January 7, 2024

Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Mark 1:4-11

“The Voice of God”

The Scriptures this morning proclaim quite clearly that our God is a God who speaks. God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light. God spoke the Creation into being. God’s voice was creative and effective, and God’s voice made the very good world and everything in it.

The Psalmist hears God’s voice as loud, booming, and authoritative. It is through speech that God asserts power over all the Creation and all creatures including human beings. In a world where everything seems to be spinning out of control, people of faith are reminded of God’s power over all the chaos, and God’s ability to bless the people with strength and with peace.

And the Gospel of Mark has God’s voice assuring Jesus of his identity as God’s Son, the Beloved of God. “You are mine. You are loved. I am pleased with you, dear child.”

I think it’s interesting to notice that the Scriptures don’t include a lot of “appearances” of God. It’s usually just a voice. I mean, there are some spectacular visual things that take place in Bible stories when God is there. The burning bush is a great example, but sometimes there are pillars of fire, or clouds, or like in the Gospel today, the sky appeared to open right up, and the Holy Spirit came down like a dove on Jesus.

One of our church members has shared that when she was baptized, she looked up, and she really expected to see the Spirit coming down. It was a bit disappointing when there wasn’t something visible to confirm what was happening to her spiritually. But most of the time, even in the stories of the Bible, God doesn’t actually appear to people. Mostly, it’s just God’s voice that is heard.

And when I think of my baptism, it’s God’s voice that I remember. No, I didn’t literally hear God speaking to me in a loud voice from the heavens. But I did hear the choir at my home church singing, just as we sing to each other every Sunday at the end of our services: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” And through their voices, I heard God’s voice. I felt God’s blessing. I experienced God’s peace.

I wonder how you have heard God’s voice speaking to you during your journey of faith – whether at the beginning like me, or some time along the way. You might think of a Bible passage that led to an epiphany for you. You might remember someone who spoke words of comfort, encouragement, or challenge to you – and how you heard God’s voice through theirs. Perhaps you’ve also heard God’s voice through music, through poetry, or through the Spirit speaking to your heart and guiding you in a new direction.

As people of faith, we can never really prove that God spoke to us. In fact, we’re pretty wary of Christians who claim that God told them x, y, or z in a very clear and unambiguous way. But occasionally, I really am quite sure that God has spoken to me, and one of those times happened this week.

I was walking home from the church in the early evening, going south on Albert Street. It was already pretty dark, but I clearly saw that there was a person lying on the ground under a tree, curled up a bit against the cold of the wind and snow that was gently falling.

And I kept walking. I thought, “It’s dark. I don’t think I want to disturb that person. Is he asleep? Passed out drunk? Maybe even dead?” And I kept walking.

But just the day before I’d been in a conversation about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We were starting to make plans for this year’s ecumenical service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and that was the text. You remember the one… where the priest and the Levite walk by. They do not stop to check on the man at the side of the road who has been robbed and beaten and left for dead.

Even as I kept walking, I heard a voice clearly telling me that I had to do something. I had to heed Jesus’ teaching to love my neighbour in this most urgent and practical way. So I called my husband on my cell phone. And I said, “Can you come and pick me up? We need to check on this person who is curled up by the side of the road.” And that’s what we did.

In the few minutes since I had first passed by, another Good Samaritan had stopped, and already called 911. But I spoke with the man, and helped him dry his freezing hands, and took off my mittens and put them on him. And soon the ambulance arrived, and the rest of us departed, trusting that he was in good hands.

Some people might argue that it was just my conscience that pushed me to change directions and respond to my neighbour in need, but I believe that it was God. It was God speaking through Jesus and the Scriptures and the Christian Church that guided me in the faith, teaching me the Way of love and calling me to account when I was tempted to pass by.

Later that evening, after a relaxing time of watching TV, a congregation member reached out by text with a prayer request. A young family was going through a stressful and worrying experience in the hospital emergency room. Of course, I assured them of my prayers, and I offered to come over if that would be helpful.

But they replied that I didn’t need to come. Could I just call them and say a prayer over the phone? So I did. And as I prayed, I was deeply aware of the privilege and responsibility of speaking God’s words of assurance and hope into this very difficult, heart-wrenching situation. As I hung up the phone, I marvelled at the possibility that my faltering words might carry the voice of God to these people by God’s amazing grace.

Our worship services every Sunday suggest that we are a People who expect to hear God’s voice. Have you noticed the titles given to the various parts of the service in the bulletin each Sunday? First, we “GATHER IN GOD’S NAME”, and then we “PROCLAIM GOD’S WORD.”

Proclaiming God’s Word means that we are using our voices to speak what we believe God is saying to us. We read it right out of the Bible. And then we ponder it, and study it, and do our best with the help of the Holy Spirit to apply it to our time and situation.

As human beings, our words in worship will never be perfect. But we trust that as we faithfully interpret the Scriptures and pray for the Spirit’s guidance, that God will speak to us in a variety of ways as individuals and as a community of faith.

Every week we are invited to “RESPOND TO GOD’S WORD” as well, through our prayers, our gifts, and our striving to follow the way of Jesus day-by-day. Often, we are encouraged to use our voices also – to speak God’s words of love and grace to one another and to others beyond our community.

And some weeks, like today, we have the opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, what we call “GOD’S WORD MADE VISIBLE” because in bread and wine, we can actually see and touch and taste and share God’s message of love for us.

Finally, we are sent to “GO OUT IN GOD’S NAME,” which doesn’t mean that our listening for God’s voice is finished, but that we’re sent out into the world to participate in the ongoing dialogue with God in the world.

I mean that God will keep on speaking to us through our neighbours and friends and through the nudging of the Holy Spirit, so we need to keep on listening. But also, God will use our voices to speak words of comfort, encouragement, and sometimes challenge to the people around us. And God will use our presence and our gifts and our generosity to make God’s Word visible in the world as well.

Friends, may you hear God’s voice in our worship and be assured of God’s message of love in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper today. And then may you go out into the world to speak God’s words to others and to embody God’s Word in all that you do. May God’s wonderful, creative, powerful, loving, gentle, and reassuring voice be heard throughout all Creation today and always.