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Updated: Jun 20, 2022

I still remember my mother’s voice. She always called my Denny or “Honey.” If I was in trouble, it was Dennis Lee Gibbs! When we were kids, she would send us off to sleep with the words “Roses on your pillow.” To this day, my conversations with my sister always end with the word “Roses,” and we remember mom’s voice. Her name was Evelyn, and it’s been thirty-six years since she went to God. I still hear her voice as if it were yesterday. In a way it was, because as I was musing for a few days before I sat down to write this reflection, her voice came to me. This time it was “Honey.”

Here’s to all the mothers, grandmothers, and women who have played a maternal role in people’s lives. Know that your voice will echo through time and never be forgotten by those whom you love and who love you.

Jesus comes to us today saying: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

I think about some of the earliest followers of Jesus – James, John, Matthew Peter, Mary Magdalene, and others. They heard something in his call that compelled them to follow. But that was two thousand years ago. What about today? How do we hear the voice of Jesus in our own time?

In 2004 I began my ministry in the Los Angeles County Jails. I was volunteering with the Catholic programs one Sunday each month helping with worship services. Soon after that, I was asked to lead a Friday night Bible study/Spiritual Formation group. I said yes, even though I felt unsure. Friday nights were relatively quiet compared to the clamor of the day, and my very first day I was walking down a long concrete corridor that led from one part of the enormous facility to another. The corridor was empty, and I found myself doubting my ability to lead the group. I had never done anything like it before. What could I possible have to say to these men? Then I heard it. The voice of Jesus speaking from within me saying, “Don’t worry, we got this. Walk with me.” It felt so calm and assuring. So, I continued down that empty corridor with Jesus to the place where the men were gathered.

I don’t remember much about that first night. But I am sure that was when I learned a lesson that that has stayed with me since. It isn’t so much about anything I say or do in these encounters, it’s more about listening – listen to their story, their struggle, their hope. If you listen closely enough, you just might hear the voice of Jesus.

The walk that started down that long corridor all those years ago has continued right up to this very moment standing here with you – my friends. I am still walking at Jesus’ side, and I still hear his voice when I need it most saying: “Don’t worry, we got this, just keep walking with me.

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

Where do we hear the voice of Jesus, and what does it mean to follow him in today’s world?

Amid the world tangled in human suffering, Jesus calls us into justice, truth, compassion, and love. His voice is one of a prophet and peacemaker. He was always aligning himself with the poor and those most vulnerable. He was at home with people who were marginalized. He stood up for those whose freedom was threatened by oppressive systems of power, and he expects the same from us.

Our baptismal vows as Episcopalians call for us to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. When we say all persons, all people, and every human being, we mean everybody, period. No exceptions.

To listen and to follow means that the pattern of forgiveness we see in Jesus as he forgives his persecutors, even those putting him to death, is to be our way too. It means that when he gives himself in selfless love, as he did to the Canaanite woman, we can do that to, and find that there is true liberation and real freedom in such acts of love.

To listen and follow means that when Jesus looks government, religion, or society squarely in the eye and says, “Something is wrong,” we too can never accept the status quo if others are being injured or treated unfairly.

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

When we listen for the voice of Jesus in those who stand against violence, we might hear him say,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

When we listen to the voices of healing and reconciliation, we might hear the voice of Jesus saying,

“In loving one another you are loving me.”

When we listen to the laughter and singing of children, we might hear the voice of Jesus saying,

“It is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

I hear the voice of Jesus asking us to stand for justice and truth.

I hear the voice of Jesus calling us to love and forgive one another.

I hear the voice of Jesus encouraging us to serve one another in humility.

I hear the voice of Jesus asking us to help him bring about God’s kingdom right here on earth.

I hear Jesus say this is who we are as his followers.

Do you hear what I hear?

Brother Dennis

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