Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Good to Hear Your Voice

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: John 15: 1-5, 12-17

We are a people drenched in sorrow. Our fears for the future, for our loved ones and country, take root in the tragedy of yesterday's events. Our outrage, our anger, at the spectacle of the murder of innocents, smolders just underneath this sorrow. Our desire for justice, coupled with our recognition of our own many shortcomings as individuals and as a people, has its birth in this sorrow. We are a people drenched in sorrow.

So we have come together, just for a little while, to be silent together, to sing and pray, and to grieve a sorrowful loss: of innocent life, of reliable security, of defensible freedom. Some have died, others have lost loved ones, but we all have been violently violated. We need to see one another, and to hear each others voices.

I am increasingly impressed by just how much depth and meaning lies latent in the simplest of daily phrases. "Have a good day." "Get well soon." These simple lines have profound significance. As does our often repeated commendation, "Good to hear your voice."

Tonight we have our ecumenical, East Avenue friends and clergy. It is good to see you and hear your voices.

We are honored by the presence of our Bishop. It is good to see her and hear her voice.

Our interfaith coalition has brought a printed word, and that voice too is helpful.

I could not help notice, yesterday, at home and in the office and around town, as people called to check with loved ones, they often ended the conversation by saying, "it's just good to hear your voice." It is our most personal characteristic, our voice. A daughter or son's voice, far away but safe. A brother or uncle's voice, near danger but delivered. A friend's voice, steady over the years. These voices bring comfort.

We are numbly aware that for many in New York and Washington, dear voices have been silenced. Not naturally, but tragically. Our own halting speech, and our own silence tonight, become a part of our response, so inadequate, to such sorrowful loss. This loss of voice and life brings us to worship tonight. That is the way with us, we do not know what we have until it is gone. We do not know the precious value of a fragile voice until it sounds only in silence. Then its silent power for us becomes thunderous.

For to stay human, and to keep faith, we realize, down deep somewhere, that we need to hear other voices, too. We need to hear the choral voices, raising our hearts and spirits to God, who still reigns, on earth as in heaven. We need to hear the voices of our family in Christ—ecumenical, denominational, and congregational, reassuring us that at the very least, we are not alone in our sorrow. We need to hear the voices of Scripture, our measure of truth. We need to hear pastoral voices, who represent the unity and continuity of the church through the ages. It is good to hear these, your voices.

Our need, though, is deeper still. In the face of such calamity, such unspeakable horror, for the children of faith, there is a yearning to hear, clearly, a divine voice. A trustworthy voice that will remind us, clearly, of who we are—human, made in the image of God; faithful, forgiven by the grace of Christ; free, supported by the Holy Spirit.

The words of Jesus, read earlier, were collected and coveted by a community, that of John, also drenched in sorrow. They too knew loss, both that of the Lord and that of John. They too knew, especially, division over culture and race and religion. They, these Johannine Christians, had suffered expulsion from their mother land, tongue and church, and they were alone.

They clung, fiercely, to the voice of Christ, remembered, preached, and finally written, so that we have it tonight. To you I commend this one voice, a voice like no other, so equable, so powerful, so serene, so loving. ( Sermon concludes with a recitation of John 15).

I am the vine, you are the branches
You are made clean by the word I have spoken to you
Abide in me, and I in you
Love one another as I have loved you
You are my friends if you do what I command you
Go and bear fruit
You did not choose me, but I chose you
This I command you, love one another

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, to you we turn in our sorrow. It is good to hear your voice.

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