Two weeks ago, I began my vacation with a short trip to Amish country. Someone asked, “What was your favorite part of the trip?” I didn’t have to think long before I shared this story.
From the time I got to Amish country until I left later the next day, it had rained. My ‘sightseeing’ was based on running from the car to a restaurant or a store and back again. That said, I didn’t spend much time walking the sidewalks browsing. When I noticed a store that looked interesting, I parked and went in.
On Monday evening after visiting a couple towns and stores, I arrived at my destination, The Inn at Walnut Creek. It was time for dinner and I was just a block away from the famous Der Dutchman. After eating a wonderful meal, I walked outside with my umbrella. Coming across the street was an Amish woman, probably in her early 60’s, dressed in typical black. Unsure of whether she would engage in conversation, I hesitantly asked her if she could tell me what time most Amish stores closed at the end of the day.
That simple question turned into a 30-45 minute conversation about life, faith, and exclusion. You see, Lydia had been brought up in the Mennonite tradition. She married a Mennonite man and had lived in PA for most of her life. But after he died, she met and married an Amish man and moved to Walnut Creek 12 years ago. Now, Lydia struggles with that decision. She is shunned by the Mennonite community for leaving their tradition and she is shunned by the Amish community as an outsider within their ranks. She has nowhere to turn. She is alone in the middle of society.
Lydia explained that she attended a few classes related to theology and that the teachers have suggested that she has prophetic gifts. She can see truth beyond the view of the majority. However, her gifts are also shunned by her traditions. I stood and listened as she explained how she recognizes the power of control by men in the Amish tradition; how women are subdued rather than allowed to live out their talents.
Pain was evident in her eyes as she described her seemingly fruitless challenges to people at church with Scripture. She was not afraid to question traditions in relation to God’s message of grace, yet when others had no answer to her questions, they simply dismissed Scripture for their own comfortable traditions. “What are they really worshiping,” she pleaded? She wants to go back to PA, but her aging husband will not move. Should she leave on her own to find a community, ANY community that will accept her and her talents? What does God want her to do? Does she stay in this place where nobody trusts her? Where nobody listens to her? Where nobody accepts her? She feels so trapped and alone!
“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” We are bombarded by so many voices…the voices in our head, the voices of family and friends, the voices of culture, the voices of agendas, even the voices of pastors.
But Jesus said, ‘They will know MY voice.’ As we honor mothers today, I remember a conversation with my grandmother who had served as a UM pastor. She once stated, “most people that come to me for advice already know the answer in their hearts. But they would prefer to find the easier and less painful option. Our conversations generally lead them to the truth that they already know but would prefer to deny.”
Each of us, like Lydia, struggle to hear Jesus’ voice in the chaos of other screams. Jesus said that those who come before him are robbers and thieves and that they come to kill and destroy. Jesus, The Good Shepherd, whose voice we will know, “came that we may have life and have it abundantly.” Those voices competing for our attention want to tell you that you aren’t wealthy enough, fast enough, smart enough, old enough, young enough, or thin enough. They tell you that you will find your happiness in bank accounts, exercise programs, hard work, new relationships, and awards. But these are the voices of the thieves who come to kill and destroy.
We know the voice of the Good Shepherd. It doesn’t say we WILL know or that we SHOULD know…we KNOW his voice. Just like my grandmother’s suggestion that we know the truth though we attempt to avoid it.
Does hearing Jesus’s voice make Lydia’s decision-making process any easier? Absolutely not. Might she be called to a decision that is challenging and difficult? Possibly. Does Jesus’s promise to bring life and to bring it more abundantly assure us of convenience and prosperity? NO! Abundant life in Christ is not defined by abundance according to the world. But there is peace and fulfillment that comes with following his voice and his call, even when the path is difficult. Amen.