Do you know what a siren is?
Not the sound attached to the blue lights in your rear view mirror, but the mythological creature. Think back to high school literature class.
If you read Homer’s Odyssey, or the Cliff Notes for it, then you’ve heard of the sirens. They looked like beautiful women and sang an incomprehensibly beautiful song, both of which lured ship after ship of sailors to the rocky shore of their island. And by the time the sailors noticed the piles of bones of their previous victims, it was too late and their ships were wrecked and their lives over — all were victims of those beautiful sirens.
I bring that up because today’s text focuses on voices. It’s the first part of the famous “Good Shepherd” chapter of the Bible — John 10, where Jesus contrasts two types of voices — that of the robber versus that of the shepherd. He describes the shepherd this way: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” His is a voice we can trust.
So, which voice are you listening to? You’ve heard the siren song of sin and you’ve heard God’s voice in His Word. Which lures you? Be honest. And ask the bigger question: Where does that voice lead?
Maybe it’s the familiar voice of a friend, encouraging you to fit in, to go along with the flow. It promises popularity and camaraderie, a sense of belonging and family. It sounds sweet. But where does that voice lead? That sweet song soon turns sour as it guides you to gossip and compromises who you are, compromises the witness your life should make.
Or could it be the song of success, the voice of greed that tells you, “It’s OK to give to God, just make sure you don’t give too much. Just make sure you take care of yourself first and you have all you want before you’d even think about helping another.” Or maybe it convinces you to sacrifice your priorities for the sake of its enticements. And then your life will be rich, it says. But where does it lead but to the rocks of bitterness and envy, dissatisfaction and a relentless pursuit of that which cannot be caught. It leads to the dry bones of an empty life, a chasing after the wind.
Or the siren song may simply be that quiet voice of self that convinces you that you are busy. Your life is so full, you should probably skip church or Bible study. You certainly have too many things on your plate to do those home devotions and prayer time, telling you it’s OK to say you love God, as long as you put him 2nd or 17th on your list of priorities. Oh, it promises a full life, a happy life, but these voices don’t lead where they promise, do they?
They are not voices to trust, but the good shepherd’s voice? His is.
He’s not any of those other voices, those thieves and robbers, who call to the sheep because of what they can get out of the sheep. He calls to the sheep for what he can give. Look at our text. When the hearers didn’t understand Jesus’ comparison completely, he adds to the picture a little. Verse 7: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.”
Can you visualize that? The sheep pen was protected all the way around. When we visited Bethlehem, they showed us caves that shepherds used as sheep pens — and there is only one entrance. And once the sheep were in, the shepherd would become the gate, placing his own body at the entrance so that, even as he slept — no sheep would get out without going over him, and no danger would get in except through him.
And you’ve heard the siren songs, you know how much Satan wants in. That prowling lion wants a sheep snack. He wants me. And he had the bait - Satan knows my weaknesses, the songs my ears want to hear. He definitely has the teeth — the wages of each sin is death. But he had to go through the Gate, through our Shepherd.
And he tried, using those same tools — tempting our shepherd to live for himself because then he wouldn’t have stayed and fought. But Jesus didn’t listen to that siren song and instead perfectly followed his Father’s will in our place. And Satan still had the teeth – and sunk those teeth of our deserved death into our shepherd and had them knocked out. Jesus conquered death, removed its sting. That’s why our shepherd is an effective gate. That’s why his voice leads to life — “life to the full” as he says in verse 10. Life full, not necessarily of stuff, but of meaning. Life full of purpose and hope, life full of God’s love and God’s presence and God’s power.
That’s a voice worth listening to, even when the siren songs seem so beautiful. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus plugged up the ears of all his men with beeswax and had them tie him to the mast of the ship so that they could get past the sirens without being lured. Not a bad idea. Sometimes it takes drastic measures to not be lured by the other voices, measures worth taking. But the best remedy is listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd.
So this Sunday take some time to do that. We’ll see you at church as together we grow to more and better listen to the voice we can trust. And don’t miss our new Bible Information Class that begins this Sunday at 9:15 a.m.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday at 8 & 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.