Research has shown that in the womb, babies learn their mother’s (and father’s!) voice. Similarly, in our baptism and rebirth we learn to distinguish God’s voice from worldly voices because only the voice of God comforts, protects, and gives new life where the was none before.
Vicar Neal Cannon, Fourth Sunday of Easter, year C; texts: Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30
Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
I love being an uncle. So far, I have one niece and nephew on Mary’s side of the family, and one nephew on my side, all under the age of six, and I gotta say being an uncle is one of the best jobs in the world. As an uncle, I often get invited over to give Mom and Dad a break awhile. And usually when I see my niece and nephew they’re really excited to see me and I’m excited to see them, because my role as uncle is to be the fun guy. I’m the guy that can be silly and goofy around them, I’m the guy that plays games with them, and I’m the guy that takes them to the zoo or to the movies.
But one thing that I’ve always noticed as an uncle is that whenever a niece or nephew gets hurt, whenever they bump their head or scrape their knee, it’s not Uncle Neal they come crying to. It’s almost always Mom’s voice, and sometimes Dad’s, that comforts them.
There’s actually a biological/scientific explanation for this. I recently read an article that cited a study by Canadian and Chinese researchers who recorded pregnant women reading a poem out loud, and then played the recordings to the babies in utero. The heart rate of babies who heard their mom’s voice speeded up, while the heart rate of those who heard the tapes of another mom’s voice slowed down. The research team thus concluded that children even from the womb know their mother’s voice.
One mother, reacting to this article, said, “I remember when my son was born, they put him in his little hospital bassinet by me and I called his name and talked to him. He turned his head and looked at me right away. This was just a couple of minutes after birth! Then they did his hearing test and told me his hearing was perfect. I was like, of course it’s perfect! I already knew that!” 🙂 
Think about that. As infants and even from the womb we know our mother’s voice and mothers know that their children can hear them. And this is why children seek out Mom’s voice. Mom’s voice comforts us, protects us, and it’s Mom’s voice that we recognize as the one that gives us life.
This is actually a common theme in the book of John. This is the theme of hearing Jesus’ voice and recognizing that his Voice, is the voice of our Creator. The first verse in John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is John’s way of telling us that Jesus is the voice of God. Jesus embodies the voice of God. And we recognize that voice, as the voice of our Creator, the one in the beginning, the one with us now, and the one who will be with us in the future.
John continues this theme in chapter 3 as Nicodemus approaches Jesus and says, “‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’”
The term ‘born from above’ is sometimes translated as ‘born again.’ Often, when people hear the term ‘born again’ we think of in-your-face evangelists, who ask you when you were ‘saved’ or ‘born again.’
But think about the term ‘born again’ in the context of a mother to her child. Like a child in the womb, being ‘born again’ is the place where we re-learn the voice of God. We re-learn that the voice comforts us. We re-learn that the voice protects us from danger. We re-learn that the voice sustains us and give us new life.
Jesus goes on to tell us that this rebirth happens with water and Spirit. In other words, in our baptism we’re given the gift of the Spirit, and through the Spirit we hear the voice of God. We need the Spirit to help us hear the voice of God because in our sin we’ve listened to countless other voices and forgotten what God’s voice sounds like.
In our Gospel lesson today, the people gathered around Jesus are essentially asking about this voice and wondering where it comes from. They say “Quit keeping us in suspense and tell us who you are!” Jesus essentially responds to them by saying, take a look at all of the things that I’ve been doing. Don’t you recognize them? The hungry are being fed, the weak are protected, and everywhere I go I create new life.
What does that voice sound like to you?
The people who were listening to Jesus should have known what that voice sounds like. The voice that comforts, protects, and gives life is the voice of God.
Jesus goes on to say that the reason they don’t believe that Jesus is God’s Son is because they’ve forgotten what God’s voice sounds like. “My sheep listen to my voice,” Jesus says. Put another way, my children recognize me when I speak.
