to the care given by these penguins. And we automatically learn to identify people by their voices, especially our mother or whoever raised us.
Domesticated sheep are not so bright as penguins. They have no survival instinct or skills. They cannot survive in the wild. They have to be led to food. They have to be led to water. They have to be led to shelter. They have no means of defense. They have to be protected.
They learn to listen to and for that shepherd. Their very lives depend on hearing his voice, and him being able to hear them. If the shepherd hears unrest, or if a sheep has wandered off, then he’ll spring to action. So they learn to love that shepherd.
And so Christ makes the case for us. We are not sheep, but in very deep and profound ways we are more like the sheep than the penguins. Oh, we have survival skills. We know where to find food and water and shelter. We know how to defend ourselves.
But God has given us minds to think in deep and complex ways, which makes our lives complicated. We wouldn’t want to contend with 80-below temperatures and 60 mph winds, but if that was all we had to worry about it might be a relief. For all my learning and experience, left on my own I struggle. Sometimes life gets a bit overwhelming. Events and circumstances beyond our control crash into our lives, and suddenly we’re up to our armpits in real trouble.
It often isn’t a matter of how hard we try or how much we know. Whose voice will call us out to safety? Whose hands will raise us up?
I find that when I listen to his voice, when I earnestly live a life of prayer and make adequate space in my schedule to simply be with Him, then almost magically the fog lifts. I see more clearly and a peace which passes understanding abides in my heart. I find that his voice brings true life in a way which I have never ever been able to manage on my own – however hard I try.
The ultimate importance of his voice is underscored by where our Gospel passage falls. The tenth chapter of John’s Gospel is almost entirely about his analogy of the Good Shepherd and his flock hearing his voice. The next chapter, 11, is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and climaxes when Jesus, with a loud voice cried, “Lazarus come out!”
The voice that gives all of us life, the voice through which the entire creation came, is the voice calling us out of death to life.
And so we come here, week by week to hear his Word and join Him in communion. I hope we’re doing well on the days in between. I find a daily diet is best.
As members of Christ’s body we have a dual role. If you have been baptized into Christ’s death, then you have been raised to new life in him. You have made promises to listen to him and follow him, and you have been marked and sealed as Christ’s own forever.
We are Christians. And as Christians we are called to be like him, not just for our own salvation but to share Christ with the world. Please turn to page 855 in the Book of Common Prayer. I’ll read the “Q” and you read the “A” in unison.
Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.
Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.
So we have to ask ourselves, “When people hear my voice, does it draw them closer to Christ?” Or not? Uh oh. If not, or to the extent I fall short, how can I make my voice more like his? Better listen.
Listen to him. Our lives depend on it.