A Voice from Heaven

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Matthew 3: 13-17

Preface

Ted Williams made a re-appearance this week, though not within the confines of Fenway Park. A roving reporter in Columbus, Ohio heard and recorded the voice of a homeless man so named, a voice from heaven, or at least from beyond the normal ranges of human speech. What a voice!

Is there anything quite as personal as one’s voice?

A fingerprint, a birth date, a manner of laughter, all these are quite personal, but not quite as personal as one’s voice.

I have a friend, a colleague in ministry, who has endured a stroke. His voice, his pulpit voice is so precious and so personally his, so central and so meaningful to so many, that I feared greatly it might have gone. But I am told his voice perseveres. What a voice!

Is there anything quite as personal as one’s voice?

As we age we do notice other unique features of our being, ways peculiarly are own. Our manner of grieving is one of those. We all ride the same waves in grief, the waves of denial and anger and acceptance, and the waves of remembrance and thanksgiving and affirmation. But we surf the waves in our own very particular way, with our own voice. What a voice!

Is there anything quite as personal as a voice?

Will you permit me to say something very personal, speaking of the personal character of one’s voice? As we age we take notice of quite unique features of our being, ways of being particularly our own. Our manner of dying is one of those. It is a signature, our signature, our very signature. The early Methodists (read David Hempton) placed great store and stock in the manner of dying, holy living yes, but holy dying too. They offered no recipe. To the contrary: They saw and knew the utterly personal voice, like the silver swan’s, which resounds, like a steeple bell, in the personal way we die. Such a voice…

Is there anything more tellingly personal?

Hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news offered us today: the voice of heaven is known in Jesus, a voice of one loved, of one who loves, of one who teaches love, of one whose self offering is love.

This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

Here is the divine signature, the divine fingerprint, the divine birth date, the divine manner of laughter, the divine voice, the voice from heaven which rings out today: my beloved Son.

Here too is the divine signature, the divine way of grieving, the divine way of dying, the divine voice, the voice from heaven which rings out today: my beloved Son.

Is there anything more personal than a voice?

St. Matthew implores us to hear in the way he rewrites the story. Matthew write in 85ce, updating and changing and developing what Mark wrote in 70ce. There is such a power and beauty in watching the faithful creative courage by which the New Testament writers adjust the preaching of the Gospel each to their own time and place. In our reading today, John the Baptist is clearly demoted, lowered but retained to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus is the actor in the drama, whose movement up out of the water is immediate. We are forcefully told that the dove like Spirit is unmistakably the Spirit of God. The voice from heaven speaks to us: This is! This is my beloved. Mark and Luke, Matthew’s verses imply, may have the words right, but they lack volume and verve: my beloved Son!

May we hear the voice from heaven, rippling in the river waters of the Jordan, and in the mystery of creation. May we hear the voice of heaven, carried along in the career of Christ, resounding in the heart and the conscience, and in the history of the community of faith. Creation and mystery, conscience and history. Creation and mystery, conscience and history. Are you searching for faith, longing for faith, growing in faith? Hear a voice from heaven, in creation and conscience.

Creation

The psalmist says, the heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech nor are there words. Their voice is not heard. Yet their voice goes out to all the world and their words to the end of the earth.

Listen to the mystery of creation.

13 Billion years ago, SOMETHING HAPPENED. An infinitesimal nothing exploded into an immeasurable something. 13 billion years ago.

Since then the Universe has continued to expand and cool down. Like many a middle aged fellow, our world is getting bigger and a little slower.

The farther out in space we look, the farther back in time we see: think quasar, think red shift, think black hole. The universe has neither a center nor an edge.

4.6 Billion years ago, our neighborhood solar system came to be, with carbon, oxygen, silicon and iron. Gravity had something to do with it, pulling together gas and dust. Nuclear reactions too had something to do with it.

3.8 Billion years ago, our beloved Mother Earth, within the aforementioned solar system, cooled enough, just enough, so that a single cell of life emerged.

3 Billion years ago, the process of photosynthesis, and hence an increase in earth’s oxygen, developed.

2 Billion years ago, a billion years of photosynthesis in motion later, the earth was full of the glory of oxygen.

½ Billion years ago, 500 million years ago that is (actually, to be precise, 540 million years ago), there occurred the so-called Cambrian explosion, a veritable plethora, cornucopia, flood tide and pleroma of life forms, including a personal favorite, trilobites.

¼ Billion years ago, or to be exact about 240 million years ago, great dinosaurs populated the earth.

1/20 Billion years ago (or, more exactly, 65 million years ago), these self same dinosaurs, kings of the earth, were summarily and totally extinguished, perhaps by a comet hitting earth. But the disappearance of the dinosaurs made space for the appearance of other life forms.

4.5 million years ago, just yesterday in a way, your first ancestor appeared, a hominid.
100,000 years ago, just a few minutes ago, homo sapiens appeared on earth.

30,000 years ago, forms of cultural life, including art and creativity and agriculture and weaponry, began slowly to develop.

