In Harmony with God's Voice
Beverley Humphreys explores the transforming power of the voice in a service from St. David's Uniting Church, Pontypridd, with music from the BBC National Chorus of Wales. Music Director: Adrian Partington. Organist: Simon Bell. Producer: Karen Walker.
This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.
It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.
ITEM 1 Hymn 1 Chorus unaccompanied
Hush, Hush, Somebody’s Calling My Name
ITEM 2 INTRO BEVERLEY
The sound of someone’s voice can have a profound effect, especially when they speak your name. That was brought home to me one day as I was walking through Pontypridd and I saw a young man I’d met when he was sleeping in our Night Shelter. I stopped to say “Hello, Andrew” and he burst into tears. I asked him what was wrong and he said, “I can’t believe you remembered my name -you said my name”. It was a moving moment – for both of us.
As a singer in opera houses and concert halls, I’ve had to learn how to make my own voice heard and - as with all musicians - also to listen and respond to those making music around me. The focus of our worship together this morning is the importance of every voice – how we use it; how we listen to other voices and how we discern God’s voice through the living example of Jesus.
Leading the service with me is the Reverend Ray Vincent , a retired Baptist Minister and member of our fellowship here at St David’s Uniting Church . He’s also an Associate Chaplain to the University of South Wales, and he leads us now in prayer.
ITEM 3 PRAYER 1 RAY
When we listen to the words of Jesus, we can learn a great deal about God’s relationship with us. In Matthew’s Gospel we read that Jesus spoke to each one of us and said “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”. Remembering those words we pray---------
We thank you for the words of Jesus, full of tenderness and compassion.
Today we bring our voices to you in prayer and praise
And our sighs, too deep for words.
We bring you our sorrow when our faith falters and we lose our way and we ask for your forgiveness.
Through all the ups and downs of life,
we pray that we may know that you are with us,
trusting in this promise spoken by Jesus,
‘I am with you always, to the end of time.’
(ALL) :- Amen
HYMN 2 CHORUS / ORGAN DUR.
Lord You sometimes speak in wonders
Tune: brother sister.
ITEM 5 REFLECTION 1 BEVERLEY
In that hymn, Christopher Idle reminds us that there are many ways in which God speaks to us - in wonders, in whispers, in silence, in scripture and always in Jesus. But being sure of what God is saying isn’t always straightforward and can be fraught with sensitivities. Christianity is sometimes dismissed because people imagine that it “asks us to believe eleven impossible things before breakfast”. Those who claim to have heard God speaking to them are often treated with scepticism, and sometimes with good reason! But even for those who have faith, certainty doesn’t come easily or automatically.
St. Paul’s friends in Thessalonica had this dilemma too and his advice to them was “Don’t quench God’s spirit - don’t ignore inspired messages - but test everything - hold fast to what is good.” So when we believe that God is speaking to us - one test would be this - is what we hear or feel consistent with what we know of Jesus?
One of the last things Jesus said to his disciples was-“Love one another as I have loved you and by this love everyone will know that you are mine”. All his life, it was that love that shone through - in what he said and by the way he lived. His whole being radiated love and compassion and forgiveness. People followed him, crowded around him at the lakeside and on mountain tops - they wanted to hear his voice - to find out more about his new message - it was radical - counter intuitive even. Love your enemies? - be kind to those who hate you?
Jesus also said that status and celebrity were shallow - that it didn’t matter how much you earned or owned but that true success lay in the loving relationships you made and that those in power weren’t the final arbiters of how the world should be run. This thinking seemed completely upside down. No wonder some people thought he was dangerous and should be silenced - he was threatening the status quo! And that love he talked about - well he said it would sometimes mean we had to make difficult choices in our lives - that it would lead us to care about the poor and the vulnerable - and then of course you couldn’t be silent about exploitation and injustice and you’d see that everyone needed a second chance.
So when we put that potential “voice of God” to the test - the inclination to injure or hurt surely couldn’t come from the heart of Jesus the peacemaker and healer. The urge to hate and take revenge couldn’t come from Christ the compassionate friend and reconciler.
ITEM 6 PRAYER 2 RAY
As we ask for guidance, we recognise that Christ’s message about the meaning and consequence of love, that we find so clearly in the Bible, is reiterated by many other voices:
VOICE 1 (HELEN)
From the pages of novels, lines of poetry,
Cinema screens and song lyrics -
God of love - help us to discern your truth.
A flash of insight, a surge of hope,
A jab of conscience or a quiet reflection -
God of wisdom - help us to understand your truth
VOICE 2 (MICHAEL)
From the insightful advice of a friend
Or the wise words of a stranger -
God of grace - help us to hear your truth
When we find you in unexpected places
When your voice disturbs our complacency
God of compassion - help us to recognise your truth
In a world of spin and sound-bites, tweets and texts -
In the noise and clamour of everyday life
Help us to pause and listen for your truth.
