Indeed, at six months old she was able to say "Howdy" and when still a baby, she said the word "tea" quite clearly.
It was after a fever at nineteen months of age that she was left without hearing or sight, and at that point began to forget all the words she had learned.
Only one word remained: Helen writes, "It was the word Water, and I continued to make the sound for that word after all other speech was lost."
After losing her sight and hearing, the toddler Helen became very frustrated.
But what was most frustrating to her was not so much the loss of the senses themselves, but the loss of the ability to communicate her thoughts and desires.
She wrote in her autobiography, "I moved my lips and gesticulated frantically without result…
I felt as if invisible hands were holding me, and I made frantic efforts to free myself."
"Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog,
when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in,
and the great ship, tense and anxious,
groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line,
and you waited with beating heart for something to happen?
I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding-line, and had no way of knowing how near the harbour was.
'Light! give me light!' was the wordless cry of my soul."
One of the most difficult of human conditions is to be voiceless.
In my observation, even the loss of mobility is less frustrating,
less crushing to the human spirit than losing the power to communicate.
I think of a woman with brain cancer I knew.
She had been a high school chemistry teacher and was a very intelligent and well-read person.
What was most frustrating to her in her final months of earthly life was that the cancer had attacked the part of her brain that controlled speech.
In some ways, I think this was worse for her than even the knowledge she was going to die.
Why? Because when you cannot communicate with another, it is as though you are alone.
No one knows what is happening to you, what you feel, how you hurt,
And it is easy to believe that no one cares.
Why do babies cry? Why do dogs bark? Why do children shout so much?
Because no one understands them.
Because they are voiceless.
The promotion of social righteousness, the fourth great end of the church,
Might at first blush seem to be a call for the church to be politically active.
And that's exactly what it is.
But not in the way you might think.
Our call is not to take the side of Republican or Democrat.
I wish the church would remember this.
Studies show that 2014 in the United States is the most politically divided age in our nation's history.
Worse than the Civil War.
Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, no longer seem to even speak the same language.
We certainly don't watch the same news channels, and we don't go to the same churches.
In progressive churches like our Presbyterian Church USA, you'll hear a lot about social justice and economic inequality;
And then in conservative churches you'll hear about abortion and gay marriage.
In many communities, there are two pastors' associations; one for the liberals and one for the conservatives.
I don't think this is what "the promotion of social righteousness" means.
Our call is not to take sides in the hot button issues of the day—though at times that is called for—it's not why we are here.
Our call is to be the voice of the voiceless,
As Proverbs 31:8 calls us, "speak out on behalf of the voiceless and for the rights of all who are vulnerable."
Our call is to point out the things nobody sees and ask the questions nobody asks.
Our call is to talk about the one in ten families that experiences domestic violence after the Twitter feeds of America have moved on from scapegoating Ray Rice.
Our call is to point out the blind spots of both parties and of our society as a whole.
Our call is to make liberals recognize that moral values are actually critical to a society, that marriage matters, and that a 40% out of wedlock birthrate is bad for children and adults alike. I'm not passing judgment on people whose relationships didn't pan out; I'm saying that as a whole, as a culture, we've got a problem.
Our call is to make conservatives confess that capitalism is not, actually, biblical, and God spends a lot of time in His Word bashing the rich and upholding the poor—way more than God talks about infanticide or sexual immorality.
Our call is to talk about modern day slavery in America and tomato pickers and homelessness and the fact that sweatshops still make your clothes.
Our call is to be a voice for the voiceless.
Because when we speak for the voiceless, we speak for God.
God's people in Isaiah 58 don't understand why they don't sense God's presence.
Biblical commentator Amy Oden says, they're genuinely confused.
Why isn't God sticking up for them?
They're doing all the right things. They're worshiping. They're praying. They're fasting at the right times. They're following all the rules.
Most scholars think Isaiah 58 was written in the time of the Babylonian exile, when the nation of Israel was taken from the Holy Land and held captive by the powerful nation of Babylon.
God's people cried out to the Lord, asked their God to hear them and remember His promises.
To give them justice.
And so they fasted and prayed.
And what does God do?
