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Monday, May 23, 2022

Why him? Why only him?

 


Sixth Sunday of Easter - Rogation Sunday
May 22, 2022 
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE 

 

As miracle stories go in Scripture, this one would not be a favorite of mine.

 

See? I like miracle stories like the one where everyone is hungry and all the disciples can find are five loaves and one fish, but at the end of the story, everyone gets to eat. Everyone experiences a miracle. And, there’s food left over! Now, that’s my kind of miracle story!

 

I also like miracle stories with a surprise: Like the one with the Canaanite woman who pleads for healing for her daughter but the disciples keep shushing her and sending her away. Nevertheless, she persists. At the end of the story, she surprises Jesus with her intelligence and quick wit and faith. And, Jesus surprises her – and his disciples – with the healing she seeks.

 

And then there are the dramatic miracle stories, the kind that make even his disciples gasp: The healing of the leper. I mean, a LEPER, for goodness sake! No one goes near, much less heals a leper. Or the Gerasene demoniac in which Jesus commands the demons to leave the man and enter a herd of swine who then – OMG – jump over a cliff to their death. Talk about dramatic!

 

Those are some wonderful healing miracle stories, right? If Oprah were talking about this, she’d say, “And YOU get a miracle! And YOU get a miracle! Everybody gets a miracle!”

 

Not so with this story from John about the paralytic who has been waiting there, at the Pool of Beth-zatha (or, as it is known today Bethesda) by the Sheep Gate (now known as the Lion Gate) in Jerusalem. He had been there, waiting for healing, for thirty-eight long years.

 

He is one among many invalids who wait by the pool for an angel to come and ‘trouble the waters’ – to stir up the waters – which was when the miracle of healing had been known to happen. The problem is that there was apparently a small window of time when one could get oneself into the pool while the angel was there, troubling the waters, and because the man was paralyzed and the crowd so large, he could never get there on time.

 

Well, the belief at the time was that the ‘troubling of the waters’ was done by an angel. Other said it was the miracle of Nature – that the flow of water feeding the pool at Bethesda was intermittent, giving the impression of being occasionally – and mysteriously, magically, miraculously – stirred.


If the story about the angel were true it would mean that the fittest and ablest person would be healed first while leaving the needy and frail to continue to suffer. But, those of us who have heard the other miracle stories of Jesus know that this is not how He works.  Jesus always, always, always ministers to the neediest of all those seeking healing, in this case, one who was an invalid for 38 years and who had no other hope!

Which, I suppose, is the point of this healing story. Jesus healed the neediest. I get it. But, I don’t like it. I mean, if Jesus can heal one, he can heal them all. Can’t he? What about all the other people who had come to the pool, desperate for healing? Why were they left out? 

 

Instead, Jesus singles out one man and gives him his full attention. There’s no clue as to why, except that he has been there a long time. Lots of commentators surmise that he is the only one who responds to Jesus’ offer for healing, but that’s not in the text. It remains a mystery.

 

Why him? Why only him?

 

It makes the healing and miraculous work of Jesus look arbitrary and capricious. That is not what we know to be the nature of God as revealed in Jesus but, you know, that’s exactly what some people believe.

 

I’ll never forget the image I saw of the devastation of one of those awful tornados in Texas or Kansas or Oklahoma. It was an arial view of the total destruction of a neighborhood in which you could see the arbitrary, winding path of the tornado. Everything for miles was reduced to sticks and rubble except for two houses – one was still standing, although the back end was blown off – and the other was standing fully intact, not even a flower pot out of place.

 

In front of that house, the owner had placed a sign which read, “Thank you, God, for saving our home.” I gasped. “Really?” I heard myself say. “I wonder what his neighbors think about that. Why was his house saved but not there’s? Was that divine intervention or just dumb luck?”

 

I’ve never heard a satisfying answer to this complex query into the mind of the Divine. Here’s the thing: Everyone has something. We’re all afflicted by some illness, some hardship, some shame, some dysfunction. You may never know it, watching the streams of people who seem to be healthy and whole pass you by or sit next to you in church. And not all afflictions are on the same scale. But you can count on it. Everyone has something.

 

Why then doesn’t God heal us all?

