The Voice of the Lord
January 14, 2018 / Baptism of Our Lord / Pastor Richard Holmer
First Reading: Genesis 1:1-5 / Second Reading: Acts 19:1-7 / Gospel: Mark:1-1-11
The Voice of the Lord
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders;
The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees;
The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness
The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.
And in the temple of the Lord, all are crying “Glory!”
Have you heard the voice of the Lord? The writer of today’s Psalm, Psalm 29, hears the voice of the Lord in the awesome force of a powerful storm – full of thunder and lightning and winds strong enough to split trees, and strip forests bare. I have vivid memories of being caught in a storm like that, some years ago. We were on a canoe trip on the Wisconsin River with the high school youth group – about 20 of us altogether. It had been a very hot and humid day, temperatures in the nineties. In the late afternoon the skies began to cloud up in the west, and we decided to get off the river and make camp. We pulled up our canoes and pitched our tents on a sandy island. Things started to change very quickly. The skies darkened and thunder began to rumble in the distance. Chain lightning streaked across the sky. A sudden and powerful gust of wind blew down all our tents, except for two small three-man dome tents. Right behind that gust came sheets of cold, torrential rain. The wind was blowing everything sideways: the rain, the sand, camping gear, tents and even canoes went flying. Flashes of lightning illuminated the chaotic scene like a strobe light. The temperature dropped precipitously. We went from sweating to shivering. It was all quite frightening. And yet it was awesome. It was humbling and strangely exhilarating to be in the presence of such stupendous and overwhelming power. I can appreciate what motivates storm chasers to drive toward tornadoes instead of fleeing from them: they are truly awe-inspiring. In the midst of that storm I don’t recall thinking: “This is the voice of the Lord.” I was too busy praying, “Lord preserve us and keep us all safe!” Yet, in retrospect, I can resonate with the spirit of Psalm 29. There is in a storm something powerful and overwhelming and mysterious and wondrous and glorious and soul stirring – something that speaks of our God, who is powerful, overwhelming, mysterious, glorious, wondrous and soul stirring.
Of course God is more than a force of nature, and God speaks in ways other than a storm. The voice of God can be little more than a whisper – as the prophet Elijah discovered: “The Lord passed by and sent a furious wind that split the hills and shattered the rocks – but the Lord was not in the wind. The wind stopped blowing, and then there was an earthquake – but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire – but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was the soft whisper of a voice.” (I Kings 19:11-12) So I ask again: Have you heard the voice of the Lord? We believe in a God who speaks. And when God speaks, things happen: good and great things – and also small and tender things. In the beginning God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light – and it was good. Each day God speaks an encouraging word as the sun rises, ushering in a new day. “Let there be light.” Over the years God spoke in many and various ways through his faithful prophets – through servants like Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah. And then, in the fullness of time, God spoke most clearly, most powerfully and most beautifully through his son, Jesus Christ. Jesus spoke – and things happened. A storm on the Sea of Galilee was suddenly calmed. Many suffering dread diseases were healed. Lazarus was dead and laid in a tomb – and Jesus called to him: “Lazarus, come out!” and so he did. Jesus said he is a shepherd, and when he calls, his sheep follow – because they know and trust his voice. So, have you heard the voice of the Lord?
Each Sunday at the beginning of our service you hear the assuring word of grace – that all your sins are forgiven. Week by week we hear the Word of God that is recorded in the scriptures – not just one reading – but four including the Psalm. We are sent on our way with a word of blessing, the blessing God first spoke long ago to Moses:
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
And perhaps the most personal word we hear from our Lord is this:
“This is my body, given for you.”
“This is my blood, shed for you.”
God spoke to each of us directly and personally at our beginning – at our baptism. God spoke to us a word of eternal promise. “I have called you by name, you are mine,” says the Lord. “I will be with you always.” Today we recall with gratitude how God has called us all to be his own through baptism. Can you hear the voice of the Lord?
Many times over the course of his ministry, Jesus would pause and say: “Let those who have ears hear!” We long to hear a word from God – and so we have! Take it to heart! Let God’s Word dwell in you richly. Hear God speaking to you as your loving Father and saying to you, tenderly, personally: “You are my child, with you I am well pleased!” Could there be a sweeter message? As he was about to begin his public ministry, just before heading into the wilderness, where he would be tempted for 40 days – Jesus heard these affirming words of blessing from his Father. As you go about your days facing challenges, dealing with difficulties, trying your best – keep God’s words in mind. God is pleased to have you as his child. The voice of the Lord truly is a powerful voice – for those who bother to listen. God speaks through the magnificent wonders of creation. God speaks through the holy scriptures. God speaks through hymns; listen to God’s voice in the last two hymns. God speaks through baptism and holy communion. God speaks through the Living Word – Jesus Christ. And God also speaks through us. God speaks whenever you and I repeat what God says in scripture; God is well pleased when his words come out of our mouths, words like:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
“Blessed are those who know their need for God.”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
“I am with you always, to the end of time.”
God speaks through us when we speak of our faith – as many of you have done right here in this place. God speaks when we use our own words to describe how God has blessed us, challenged us, sustained us, forgiven us. God speaks truly whenever you and I are able to offer words of love and mercy, when we console those who are grieving, when we forgive those who have hurt us. Have you heard the voice of the Lord, spoken by someone right next to you? In a world that overflows with empty, meaningless, worthless words – there are words that have substance and meaning and life. God continues to speak such words – faithfully and powerfully. God speaks to us and through us. Let all who have ears hear, and let all who have tongues speak the words that give life.