God Hears Our Voice (a sermon for Proper 21B)
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church (Keller, Texas)
The Rev. Alan D. Bentrup
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
September 26, 2021
In our Gospel lesson for today is a reading that never appears on anyone’s list of favorite Scripture lessons. Jesus’ words about millstones around the neck, plucking out an eye, and cutting off body parts doesn’t sound like the Good News we want to share. But it sounds like perfect material for a children’s sermon…
If you remember both the Old Testament and Gospel readings from just a minute ago, both have similar messages. Those who have been chosen by God (the seventy elders of the people and the twelve disciples) take issue with some people who are speaking or acting in God’s name.
They are worried that an outsider is acting like an insider.
But in each story, the main characters – Moses and Jesus – insist that the outsider is not at all outside.
Moses exclaims: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit in them!”
Likewise, Jesus says: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
I’ve preached plenty about how the Church exists for the world. How we are to be a place that welcomes the stranger, the foreigner, the enemy. We are that place, and that is the Good News.
But I don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about here.
Moses and Jesus weren’t really talking about “outsiders.” At least not “outsiders” as far as people from another tribe or faith or family.
Rather, Jesus is talking about folks whom the insiders (the elders and the disciples) don’t think are “inside” enough.
Jesus is talking about the folks in the community…the folks who are following Jesus…but who aren’t given a voice or status or role.
Our tradition isn’t exempt from this problem.
Pay attention to the hymns we’ll be singing next. They’re what are called “negro spiriturals,” or “African American spirituals.”
These songs…these beautiful words…were written by Africans enslaved in labor camps in our country.
They weren’t really given a voice by the church at the time, but God heard their voice. And we are able to hear their voice…to sing their words…today.
Our Eucharist today will be presided over by a woman. That wasn’t possible in the church not too long ago. Women weren’t given the same voice by the church. But we’re able to hear their voice…to be inspired by their preaching and leadership and witness…today.
Now here’s the secret…we all have a voice. God knows all of our voices.
We’re about to baptize two babies. Their parents and Godparents will make some promises, the whole congregation will make some promises, and then these two little babies will be baptized.
They didn’t do anything to deserve it, they don’t even yet know what it means.
But God knows what it means.
It means that they are, today, a child of God. They are, today, a sibling of all of us.
And it means they have everything they need to follow Jesus.
Sure, they’re going to grow and learn and do great things. But nothing they can learn or do will make them any more a part of God’s family. Nothing they can learn or do will ever make their voice more important to God.
That’s another thing the church has struggled with…we haven’t always listened to the voice of children.
Or maybe we haven’t really listened to what Jesus has to say about children.
What that means for us is that we need to take y’all seriously! If y’all have an idea for St. Martin’s, let me know! (not right now, but later…). If you want to serve in church, like as an acolyte or reading scripture or leading the prayers, let me know!
So what we do in baptism, the words we pray and the promises we make, help us remember that God hears our voice. It helps us remember that our voice matters. Even when we can’t do anything except cry and poop and smile at our parents, our voice matters.
And sometimes we older folks need reminding of that. So we all repeat and reaffirm our vows…our promises…every time there is a baptism. And then Rev. Paula and I will go around and sprinkle everyone with water, to help us remember our baptism.
To help us remember that God hears our voice.