The Holy Gospel acccording to Mark, the first chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This week we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. When Jesus came up out of the water, God ripped open the heavens.
And we heard the voice of God.
Have you ever wondered what God’s voice sounds like? Do you think it’s a deep booming male voice the way it is portrayed in the movies? Sort of scary? Very loud? Commanding? Demanding? Like a father yelling at you and telling you to behave?
That’s the stereotype many of us are familiar with. Certainly, all attempts to portray God’s voice in our time are simply speculation. But I need to warn you. I think the stereotype is wrong.
God can absolutely use any voice God wants to use, but I wonder if perhaps there are better ways for us to portray the voice of God.
There are surprisingly few places in the Bible where God speaks directly. Our first lesson is one of those places. It is the beginning of a beautiful poetic account of the creation. In the first chapter of Genesis, the voice of God calls creation into being.
And God said, and it was so. The voice of God is a powerful voice. The voice is a strong voice. That strong voice creates everything that exists.
Strength doesn’t always mean loud, though. Singers know that. A strong voice is clear, understandable, and of course, on the right pitch.
A strong voice doesn’t have to be a soloist. A strong singer leads others to be on the right pitch and blends with them, harmonizes with them, without drowning them out.
The prophet Elijah didn’t experience the voice of God as a loud voice. He knew that the voice of God was not in the earthquake, wind, or fire. Elijah recognized the voice of God in the sound of sheer silence.
Our psalmist today compares the voice of God to some of the sounds in nature. The psalmist believes that God’s voice is heard in creation.
The voice of God sounds like a storm to the psalmist. The God of glory thunders. The voice of the Lord bursts forth in lightning flashes.
It is understandable to think of God sounding like a storm. Storms are powerful and storms can be very frightening. This stormy voice knocks down trees and entire forests.
But the psalmist doesn’t sound frightened by the stormy voice of God. Perhaps “awed” is a better word.
Because the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor. This is a voice that makes whole nations dance like young animals. I have never seen calves dance and I have definitely never seen young wild oxen dance.
But we have all watched kittens and puppies play, and we have seen how they dance around each other. I remember seeing a litter of rabbits in our backyard in Lincoln. The bunnies were beautiful to watch as they were running and leaping over each other and playing in the sun.
Perhaps the voice of the Lord is also like music. It seems like maybe the psalmist hears the voice of the Lord as sounding more like an orchestra playing a symphony or a dance tune with loud drums and cymbals.
It appears that there are many ways God’s voice is expressed. Many people over the centuries have claimed to hear God speaking to them.
So how do we recognize that the voice is God? How do we know that the words we hear are from God and not from our own minds or the minds of someone who is leading us down the wrong path?
I believe that main way we know the voice is God's - is that we have the words of Jesus. We can ask if the words we hear are consistent with the things Jesus said when he walked the earth. We can ask if the words we think might be from God are consistent with the message of the scriptures.
Of course, that means we need to read and study the Bible. We may think we know what it says, but if we don’t read and study regularly, we forget what we learned in Sunday School.
We can forget something we heard a few minutes ago. We need to be reminded constantly. There are always so many distractions, both from the outside world and from the thoughts in our own minds.
We need to be reminded to listen to what the Lord God is saying. Today in the gospel we hear God’s voice tell Jesus he is the beloved Son.
We can be sure that when we hear a blessing, especially one that calls us beloved, that the voice comes from God. Because all love comes from God. We cannot say we love another person on our own. The gift of love always comes from God.
When we hear a word of forgiveness, we know that the voice comes from God. No one can say "I forgive you" on their own. The voice of forgiveness always comes from God.
When we hear a word of hope, we know that the voice comes from God. No human can manufacture hope. All of our hope is based on God's gift of grace. Our hope comes from knowing that the God who created all things in the beginning is busy redeeming, restoring, resurrecting, and recreating all things.
When we are listening for the voice of God, we don’t just have the words of Jesus, we also have his actions to follow. Jesus was baptized and instructed the disciples to baptize as well. We follow in his footsteps as we are baptized in his name.
And when we have identified that the voice belongs to God, how do we answer? Luther gives us four responses. He says we surely ought to: Thank, praise, serve, and obey.
We serve and obey God when we follow Jesus, both in baptism and on to his death, knowing that neither is the end of the story. But you can’t have one without the other.
The Bible tells us that the heavens were ripped open twice. The first time was at Jesus’ baptism. The other time was at his crucifixion. When we follow him into our baptism, we follow him to the cross. When we are joined to Christ in baptism, we are joined to him in his death. And when we are joined to him in death, we are joined to him in resurrection.
We respond to the voice of God with our thanks and praise in worship.
In both creation and baptism we heard that, “the voice of the Lord is upon the waters.”
Our response is to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. May God give us the blessings of peace. Amen.