 

I do not know the answer to that question. But I do know that God has healed me, in ways that people wouldn’t call miraculous or supernatural but that seem so to me. God has healed depression, broken­heartedness, financial insecurity, grief, doubt and yes, my own racism and internalized sexism and homophobia are being healed every day. Like the man at the sheepgate, I have been healed not only for my good but for the hope-filled proclamation that God can – and, indeed, does – work miracles. It’s that the nature of miracles is a deep mystery.

 

I also know that miracles have happened in others. The same dis-eases with which I have been plagued have troubled the lives of others as well. I have seen confrontation, confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing in situations which I had originally thought hopeless. But, the miracle happened slowly, over time, with a lot of work and some sacrifice on both sides. It happened so slowly you might have missed it. But it happened. And, it was miraculous.

 

How many miracles are happening around us daily, but we miss them because we’re looking for the modern equivalent of demons jumping into pigs and pigs jumping over cliffs? We want the drama of angels troubling waters but then we miss the miracles that can come out of troubled times in our lives.

 

The grand sweep of God’s love may be universal, but the application is personal. Jesus deals in particu­lars. We do too. The church – the Body of Christ – gets to pay attention to the condition of individual people and to confront merciless systems which shrug its shoulders at the troubling increase in homelessness. The church gets to expand the definition of healing from just physical to emotional and spiritual. And the church gets to be honest and, when necessary, speak truth to power in ways that can bring both individual and systemic change.

 

On this Rogation Sunday, when we ask for God’s blessing on creation – on the seeds that will bring beautiful flowers and trees that will bring luscious fruit and earth that will bring nourishing vegetables – we are witnesses to God’s healing power on what was once hard, cold barren earth. And, in that, we are recipients of the greatest healing miracle of all: Hope.

 

Truth be told, hope is my favorite healing miracle story of all time. Hope is what Jesus gave to ever person he ever healed. Hope is strong medicine. Hope can heal a broken heart. Hope can open the eye of those who have been blind to prejudice. Hope can lift the clouds of darkness and bring the light of insight and wisdom. Hope can inspire someone knocked down by life again and again to pick himself up, dust herself off, and try one more time.

 

I believe hope is what helped the paralytic man to believe he could stand up, pick up his mat and walk. Hope troubles the waters of our faith, and helps us to believe Jesus when he said, “. . . . with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26)  

 

“Hope,” wrote Emily Dickenson, “is a thing with feathers.” Perhaps it was that thing with feathers that appeared as an angel to the ancient people around that pool at Bethesda. I believe hope is a bird that has always lived within the human soul and sings whether there is rain or shine, wind or calm, plenty or scarcity, good times or bad.

 

It is the song of hope, my friends, which helps us to push through the numbing, paralyzing, constant drone of bad news in the world. It is the Devil’s delight to see us separated by conflict and divided by ideology and politics. Jesus wants us to be one, as he and God are one. That was his most fervent prayer. And that we love one another as he loves us.

 

Hope is the delight God has in God’s creation which inspires us to find the good, to see possibility, to hear the call of Jesus over the troubled waters of our lives, saying to each one of us, “Stand up, take up your mat, and walk.”

 

That’s not the question. The question is the same as Jesus asked the paralytic man, "Do you want to be made well?"

 

Amen.


Sunday, May 15, 2022

Knowing and being known

 

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
Livestream Sirach 26:10 on Facebook
Easter V - May 15, 2022
 

Apparently, the Spirit has given me a lot to say this morning, so buckle up.


This is a sermon about knowing and being known. The first part will lay down some basic information about the particular workings of the Episcopal Church. I would much prefer to do that during an Adult Forum but, well, we all live very busy lives. We have to capitalize on whatever time we have together. And this, I think, is both important and timely.

 

Actually, it’s almost that time. The 80th General Convention of The Episcopal Church will be held in Baltimore, MD, presently scheduled for July 7-14 but now under negotiation to be made shorter and smaller and hybrid because of the recent surge of COVID. It will focus on “essential” items – like passing the budget, electing a new Presiding Bishop and a new President of the House of Deputies, among other essential issues.

