Weekly Seeds: The Voice

Sunday, January 7, 2024
The Baptism of Christ | Year B

Focus Theme:
The Voice

Focus Prayer:
Creator, let your voice be heard with power, glory, and strength. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Psalm 29 (in conversation with Genesis 1:1-5)
1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

All readings for this Sunday:
Genesis 1:1-5 • Psalm 29 • Acts 19:1-7 • Mark 1:4-11

Focus Questions:
What does your voice sound like?
How do you communicate?
How do you use your voice?
Have you ever been silenced?
How can you amplify the good news in the world using your voice?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

Voice is a complex operation utilizing significant bodily involvement. A voice requires power, sound, and resonance. The air that moves in and out of our lungs provides the power. Vocal chords supply the sound. The mouth and nose combine to create resonance. The brain works in the background to ensure these actions work cohesively to communicate the message that begins it all.

Voice has meaning beyond the production of sound that we call speech. Voice also refers to other utterances that we make, and they involve the same process described above. But, voice can also mark the collective sentiment of a group. For example, when it is noted that “the voice of the people have spoken,” that expression does indicate sounds uttered in unison. Rather, it conveys solidarity, agreement, and unity of thought. Voice can also be attributed to musical instruments, proving that we can communicate using human made means. The word “voice” can also be used to denote influence and the lack thereof. Using or losing one’s voice indicates the ability to exert authority, control, and direction in a relational context.

Voice involves individual action within community. Voices may unite in common refrain, emotional exclamation, or choral response. The expression of the “thrill of victory or agony of defeat” in a sporting context is a distinct sound of dozens, hundreds, and thousands of fans reacting to the unfolding action at the same time. Sounds are meant to be heard. The old question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it…does it make a sound?” reflects the relational nature of sound. Sounds are both uttered and heard. One aspect of that duality going unfulfilled undermines its legitimacy. Voice is a specific type of sound so the question of human utterance without human hearing seems appropriate to ponder.

In the focus passage, the psalmist speaks of the voice of the Lord, but before that, they lead with exhortations to ascribe particular attributes to God. To ascribe is to give attribution. In other words, the psalmist wants to ensure that the Holy One receives due credit for their character, nature, and glory.

Psalm 29 begins by addressing the “sons of gods” (bene ’elim), a divine council common within ancient literature and assumed elsewhere in Scripture (82:1; Gen. 1:26; Job 1; Jer. 23:18). The sevenfold repetition of the “voice/sound of YHWH [qol yhwh]” punctuates the psalm and underscores the cosmic power of this deity, while the concluding description of YHWH as king directly counters Canaanite mythology, which used the same description for Baal. In effect, Psalm 29 redeploys language and imagery used to describe the rival storm god Baal within Canaanite mythology to affirm YHWH’s sovereignty instead.
W. Derek Suderman

The imperative statements achieve their purpose as the psalmist does what their words encourage the audience to do. Understanding that psalms were used in worship, the encouragement was not only instructional, the performance of the psalm in liturgical action embodied the words as they were spoken. Like the creative acts of Genesis 1 when the voice of the Holy One spoke and creation evolved, when we speak the inspired word in worship, something happens.

The words of the psalm direct the action; speaking of the psalm performs the action. Psalms should be recited or read out loud when possible, not only because that is true of poetic forms. Psalms are not only meant to be spoken, but they are meant to be heard…just like a voice or The Voice.

In Genesis, the repetitive, initiating action is God speaking. Thinking alone seems insufficient for the creative act. At the same time, no other physical action takes place. In some respects, the creation narrative of Genesis is the first incarnational action. The Word does not take on flesh at that moment, but the Word does take on voice even if the deep and the waters are the only audience able to hear and respond.

Later, when the Embodied One enters into the baptismal waters of the Jordan River, The Voice speaks a declarative and ascribing statement, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) Even God can offer praise to Godself. At the same time, this sentence serves as more than praise as history tells us that there had been others claiming to be the Messiah during this time. Identification in this moment distinguishes Jesus as the true Son of God and sets him apart from those falsely claiming divinity. In the same way, Psalm 29 distinguishes the Holy One from the gods worshipped by their neighbors.

One of the issues that has fascinated scholars is the connection between this psalm and Canaanite religion. The Hebrew scriptures and the book of Psalms reflect the social setting of ancient Israel in the ancient Near East, and Psalm 29 is a text that indicates that cultural context. It is often suggested that this psalm is one of the older texts in the Psalter, and that it derived from Canaanite religion and was appropriated for use in the Jerusalem cult by YHWH worshipers. Thunderstorms were often taken by ancient peoples to be indications of divine revelation, and this text uses thunderstorm imagery in portraying divine power. It may be that portraying YHWH as the divine king with authority over all of creation provided a kind of polemic against Canaanite deities.
Walter Brueggemann and W. H. Bellinger, Jr.

Epiphanies are often to be understood as an unveiling of that which had been hidden. The Voice of God reminds us that revelation comes through multiple sensory movements. As Psalm 34:8 exhorts, “Taste and see how good the LORD is!” A comforting hand or warm embrace also manifests the love of God in the world. The ultimate, but not exclusive, revelation of divine presence is found in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh making a home among creation. God with Us was not new with the coming of Christ. Rather, what had been hidden, even at humanity’s own doing, was revealed. God has been with us from the beginning when The Voice began to speak worlds into existence. Psalm 29 celebrates, proclaims, and recommits to that truth.

The imagery of Psalm 29 falls squarely in the tradition of theophanies in the Hebrew scriptures. A theophany is an appearance of God to humans. Verse 9 concludes with the worshipers’ response to the divine presence with the shout “Glory!” The term suggests a manifestation of King YHWH’s presence and activity in the world, which causes worshipers to shout exclamations of honor and majesty to the living God. Verse 9 brings readers back to the question of the identity of the worshipers. The psalm’s opening addressed “heavenly beings.” Perhaps the word “temple” includes some ambiguity and could refer to both a heavenly setting and an earthly setting. The tension and connections between the Jerusalem temple and the heavenly throne room are reflected in a number of psalms. In Psalm 29, heavenly worship is to be echoed in the worship of YHWH in the Jerusalem temple.
Walter Brueggemann and W. H. Bellinger, Jr.

Let us credit The Voice for creative and abiding presence. Let us attribute our lives and being to the One who Speaks and Hears. Let us declare, in grateful response, that the Holy One has been revealed, is being revealed, and will be revealed. The Voice is the Holy One, the God we love, in whom we are pleased. Thanks be to God—The Voice.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“When we dare to speak in a liberatory voice, we threaten even those who may initially claim to want our words. In the act of overcoming our fear of speech, of being seen as threatening, in the process of learning to speak as subjects, we participate in the global struggle to end domination. When we end our silence, when we speak in a liberated voice, our words connect us with anyone, anywhere who lives in silence. Feminist focus on women finding a voice, on the silence of black women, of women of color, has led to increased interest in our words. This is an important historical moment. We are both speaking of our own volition, out of our commitment to justice, to revolutionary struggle to end domination, and simultaneously called to speak, “invited” to share our words. It is important that we speak. What we speak about is more important. It is our responsibility collectively and individually to distinguish between mere speaking that is about self-aggrandizement, exploitation of the exotic “other,” and that coming to voice which is a gesture of resistance, an affirmation of struggle.”
― bell hooks

For Further Reflection
“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.” ― Laurie Halse Anderson
“I decided it is better to scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity.” ― Nadezhda Mandelstam
“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” ― Zora Neale Hurston
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
― T.S. Eliot

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at //ucc.org/SermonSeeds.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.