Wednesday afternoon I called to see how Emi was doing. Last time her daddy went to Iraq she entered a two-week depression. She was barely a year old then. Now she is four-years-old and has a baby sister who’s nearly five-months-old. Emi understands more than she did the last time he left, so she hasn’t slipped into a deep, silent depression like the last time. But that doesn’t mean she likes it any better. The first thing Emi told me was “I’m at my house. Daddy’s not here. He’s on a long bye-bye.” In her own way she complained about the long distance between her house and mine. “You’re in Mississippi. I’m in Tennessee. That’s far, far away.”
Emi’s very articulate on the phone. That because every time her dad goes to Iraq he takes his cell phone with him. As soon as he can, he converts to an overseas account. If he cannot, he buys phone cards. Every chance he is able he calls home. He likes to call when he can speak to all three of his “women.” Even when all he could do is barely understand Emi’s babblings, that was enough for him. She recognized his voice and clung to the phone as if to a lifeline. Now he speaks to Lianna in the same way.
It was John’s privilege to rise and feed Lianna in the early mornings. That was their time together. It became such an ingrained ritual that if Cindy tried to take over, Lianna rebelled. She wanted her daddy at that time. When he calls on the phone, Cindy holds it to her tiny ear so that she can hear his voice and remember who her father is. He speaks to her some of the same loving worlds he spoke while they were together in her bedroom.
Does the tough-guy Sergeant care if any of his men over hear him? Not one bit. Let them take a lesson, he says. When he returned home the last time, Emi was fearful of anyone save her own mom. She was in her two-year-old Mommy’s-girl stage. There was rightful concern she would be unduly afraid of her own father when he returned from Iraq because she might not recognize him on sight. She was so young when he left. Yet as he approached the car in Frankfort, Germany, Emi let out a squeal of delight. That was her daddy! She’d know him anywhere, and time was no factor in that.
Lianna may not so easily recognize her own father’s face when he returns home again, but she will remember his voice. She continues to hear it often. She knows her father by his voice. It is the same way Emi’s memory of her father was kept alive. She spoke to him often and in the manner that only those two could speak with each other. His voice and words in her ears kept alive her memory of his face.
I’ve never seen Jesus’ own face in the flesh, but I know where He is to be found, nevertheless. Christ’s promises are attached to His Word in water, bread and wine and delivered by men for life, forgiveness of sins and salvation. Wherever Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, preaching, and the Absolution are going on, there is Jesus. Wherever Jesus is, there His voice may be heard in the words that are spoken.
Daddy calls his girls to the phone, and they come to him. Emi clings to the phone when he calls; Lianna will know him by his voice when he returns. The faithful are gathered by Christ’s voice, His Word. He says, “My sheep hear My voice and follow Me” (John 10:27). Yet how can any follow who have not heard the voice of the Shepherd? That is ultimately what Paul asks in Romans 10:
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Faith–that is, Christ–comes by hearing, yes. And just as Emi’s and Lianna’s daddy has taught them, hearing once (as if to ignite the eardrums and set them ablaze, and then let the fire smolder out) does not make for the familiarity of recognition of the Good Shepherd. Nor are all who call upon the name of the Lord of Him (Mt 7:22-23).
Wherever Jesus is present in His Word purely spoken and rightly administered in His Sacraments is where the Heavenly Father’s children have been called to gather. It is there God’s children are rightly fed by the Good Shepherd Himself. Emi runs to the phone whenever it rings, hoping it's her daddy. She reminds her mommy on Saturday night that church is the next morning, so they’d best be ready early. She knows where she needs to be to hear her daddy’s voice, and her Father’s voice. Two of my students are begging to be baptized. One longs to have the Lord’s Supper, and quotes the Catechism to support his reasons why. “Jesus said do it for the forgiveness of sins. I want it.” They have heard their Shepherd’s voice. Were it up to them, they would spend a great deal more time in church hearing it, responding to it.
I once had a professor who asked me if I would ever be certain that I’d heard my Shepherd’s voice. As certain as I know where to look for my Shepherd by the Marks of His Church. For wherever those Marks are found, there also is the faithful flock gathered around the undershepherd administering the Mysteries of our Good Shepherd. Why would anyone want to miss out on any bit of it?