 

Now, for those of you who are new (and a lot of you are) to The Episcopal Church, let me give you a very brief, thumbnail sketch of what GC is: It is one part “My Big Phat Episcopal Reunion,” combined with one part “Dead-serious Legislative Session,” mixed in with daily Bible Study and Eucharist, and all topped off with a heavy soupcon of “The Anglican Circus has come to town.”

 

I do hereby confess: I am a General Convention junkie. I’ve been attending since 1985, 4 times as an elected deputy. For good or for ill, the General Convention is the way the business of The Episcopal Church is done. Every three years, we meet in convention where elected deputies vote on a variety of resolutions which then become the policy or polity of our church.

 

The story that gets told is that when the Constitution of the United States was being written by day in Constitution Hall in Philadelphia, some of those same people would walk down the street by night and meet in the Parish Hall of Old Christ Church where they would write the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.

 

It’s not a surprise, then, that governance of The Episcopal Church very much resembles the governance of The United States. In order for a bill to pass Congress, it must pass both houses – The House of Representatives and the Senate. In order for a resolution to become policy or polity or canon (law) of the Church, it must pass both the House of Deputies (made up of four elected laity and four elected clergy from every diocese) and the House of Bishops. 

 

Note, please, the word deputy vs delegate. Delegates are elected to diocesan convention.  Deputies are elected to General Convention. That is due to the theology that the Holy Spirit works through the election and voting process, so deputies are “deputized” not to represent their diocese but to vote their conscience – even if that places them at odds with others in their diocese.

 

This is, in part, how we are known and how we know ourselves to be Christians who are Episcopalians: this entity we call General Convention; this corporate and communal work of the Holy Spirit. No diocese can come into – or out of – being, no money can be spent, no rubric can be written, no change to the Calendar of Worship or BCP or Hymnal, no canon can become law, without the approval of General Convention – laity, clergy and bishops, guided by the Holy Spirit.

 

To date, roughly 215 resolutions have been filed for General Convention. While it is not uncommon for a flurry of resolutions to be filed as convention approaches, the current total is far below the 500-600 resolutions typically considered at a convention. There is one resolution – and, there’s always at least one resolution – that is causing high drama and near apoplexy.

 

Resolution C028 has been proposed by the Diocese of Northern California that would repeal the Episcopal canon that requires worshipers to be baptized before receiving Communion in Episcopal churches.

 

Weeelllll . . . . you may not know this, but this has caused a firestorm in every place on social media platforms where Episcopalians gather. Now, I’ve been ‘round The Episcopal Church in general and General Convention in particular since the 68th General Convention held in Anaheim, CA, in September of 1985. That was when the so called “culture wars” were just starting to reach a boil.

 

Every now and again, however, this issue has reared its head and every time it does, it is met with the same hysterical, pearl-clutching drama and cries from the seminarians and graduates of what I like to call “The Chicken Little School of Theology” in which they claim that if we do away with the requirement of baptism before communion, it will be the end – THE END, I tell you! – of Christianity in general and The Episcopal Church in particular.

 

We will have thrown the proverbial baby out with the proverbial bath water, they say. This is not about hospitality, they say. Communion is not a coffee hour. This is not about inclusion, they say. Everyone is welcome, but you must be a baptized member to receive the sacraments. If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything. Baptism is about our identity. We can’t lose our identity.

 

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Etc., etc., etc.. . . . (Le sigh)

 

Jack Spong, onetime bishop of Newark, an equally loved and despised theologian who often provoked pearl-clutching, Chicken Little hysteria, used to say in his quiet, confident Southern drawl, “The church will die of boredom long before it dies of controversy.”

 

No, I’m not going to answer the question for you. I respect your intelligence too much to provide easy answers. Instead, I want to ask a few questions. Our collect prayer contains these words: “Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life . . . “. What does it mean to ‘perfectly know’ Jesus?

 

In the first reading, from the Book of Acts, Peter is struggling with this very issue. He’s been following Jesus and eating with the ‘uncircumcised’ – the Gentiles, the great unwashed – who “had accepted the Word of God,” and is getting real pushback from the apostles and disciples.