But in truth, this isn’t really a problem that THEY have. This isn’t a problem that somebody else has. This is a problem that WE ALL struggle with. We all struggle to hear the voice of God because as Jesus says, we need to be born again to hear it because other voices have taken over.
As many of you know, I was a youth director for several years before I decided to go to seminary and become a pastor. It was a privilege for me to work with youth as they experienced extreme joy, but also as they experienced extreme hardships. Some of the hardships that several youth were going through were eating disorders and self-injury.
And I remember one youth in particular whose problems became serious enough that she needed to be hospitalized so she could receive counseling and treatment. One week I went to see her in the hospital and she was telling me about the program that she was in and some of the treatment/counseling methods that she was going through.
One method, she learned, was to give your issue a name. The name the doctors suggested was E.D. or Ed, which stands for eating disorder. The doctors had the patients do this because they found that giving their problems a name helped people recognize that their self-destructive thoughts and feelings were coming from a source outside of themselves.
I learned two things from this. The first is that we are constantly listening to other voices that come from outside of us that shape what we believe and think.
Sometimes it’s the voice of a friend.
Sometimes it’s the voice of magazines and television.
Sometimes it’s the voice of culture.
Sometimes those voices tell us that we’re not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, or worthy enough to be loved unconditionally by our Creator… or in fact, by anyone. And these voices in our lives shape our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves.
The second thing that I learned is that it’s crucial for us to listen to and follow the voices in our lives that build us up. Lesser voices tear us down, and attack us, and suck the life out of us. God’s voice does the opposite of those things.
The Bible tells us that the Creator’s voice, comforts us, protects us, and gives us life and anything that is not that, is not our Creator’s voice. That’s how we recognize if something is really from God or not. We ask the question, does this give us life, or does it take life away?
And that’s how we know that God is in this story in Acts today, even though God or Jesus is never mentioned. In this story, a woman named Tabitha who is deeply loved by the community falls ill and dies suddenly. So they rush to get Peter, and Peter prays over Tabitha and the story tells us that she is given new life; she is miraculously raised from the dead.
As Christians, we proclaim that God is in this story, because only God can give new life where there was none. And so we claim it was not Peter’s prayer that gives new life to Tabitha, it’s God’s word, it’s God’s voice. This is incredibly important for us as Christians to believe because this tells us that God’s voice makes impossible things possible. It creates life where there was none before.
And as Christians we say that because this voice has the power to raise the dead to life, God’s voice also has the power to heal entire communities. God’s voice has the power to heal us and comfort us in time of need because if God’s voice can give life to the dead, then God’s voice can accomplish ANYTHING. And not only do we receive healing and comfort and life from this voice, but when we hear it, we are able to heal and comfort others in their time of need.
One organization that helps young girls with self-injury, eating disorders, and other issues is called “To Write Love on Her Arms”. I want to share with you this organization’s vision.
The vision is that we actually believe these things:
You were created to love and be loved.
You were meant to live life in relationship with other people, to know and be known.
You need to know your story is important, and you’re part of a bigger story.
You need to know your life matters.
What does that voice sound like to you?
As Christians, we say that God’s voice, that Jesus’ voice, creates love where there was none before and that voice accompanies us wherever we go. That even in the midst of tragedy and our darkest hours, we can trust in the words of Psalm 23, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
In this, we learn that God joins us in our suffering. We learn that when we are going through difficult times, it’s not that God is absent; it’s actually that God is walking right alongside us in the valley of the shadow of death, and even though we can’t see God in the darkness, we can always hear God’s voice. Sometimes God’s voice comes through an encouraging friend; sometimes we hear that voice in scripture, prayer, and in church, sometimes through an organization like “To Write Love on Her Arms”.
And when we hear God’s voice beside us, we proclaim the words from Revelation today as well which read, “for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” And when we hear God’s voice in the pit of our lives, when we learn that God’s voice is good.
So today, here in worship, let us quiet our hearts and listen to the voice of God who even now is seeking to comfort us, protect us, and lead us out of the valley, and into new life.