“The Voice” – 01-13-13 – Baptism Of Our Lord (Epiphany 1) – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here: 

Scriptures:     Isaiah 43:1-7     Psalm 29     Acts 8:14-17     Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Whose voice?  The voice of the Lord.  In Isaiah 43:1-7, Isaiah is speaking for the Lord as the Lord is calling his beloved people home from exile in Babylon.  In Psalm 29, the Psalmist is describing the “voice of the Lord.”  In Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, we have the voice of the Lord speaking to Jesus immediately after the baptism of Jesus.

You may have wondered who “the Lord” is.  Is it God the Father, or God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit?  The name Lord is used interchangeably for these three persons.  Sometimes “the Lord” refers to all three at the same time.

The main focus today is the Baptism of our Lord which means the Baptism of Jesus.  But then, the voice of the Lord came from the heavens saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (NRSV) So that was God the Father speaking about God the Son.

If we look at the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 43:1-7, it seems as though the Triune God is speaking – all the persons of God together – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We read, “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, the God who saves you.” (CEV) Even though I think this is all of God speaking, the Israelites would only have been thinking of a single God, whom they called “LORD.”

In Acts 8:14-17, we don’t hear the word “voice” but we have the action of God the Holy Spirit.  People in Samaria had been baptized in the name of Jesus but when Peter and John were sent there, the Holy Spirit came upon the people through the hands of Peter and John.

In Psalm 29, we hear, “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; … 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 bursts forth in lightning flashes.  The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; …  The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.”  And the people reply, “O Lord, give strength to your people; give them, O Lord, the blessings of peace.”

How do you hear the voice of the Lord?  And when you do, do you think of it as all of God or do you think of the voice, or thought, being just from God the Son whom we call Jesus?  Or do you feel that the power of the God the Holy Spirit is doing the speaking?  Maybe you don’t hear an actual voice.  My communication from God is usually a strong thought – a directive that is so clear I know every word.  It comes suddenly to me, usually after I have tried to do my own thinking on a problem and finally I remember that God could be handling this problem so much better than my own mind and experience.  When I remember to hand it to God and admit that the solution is beyond me, God gives a good, strong thought to me.

How do you hear the voice of the Lord?  Maybe it is through another person.  Suddenly, something clicks for you after someone – be it stranger or friend, counselor or pastor, spouse or child or even parent – makes a casual comment or a stronger directive!  Sometimes we seem to read just the right article or book or hear someone on radio, TV, social media or in a movie.  We may think it is co-incidence.  Some of us call those times “God moments.”

Maybe because I am lazy, I usually think of “God” as being all three persons – the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit – instead of making the effort to decide which one I should be thanking.  These three persons form an extremely workable team who have been together forever.

Just think of the tremendous sacrifice by God the Father and God the Holy Spirit to send God the Son to earth to become our Savior.  Naming Jesus as “my beloved Son” by God the Father at the baptism was a pivotal point in the 33 years of Jesus’ time on earth.  There were all those witnesses; people who came to be baptized and to listen to this prophet, thinking that the baptism by John the Baptist would be sufficient.  John, the Baptist, cousin of Jesus, said “No! No!  I am not sufficient.  I am not even worthy to tie the sandals of this one who is coming.”

John the Baptist goes on to say that he, John, only baptizes with water for repentance.  Repentance means change.  So change can be good.  But John goes on to say, “This one who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Do we want fire?

This can be good if we think that within each of us is usable material and unusable, unhelpful, even hurtful material.  If this fire is to refine us, to make us more pure, the fire is good even though we are loath to see part of us disappearing by fire.  I prefer to think of the small tongues of flames that appeared at the Pentecost experience after the ascension of Jesus.  As He had promised, He sent the Holy Spirit.  The evidence of the Holy Spirit was a strong wind and these little flames that bounced on people’s shoulders and heads.

Those little tongues of fire embodied the idea of energy – good energy – filling those people and, onto today, filling us if the Holy Spirit thinks we are ready.  We may not think we are ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  We may not want the scary experience.  We may not want the responsibility.  We may not be comfortable with the idea that we will be propelled into unknown territory, or worse yet, into familiar territory with the people we already know who will not understand our transformation, our new zeal to be about the Lord’s business.

Yes, if we had been alive when John the Baptist was the evangelist extraordinaire, would we have scurried away, wanting nothing to do with even the baptism of repentance with water, not to mention the baptism of Jesus by the Holy Spirit and fire?

It is scary and yet awesome at the same time.  But how can we refuse?  After all, God knows our name – your name, my name.  Listen to Isaiah speaking to the Israelites in Isaiah 43:1, “But now thus says the Lord, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

Lest we are tempted to think that was just true for the Israelites, remember our lessons of last week when the gentiles were welcomed into this great family.  God created every single person on this earth!  I believe this to be true.  I believe that God knows the name of every single person on this earth!

Lest we think that the Lord meant he knows the name of the group and not the individuals, Psalm 139 gives a different impression.  If we don’t want God to be so intimate with us what can we do?  Are we going to hide?  Where would we hide?  In Psalm 139, God is saying that we cannot hide – not even in the darkest dark can we hide from his knowing, from his protection, from his love!

There were witnesses when God the Father boomed from Heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Even if we are doubters, even if we need to see with our own eyes and feel with our own hands before we acknowledge belief, think!

How do we know this is not a hoax?  How? How? How?  Faith is one of God’s reverse operations.  God takes logical thinking and turns it upside down.  Have you heard the phrase, “Take a leap of faith?”  Well, that is exactly what is necessary.  For some reason, God does not give proof until you and I succumb and say,. “I believe.”  Then God sends proof into our lives.  If things go wrong, we take a second look and realize that the situation could have been far worse.  Then we find ourselves in thankfulness mode.  If a son or a daughter seems to have lost his or her way big-time, God acts and when we open our eyes from prayer, there it is – proof that God knows us and cares for us.

What about the times when we think and feel that God has truly forgotten our names – not only our names, but that we exist?  What kind of proof is that?  The proof comes eventually when God explains, or acts, in our lives and we know with certainty once again that the Voice of the Lord has spoken.

Let us listen to the Voice of the Lord as we study our checkbook.  Let us listen to the Voice of the Lord when we have just lost our job and when we have been rejected for a new job endless times.  We say, “God, where are you?  Why are you not helping me in my time of need?”  Then the Voice of the Lord urges us to stay calm, to trust him, that he still knows our name and still loves us.  Is this true?  Does God really come through when we need him desperately?  Tell me.

Think about your life.  Is God ignoring you at this moment?  If so, look around.  Maybe God has sent someone in his stead – someone who wants, and is able, to help you.  Maybe we don’t hear the Voice of the Lord because we have loud earphones covering our ears.  Maybe we are trying to hear the Voice of the Lord in a noisy gym, or a noisy bar, or a noisy casino or because we are pleading with God in a loud voice and we cannot hear his voice calling our name.  Listen.  The Voice of the Lord is saying, “You are my beloved child.  I created you.  I named you.  I love you.  I will provide for your needs.”

Blessed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are the Lord God.  We honor and praise you in thankfulness for calling us with your Almighty Voice.  Amen