The Voice of Penguins
Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A RCL
Some of you may be old enough to remember the weekly nature documentary, Mutual of Omaha's “Wild Kingdom.” It was the first documentary series of its kind showing animals in their habitat from regions around the globe. This show brought us the cycle of life within God’s creation and did so in the comfort of our own homes. This series has spawned many other documentaries series from the Animal Channel to Nature on PBS.
I remember watching an episode of Nature called “Snow Chick.” It was about emperor penguins and it opens with the father penguins nurturing their eggs. The mothers had already left on their two month, 120 mile rou nd trip journey to the ocean so they can refill their depleted reserves. Eventually, the chicks hatch. The fathers have a special gland that produces ‘crop milk’ so they can feed the chicks while awaiting the mother’s return. But they are only able to make enough to feed the babies for a few days. If the mother doesn’t return with food within a week or so, the chick will die.
Now I’m not sure if you have ever really looked at an emperor penguin before; comparing one to the next. These penguins are unlike most other animals. They do not have a distinct pattern of feathers or anything else to separate one from the other. They all look exactly alike and we can’t tell one from the other. According to this documentary, even the penguins can’t see a difference between themselves. The mothers cant’ tell one father from the next and the fathers can’t sort out the mothers.
The narration leads up to this drama; as there are thousands of chicks in this colony and the father has to find the right mother to feed their chick upon her return. We also have to remember that the father hasn’t eaten in two months either. At this point, he has lost over half of his body weight and he needs to set off for the ocean to feed.
As the story unfolds we find that when the fathers see the mothers far off in the distance, the fathers begin to line up in a long row. As the mothers make their way and begin to pass by, they call to each other. We discover that it is the sound of each other’s voices that has been imprinted in their minds. It is their unique voice that separates one from the thousands of others.
Jesus seems to have a unique voice as well. In our Gospel passage, Jesus calls to Simon and Andrew and with one short phrase they stop what they are doing, and immediately follow Jesus. Moments later we see the scene repeated with James and John, the sons of Zebedee. The Gospel says, He called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
The voice of our Lord reorients us. Sometimes it calls us to turn away from sin, those things that put separation between us and our neighbor and God. But sometimes we are called to do something different than we are currently doing. The four disciples today were going about their daily routine much as they presumably have done their entire lives, maybe even for generations. But this simple call of God’s voice seems to have compelled them to leave everything behind and begin a new journey, an uncertain journey. They left their occupation, their family, their friends, all because they heard God’s call.
I’d imagine that each of us has heard God’s call even if it seemed to be far away and hardly audible. We may have made a choice to follow the call, push it aside, or to ignore it altogether. We may have done so because we feel too unsure what the future would hold by following the call. Maybe we were unsure that the voice actually came from God. But God doesn’t let us go easily. God calls us over and over again maybe even to something different from what he called us to the first time we heard his voice.
What I believe to be true is that when we search down deep within ourselves I think we recognize God’s voice; for God’s voice, it is imprinted in your mind from the moment God made you. His voice is as unique as yours is. What is wonderful is that even if we do not recognize it immediately and follow him immediately, at some point together you will find each other and follow his voice even if it takes a lifetime.