 

So, Peter went up to Jerusalem to investigate and had a dream – three times – about the sacred and the profane. He hears a voice say, “`What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” He remembers Jesus saying, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” And, Peter asks, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"

 

Indeed! What does it mean to ‘perfectly know’ Jesus? How do we know ourselves as Christians? How is it that we are known as Christians by others?

 

What is it that makes a Christian? Is it rational thought? An intellectual ability to hear and understand and accept the Word of God? If that is so, why do we baptize infants? Is it having been ‘slain in the Spirit’, hearing and seeing angels who direct our lives? Or, is it the ability to stand in church, properly dressed, listening to proper music, reading proper words from a proper prayer book, having been properly sprinkled with Holy Water by a proper priest and properly baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (not ‘Creator, Word, and Spirit’)?

 

At the “Last Supper,” in that Upper Room, after Judas left the room, Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

 

Sometimes, showing love for one another means breaking the rules. Or, more accurately, it’s breaking the rules so we can follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. It's about breaking open the rules to release the spirit of the law vs being held hostage by the letter of the law.  

 

Look, I'm not saying that I think baptism ought not to be required before communion; neither am I saying that baptism ought to be required before communion. I just want you to know that no matter what General Convention (or if GC even gets to vote on the matter), I'll not be checking baptismal certificates at the altar rail any time soon.

 

I may have told you this story but it’s good enough to hear again. It’s the story about the Band of Brothers who were fighting in WWII – five of whom got separated from their battalion. They took on some heavy fire and one of them was shot and killed.


The remaining four could not leave their brother’s body. One of them noticed a church with a graveyard just up the hill. The four men carried their brother’s body up the hill and knocked on the door of the rectory.

 

They asked the priest if they could bury their brother’s body in the graveyard, promising to return after the war to pay the priest whatever it cost. The priest only had one question: Had the man been baptized in the Catholic church?


Gee, they said, we know he believed in God. We know he read the bible, so he must have been Christian. We know he loved his wife and kids and wrote home faithfully. But we don’t know anything about his religion much less whether or not he had actually been baptized.

 

The priest apologized and said that the cemetery was sacred ground and he could only bury those who had been duly baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But, as this was war, he would make an exception: They could bury him just outside the fence.

 

Which is exactly what they did. Five years after the war ended the four men found each other and planned a trip back to fulfill their promise. The found the old church and went immediately to where they had dug the grave. They were stunned to find nothing there.

 

Angry, they knocked on the door of the rectory and demanded to know what the priest had done with the body of their friend. “Oh, said the priest, I thought a great deal about what you said and prayed about it. And then,” he said, “I moved the fence.”

 

St. John wrote in the Book of Revelation, “And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new."

 

In St. John’s gospel, he reports that Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

 

And, that, my friends, is all I really need to know about perfectly knowing Jesus and being known as Christian. God knows, it’s not easy. It’s ever so much simpler to make rules and make sure everyone follows them.

 

But, loving one another, just as Jesus loves us? That, I’m afraid, requires some pretty hard work. Like, moving some fences.

 

Amen.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

I bid you goodnight

 

 

A Eulogy in honor of Harriet *****

Melson’s Funeral Home Chapel – Long Neck, Delaware

Saturday, May 7, 2022

(the Rev Dr ) Elizabeth Kaeton, chaplain

 

 

(sung) Lay down, my dear sister, lay down and take your rest

I want to lay your head upon your savior’s breast.

I love you, but Jesus loves you best.

I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.

I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.*

 

She was a lady.

 

That’s the first thing everyone I talked to said about Harriett *******

 

She was a lady. She never gossiped. She never said anything negative. God knows, she was never heard to have cussed. Not even on a bad day. Not even when she lost at the slots at Harrington Casino.

 

How could she? She loved playing the slots. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. That’s the game. That’s part of the fun. And, there’s always next time.

 

That was the attitude of life of a woman who seems to have been blessed with the patience of the angels. I didn’t meet or speak with anyone who knew her as a child or a young adult. I imagine she must have had her moments.

 

Then again, this was a woman who waited five years for the man of her dreams. She waited patiently because she believed him. He gave her his word and she trusted him. She loved him. Completely. Fully. Without hesitation or reservation.

 

And Alvin? Well, he loved her right back.

