(Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7)
(watch here: http://youtu.be/ZpQeBdQzYe0)
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And 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. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He 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. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Throughout our lifetimes, we come across many different types of voices. There are spoken voices, written voices, musical voices, artistic voices, disciplinary voices, and celebratory voices to name but a few. Some of the voices soothe and calm us while others make us anxious and fearful. Some of the voices inspire and encourage us while others bore and discourage us. Some of the voices elate us while others anger us. All throughout our lives we hear or read or feel a great variety of voices. Along the way, we learn to categorize and prioritize all the voices. At a very young age, the first voices that come to us are those of our parents. Even in the womb we pick up on the voices of our parents! Nurses will tell this to pregnant couples as a means of encouraging them to speak to their unborn child. The baby does not have the slightest idea what is being said but recognizes familiar voices and associates basic feelings of fear or comfort with them. We learn, even in the womb, which voices to dread and which to draw nearer to.
This basic categorization continues after we are born and our brains develop our other senses besides hearing. We recognize our parents, our siblings, and other relatives. We learn what they smell like and feel like, not to mention what their actual voices sound like. Over time, we learn how to deduce our parents’ moods from their voices. We know when mom or dad is angry or happy by the tone of their voice. A study came out a couple years ago in the journal called “Cognitive Development” that suggested babies as young as 14 months can tell whether a parent has made a mistake by the tone of their voice. Apparently assurance or regret can be conveyed in our voices and babies will pick up on it. As if parents aren’t self-conscious enough about what we say around our child, now we must modulate our voices as well! Perhaps it’s better for our kids to hear our regrets so that they don’t repeat them. Nevertheless, the study illustrated how voices can profoundly affect us even at an early age.
Our readings for this week lift up one voice that has had a profound effect on all of creation since the beginning—the voice of God. In the reading from Genesis, we hear of how “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” In the beginning, before the heavens and the earth were created, there were only darkness, wind, and waters. But then God speaks. First and foremost, God gets rid of the darkness and speaks light into creation. We read, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” God didn’t send someone into creation to jumpstart it with light. God didn’t wrestle over the logistics of bringing light into creation. God simply spoke light into existence! God’s voice is that powerful! God’s voice creates when and where there is nothing to use for creating. God’s voice makes the impossible possible. We see this at the start of creation. God didn’t have anything to work with and yet found a way to bring life into creation. God found a way through His voice to set the wheels of creation in motion.
King David fully understood the awesomeness of God’s voice as heard in the psalm lifted up today. He sings, “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars. The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness. The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare.” What a mighty voice indeed! Again, we hear of how it hovered over the waters until it set creation into motion with light. The voice brings a whole multitude of mighty deeds. It breaks cedars, flashes forth flames of fire, shakes the wilderness, causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare. No other voice can come close in mightiness to that of God! Not even the angriest, most frustrated voices of our earthly fathers can compare! Yeah, dad can get pretty mad and get us pretty scared at times but this is nothing in comparison to God’s voice. God’s voice creates like nothing else, destroys like nothing else, heals like nothing else, hurts like nothing else, and loves like nothing else. God’s voice is unlike any voice in all of creation and David rightly sings praise of it.
So what makes God’s voice so unique and so powerful? Is it simply because of all the mighty deeds it sets into motion as David sings about? We read in the book of Acts that the apostle Paul understood the true conductor of power in God’s voice. Paul understood that what makes God’s voice so unique and powerful is the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that enacts change. It is the Spirit that breaks down barriers and enables us to hear and receive God’s voice. It is the Spirit that gives power to God’s voice.
We know this because of our reading from Mark. We read of how God’s voice came to Jesus by way of the Spirit. Jesus came to the river Jordan to be baptized by John. It turned out to be a baptism unlike any other. Of course, this is understandable. John baptized a baptism of repentance. Jesus is the Son of God. He had no reason to seek repentance. He is sinless; there are no sins to wash away. Instead, Jesus baptism involved the Spirit descending and God’s voice proclaiming, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” You see, the Spirit delivers God’s voice and enables Jesus to hear it. The Spirit profoundly changed Jesus’ life from that moment on. Jesus was claimed and named as the Son of God.
Through baptism, Jesus heard God’s voice and was forever changed. Through our salvation and baptism, we too hear God’s voice and are forever changed. The Spirit comes upon us as it came upon Jesus and we are claimed and named as beloved children of God. What a great privilege to be considered a child of the Almighty King! As children of God, we are inheritors of the kingdom of God. We have been given the kingdom to do with however we please. What a gift to be given a kingdom! At the same time, what a responsibility! As anyone who has ever inherited something will attest to, the gift implies a degree of thoughtful care. One is expected to use the gift wisely, putting it to use with the most benefit to the most people. Many people get frustrated with responsibility. Many people would rather not accept a gift so that they don’t have to be responsible. What a silly reason for not accepting a gift, eh? Nonetheless, receiving the gift of God’s voice also implies a degree of responsibility. Jesus knew the responsibility associated with being named the Son of God. We, too, should know the responsibility associated with being named children of God. Our baptisms are gifts of both new life and new responsibility.
Let’s think about the voice of our parents again. They, too, are gifts of new life and responsibility. They guide and protect us, nurture and sustain us, throughout our lives. But they also demand responsibility. You see, our parents want us to be responsible for ourselves…GOD wants us to be responsible for ourselves! Until we’re able to do that, we’re expected to be obedient. Obedience assumes parents or those in authority know what’s best for us. After all, they’re the ones responsible for us until we can be responsible for ourselves. Both our parents and God are responsible for us. Once we leave the care of our parents, we’re left to the care of God. Unlike our earthly parents, we never leave God’s care. We are always children of God and we must always be obedient to God! Which isn’t all that bad because God always knows what’s best for us.
God’s voice is an awesome voice, channeled through the Holy Spirit to perform awesome deeds. But God’s voice demands perfect obedience. Whenever I reflect on this demand, I ponder the obedience of Arabian horses. Arabian horses go through rigorous training in the deserts of the Middle East. The trainers require absolute obedience from the horses, and test them to see if they are completely trained. The final test is almost beyond the endurance of any living thing. The trainers force the horses to do without water for many days. Then he turns them loose and of course they start running toward the water, but just as they get to the edge, ready to plunge in and drink, the trainer yells out to stop. The horses who have been completely trained and who have learned perfect obedience, stop. They turn around and come pacing back to the trainer. They stand there quivering, wanting water, but they wait in perfect obedience. When the trainer is sure that he has their obedience he gives them a signal to drink. Now this may seem severe but when you are on the trackless desert of Arabia and your life is entrusted to a horse, you had better have a trained obedient horse.
Life, at times, can be like the trackless desert of Arabia. It’s easy to get confused by all the voices trying to tell us what to do. All those various types of voices, all those voices from different people, they all have their purposes. But they’re all temporary voices. There’s only one true voice that has been around since the beginning, creating life where there was no life: God’s voice. As David sung out, God’s voice has done mighty and powerful things. Paul teaches us it is the Holy Spirit that makes God’s voice audible to us. We have been baptized with the Spirit as Jesus was baptized. We must be obedient to God’s voice in our lives just as the Arabian horses are obedient to their masters. God’s voice is unlike any other voice…a voice above all voices.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.