Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday of the Baptism of Our Lord, 8 January, 2022. Texts for this Sunday: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17.
17And a voice from
heaven said, “This is my Son, the
Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3.17)
I was newly ordained and had given a few sermons in my first parish, a lady
told me that I didn’t have a preacher’s voice.
Puzzled, I asked her what sort of voice that might be, and she told me
that a real preacher sounded like the radio evangelists she had grown up
with. She wanted someone whose voice
was loud and confident, which was a challenge for me because no one would cast
me as a radio preacher. I might get
cast as a soft spoken, absent minded academic, but nobody would ever giving
me the starring role in The Billy Graham Story!
I thought about it more, however, I realized that, above all else, my
parishioner wanted to hear an authoritative voice. Let me say up front that there’s a
difference between authoritative and authoritarian. An authoritarian voice is the strongman
demagogue, ranting and raving behind a microphone. That voice might be pleasing to those who
want their pre-existing prejudices confirmed, but that voice is full of
falsehoods, distortions, and gimmicks that can easily be seen through by the
the other hand, an authoritative voice is one that you trust. It’s the voice you want to give you
directions during a natural disaster, or the voice that advises you when the
markets are tanking. An authoritative
voice might be the voice of a beloved parent or grandparent, giving advice to a
young adult whose realized that they’ve made a terrible mess of things. Or it could be the voice of a trusted
commander, rallying frightened troops on the front lines.
authoritative voices seem very rare today.
When I was a kid watching the TV news with my father, there were a few
reliable voices that seemed to shape the world.
I remember the calm deep tones of Walter Cronkite, or the reassuring
face of Knowlton Nash, who always seemed like he would remain calm and credible
as he reported that Godzilla was loose on Parliament Hill. Today there is a multitude of voices speaking
about all sorts of things; most are highly biased, many are angry, some are
conspiratorial and some just want to make a buck (or, sometimes, both). As the Economist Magazine wrote recently,
it’s not like there’s a free speech crisis, but there’s definitely a listening
crisis, as more and more people today simply follow the voices they want to
hear, voices that confirm their own biases and don’t challenge them with
today’s preachers, I think the challenge isn’t trying to find the right tone of
voice to use, but rather, how do find a way to speak with any kind of authority
in a world that increasingly isn’t listening.
The sociologist Joel Thiessen, in recent book on religion in Canada,
says for most of the people he surveyed, they see religious beliefs as being
all individual choices, and they ”detest it when others push religion on
others” (Chp 1). Thus churches like
ours who want to grow, or even who just want to regain ground lost during
COVID, have a difficult challenge in front of us. How do we invite others to share our faith
and join us when so many people today seem to distrust religious messages? What gives our message any particular
authority? What voice do we use?
think the first thing we need to recognize is that we believe in a God who
speaks. Martin Luther wrote that God is
“loquacious” (Deus Loquens) which is a fancy way of saying that God is chatty. Think about how many times words like
“voice” appear in our readings today.
In today’s psalm, the voice of God practically roars. It is “powerful”, it “thunders”, it crackles
with energy like a huge fire. At times the voice of God seems like one of those giant wood chippers used by tree
companies: “The voice of the
Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple
all say, “Glory!” (Ps 29.9).
This particular voice of God is certainly authoritative – it’s the same
voice that calls that roars like wind over the dark waters of creation and
calls light and the world into being (Gen 1.2).
This is the voice of the mighty creator God, the God who speaks and does
stuff, but it would be unbearable to us poor mortals, though it is unfortunately
the voice that some evangelists aim for when the wave a bible in the air and
demand obedience (an authoritarian voice).
for us, the voice of God is also heard in our readings in other, gentler
ways. The prophet Isaiah speaks of God
sending a servant who will be surprisingly soft-spoken: “He will not cry or lift up his voice, or
make it heard in the street” (Isa 42.2).
As Christians, we see Isaiah as pointing towards Jesus, and we see Jesus
as being the most important voice of God. Jesus is indeed the living Word of God, the
one who as John says in his gospel the Word who was with God in the beginning
(John 1.1) and yet this word comes into the world with no voice of its own save
a baby’s cry.
gains his voice slowly, as any other human child does, and when he does appear
as a grown man in Matthew’s gospel, how does he speak? Jesus does not speak with a voice of thunder
or fire, as in the psalm, rather, he speaks to John with a voice of humility
and obedience to his Father. “Let it be so now” he tells a scandalized John the Baptist. “for it is
proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3.15). This
is the voice of one who sees himself as a servant rather than one who expects
to be served. It is the voice full of
love for God, a voice that wants to fulfil God’s desire to save humanity, and
it has its own authority.
there is one more voice to be considered in this today’s readings, and it is
the voice that speaks from heaven as Jesus rises from the water of the Jordan
River. “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3.17). We aren’t told how loud this voice is, but it
is affirming and it is loving and it is a voice that, like the voice of God in
Genesis, is creative, because Jesus comes out the Jordan as a new kind of
human, the new man who can save us from the sins of the first man, Adam.
of us has also heard this voice at our own baptism. At our baptisms we were named, and our
identities were formed, for each of us was said to a son or a daughter, a
beloved with whom God was well pleased.
The voice of God was at work in the water and in the oil we felt on our foreheads,
and the Spirit of God was at work in us, moving over the water of the font and
creating us anew (2 Cor 5.17), not just as a child of our parents and
godparents, but as a child of God. That
I think is the authoritative voice that more people need to hear, a voice from
God that says “you’re made by me, you’re beloved, you have an infinite value
that no one can take away from you”.
voice of God is authoritative because it forms us, it tells us that we’re
loved, and it tells us that our lives have value and purpose. It’s also a voice that allows us to see a
new and better world, a world without oppression or injustice. Do you remember the soft-spoken, gentle
servant that Isaiah spoke of in our first lesson? That person is the same who will “open the eyes that are blind [and] bring out the prisoners
from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isa 42.7). How can such a gentle voice achieve such
great things? Let me close with a short
story from the last few days.
ministry clergy team has a short Zoom call to catch up and encourage one
another. Our beloved Deacon at St. Luke’s
in Creemore was telling us of horrific conditions of neglect at the Huronia
Guest Home in Stayner. This business
has managed to dodge the regulations around proper long term care facilities by
calling itself a guest home, a glorified boarding house. Residents were living in filthy conditions,
infested with bedbugs, and lacking proper food, and the staff had gone without pay. Lorna’s quiet voice was full of anger as she
spoke about what she was hearing.
from Village Media, and the next day a piece appeared in Collingwood Today onthe place residents were calling “Bedbug City”. On Friday the Health Unit was there, and on
Saturday morning Lorna told me a CTV news crew was on site. I understand today the place will be closed
as soon as the residents can be rehoused.
I’m very proud of Rev Lorna for whatever role she played in helping put heat
and light on this situation. Hers was
the voice of the servant who cares about the prisoners and captives, and thus
her voice had credibility and authority.
churches need to claim in an increasingly secular world, but a world that still
cares about justice and goodness. All
Saints, all of us, must remember that we speak with the voice of God, the voice
that God gives us. It is not an authoritarian
voice, it is not a voice that makes demands or issues harsh judgements. It is a quiet voice that speaks in the
darkness and affirms each person as a beloved child of God. It’s a voice that calls us to repent of our
old selves and to be the new people that God always wanted us to be. It’s a voice that gives a damn about the victim
and the downtrodden, a voice that is compassionate but which can also get angry
when it needs to. It’s a voice that is
need to find and speak with. May the
Holy Spirit grant us this voice, and give us the courage to speak with it.