I realize that quoting obscure Police lyrics relegates me to the halls of irrelevance. However, the refrain, “Voices inside my head echo things that you say,” is a profound truth. The voices that echo inside of our minds have a great deal to say about who we are, whose we are and how we do what we do.
So…whose voice is inside your head?
What do they say?
Are they positive, encouraging, affirming and strengthening voices?
Or, are they arresting, condemning, violating and isolating voices?
This Sunday, I’m preaching on Jesus last lesson in Matthew, the story about the Sheep and the Goats (or more accurately, the Story of Christ as King). Embedded in this story is a lesson about the voices that we hear and the way that they shape us.
In John 10, Jesus says, “Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger but will run away because they don’t know the stranger’s voice [Jn 10:4-5; CEB].” The sheep listen to the voice of Jesus. They are shaped by it. It guides their actions to the point that they aren’t even aware.
“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear?” [MT 25:37-38]
The sheep provided simple, basic acts of dignity and creation-minded ministry to those who needed it most. Their actions looked the Gospel: fending, pouring a cup of water, clothing, caring, visiting. This wasn’t building a building or establishing a 401K. This was deep, profound Messianic ministry. Christ’s voice informed who they are. Their identity is grounded in their relationship with Jesus.
The goats were also unaware of their service, or their lack of it. This story tells us that they were informed by another voice entirely: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels [MT 25:41; CEB].”
Throughout Scripture, the “devil” is known as the accuser, the prosecuting attorney. It his job to make sure you know where you have gone wrong, where you are going wrong, where you will go wrong and that you should hate yourself for it. His is the voice of un-creation and un-grace. His angels are messengers, those fleet of foot who carry these self-condemning suggestions. This triggers human defense mechanisms that range from self destructive practices to Super-Christian ones.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Lewis terrifyingly describes the devil’s angels on a one to one ratio with humans. Their job is to exacerbate our doubts, fears, frustrations with the church, with each other, individualistic entitlements, comforts, pleasures, annoyances…anything to create distrust with God by inflating our personal need for control. The more we are enticed away from the voice of the shepherd the sooner we experience that “the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Perhaps this is why Jesus leaves the flock to go after the one?
We begin to believe “our own messages”.
We begin to fear that Christ isn’t enough. We have strengthen God’s plan with a little something extra, dump some NOX into the fuel system of our faith. The diabolical Uncle Screwtape informs his messenger, Wormwood:
“What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And.’ You know — Christianity and The Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Physical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. I they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute the faith for some Fashion with a Christian coloring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.”
This not only tickles our ears, but overwhelms our imaginations. Soon, we too can no longer see the forest for the trees, or weeds as so much goes unattended. Soon, we to ignore the needs of those who cry out. We ignore Jesus trying to find him.
What are the voices inside your head?
Can you hear the voice of the Shepherd?
How do you listen to the voice of the Shepherd?
“There have been men…who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they cam to care nothing for God himself…as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ. Man! You see it in smaller matters. Did you never know a lover of books what with all his first editions and signed copies had lost the power to read them? Or an organizer of charities that had lost all love for the poor? It is the subtlest of all the snares.” The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis