VOICE RECOGNITION

Voice i

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OUR COLLECT TODAY asks that we “sheep” may hear God’s voice and respond to its call so that all may be gathered into one flock.

Yesterday in Cumbria I heard the voice, and witnessed the tending of shepherds – only recently engaged in round-the-clock marathon to rescue flocks buried deep in snow. The local church is part of what’s appropriately called The Good Shepherd Team.

There are smiles of relief and pleasure in all the communities around at the sight of spindly legged white coated lambs skipping on fresh newly green hillsides. Not long ago the taut faces of over-stretched shepherds driving their quad bikes over threatening snow-drifts were their only hope. The lambs now run to the sound of both the bikes and the shepherd’s voice.

Does a lamb experience joy in the now warming sunshine? Well, whether it thinks about it or not, a lamb often looks and sounds as though it’s full of the joys of Spring. William Blake was moved, as I am, to ponder

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing woolly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.

Yes, whilst but a tiny part of the grand sweep of nature all around it, the lamb speaks to me of beauty and grace.

And beauty and grace, a doe, a gazelle, are the meaning, actually, of the name Tabitha. Of Aramaic and Hebrew origin, and translated as Dorcas in Greek, our reading from the Acts of the Apostles today tells of a Tabitha devoted to good works and acts of charity – the word charity itself being derived from the Greek word charis – which also means grace!

Beautiful people committed to caring for others in need – widows amongst these – are usually well thought of. So when Tabitha died in Joppa, and the disciples realised that Peter was nearby in the cosmopolitan city of Lydda, they sent for him, and the widows in their grief held the clothes that Tabitha had made and were keen to show Peter what a good and well loved woman Tabitha had been – a woman possessed indeed of both beauty and of grace.

That this story should be set in Joppa, now called Jaffa, is of significance. Joppa is one of the oldest port cities in the land of Israel and the Mediterranean. Due to its natural advantages, a hill above a bay, and its strategic location on the crossroads of Israel, the city was a centre of historical events over thousands of years.

The story is set in a port – a place of goings and comings and comings and goings. So people will have a good memory for events from the past, both distant and recent. Is this why Peter was called to “come without delay” – ? Are the people of coastal Joppa only too well aware of Peter’s having once seen Jesus call Jairus’ daughter to rise up from the dead? Only too well aware of departures and arrivals, of comings and goings?

Well, at any rate, Peter arrives. And acting in a way almost exactly like Jesus before him – for he’d truly been a ‘disciple’ and had learned his apostleship from his Christ – Peter sent all the grieving chatterboxes out of the room. The graceful, beautiful Tabitha needed to hear only one voice at this moment in her history – needed only to hear the quiet call of Peter: ‘Tabitha, get up.’

And he echoed the voice of his Christ, and he called her to the new life, and he beckoned her to the healing, the restoration and the oneness that had once been offered to him, and he offered her his hand, as though asking her ‘dear one, filled with beauty and grace, please come and dance.’

Please God that, on our own way to paradise, when we sheep need to be plucked from danger, we might hear the call of one who prays ‘get up’ – and take the proffered hand.

So this little story ends with the rejoicing that surrounds the gift of life where previously all had seemed lost. And Peter, the Rock upon which the story depends, stays near the coast for a while, there in the midst of all the comings and goings, with a namesake, a man called Simon – whose name means ‘obedient’ and whose profession, that of a tanner, meant that he lived, as Pope Francis would have it, ‘with the smell of the sheep’. Obedient Pastor Peter lives among working people having raised, and even now continuing to raise up ‘Tabitha’ – ‘beauty and grace’.

Looking backwards now for a moment, to John’s Gospel, we heard tell of its being winter in Jerusalem. I’d never dreamed that Jerusalem would experience snow until I woke up to a white Mount Zion, one Advent Sunday morning, years ago. Yes: winter. Cold and perhaps a bit of gloom and doom around the place. Hurry up the new life. Roll on Spring. Jesus is walking in the temple, in ‘Solomon’s portico’, bringing to mind historical reminiscences of Solomon’s great wisdom.

And there the wise Jesus hears the unwise and mocking words of an angry mob that will – in just a few moments time, and not for the first time – take up stones to throw at him:

‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’

‘Ah!’ Jesus replies. ‘But I have told you plainly. It’s just that you won’t believe.’

Here we see a shepherd, in the depths of threatening ‘winter’, who is wise enough, and teacher enough, to model for anyone watching that a good shepherd will never abandon his sheep – not even under the most intense pressure of violence against his person. No-one will pluck the Father’s beloved sheep out of his hand. No-one. And the Father and Jesus, like Jesus and the sheep, ARE ONE.

Of course this same Jesus was soon to be plucked from the midst of the sheep and was crucified, dead and buried. Fearful friends stood around, clutching his clothes and the tattered tales of the things he had wrought in their hearts and souls and minds and bodies. But ‘beauty and grace’ in the soul of Jesus heard the same gentle call that would later be heard by Tabitha, and by the entire flock of God in every age, past, present or future.

Jesus, Tabitha, little flock, ‘dost thou know who made thee?’.

‘Get up.’

And now He is risen. And Tabitha with him.

Christ is risen; we are risen!
Shed upon us heavenly grace,
Rain and dew and gleams of glory
From the brightness of Thy face,
That we, Lord, with hearts in Heaven
Here on earth may fruitful be,
And by angel hands be gathered,
And be ever safe with Thee.

Bishop Christopher Wordsworth

He is risen. We are risen.

And generations of shepherds have lived in obedience, with ‘the smell of the sheep’ to tell of good news:

Father, Beloved and Spirit, together with the flock. We are, all of us, all the sheep in the world, called home to the safety of the sheepfold; to be One.

Alleluia!

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2 thoughts on “VOICE RECOGNITION

  1. Thank you. Our awesome God in action again – Word dividing bone from marrow, timely words bringing comfort and challenge.

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