A few weeks back the famous sportscaster Vin Scully died. If you are a dedicated sports fan, no matter what team you root for, you’ve heard of Vin. You’ve heard his voice and the way he could paint a picture with his words and knew the standard he set for all those who aspire to such a vocation. If you’re a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers (as I am) then Vin’s voice holds an almost sacred spot in your memory. He managed to do more than call a baseball game, more than give the pitch count, and more than set the scene for those listening in their long commute through LA traffic. Vin Scully managed to do far more than that.
For me, Vin’s voice was the voice of my grandparents. See, my grandparents were huge Dodger fans. They supported them through the glory days and the hard miserable years. My grandpa would often refer to “them bums” when he would turn off the game in disgust after a loss. But the thing was, while the game was on the TV the volume would be off and the small transistor radio next to my grandpa’s chair would be tuned in to listen to Vin. So, whether they were at home or away it was the voice of Vin that could be heard throughout their home. They weren’t alone in this practice either. In fact, when I was lucky enough to go to a game it was common for people in the stands to have the little radios tuned in, so even at the game, it was Vin’s voice that you heard as you watched it unfold before you.
And yet, long after my grandparent’s moved out of Southern California, even after they died, when I heard Vin on the radio I was transferred back to their home, back to the memories of my childhood. His voice carried more than just the stats; it had the creaks of their wooden floors, the image of my grandma at work in the kitchen, the smell of grandpa’s bourbon and seven. The pervasive voice of this man whom I never met carried me to places I could no longer go.
As Christians, part of the heart of our faith is that the living Word of God was embodied. As John says it, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word that created all things became man, born of a woman, born under the law, to deliver life and salvation to all who believe in him. And this Word continues to go forth. It continues to be proclaimed in the voices and lives of preachers from one generation to the next. So, when you think of the Word as you receive it, you don’t think of it disengaged from the one who proclaimed it. It has a tenor, inflection, and rhythm to it. The Word of God is caught up in the smiles and gestures of those that are sent to preach.
I think this reality isn’t handled very well in our day, or perhaps it has always caused a bit of difficulty. We all want to avoid the hero worship that can become infectious surrounding celebrity pastors’ past and present. We don’t want the specific pastor to be the reason why someone goes to church or stays at a church or even leaves the church. We want it to be exclusively about the Word. The Word faithfully proclaimed is the reason to go to church, the Word twisted and perverted is the reason to leave. But the reality is we can’t separate it from the mouth that preaches it. While the preacher isn’t greater than the Word the Word is still embodied in them.
I think kept in proper perspective this can be a good thing. The voice that we hear can bring us to the remembrance of things we have forgotten, it can help transport us in the moment to something beyond our current situation in life. In a way similar to how the voice of Vin Scully can take me to my grandparent’s home, so the voice of a faithful preacher can carry us again to the promises of God. Promises previously heard, promises we needed at moments of great tragedy and struggle. That voice can rush us back to the faithfulness of our God, to the promises that ensure us that we are not forgotten nor forsaken, but forgiven and loved.