My sister recently shared an old recording done by the youth choir in the church in which we grew up. When I put the flash drive into my computer to listen, the first thing I heard was a male’s voice introducing the choir. It took me several minutes to recognize the voice. It was my father, who was the pastor of the church. I was so surprised at first that I hadn’t recognized his voice. It may have been partly because he was using his “pastor voice,” which was different from his relaxed at-home voice. But even more, it was probably because I hadn’t heard him speak for almost 25 years following his death. I had simply forgotten the sound of his voice.
In this season of the church year we are reminded many times of the need to listen for God’s voice to guide us. In the Epiphany story, the wise men are warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, but by another road. God’s voice often came to people in Scripture through dreams. When I was on retreat years ago, our leader sent us off on our own one afternoon to read, pray or journal. She also said that taking a nap was a perfectly fine option, since God can also speak to us in our dreams. When Jesus was baptized the voice of God spoke to affirm his identity and equip him for what was ahead: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Martin Luther encourages all of us to remember our baptisms daily so that we hear the affirmation of God’s promise speaking to us as well: “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.” As Jesus begins his ministry, we hear his words of invitation calling us as surely as the first disciples: “Come and see. Follow me.” And as we too follow him all the way to the cross, that voice from heaven heard at his transfiguration, speaks words of instruction to us, too: “This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him!”
Through all these stories we learn to trust that God is still speaking. God’s voice addresses us just as it did to all those biblical characters years ago. And if we want to hear God’s voice, we must continually be attentive to it in God’s Word. Theologian Karl Barth once said that the question the Bible answers is not, “Does God exist?” but “What has the God who exists said?” And so we spend time reading the Bible, praying not only with our words but also with our ears, discerning the Word not just alone but in community, trusting that through the Holy Spirit we will hear what God says to us. This is how we recognize and remember the sound of God’s voice.
A pastor tells the story of the time a visitor came up to him, after worshiping with his congregation for several weeks, to inquire about becoming a member. “What makes you want to join?” the pastor asked him. “The preaching,” he replied. “Oh,” he said, feeling his head swell a little bigger. “You think the preaching’s pretty good, do you?” “Good? No. No, you’re not very good, sorry. But you do preach like you really believe God said all this stuff.” When we answer the call to fish for people, as those first disciples did by the Sea of Galilee, we do so really believing that God has spoken, that God said all this stuff, and that God continues to speak even now.
There are so many voices in our lives that vie for our attention–from the talking heads on TV to the self-talk in our own heads. All of the chatter that can threaten to drown out the One Voice we need to hear most. Yet even when we forget to listen, God does not remain silent. God still has a word for us. May we, like Samuel, open our ears and hearts to hear God’s voice, and then to respond, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Let us pray...
Listen to the word that God has spoken; listen to the One who is close at hand; listen to the voice that began creation; listen even if you don’t understand.
(Hymn #974 from All Creation Sings)