“Yellow Trilium” by David Eck, UNCA, Asheville, NC

“The sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow strangers, but they will run from them because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

I have a question for you this morning: “Where do you hear the voice of Jesus in the midst of this global pandemic?” There are a lot of people talking, that’s for sure! They talk at each other, and over each other. Sometimes they are condescending of those whose viewpoints differ from theirs.

Over the past week weeks, I’ve heard some of the craziest things being said by politicians and religious leaders alike. In the midst of this cacophony of words, it’s often hard to hear the voice of Jesus, who desires that his followers “have life, and have it abundantly,” as our gospel lesson says. It’s hard to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd who promises to lead us to green pastures and still waters. This is the kind of respite we need as we wrestle with our fear, anger, doubt, and a whole list of emotions we might not even be aware that we are feeling.

So, how do we weed out the voices of strangers who may or may not be leading us down perilous paths? How do we tune into the voice of Jesus, who promises to be our Good Shepherd during this pandemic and beyond?

Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I know what works for me. The first place I hear the voice of the Good Shepherd is out in nature. I’m fortunate enough to live one block from the campus of UNCA. From my house I can cut through the back yard and get on a trail that leads me literally beside the tranquil water of a stream. It leads me past an urban forest of trees and native wildflowers and plants.

My routine every morning since we’ve been ordered to “shelter at home,” is to take a long walk with my dog Shiloh, through this oasis of peace and calm. He sniffs and peas on everything on sight while I am left to breathe deeply, and watch the beauty of spring unfold before me.

In the midst of this daily meditative walk, I can clearly hear the voice of Jesus, who reminds me that he is walking with me every step of the way during this pandemic. He is breathing new life into my tired, weary soul. He is reminding me that the One who created the beauty which surrounds me, also cares for me. I treasure this time apart. It is one of my lifelines during this pandemic. I hope and pray that you have a similar lifeline as well.

You may not be fortunate enough to live close to an urban forest or a peaceful country road, but you can still bond with nature in creative ways. It seems like all of my neighbors have become urban farmers overnight. Since lawn and garden centers are open in North Carolina, in addition to grocery stores, pharmacies and banks, they have become one of the few escapes we have while sheltering in place. I, along with my urban neighbors, have taken advantage of this. We’ve created container gardens and raised beds where we are growing vegetables, herbs and flowers.

There is something about digging in the dirt that is good for your soul. It makes me smile to see all of these plants growing and thriving with just a little bit of help from me. You don’t have to be a master gardener to be good a this. Mostly you need to find a place with the right amount of sun, and make sure you give your plants some water every now and then.

And, you might think I’m crazy, but I swear talking to your plants helps as well. Gary was my biggest skeptic regarding this. But last year he began talking to his tomato plant, and we had tomatoes all the way into October. Give it a try. It can’t hurt. The bonus of talking to your plants is that your neighbors will think you’re slightly nuts! This helps to keep them at a safe distance during the pandemic!

The second place I hear the voice of the Good Shepherd is in the Psalms. I find myself turning to them time and time again. Why? Because they’re honest expressions of emotions that range from fear and lament to peace and hope. On any given day, I cycle through all of these emotions, I’m certain you’ve experienced this as well.

This is the reason why we’re studying the Psalms during our Thursday Night Zoom gatherings. We take a Psalm a night and creatively expand what is being said in these well-known verses. I hear the voice of the Good Shepherd in the midst of them because they remind me, it’s okay to feel like you’ve lost your faith or want to throw a pity party for yourself. It’s okay if you’re having a bad day or a full blown existential crisis. The God who created the Universe, still cares about you and is able to handle whatever emotions you are feeling at any given moment. The Good Shepherd will seek you out when you feel like you’re lost or surrounded by predators. The Good Shepherd will light the way when the road ahead seems unclear or non-existent. So, if you’re having a hard time hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd, spend some time with the Psalms. You won’t regret it!

The final place I hear the voice of the Good Shepherd is in my Zoom visits with other people of faith. While we may not be able to meet in person. It does my heart good to see all of your faces, whether they are smiling or not. It does my heart good to be able to visit online and hear how you and your extended family are doing.

In those virtual meetings, something wonderful happens. We become Jesus to each other. We bear one another’s burdens. We celebrate whatever good news people have to offer. We pray for those who are having a hard time during this pandemic.

I also thoroughly enjoy sharing online communion with those who are able. It’s the not the same as meeting in person. But as we eat the bread and drink the wine, I hear the voice of Jesus say, “Peace be with you.”

So, where do you hear the voice of Jesus in the midst of this global pandemic? May we trust that the Good Shepherd is seeking us out on the days when we feel lost and disoriented. The Good Shepherd is leading us to places of peace and nurture, where we can rest our weary souls. Amen? Amen.

Copyright ©2020 by David Eck