Forgive us when we misinterpret and mistake our own wishful thinking for your true guidance.
Whether you speak to us in a mighty symphony or in a still, small voice - open our hearts to receive your message of love, reassurance and forgiveness - In the name of Jesus Christ.
HYMN 3 CHORUS/ORGAN DUR:
Lord, speak to me, that I may speak
ITEM 8 LINK RAY
“Teach me Lord that I may teach” says Frances Havergall in that hymn. As a teacher, Jesus often spoke in parables - stories to illustrate his message. In this story in John’s Gospel Chapter 10, the example he used would have been familiar to the people listening to him then.
ITEM 9 READING VOICE 1 (HELEN)
"I’m telling you the truth: anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
John 10 v.1-5
ITEM 10 REFLECTION 2 BEVERLEY
“They know his voice” - yes every voice is distinctive - with its own vocal “fingerprint” as it were.
Early on the Sunday morning after Jesus was crucified, Mary Magdalene was crying outside his tomb - the stone had been rolled away and Jesus was gone. The man she thought was the gardener asked her why she was crying - who was she looking for? Then he spoke her name –“Mary” - only then did she know that he was Jesus.
As a singer and broadcaster I’ve come to realise how important the sound of a voice can be. How often do we say - “Oh, it’s so lovely to hear your voice”. When my young son went backpacking - on his own - around New Zealand, sometimes a week or two would go by without any news from him - all the terrible possibilities would go through my mind - and then that call would come- and oh the relief of hearing his voice.
At times when we’re feeling low or lonely, hearing a familiar voice on the telephone - or even on the radio - can bring comfort and consolation. Many older people feel the acute isolation of loneliness - sometimes going for days without speaking to anyone. A recently founded telephone helpline has uncovered a desperate need. Over the last six months they’ve received thousands of telephone calls from those longing for some human contact - yearning to hear a friendly voice asking “Are you all right ?” and then spending time to stay on the line and talk. After a late night call, one man said “I felt I belonged to the human race again”.
Of course it isn’t only the elderly who feel like that. For the past fourteen years, here in St David’s Uniting Church we’ve been involved with caring for people who are homeless - that’s how I met Andrew whom I mentioned earlier on -and those years of experience have taught me the importance of listening and sharing.
A voice can transform a moment and the tone can matter almost as much as what we say. Proverbs 15 tells us that “Gentle words bring life, but cruel words crush the spirit.” Often today we hear people speaking to one another with anger and hatred - even in television programmes or films that are meant to be entertainment - ugly, cruel tones that ridicule and belittle - and lies and half-truths seem often to be accepted as the norm.
The words of Jesus set us a challenge, reminding us that before we open our lips, we do have a choice - instead of criticism and hostility, we can choose to speak with love and respect and honesty. Of course words can and should be strong and challenging too - Jesus spoke plainly about wrongs that need to be righted - but his message was centred on forgiveness, compassion and love.
Our previous hymn ended with the lines -
“And wing my words, that they may reach the hidden depths of many a heart”. Let’s pray for God’s help so that our words may do just that.
ITEM 11 PRAYER 3 RAY
In prayer we put our concerns into words and align ourselves with your love for the world.
VOICE 2 (MICHAEL)
We think of voices raised in hymns of praise and thank you for their harmony
We think of hands, moving expressively to speak in sign language
We remember other voices, weakened through age or hunger, silenced by disease or breaking with despair,
And we give thanks for those whose voices bring encouragement and understanding.
We think of children’s voices, crying in fear and pain and we give thanks for those whose gentle tones stem the tears and soothe the hurt.
We think of the whistle-blower, risking her job to highlight the truth
And the victim of bullying, stripped of his self-worth by the sound of abuse
And we give thanks for those who speak out for fairness and honesty.
VOICE 1 (HELEN)
We think of voices rippling with laughter or shouting with delight,
And we thank you for the joy of family and friendship and sharing.
We think of the voice of the risen Jesus, reassuring Mary in the garden, inspiring faith and hope.
Help us to use our voices so that others may know your love and receive your blessing.
In the name of Jesus who knows each of us by name.
ITEM 12 LINK RAY
As we thank God for voices raised in prayer and praise, the BBC National Chorus of Wales, celebrating its 30th birthday this month, sings the Lord’s Prayer in a setting by the Welsh composer William Matthias.
