Why is it that the first directive every teacher learns how to give is “Okay, everybody, sit down and be quiet?” Or less politely, “Sit down and shut up!”
When did learning become yoked to being sedentary and silent? When did learning have more to do with anesthetics (that slow down your senses) than with aesthetics (that wake up your senses)?
Sure. Sometimes we have to “listen up” in order to learn. But how can we get answers if we cannot first voice our questions? The best teachers and the most gifted learners know this: the more voices that contribute, the more learning will happen.
Finding your voice. That is the theme of the surprise Academy Award favorite movie “The King’s Speech.” Royal watchers and romantics have focused forever on the king who gave up the throne for the woman he loved, Edward VIII, never giving much thought to the “spare” who replaced the “heir.” With a profound stammer and knock-knees, Prince Albert, aka “Bertie,” hardly rated a second glance until he was suddenly his country’s “second chance” at having a new king.
The greatest obstacle preventing Prince Albert from becoming King George VI was his inability to find his own voice. The movie focuses on how the royal monarch’s relationship with a gifted speech therapist, Lionel Logue, enabled a stumbling stammerer to become a beloved sovereign. Logue is self-taught and without credentials. But he utilized the most advanced technology he had at hand to help his royal student. He even used phonograph recordings of the king’s own voice so that Albert could truly “hear” himself for the first time.
But Logue also used something more important and powerful: the age-old power of relationship to tune and tone the king’s voice. It took years of coaching, learning to trust each other, and building respect for each other, before Logue could declare to Albert “You must have faith in your voice!” But when that point came, it was their relationship that enabled the man no one ever thought would be king finally to respond “I have a voice!”
Do you have faith in your voice? Have you used your voice?
In the past week young pro-democracy protestors in Egypt have shown they “have faith” in their voice.
Even when the electronic, high tech versions of their “voice” were silenced by the government when it cut all internet connectivity; Even when pro-government supporters used old-fashioned camel drivers to incite terror and violence;
Even when the army, the “peace-keepers,” looked away and let violence prevail: The voice of the protestors remained strong and sure.
They knew their message and they used their voice: “Mubarak must go.”
Yet the sound of a voice being raised is not enough. Our voices must have something beautiful, good and true to tell. Powerful voices can bring POWER, and if that power is abused the result is tragedy and evil. Anyone want to deny that Adolf Hitler had a powerful, persuasive voice? Of Joseph Stalin? Or Pol Pot? Or Idi Amin? Or the Ayatollah Khomeni? Or Osama bin Laden? Strength is not the measure of what should carry a voice. Truth is. Beauty is. Goodness is.
Today’s First Testament text is taken from Moses’ concluding words to the Israelites as they were finally about to enter into the Long-Promised Land. The voice of the prophet does not focus on power. Instead, Moses’ final words urge the people to do nothing less than “choose life.” Deuteronomy is the last book of the “Torah,” the five books of Law and Covenant in the Hebrew Scriptures. But Deuteronomy is the first book of the Torah to speak of a Loving God, and a God who invites our love. You might even call Deuteronomy God’s First Valentine.
Choosing life, choosing obedience to God, means choosing Love. Love for “the Lord your God,” love for life, love for each other, love for all creation stand as “witnesses” to this new covenant. The “witnesses” Moses “called” to formalize this covenant were “heaven and earth” — which makes the requirement to “love” about as widespread as it can get.
When Moses declared that the Israelites should “choose life,” he was really announcing an already done deal. The covenant had been signed and sealed on Mt. Horeb. The people of Israel did not so much have to “choose life” as they had to acknowledge — with loyalty, obedience, and love — the “chosenness” God had graced them with. The “chosenness” of God’s covenanted people had nothing to do with their own worthiness and everything to do with God’s unmerited love and commitment to the people of God’s creation. God choose to enter in to a ridiculous relationship with the fractured, fragmented human creatures of his creation.
Why? Out of love. All we have to do is love back. That is our “choice.” That is how we “choose life.”
A consumer culture says you are the sum of your choices. A consumer culture says that your identity is found in the choices you make, the brands you buy, the clothes you wear.
A biblical culture says your identity is not found in your choices but in your chosenness. “You did not choose me: I chose you.” And because we have been chosen, we can be secure in who we are because God made us who we are. In fact, our “choicefulness” is really a snare and a delusion. “We are not authors of our lives,” writes John Gray in Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals. “We are not even part-authors of the events that mark us most deeply. Nearly everything that is most important in our lives is unchosen. The time and place we are born, our parents, the first language we speak” – these are givens, these are gifts, not choices.
No wonder Jesus proclaimed he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Our Deuteronomy Valentine tells us that, even though people keep getting everything all wrong, God always keeps everything all right. The Torah was loving God. The Law was a life lived loving God. Now Jesus embodied and embedded the Torah in himself. Jesus fulfilled the Law by making a life loving God finally and fully available to every human being. Jesus took away the final barrier that kept love from being more than a Valentine.
In Jesus Love was given voice and visage. Because of Jesus, it is possible for us to have a voice. Like Prince Albert. As handicapped and weak as we are, we have been given a voice to love and raise. Jesus calls us to stand up and trust our voice, to stand up and raise our voice. Not to tout ourselves or our abilities. But to announce to the world that it is chosen, and to choose the life that comes with chosenness. We have been offered life and love. And it is this life of love which we are to announce to the world.
For more sermons by Leonard Sweet, go to sermons.com.