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The Grace Church nave is located at the corner of Washington Street and Boulevard in Gainesville, Georgia.

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Date Posted: January 10, 2021

Whose Voice Are You Listening Too?

As for today, this is a day when we focus our attention on baptism, as we read and reflect on Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, and as we take a closer look at our own baptism.  It is a fascinating day in our liturgical cycle that calls us to a deeper reflection in this Epiphany time, this time of the manifestation of the Light, when–to build on Edgar’s incredible sermon from last week–we reflect on how we see and recognize the Light of God in our lives–and are invited to follow it and give our lives to it.  What it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

There are so many angles or ways that we can explore this text, but this year, given where we find ourselves, there is one particular moment I feel led to focus on.  

As we look at St. Mark’s account, there is an instant in the story to highlight:

And just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And a voice came from heaven.

This image sent me back to today’s Psalm, 29.  Listen to it again, if you will.  

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;

The God of glory thunders, the Lord, over the mighty waters.

The voice of the Lord is powerful;

The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;

The Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;

The Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,

And strips the forests bare.

The voice of the Lord.

The voice of the Lord.

The voice of the Lord.

And my mind goes to well-known hymns that suddenly have more meaning: 

Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song, high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea.
The voice of the Lord
The voice of the Lord
Do you hear what I hear?  Do I hear what you hear?

I imagine what that moment was like for Jesus, coming out of the water there in the Jordan River, and hearing God’s voice like that.  Being reminded that he was loved–knowing in his heart that he was God’s love, given for us.  

Here is where I was pushed or led in praying with these texts: what do we hear?  What do you hear?  How are you listening for God’s voice in your life?  In these days, at this moment in time, in history?  

And perhaps this question, that is maybe a bit more pointed: what voices are we listening to?  What voices are you listening to?  What are you paying attention to?

Because it matters greatly, my friends, what voices we listen to, what voices we listen for.  I hope we are learning this lesson these days: that it matters, that our practice of prayer matters, that the posture we take matters, the way we listen.  

Because our world is never lacking for people or–to put it like St. Paul did, for powers and principalities–that want to fill every silent and sacred moment with the noise of their own ambition and greed.  Our world is filled with these forces and people whose prideful screams and siren songs make us feel like we are drowning in….too much.  Too many words.  Too many hollow words.  Too many distracting words, angry words.  

So many times in this past year, it has just felt like too much.  

Last Saturday, I had another anxiety attack after hitting another car at a red light.  I had just gotten groceries in a quick Publix run, and the eggs I had sitting on top of a bag slid off and landed in the floor of the car.  I thought I was watching carefully, but when I leaned over, the car idled forward and bumped into the car in front of me.  As I yelled, I of course took my foot back off the break and bumped the car again–just in case they hadn’t noticed the first bump.

I put my car in park, put my hazard lights on, got out and told the nice lady (who was really just concerned about getting to a party she was late for) that I thought I was paying attention.  But I was afraid my eggs had broken.  Something had broken.  I realize now that she didn’t care at all, but for me it was a powerful moment, standing in the middle of Spout Springs Road saying to a stranger, “I thought I was paying attention.”

Before she got back in her car, she asked me, “Did they break?”

“I don’t know,” I told her.  “But I’m afraid they did.”

And they drove away. 

Sometimes we feel like we are drowning, but we find ourselves, through our practice of faith, being raised out of the waters into new life, filled with the possibilities of grace.  Light breaks through the clouds of our lives, and there is a voice.  

The voice of the Lord.

The voice of the Lord.

And if we listen, in that moment of being raised to new life, we truly can hear God’s voice–just as Jesus did, who Himself was the embodiment of God’s voice of love.  This voice speaks to each of us and says, “This is my beloved child.  In whom I am well pleased.” 

My prayer for this year is that it will be a time for deep listening.  I can’t even begin to tell you all the lessons I have learned from last year, because I am too deep in the water still.  But I can sense a few things, I think, a few vital lessons about paying attention to what matters.  From time to time, I feel like I break the surface and catch a glimpse.

And today, on this special day when I begin my eighth year with you as your rector, I can commit myself, again, to my practice of prayer so that my heart can be attuned to God’s voice rather than the cacophony of chaos that surrounds us–or the voice of fear and anxiety that stirs within my own mind.  External noise and internal noise.  

Will we listen to and for voices of love, of hope and justice and peace, of commitment and community and collaboration?  Or will we listen to voices of hatred and greed, of ambition and ignorance and resentment? In these days, we are invited into this level of practice, into this space of discipleship.

So let us all share in a time of recommitment, as we look toward this year.  Let us center ourselves in our practice of faith, so that we can listen from our heart and hear the voice of the Lord even in times of trial and tension.  

If you will, please turn now to the renewal of our baptismal vows as Cynthia comes forward to lead us in this time of recommitment.

The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham
The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord  
January 10, 2021