ITEM 13 CHORUS/ORGAN DUR:
Lord’s Prayer - Matthias
ITEM 14 LINK & READING MICHAEL
On one occasion Jesus said to his followers “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life”. In Romans 10, Paul offered encouraging advice on how to share and give voice to that Good News. ……
READING MICHAEL DUR:
The scripture says “Whoever believes in him will not be disappointed”. This includes everyone, because there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles; God is the same Lord of all and richly blesses all who call to him. As the scripture says “Everyone who calls out to the Lord for help will be saved. But how can they call for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed? And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out? As the scripture says “How wonderful is the coming of messengers who bring good news!”
Romans 10: 8-15
ITEM 15 HYMN 5 CHORUS/ORGAN DUR:
There's a spirit in the air,
ITEM 16 REFLECTION 3 BEVERLEY DUR:
Brian Wren’s hymn encourages us to “Lose your shyness, find your tongue, tell the world what God has done”. When we do, there’s the potential for changing attitudes, for turning everything upside down, as Jesus did. And we may see the results “living, working in our world”. But alongside, there comes the need to listen to other voices.
I read a beguiling interpretation of Psalm116 recently - it began “I love the Lord; for not only does He hear my voice, but He leaned down when I was in trouble and brought His ear close to me”. What a beautiful image that is- God leaning close, to catch our softest whisper. Maybe that’s an example for us. When we say “How are you?” - do we really listen to the answer and show genuine interest when someone tells their story, shares their experience, pours out their troubles.
And there’s a bigger challenge too - in Proverbs we’re urged to "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute" and in Isaiah we’re asked to “seek justice. Defend the oppressed”.
Oscar Romero is remembered as being “The Voice of the Voiceless”. In 1977 he was made Archbishop of San Salvador – a quiet man of prayer who at first kept himself separate from the radicals in his flock – but gradually, the poor around him showed him that they needed much more from the Church than catechism and sacrament – they needed him to speak out against injustice, to be the voice of a people who had no voice – and for this, Oscar Romero won the Nobel Prize for Peace and was murdered in front of the altar .
A friend of mine has just come back from El Salvador and says that even now, 34 years after his assassination, Oscar Romero’s voice is still being heard in South America. His tender love for the vulnerable and destitute, his unfailing resolution is still alive - giving strength to some of the poorest people of El Salvador, as they battle against powerful business interests to stop the deforestation that’s polluting and flooding and destroying their communities.
It takes courage to speak out - to swim against the tide -and when we hear examples of those who do just that, it can take our breath away. Think of the young schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai. She campaigned in Pakistan for the rights of girls to be educated - Desmond Tutu nominated her for the International Children’s Peace Prize - but those who opposed her message thought her voice should be silenced. In October 2012, fourteen year old Malala was shot as she boarded her school bus. Miraculously she survived and her courage has inspired others all over the world to support her cause.
Malala says “I speak not for myself but for those without voice... those who have fought for their rights... their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.”
So we have empirical evidence that a voice is a powerful tool. How will we use ours? Is our voice in harmony with God’s? Through His grace we are not only his children but also partners and fellow -workers with Christ - and if we don’t speak from love - who will?
HYMN 6 CHORUS / ORGAN DUR:
Make me a channel of your peace.
ITEM 18 PRAYER RAY DUR:
Paul Mealor’s setting of the prayer of St Francis - a prayer for peace - and so we pray --
We give thanks for all those who speak out for peace and justice,
We think of those imprisoned through lies and corruption -
Of families, torn from their homes because of war.
We remember those in the Middle East or parts of Africa or the Ukraine - paralysed by the fear of what might come next from the mouths of leaders or the barrel of a gun.
We think of teachers, preachers, broadcasters and politicians
And pray that they may be given the wisdom to recognise your truth and the courage and integrity to speak it.
In the name of Jesus Christ. AMEN
ITEM 19 CONCLUSION BEVERLEY DUR:
We may long to be that ”channel of peace” but the overwhelming suffering in the world, the atrocities of war, poverty, injustice, inhumanity - can all seem so huge, so insurmountable that we feel helpless and unable to do anything to make a difference. Yet Desmond Tutu says “Do your little bit of good wherever you are: it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world”. And centuries before, St. David the patron saint of Wales, said 'Remember the little things.'
A simple conversation, what we say and how we say it, has the power to wound or heal - the way we listen and respond can add to someone’s feelings of inadequacy or brighten their day. A voice has the potential to make an instant connection and if we are truly in harmony with that upside down, counter-cultural way of living that Jesus talked about, words that may seem unimportant take on a huge significance and can change the world.
ITEM 20 HYMN 7 CHORUS/ORGAN DUR:
Christ has called us to each other
Words Beverley Humphreys
ITEM 21 BLESSING - BEVERLEY
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
Be with us all, now and for evermore Amen
ITEM 22 ORGAN PLAYOUT SIMON BELL
- Sun 22 Jun 2014 08:10