 

There’s every indication in the obituary and the pictures and from their neighbors that this was a love of a lifetime – a love for the ages – a love that inspired others to try and emulate what they had.

 

What I love most about Harriet and Alvin is that they encouraged each other’s success. The other day, when I was visiting with Alvin, he showed me the sun room which he was having built for Harriet. It wasn’t finished in time for her to enjoy it from the inside, but one of the last things she said to Alvin, as she was sitting at the breakfast table, looking out at the sun room, was to say, “I’m so happy just sitting here, looking out at the sun room.”

 

What she didn’t know is that Alvin has created a wall in that sunroom which will hold all the tributes and accomplishments she achieved in her life. You may have heard the story of how she worked her way up the corporate ladder. What you might not know – well, some of you might – is that, while that climb is hard enough to achieve, it’s even more difficult climbing up that corporate ladder in a tailored skirt and high heels! (Am I right, ladies?)

 

But, Harriet did it. And, she did it with a smile on her face. And, a sense of quiet confidence that inspired others from around the country to call her when they had a question or a problem that seemed impossible to solve. Harriet quietly and efficiently found the answer or the solution.

 

It was her competence and skill and experience, combined with her quiet confidence and gentle spirit that provided the extra lift she needed up that long, steep corporate ladder.

 

What Harriet knew was this ancient wisdom: The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Showing love to the people who would do us wrong is not just a nice thought you can find in scripture or practiced by Gandhi and Dr. King; it’s one of the things that will save humanity, one human contact at a time.

 

Now, you don’t have to stop making what John Lewis called “good trouble” in order to practice the better as a criticism of the bad. You don’t have to be a certain gender or age, ethnicity or race; you don’t have to have a particular religious or political persuasion and violate your conscience to practice the better. You just have to make the commitment to make it your default setting and practice the better every single day of your life – just the way Harriet did.

 

Some called that being a lady. That’s certainly one way to describe it. I think Harriet was also a very wise woman who, with her beloved Alvin by her side, and she by his, together had the courage to live out their belief that the best way to transform that which mitigates against the common good is to be the change we want to see. Alvin and Harriet did that. Separately and together.

 

Ultimately, all those awards and honors of her accomplishments will only be a small part of Harriet’s legacy. Her greatest legacy is one that is not visible to the human eye. No one will ever be able to bottle it and sell it. No one will ever be able to capture it on canvass or film or print or sound.

 

The greatest legacy of Harriet will be the love that lives on in all of her family members – especially the nieces and nephews that she loved so dearly – and all of her many, many friends and neighbors.

That means all of you here, today, who came to honor her life. You all – everyone here – are her greatest legacy. The way she inspired you to be better; to practice the better as the best criticism of the bad.

 

Her legacy will continue every time you are kind to someone. When you share a smile and mean it. When you practice the Golden Rule as a way of life.

 

When you place the excellence and successful outcome of the work you are given to do as the highest priority even before the accolades you might receive for doing it.

 

When you place a higher value on the love of your life than all the other things you love in life.

 

When you make a commitment to be the change you seek.

 

As you do all these things, Harriet’s legacy will live on, and the people you inspire will also become a tribute to the values and the principles that Harriet stood for all of her life. And slowly, slowly, but very surely and almost imperceptibly, the world will be a better place, filled with better people, all because there once was a woman named Harriet who lived among us and shared the love she had in her heart that was filled to the brim with love, pressed down and overflowing.

 

So our goodbyes are tempered by the knowledge that Harriet will live on in our hearts and in our minds and in our lives. Her legacy will live on in love. 

 

So, we won’t say goodbye, we’ll just say good night, until we, too, wake up one day in that sweet by and by when God calls us home to that mansion where Jesus has prepared for us a room.

 

And, in Harriet’s heavenly room? On the wall with all of her accomplishments? I have no doubt there will be pictures of your faces. Smiling. Doing good. Doing better as a way to mitigate the bad. And featured prominently will be a picture of Alvin, loving her.

 

And Harriet? Well, she’ll be loving him right back right, until he joins her there and then they’ll be together again straight on through eternity.

 

Because Jesus teaches us that nothing is stronger than love. Not hate. Not even death. And so, we bid Harriet goodnight.

