Br. James Koester

Acts 2: 42 – 47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2: 19 – 25
John 10: 1 – 10

Finally the phone call came, and I went down to the post office to pick up my parcel. On this particular day the woman ahead of me in the line was picking up her package of bees. I’d seen them as I came into the post office. They were sitting, by themselves, on the loading dock. The postal workers won’t let them inside the building. They don’t like having to deliver bees, but the postal regulations require them to do so. My package on the other hand was sitting in the corner, near the counter. I knew it was mine because I could hear the goslings inside, honking away.

As incredible as it seems my four goslings had hatched on a Monday. They had been sexed, packed and shipped from Oklahoma before the end of that day, and there I was, picking them up in West Newbury on Wednesday. They came in a box about the size of a clementine orange box with a bit of straw and a heat pad. I put them in the car and drove them home, talking to them the whole way. When I got them home, I carefully opened the box and picked them up one at a time as I gave them something to drink. Having done that I was able to install them in their goose coop.

Over the next several days I fed, watered, cleaned and talked to them. It didn’t take long for them to imprint on me and they soon came to know my voice and would respond quite differently when I came to see them, than if someone else did.

Several weeks later when they were nearly fully grown, and I had given them the liberty of wandering the property they took to coming down to the house in search of me. One August morning when the community was on retreat, we brothers were gathered in the chapel for the Eucharist. I happened to be the presider that day. Unknown to us the geese were on the front lawn outside the chapel. At least it was unknown to us until I opened my mouth and said something. As soon as the geese heard me, they started to honk up a storm. I couldn’t help but quip, I am the good gozzard. My geese hear my voice and know me.

It’s true. Geese, like some other species of bird, will imprint on another, even a human, if they are the one whom they assume to be their mother, provider and protector. My geese had imprinted on me and had come to know me, or at least my voice. Even now when I go up to the goose coop and talk to them, they respond to me quite differently than they do to someone else. They will even follow me, but not someone else, as I stroll around inspecting the garden.

Because of my geese, I love this passage from John’s gospel, which I now hear in a totally different way than I once did. Sheep, like geese, know their shepherd’s voice and will follow it. In fact, mix the sheep of two or three shepherds up, and the sheep will divide up and follow the one whose voice they know. 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. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’[1]

It is my voice, not the sight of me, which my geese recognize, just as it is the voice of the shepherd which the sheep know. So too are we invited to come to know the voice of our Good Shepherd.

We live in a world full of voices, calling us to follow in any number of directions. Often they compete with one another. One voice calling us to go here, another there, and yet another over there. The temptation is to follow the loudest voice, which is often the angriest, or the one which subtly feeds on our fears, our anxieties, our weaknesses. Like the voice of the serpent in the Garden who was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made,[2] these voices call to us and fill our heads with lies: But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die….’[3] It’s often hard to know which voice to follow, and so we feel fractured, trying to go too many places at once.

Sheep and geese don’t have an option who to follow. Biology has programmed them to follow the one on whom they have imprinted. It is not biology that has programmed us, but love. We follow, not because it is the way we were made, but because it is the way we choose. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.[4]

To hear the voice of Jesus is to hear the voice of love calling to the very depths of our hearts, for God is love.[5] It is love which calls and love which responds. And as you know, the voice of love speaks, not to our fears, but to our hopes, not to our anger, but to our dreams. Love is the voice of hope and of possibility. But as is its nature, love not only shouts from the mountain tops[6], it also hangs on the cross, for the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,[7] and whispers our names at dawn, Mary! Rabbouni! I have seen the Lord![8]As it did to Mary, the voice of love speaks to us softly and tenderly. As that old gospel hymn says:

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home![9]

Unless we know love, and the One who is love, we will not hear the voice of love. Father Benson, the founder of our community, reminds us to “live in the love of Jesus! … In the love of Jesus thou wilt know what the glory of God is. In the love of Jesus thou wilt experience by mysterious foretaste the abundance of redemptive glory. Oh cherish the love of Jesus!”[10]

It is the voice of love which we hear today in the gospel as the Good Shepherd calls us each by name,[11] so we must take care then really to listen for that voice. Again, as Father Benson says: as God speaks, He requires us to listen. The voice is of no value to those who are deaf. And God speaks, to how many, alas, who never hear Him! We have put the world aside – for what purpose? In order to come and hear the voice of God. We are come here in order to listen to God speaking in our souls. We must take care, then, that we really listen attentively, listen devoutly, listen obediently, listen gratefully. The voice of God has called us apart in order that He may speak within us, and we must say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.’ When God finds us really listening for His voice, then does He take great delight in us;….[12] And God’s delight in you is to call you beloved daughter, beloved son of the Most High.

It is hard to hear about the din and noise of the world, whose voices call us, especially these days, to be afraid, to be angry, to be jealous, to be selfish. But when we hear the voice of love calling us, challenging us, prodding us to greater and more unselfish love then we can be certain that it is the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls. Our job as followers of Jesus is to learn to hear his voice.

So when you hear the voice of love proclaiming from the mountain tops here is your God,[13] follow, because the One who is love is calling you to announce to Zion your God reigns.[14]

So when you hear the voice of love, whose arms are stretched out on the hard wood of the cross, calling you in the heat of the day, follow, because it is the voice of the One who is love calling you to take up your cross.

