Hearing the Voice of God – January 17, 2021
Psalm 40:1-5, Mark 1:1-11
January 17, 2021
Today we’re celebrating the Sunday known as “The Baptism of the Lord.” And this is not one that’s seen as one of the big “Holy Days,” at least not in our time. We don’t gather the family together for a big meal or anything! But, throughout the centuries, it has been given a Sunday of its own in the liturgical year. So, it has some importance that maybe we don’t always realize.
I think one of the reasons it was given its own Sunday is that what took place that day was seen as a powerful event! And again, this is one of those passages that we tend to read in our “Bible voice.” You know, we read with respect and reverence, but we don’t always feel the tension, or the emotion, in what was happening.
But what happened that day is what we call a “theophany” – “an appearance of God.” That’s a word that’s indicative of a powerful event. When we use that word “theophany,” we think of Moses on the mountaintop, with the lightning and thunder and clouds and fire – and the fear! We might also think of Jesus on the mountaintop of the Transfiguration, with the same lightning and thunder and clouds and fear – and the voice of God! And remember, Moses was there in that story, too! (We’ll talk about that event in a few weeks.)
Well, this is a similar story. It is an appearance of God! And it was public! It wasn’t far away on a mountaintop! And here there was the cloud and the thunder, and I’m sure, the fear! And as I was thinking about that this week, I was thinking about the whole story of Jesus coming to this earth. And so far, it’s been all prophets and angels. And there were some powerful stories there, for sure. But now, God himself shows up! The voice of God is heard! And that is what makes this story what it is.
I also thought about Samuel. (“Why Samuel?” I hear you ask.) You may know the story of the call of Samuel in the Temple. He heard God call his name, and he thought it was Eli, his mentor. And each time he heard the voice, he got up and went to Eli and said, “Yes? You called?” That’s a great story. But maybe you remember the beginning of the story. In I Samuel 3 it begins by saying, “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under the care of Eli.” And then this line. “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days, and there was no frequent vision.”
Think about that. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days, and there was no frequent vision.” Over the years, the times that God has actually spoken aloud to his people have not always been at the same “frequency.” In some parts of the Old Testament God “showed up” a lot! In other times, like the time of Samuel, God hadn’t spoken much. And I wonder if this story – the story of Jesus – was also such a time. Was it a time when “the word of the lord was rare, and there was no frequent vision?”
What we do know is that the people really responded when John the Baptist came on the scene. They considered him to be a prophet. And they hadn’t had one of those in a long time, either! I think, in their time, there was no frequent vision.” And I think they were longing for something – some sign of God’s presence. And for John to show up, doing what he was doing, saying what he was saying, that to them was a sign from God! They were very excited! They thought that they had a true prophet in their midst!
When we think about our own time, I think we could say that the same thing is true as it was in the time of Samuel. “The voice of God is rare, and there is no frequent vision.” God doesn’t speak aloud in our time. And many people long for that. And they feel that it would be easier to believe, and they would have a stronger faith, if only God would speak to us more – aloud! Many people have said that to me over the years. And we think that, too. Don’t we? If only God were to speak to us, audibly, wouldn’t it be an amazing boost for our faith?
So, here we are at the beginning of a New Year. And we’re longing for it to be a year of hope and new beginnings. New Years is always a time to look back and look ahead. And what better time than the new year to think of this story, this “beginning” in Jesus’ life, and to remember our own beginnings. In recent years, we’ve been using this service as a time of re-dedication, a time to look back and remember our journey of faith, and to look ahead with new commitment to Jesus, and to this amazing thing called the Church!
We’ve also used this service as a time to reaffirm our baptismal vows. (And I will have us do that at the end of this sermon.) This is a good time of year to re-commitment ourselves to those vows. And if you remember, it’s also the Sunday when I’ve been “re-introducing you” to the waters of baptism! We’re not going to do that this year because of Covid. But I still want you to think about that, and to remember those beginning days of your faith!
As we do that, we know that we don’t hear the actual voice of God. At least not very often. But we do seek His guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit just the same. That’s a big part of our faith! And yes, maybe faith would be easier if we heard the voice of God. Maybe it would be easier for us if we had God’s cell phone number – if we could at least text him!
But that doesn’t happen very often, does it? And I can’t tell you why that is. I can’t tell you why God doesn’t speak to us audibly – like he has in the past. But I think that maybe his lack of speaking does make us listen more! And that’s a good thing. Do you remember the old E. F. Hutton commercials? There would be a crowded room full of people talking, and someone would say, “My broker is E. F. Hutton, and E. F. Hutton says…” And all of a sudden, the room would go silent, and everybody would be listening for the next word!
Are we like that with God? Are we longing to hear his voice? I think many people in our world are! Especially in these trying days! But that’s not easy. And there are also many who just don’t bother any more. “I’m not hearing it, so forget it.” We, as God’s people, need to be sure we don’t fall into that trap. And that’s too easy to do! We live in a world where there are many, many voices, all calling for our attention, all at the same time. It is a cacophony of voices out there! It’s tough to filter all that out, and to listen for the voice of God.
Recently I got a set of “noise cancellation” earbuds. I’ve always heard of noise cancellation, and I know the theory behind how it works. But I’d never heard it before. The idea is that there’s a microphone that hears the noise outside, and then a speaker that sets up an opposite sound wave that cancels the noise. And it works! I couldn’t believe it when I first heard it! If it wasn’t for Covid, I’d love to let you hear them – or not hear them, actually!
And I was thinking, if only we had noise cancellation for our faith. If only we had something that would cancel out all the other voices – the cacophony of voices – that come at us every day and drown out the voice of God! I can’t tell you how to do that. I can only tell you to be careful of what influences, what voices, you can control. Maybe sometimes turn off some of the technology that those voices use! Maybe choose silence instead! Then maybe you’ll have a chance to hear God’s voice!
That’s the great thing about those earbuds! They cancel the noise, but they leave the sounds you want to hear – like your music or your phone calls. That’s some amazingly “discerning” technology! And I think maybe we need to develop that “discernment” in our lives. Again, I can’t tell you what that means exactly. But I can tell you that we need to take some time – intentionally – to “filter out” some of that cacophony around us, and seek to hear the voice of God.
That’s a good resolution, as we start a new year. Let us resolve to take that time and listen. Let us resolve to “be still and know that the Lord is God.” Let us resolve to be intentional in finding a quiet time and a quiet place each day, so we can practice listening, and being more “in tune” with God’s Spirit!
As we do that, may this truly be for us a year of Faith, and Hope, and Love – those three things, that, as Paul says, are the things that remain.
Eternal God, help us to hear your still small voice among the many voices in our lives. Help us to know your presence and your peace in our crazy world. As we begin a new year, may we see it as a new beginning in our faith. Help us to remember and renew the commitment we made to Jesus Christ, our Lord. For we pray in his name, Amen.
Renewal of Baptismal Vows
Friends, Jesus Christ has chosen you, and in baptism, has joined you to himself. He has called you into the Church which is his body. Now in this time and place, I ask you to confess his name, recommit your lives to him, and go out and serve him as his faithful disciples. Please acknowledge him once again by answering these questions:
Who is your Lord and Savior?
Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.
Do you trust in him?
Do you intent to continue to be his disciples, to obey his word, and to show his love?
Will you be faithful members of this congregation, giving of yourselves in every way, and will you seek the fellowship of the Church where ever you may be.
You are disciples of Jesus Christ. He has called you. Live in his love, and serve him.