(Sung) Lay down, my dear sister, lay down and take your rest

I want to lay your head upon your savior’s breast.

I love you, but Jesus loves you best.

I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.

I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.*                                     

 

And, let all God's children say, Amen.

 

 

 

*Author: Probably Sarah Doudney, 1871 “Psalms of Life”, Funeral Hymn/Spiritual, found in US Britain (England – North) West Indies (Bahamas, Jamaica). and the tune to Ira Sankey in 1884. The song was also in a gospel hymnal in 1928, where the song was credited to F.A. and J.E. Sankey. First recorded in the 1960s by the great Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence and his family, the Pinder family, where it functions as a “lowering down” hymn by the Bahamian fishing community. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65jQXHIwy00&t=10s Made popular by Aaron Neville https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myipjQsQ7t8

 

 


Sunday, May 01, 2022

The Sound of God's Voice

 

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and broadcast simultaneously on Facebook Sirach 26:10 
Easter III - May 1, 2022

What does God’s voice sound like?

 

In each of this morning’slesson’s, there is mention made of hearing the voice of God or “many angels” or Jesus. Even the Psalm asks God to “hear and have mercy.”

 

In the book of Acts, Paul heard the voice which identified itself as Jesus ask, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And, the disciple Ananias heard the voice telling him to go and lay his hands on Paul so that he might regain his sight.

 

There are “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” of “angels and the elders singing with a full voice” in the book of Revelation.

 

And, in the Gospel of John, the resurrected Jesus visits “Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples” and speaks with them. Scripture tells us, “Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord.”

 

So, how did they know? What does God’s voice sound like? If God or Jesus spoke to you – either directly or through someone – how would you know?

 

I’m pretty sure we all know what God’s voice DOESN’T sound like. I don’t think God’s voice sounds like that hokey voiceover who talks from the burning bush to Charlton Heston’s character Moses. I also don’t think it sounds like the voiceover at the end of the Radio City Music Hall Annual Rockettes Christmas Show.

 

Is God’s voice an actual sound or might it be the feeling you get when you know you are in the presence of something pure, something holy? Something that is filled with joy and excitement? Something that is so emotional it sounds like words are not enough to contain or transmit it? Or is it something that sounds and feels like more like love?

 

I want to give you three examples of times when I felt in the near presence of the voice of God.  I want to assure you that what I heard, what I felt, is nothing like what we heard in this morning’s lessons.

 

The first is a short videoclip that was taken off the camera of a RING doorbell. Perhaps you’ve seen it. It was originally posted on Instagram but it’s been making the rounds of social media.

 

A young boy – no more than 5 or 6 years old – is coming home from having spent a weekend with his grandparents. He’s telling his dad that he had a good time but that he missed him. As the dad is about to open the door, the little boy says, “Oh, wait dad! I have something for you.” He puts down his backpack and starts unzipping the various compartments, excitedly looking for his present.

 

Finally, he unzips the right zipper and, barely containing his excitement, he exerts some energy in pulling out a large bottle of brown liquid. “Look,” he shouts excitedly. “Wait. What? What is that?” his father asks.


Seeing the surprise on his father’s face, the little boy is beyond excited now and shouts, “Bourbon! It’s bourbon, daddy!” His father is stunned speechless which makes the little boy excited and thrilled with happiness.

 

“Where did you get this?” asks the father. “I took it  because I know you love bourbon, daddy!” The father lovingly puts his hand on his son’s head and says, “Oh, buddy, you and I have gotta have a little talk, okay?” The little boy, still excited says, “Sure, dad! But you like your surprise, right?”

 

The second example happened just yesterday afternoon. It was my real privilege to preside at the funeral service of a hospice patient. He and his wife had four children and 10 grandchildren. There was so much love in that chapel it was pretty overwhelming. The 10 grandchildren stood up and each took a turn at the microphone, each one sharing a brief memory of their grandfather and what they loved most about him.

 

The first one up at the mic was one of his grandsons. He looked like he had just entered adolescence – his arms and legs too long for his body, his face bumpy with adolescent acne, and his hair in that messy, too long for his face style that was meant as a statement about his individuality and uniqueness that, ironically, all adolescent boys wear. (You know the look.)

