One thing that has happened to me since Davis was born that no one warned me about is that I hear him crying all the time. Not that he’s actually crying, I just think I hear it constantly. Sometimes I’ll be upstairs in the office on a Tuesday knowing full well he’s at daycare but I’ll think I hear him crying. The worst is when he spends the night with grandparents, I don’t sleep at all for thinking I’m hearing him crying and needs something.
Sounds have similar characteristics to what we talked about last week with tastes, in that they have the power to bring up memories for good or bad and trigger emotional reactions from us. Every time I hear “How Great Thou Art” I’m fifteen years old again at my grandmother’s funeral and there’s a fifty/fifty chance I’m going to start crying and not be able to stop. When I hear songs on the radio that were popular in high school or college they bring back memories of what was happening when I first heard them. I’m sure we all have voices we can still hear calling our names or telling us they love us or singing a particular song that grab us by the heart strings and make us thankful for the time we had while at the same time making us wish for more.
On the other hand, there are also sounds that immediately rub us the wrong way or bring up memories that aren’t as great. There are sounds that automatically come with baggage or cause us concern: the sound of an ambulance driving by late at night, glass shattering, for some of us the rumble of thunder in the distance. Perhaps more than any other sense our ability to hear can impact our mood, sounds can calm us down or work us up, can bring us joy or agitate us, they can elicit any number of responses from us, both good and bad.
Our text this morning deals with a particular sound, the sound of the voice of God, and specifically whether or not Jesus speaks with that voice. This conversation comes on the heels of Jesus healing a man who had been lame for nearly forty years. This healing causes some controversy because Jesus did it on the Sabbath so the Pharisees are angry with him because healing counts as work and therefore breaks laws about honoring the Sabbath. One of the things that the Pharisees believed, perhaps their central and defining belief, was that if everyone could just follow the Law for one day, just one day, God would be pleased with the people and send the Messiah to usher in the Kingdom of God. So they confront Jesus about this and the conversation eventually evolves into a bigger discussion about Jesus’ authority, how can he do what he does and why does he think he has the authority to forgive sins and interpret laws how he wants and call God his Father and claim equality with God.
Jesus’ answer to those questions isn’t satisfactory to them, he says he says those things because they’re true and he does these things because God has given him the authority to do it. In fact, God has given him the power to speak with the voice of God, to the point that one day, soon he says, the dead will hear his voice and be brought to life.
We see the power of the voice of God on display throughout scripture. First and foremost is the fact that God speaks creation into existence. With only a word God is able to order chaos and bring existence out of nothing. We also see that God’s voice has the ability to call. God speaks to Abram and calls him to leave his home and go to a land he doesn’t know because God intends to bless him there. God speaks to Moses and calls him to help set the Hebrew people free. God calls men and women throughout Scripture to serve as leaders of God’s people and speak difficult truths to them when they need to hear them. We see here that God’s voice can also raise people from the dead. That happens literally later on in John, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the grave after he’s been dead for four days, and there seem to be some statements about what will happen at some future time when Jesus will call all people forward in judgement, but if we focus on the literal here we miss something important for us. Throughout scripture as well we hear about a different kind of death, a spiritual death, a death that exists if we don’t know Christ. The voice of God can literally call us from death to life. Through knowing God, through reading God’s words, through trusting in God, we are woken up from lives destined for death and brought into life, life that Jesus later says will be had in full.
Jonathan Merritt, who you’ve heard me talk about as the author of “Learning to Speak God from Scratch,” wrote another book earlier in his life called “Jesus is More than You Imagine.” Its about this moment of crisis in his faith and the journey he went on to try to revitalize it. One thing he did was go to a monastery in the desert of Arizona and take a vow of silence for one week. And he writes about the experience in the silence. And he writes about coming to realize how often he talked at God and how rarely he talked with God. A conversation involves give and take, it involves speech and silence, talking and then listening. Most of us talk to God by giving a lecture that ends in amen and then we go about our way. The biggest challenge I think so many of us face as we attempt to reclaim the power of our faith in the 21st Century is learning to listen for the voice of God, because in that voice is the power to bring life out of death.
For some of us that isn’t a problem. Some of you recognize the voice and calling of God in your lives as easily as you would an old friend. My hope for you is that the voice doesn’t get too familiar. I have to change about every six months or so because I start to get used to it and sleep through it. If we get too comfortable with an alarm or any kind of sound then it loses the ability to make an impact on us. God’s voice is a similar thing. Our goal should be to be comfortable with listening for God, seeking God’s will in our lives, being open to the voice of God coming to us in different ways. Our challenge is not to become dismissive of that voice. To hear without being afraid but also without tossing it aside. There’s great power in the voice of God, may we all listen without fear