So when you hear the voice of love whispering your name, ever so faintly, at dawn, follow, because it is the voice of the One who is love calling you to go and tell what you have seen and heard.

But we will only know the voice of love if we know the One who is love, so really listen, listen attentively, listen devoutly, listen obediently, listen gratefully, listen eagerly, and you will hear the Good Shepherd calling you by name, for to those who truly listen, God has promised to speak.

The Good Shepherd is speaking to you in love right now.  Can you hear? Can you hear? Can you hear?



[1]John 10: 3 – 5

[2] Genesis 3: 1

[3] Genesis 3: 4

[4] John 10: 27

[5] 1 John 4: 8

[6] Isaiah 40: 9

[7] John 10: 11

[8] John 20: 16 -18

[9] Thompson, William L.; This hymn was sung in the Acad­e­my Award win­ning mo­vie Trip to Boun­ti­ful (1985), and at a me­mor­i­al ser­vice for Amer­i­can ci­vil rights lead­er Mar­tin Lu­ther King, at the Eb­e­ne­zer Bap­tist Church, At­lan­ta, Georg­ia, 8 Ap­ril 1968.

[10] Benson, Richard Meux; Instructions on the Religious Life, Second Series, 1935 as quoted in Look to the Glory, 1966, page 28

[11] John 10: 3

[12] Benson, The Religious Vocation, Of the Call of God, Continuous, Abiding, and Progressive, chapter 4, page 71

[13] Isaiah 40: 9

[14] Isaiah 52: 7


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  1. Pamela Forbes on May 17, 2019 at 12:16

    I wonder whether these are the same goslings-become-geese that were photographed following Brother James up a set of stone steps on the Emery House campus? What a terrific image!

    Many thanks for this homily. It is a take on the good shepherd gospel that struck me as particularly lovely: kind, gentle, and grounded. Listening for the voice can be difficult, these words provide a path inward.

  2. Jeanne DeFazio on May 17, 2019 at 10:28

    Thanks! Sending out this excerpt today:

    gratefully. The voice of God has called us apart in order that He may speak within us, and we must say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.’ When God finds us really listening for His voice, then does He take great delight in us;….[12] And God’s delight in you is to call you beloved daughter, beloved son of the Most High.

  3. Ed Greene on May 17, 2019 at 10:11

    Man oh man!!! That is a message I really needed to HEAR today. My prayer the past couple of days has been full of anger and resentment; my imaginary dialog has been eloquent with retorts and recriminations. “I will listen to what the LORD God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him.” (Ps 85:8)

  4. Bev Cone on May 17, 2019 at 07:43

    My intentions at this point in my life are to “let go, Let God; Listen…..and wait patiently.”
    I love the adverbs at the end of the sermon about HOW to listen!

  5. Sandra Ahn on June 9, 2017 at 00:53

    Br James, it has taken me a month to finally read this homily. It comes at a time when I am reading a book about Lectio Divina and what a perfect complement to my searching. What a sweet story this is and what an image to imprint its significance. Your intergration of various verses seemed to just flow as reminders that the message is repeated for us over and over again,

    I feel cherished and nurtured and am open to hearing what God is saying to me. Thank you. Sandra of Oakland

  6. Kyle St. Claire on May 19, 2017 at 10:30

    I can just see you in the car coming back from the post office “talking to them [the goslings]”, the box riding beside you in the car. Lovely image. Lovely thought. Lovely homily.

  7. Lorna Harris on May 11, 2017 at 08:47

    Enjoyed this a lot! Thank you!

  8. Ruth West on May 11, 2017 at 00:21

    Br. James, this was an inspiring invitation to listen for and to the Shepherd’s voice. He speaks to me through scripture, but so often through the old gospel hymns, such as the one you quoted. Just this week I had one on my mind. The second stanza says, “He speaks and the sound of His voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing, and the melody that He gave to me, within my heart is ringing. And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own; And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.” He does speak to us in so many ways, perhaps through the honking of the goslings. I loved your story about them. Many years ago my husband and I had sheep on our thirty-two acres.
    That was quite an experience. Sheep cannot be driven. They can be led, and they definitely knew our voices. They must be tended; we could not ignore them for long periods of time. We made frequent trips to their pasture to check on them, and in the winter to feed them. Once we found a newborn lamb in February during a very cold morning. My husband brought it to the house, had me draw up a tub of lukewarm water. We submerged its little stiff body in the water, and when we brought it up, it let out a little “Ba-a-a.”
    We compared it to baptism. He was virtually dead, but, as he came up, he had a new life. (A bit off the subject, but I just had to share that with you.)

    • Virginia W. Nagel on May 11, 2017 at 13:59

      Ms. West, I thank you for reminding me of my mother’s favorite gospel song, “In the Garden.” My mother and her sisters attended a Baptist Sunday School back in the 1920’s, the Episcopal Church not having a Sunday School then. I grew up listening to Mom singing, “and he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own…” At her funeral in the Episcopal church, 14 years ago, I was the priest for her service, and High Church priest that I am, I caused serious consternation before the service by insisting that the organist and choir play and sing “In the Garden” as a memorial to Mom.

  9. Margaret A Fletcher on May 10, 2017 at 05:01

    Dear Br. James,
    You say nothing new but you wax lyrical this morning. This is gently inspiring, very beautiful.
    Imprinted on my brain forever is a picture of you at Emery House leading the geese across the car park.Simple labor, embodied tenderness and care. Thank you.

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