Sermon 30th May 2023

Readings John 10, 1-10, Acts 2, 42-47

This week, on the way out one evening, I noticed two of Michelle’s horses loose in the field opposite my house. As I came along the road they started moving toward the main road so I cycled ahead and stopped and tried to keep them in the field. But they didn’t know me and so they continued.

Now you don’t argue with two big horses like that intent on going in one direction, but, thankfully, I managed to stand in the road and divert them into another field and closed the gate.

So, as I read the reading from John’s gospel this week about Jesus’ figure of speech, speaking of his sheep knowing his voice and following him, whereas others led them astray or failed to lead them, I had rather a recent experience which illustrated just that concept.

In this world, it is very easy to be led astray by other voices than Jesus. We all know and recognise the pressures society puts upon us, but for those who don’t yet know Jesus’ voice, how on earth are they to differentiate his voice from all the others they hear? Especially when many of those other voices make seemingly very attractive offers to tempt people away from the way that Jesus would rather have us travel.

For Christians, for church goers, for us, the problem is twofold. Firstly, are we listening, and then hearing the genuine voice of Jesus, and then, how do we help others to hear his voice amongst the cacophony of other voices in the world.

The most influential people today seem to be what are known as social media influencers, often with millions of “followers” who hang on their every word, the most recent meme, blog or video. As has been evidenced recently, some of these influencers are toxic, we might say evil, like Andrew Tate, whose millions of followers have been taken in by his toxic masculinity and misogyny.

Things have caught up with him, he is currently held in Romania on rape and sex trafficking charges, but the damage has already been done with many men. Especially the young and easily influenced.

But his influence, and the likes of other influencers, the use of the media and social media to spread misinformation, propaganda, untruths and semi truths have been headline issues in political realms as much as social. Just look at how Donald Trump or Putin manipulated and continues to manipulate the media to persuade vast tranches of their countries to believe their propaganda, for instance. And sadly, the UK government also uses the media to manipulate opinion as is evidenced by the continued rhetoric against refugees and those on low wages or social support,nurses, teachers and those they consider to have adequate pay whilst enjoying high wages themselves.

So in the face of such an onslaught of misinformation, bad, but influential leadership and ideas and policies being promoted that are worlds apart from the qualities of God’s Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, how will his voice ever be heard. Does the church have to invest millions in competitive social media influencers, somehow enlist superstars who already have a following?

Certainly, we cannot expect people to just walk in the door, we can’t expect the attraction of centuries old hymns and traditions to compete with a rapidly changing culture. And although we should still value and include all of that, we do have to embrace change and modern ways of communicating with the population, and many churches have, some in inventive and effective new ways- even for our tiny churches here, new people and visitors often have searched us out on social media before coming to the island, and, for instance our breakfast church with it’s more informal style, modern worship and videos has proved popular.

But how do we help to enable Jesus’ voice to be heard in the cacophony of modern life.

“All the believers were together” our reading from Acts said, they shared everything together, they enjoyed fellowship and meals together, those with more helped those with less, they met in the temple every day, they broke bread in their homes with glad and sincere hearts. They were happy, and joyful and praised God at every opportunity and welcomed strangers amongst them, they shared teaching together, they prayed together.

They were an incredibly close community, drawn together, sharing together, and they found favour with the rest of the community in such a way that the attractiveness of their way of life drew others in.

And the attractiveness of their community was an example to those around them, encouraged change….and allowed the voice of the shepherd to be heard and recognised by those who had never heard him before.

Amongst the cacophony and confusion of the modern world, there are many who claim to have the answers to a good life or a more wealthy, healthy or spiritual life, but amongst that we also see an increase in loneliness, depression, isolation, poverty, self harming, self hating, false personas, violence and lack of self esteem.

Jesus stand, not just as shepherd leading the way, but as the gate, the gate to a different life, a new life, the life God had always intended for each and every person in this world, and yes, ultimately the way to eternal life.

And as much as we might try using modern ways and social media alongside the traditional, the most effective way of enabling Jesus’ voice to be heard is just like that of the early church. Fellowship, sharing together, helping those less fortunate, being happy and joyful, learning together about God, praying together, being together.

That’s all.

And if we did it better, and were actually happy about it, we might, surprisingly , find that others like it too.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” Jesus said in our reading. He stands as the gate, the shepherd, and that is his invitation. Let’s ensure it is heard.