2,500 years ago, the Bible began to be composed and collected.

See: The Big Bang, at the NYC Museum of Natural History.

One day you may look down at your left hand, at two fingers there, and you may again, childlike, awake just to this, something not nothing. Creation. The mystery of something not nothing.

A poetic New England voice said this more simply. We thank Thornton Wilder for his brevity.

We are in New England so we shall lift up a New England memory. You remember the letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. On envelope it said: To Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; Earth; Solar System; the Universe
; the Mind of God…and the postman brought it just the same.

Creation. Mystery.

Conscience

Our psalmist today says: The voice of the Lord is over the waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful. The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple, all say ‘Glory’.

Listen to the history of conscience. We are not the first to find ourselves awestruck, singing ‘Glory’. Our hearts are restless, until they find their rest…

You are part of a history of conscience, a long train of witnesses. In fact, we can carry the memory of Christian reflection in the model of a single day. A brief history of Christian thought carries us from to dusk.

Conscience. History.

Dawn: Jesus is Crucified and Risen. His Gospel is preached by Paul. The Synoptic Gospels are written to preach the same Gospel, with the aid of His story, teachings, deeds. Other letters are written to apply the Gospel to the growth of the church.

Morning: In response to the small Bible (Luke and the Letters of Paul) of Marcion, a Roman Gnostic, the Christian Bible (66 books) is assembled. John translates the preaching of the Gospel into the idiom of neo-platonic, gnostic thought.

Late Morning: Augustine of Hippo, converted from Manicheaism (an eastern Gnosticism), develops a full theological system, relying largely on Paul, in conflict with the British Monk Pelagius. Both Reformers and Counter Reformers rely later on him.

Noon: Thomas Aquinas in the 12th century constructs a medieval theological system, blending the basics of Aristotelian philosophy with the Scripture and tradition of the church.

Afternoon: The medieval synthesis begins to unravel under the influence of the early renaissance and pre-reformation.

Late Afternoon: The great reformers of Germany (Luther), France (Calvin) and England (H8 and later Wesley) shatter the Roman medieval synthesis on the basis of faith alone, Scripture alone, and a return to Augustine and Paul.

Evening: Post-Enlightenment modern theology reaches its zenith in the 19th\mid 20th century work of liberals (Schleiermacher), neo-orthodox thinkers (Barth) and culminates in the last full systematic theology to date (Tillich).

Dusk: Post-modern Christian theology, skeptical of universal systems, and indebted to particular, autobiographical witnesses, accentuates the varieties of religious experience and theological perspective (Black: Cone, Latino: Guttierez, Asian: Koyama, Feminist: Ruether, Canadian: Hall, other).

See: Robert Allan Hill, Meditations from Marsh Chapel

You know, children know, the voice of conscience. To bring humility. To scorn laziness. To admit failure, mistake, accident. To stand apart from religion, its pride and sloth and falsehood, its superstition and idolatry and hypocrisy.

A poetic New England voice said this more simply. We thank Amos Wilder, Thornton’s brother, for his brevity.

One said of him: His wartime experience recorded in his early poetry opened him up to the catastrophic depths of humanity, while his vision of hope, derived from his biblical story, allowed him to press beyond the negative limits of his time. His poetic eye enabled him to see connections between the Bible and literature, the Kingdom of God and modern ethics, religious experience and contemporary symbols. (AW, W, 2).

Conscience. History.

The voice from heaven, in mystery and history. The voice from heaven, in creation and conscience.

By this voice we are set upon a path that will set us apart. It is a path of love, joy and peace. It is a path of deep personal faith and active social involvement. It is a path of believing, belonging and behaving. It is a path that moves from the self -centered to the centered self. It is a path of costly discipleship not of cheap grace, a path of living for others through a religion-less Christianity. It is a path of commitment, delight, and wonder. It is a path of salvation. The need is salvation and the way is faith.

We apply the Gospel to ourselves, this morning, as a people again confronted by the tragedy of violence. Our prayerful thoughts go out to those hurt and worse in Tucson. For our part, we shall try again this week to learn and speak the language of love. We shall commit and commend ourselves to mimic the voice of heaven, however lispingly we shall do so. Let our words be those of encouragement, of contrition, of honest kindness and kind honesty, in public and in private.

Coda

The voice from whom we come and to whom our spirits shall return. Blessed by God, loved by God, held by God, known by God, meant for God, baptized for God. What a voice!

A voice from heaven, in creation and conscience, given for the healing of the earth, all of the earth.

The voice from heaven is spread through the earth. In season and out. In church and out. In religion and out. In the city and in the country. On the dry land of experience and out in the river Jordan of faith.

What a voice!

Six years ago, a friend and I stopped at a country book sale. He bought a volume or two of English history. I bought a 1934 edition of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. I read in it every now and then. Six years later, this past week, I came upon page 768, and here is what I read: “A voice sure of being heard, and musical, because it was the command not only of authority to obedience, but of wisdom to happiness”.

~ The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel

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