God snorts out a laugh and says, "This is great. -You want me to help you out with your oppression? OK. How about you stop oppressing others?"
One of my favorite preachers, Scott Hoezee, explains, the Israelites prayed for justice, to get out from under the thumb of Babylon, and then they went and beat the snot out of their own employees.
The Israelites fasted before the Lord, and then the minute the fast ended they made a "mad dash to the all you can eat buffet and got in fist fights as they scrambled for the last egg roll."
You see, the Israelites cared plenty about justice when it came to their own cause, but they didn't give a hoot about justice for others—
The poor, the widows, the orphans, the sick, the disabled—
The invisible people of society. The voiceless.
I think God was not only talking about the poor among the Jews, but about the Babylonians, the non-believers in their midst.
God was saying, see these people? The people no one sees?
The voices no one hears?
Yeah. That's who I care about.
Theirs are the words I want you to speak.
Not just to speak, to shout.
It's not just about being religious.
It's not just about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
It's not just about waving your diamond-studded hand in the air as you shout for Jesus.
It's about shouting for the little boy who was killed because of that diamond.
It's about being a voice for the voiceless.
It's about causing trouble.
It's about making noise.
It's about the promotion of social righteousness.
And as Christians, we don't just believe in doing good because of an abstract concept,
Because it's the "right thing."
No atheist has ever successfully convinced me that the concept of "goodness" outside of the reality of God is anything more than semantics.
In my opinion, without God, "good" is just a word.
We believe in Goodness because the source of all life is a Good God who plants in our hearts the idea of what Goodness is.
We believe each and every person is important to God because God made them in His image.
We believe all creatures on this earth and the land itself is important to God and that God entrusted us with taking care of creation.
These aren't just good causes to us; these are articles of our faith.
When the church has been faithful, we've also been noisy.
We've been a voice for the voiceless.
It's the church that cried out against slavery.
Abolitionist preachers. Quakers. Christians.
It's the black church that mobilized the people for civil rights.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out first and foremost because of his faith.
It's the church that stands at the front lines against addiction.
The Salvation Army is still one of the best drug treatment programs out there.
And Alcoholics Anonymous still meets in churches, because its roots are in Christianity.
And it's the church that spoke up against the Holocaust.
People like Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Niemoller who protested Naziism because it was, at its heart, idolatry of the German nation over Christ.
Christians who, many of them, went to concentration camps and even died because they would not keep silent.
When we have been faithful, really faithful, we've promoted social righteousness.
And God makes it perfectly clear; promoting social righteousness is an if-then proposition.
If you feed the hungry, if you clothe the naked, if you let the homeless poor into your house,
If you loose the bonds of injustice,
and let the oppressed go free,
If you start giving a hoot about these people that nobody cares about, then and only then I'll show that I give a hoot about you.
"Then you light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am."
When we start caring about the things God cares about, a funny thing happens;
When we allow God to speak through us,
We'll experience God's presence with us,
And we all need that.
All of us have experienced injustice, oppression, suffering, pain.
I don't care if you are a rich white heterosexual able-bodied good-lookin' male,
You know what it is to feel as though no one is on your side,
You know what it is to suffer.
We all need to know that God is with us when we hurt.
And so when we cry out for others, we proclaim the truth that we are not alone.
God, too, knows what it is to experience injustice, persecution, oppression, homelessness, poverty, and loneliness.
God chose in the person of Jesus to experience the very worst of what it is to be human.
Why? To be a voice for the voiceless.
To show once and for all that Someone cares.
Someone cared about Helen Keller.
Someone wanted to give a voice to the voiceless.
"THE most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me…It was the third of March, 1887.
I felt approaching footsteps. I stretched out my hand as I supposed to my mother.
Some one took it, and I was caught up and held close in the arms of her who had come to reveal all things to me,
We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered.
Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout.
As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly.
I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers.
Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten–a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.
I knew then that "w-a-t-e-r" meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul."
Brothers and sisters, our calling is nothing less than to awaken the soul of the world.
Our calling is to show the forgotten, the invisible, the silenced—you are not alone.
Our calling is to give a voice to the voiceless.
Because if we don't do it, who will?
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.