January 26, 2020
St. John’s United Church of Christ, Union, Illinois
Did you ever watch the TV show “Wild Kingdom” or some other nature show? The BBC show “Planet Earth” or the new one, “Seven Worlds, One Planet,” offer us a view into a world that we rarely see. Along with the amazing wonders of creation, the creatures of every description, and the fascinating glimpse into the natural world, we see the behavior of animals. Sometimes frightening, sometimes heart-rending, or thrilling, or awe-inspiring, the behavior of animals can sometimes give us insight into the behavior of the human animal.
One episode of a nature show from some time ago told about the elephant seals of Argentina. The show focused on a mother and her seal pup, who had just been born. Soon after birthing her baby, the mother, now famished, abandoned the pup on the shore so she could go feed in the rich waters off the coast. After feeding, she returned to a different part of the beach and began to call for her baby. Other mothers had done the same, and all had returned at a similar time. Would they ever find one another?
The mother called to her pup and listened for the response. Following each other’s voices and scents, soon the mother and pup were reunited. From the moment of birth, the sound and scent of the pup are imprinted in the mother’s memory, and the sound and scent of the mother are imprinted in the pup’s memory.
Rodger Nishioka, a professor at Columbia, recalls that after watching that show, his father turned to him and said, “You know, that’s how it is with God. We are imprinted with a memory of God, and God is imprinted with a memory of us, and even if it takes a lifetime, we will find each other.” God knows us, and seeks for us, even through all the other noises around us. And whether we realize it or not, we know God, and seek for that voice, that scent, that pull toward the one who loves us most.
“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea.” Being a fisherman was a common and respectable vocation for a resident of Galilee. Their ancestors had undoubtedly fished those same waters for generations, and they surely expected to as well. But Jesus walked by, called out, and “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” They dropped everything, walked away from all they had known, as if they had been waiting for just this moment to appear. “Follow me” was spoken by the voice imprinted in them, in their memories, in their hearts, and they found what they may not even have known they were looking for.
It wasn’t so easy for me. My calling was more complicated, and took a lot more time. There were a lot of other elephant seals on the beach, and the voice and the scent of the One calling to me were not so easy to discern. Maybe it’s that way for a lot of people. There sure are a lot of other voices. Everywhere we turn there is another voice offering us better, bigger, faster, more. “The world’s thinnest HDTV. The best picture ever!” “The Super-Duty truck – built stronger, tougher, better.” “We make every aspect of rolling over your 401k as simple as possible. Make the smart choice.” “The ultimate, collectible, special edition – available for a limited time!” The volume keeps getting louder and louder, and we begin to start listening to the voices.
“Maybe if I buy a bigger TV, I’ll be happier.” “One more promotion and I’ll finally get to do what I want.” If I wear right jeans, maybe she’ll notice me.” We start to listen, and we begin to follow those voices. They are very seductive, and they sound so sincere. And then we really lose our way, because those voices confuse us. They don’t come from a place of love and community. Some of them even claim to be the voice of God, and we chase after them, and we don’t know how to tell anymore if the voice comes from God.
That’s where the end of the reading from Matthew is important. We get a clue about how to discern whether the voice we hear is truly coming from God. When they left their nets and followed, the fishermen watched what he did. “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” This person who had called to them did and said what they knew from scripture that God was about. The person who spoke with the voice of God was consistent in what he said and did with what they knew of God in their hearts.
How do we know the voice that we hear is really the voice of God? How can we know that the voices that seek to lead us to our destruction are not the voice of God? We start with what we know to be true about God, that God loves us. From Jeremiah, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.” And from John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
We also know that God wants us to love others. From Matthew, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” And from John: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
We also know what God wants us to do. From Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” And from Matthew: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
The voice of God can be heard through all the din of other voices that call out to us. When we listen with our hearts, when we listen in truth, those other voices are diminished, or at least we can hear their discordance and dissonance and we can tune it out. When the mother seal calls out, we know her voice, we can distinguish her call from all the others and seek out the one who loves us most. We are able to discern which voices are consistent with God who created us, loves us, and wants us to love, who redeems us and sustains us, and who knows us best. Just as Simon and Andrew, James and John, left their nets when they heard that voice, we too can follow the teacher who speaks with the voice of God.
 Story borrowed from Rodger Y. Nishioka, Pastoral Perspective on Matthew 4:12-23 in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Vol. 1, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 284, f.
 Jeremiah 29:11. The scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Jeremiah 31:3.
 John 3:16.
 Matthew 22:37-39.
 Matthew 5:43-45.
 John 13:34.
 Micah 6:8.
 Matthew 25:35-36.