What is this? I have been fortunate to travel overseas. In many foreign lands, native vendors have used all kinds of approaches to try to sell me their goods. In Mexico, the children were dispatched with their gum, crowding my car. In Kathmandu, the peddlers would follow silently for great distances, hoping I would buy their trinkets. In China, a merchant gave me a cigarette, that I felt obligated to smoke or be considered rude. But, all these would-be sellers are mere pretenders compared to the expert Egyptian vendors we encountered this month. They came in multitudes, at some sites they outnumbered the pilgrims. I was taken by the diverse voices and divergent tactics they utilized. At the pyramids, one guy was captivating with his American jargon, “Come, friend, I have the whole enchilada, the whole smear”. Some were just outright aggressive, grabbing an unsuspecting tourist’s cell phone, quick take a picture, “Look you are holding the Sphinx” and demand money, “That is $3”. These vendors and their voices were such a distraction, they caused us to lose focus on the leader, to stop listening to her directions.
What does this mean? Others were beyond intimidating. A woman in our group took a picture of a guy’s camel. He and two of his friends, chased her down, making her panicky. When I intervened, they were physical, saying, “She owes us $5”. The guy I remember most clearly was Sufin of Saquarra at the Step Pyramid. Right before we got off the bus, there was this sense of dread that you are going into battle, a mind-control contest, don’t look the vendors in the eye. For some of our pilgrims, it was more a matter of flight instead of fight. Sufin of Saquarra was a friendly guy, who showed me photos of his family, relentlessly yet almost reverently pressed me to buy his book. He followed me around, I did have my photo taken with him and paid him. Not sure who won the mind-bender match. This long story of vendors is my way of leading us to consider all the competing cultural and personal voices we are subjected to on a daily basis. As God’s people, we are supposed to listen for a specific speaker. Jesus declares in his speech about being the Good Shepherd, “the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him, because THEY KNOW HIS VOICE.” Hearing HIS VOICE is the key.
What is the takeaway? From the moment we wake up in the morning, like the tourists getting off the bus, we may dread going into battle with the world, entering into a mind-control contest of our own. Martin Luther suggested the right way to begin each day is to start at the sink, splash water on your face, and remember your baptism and whose voice you need to hear above all others. Good advice, for we are inundated with vendors selling us health, beauty, prosperity, or the promise of security. Some of the voices are tempting, they come across as genuinely interested in your welfare and with it. We have the whole enchilada, here. Some are just aggressive, the voices of shame, guilt, and you simply aren’t good enough. You can feel pursued and threatened like my friend who ran out of fear. Maybe the most malicious voices can be like Sufin of Saquarra, personal, pesky, yet potentially poisonous. They draw us into destructive decisions, unhealthy habits, and away from the Good Shepherd’s voice. This is a primary challenge for living a life of faith that is grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. So God commands us to remember the Sabbath Day, to listen for the one voice, hear his Word, pray in his name, and to ground ourselves in the one story that matters. That is the only way we WILL HEAR HIS VOICE.