 

He got up to the mic and cleared his throat. Then, he sighed and cleared his throat again. I thought I heard him squeak out, “My pop-pop,” but then he cleared his throat again and his hand went up to his eyes to try to stop the tears.

 

As I got up to comfort him, his mother called out his name and said, “It’s okay. You got this.”. He looked at me, pointed to his throat and whispered hoarsely, “It won’t come out.” And then he fell into my arms and sobbed.

 

I whispered to him that it was okay and to let one of the others go first and then had him sit down next to me. I whispered to him that his tears and his croaking voice were the best present he could have given his pop-pop and that he didn’t need to say anything more. He seemed relieved by that and was able to get up and stand in the line of grandchildren who were taking their turn at the mic. What a beautiful soul lies hidden in that gawky, adolescent body.

 

Finally, I want to tell you about the first time I heard God’s voice. I was very little – probably three or four years old. Ever since I could remember, my night time routine was to sit on my father’s lap in the rocking chair as he read me a bedtime story.

 

There was this one time when I was particularly tired. I placed my head on his chest as he read me the story and suddenly, with my ear pressed against my father’s chest, I heard his voice from inside his body. It sounded other-worldly and supernatural. The closer my ear got to my father’s chest, the farther away the voice sounded.

 

I was convinced that this – THIS – was the sound of God’s voice. I believed that truth with all my heart. God’s voice didn’t sound like male or female. It sounded far away, as if it were coming to my ear through oceans of time and thick veils of different reality. I loved to listen to stories on my father’s lap because it brought me closer to the sound that I knew was God.

 

If you want to know the sound of God’s voice, you don’t have to have a mystical or religious experience before you can hear it. You don’t have to have been like Paul who was persecuting people or doing other bad or evil things before God steps in and knocks you off your high horse and strikes you blind so that you can take a better look at your life.

 

God does not have a human mouth and breath: the mouth of God is Jesus, and the breath of God is the Holy Spirit. The psalmist says that at times God’s speech is like a powerful “thunder” that “breaks the cedars of Lebanon” (Ps 29:5). At other times God’s voice seems like “the sound of a gentle whisper” (see 1 Kgs 19:12). God’s voice knows all the tonalities of human speech.


The nature of God’s speech changes radically at the moment in which we read in Scripture, “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). Let me say that again: The Word became flesh. 

 

St. Teresa of Avila once said, "Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out." 

 

The Word became flesh.   

 

If you look for God with the ancient mystics called “eyes of your heart” and listen for the sound of God with the “ears of your soul”, you might just be amazed by how often God is speaking to us today in the voices of our lives.

 

Sometimes, God’s voice sounds like that of a little boy, excited and happy that he “found” (ahem) a bottle of his father’s favorite beverage which he took to him as a present to express how much he loved and missed his dad.

 

Sometimes, God’s voice sounds like words of love that are so entangled with grief and sorrow that they just can’t make it out of your throat.

 

And, sometimes, God’s voice sounds like that of a father, reading to his daughter. That daughter would later in discover that her father had been taken out of school at the end of the sixth grade because it was The Depression and his father needed him to work on the farm. She learned that, while she listened to her father’s voice with her ear pressed up against his chest, thinking it was the voice of God, it was, in reality, the voice of a man who would never be able to read the books she would be privileged to read.

 

Even so, he was laying the foundation for her to receive the gift of the love of reading and the gift of the love of stories, both of which would bring her closer to knowing the unconditional love God has for all of God’s children. And that would lead her to want to tell the story of that love to anyone who would listen. Even if she had to wear a white robe and stand in a pulpit in a church in order to do it.

 

What does God’s voice sound like?

 

It sounds like excitement. It sounds like heartbreak. It sounds like laughter. It sounds like grief. It sounds like a door opening to learn new lessons about what it takes to be a good human being. It sounds like possibility. It sounds like hope. It sounds like love.

 

The old rabbis have said that before every human being go thousands and thousands, and myriad of myriad of angels, all ringing bells and calling out, “Make way! Make way! Make way for the image of God!”

 

If you listen with the ears of your soul, you’ll hear it, too.  And then, in the voices of others – seeking and serving the Christ in others – you will hear the voice of God.

 

Amen.