St Andrew’s Anglican Church Indooroopilly
‘Listening to the many voices of God’: A Sermon offered by Lauren Martin
Presentation of Christ at the Temple (January 30 and 31)
What do the unnamed little boy who is the lead character in Roald Dahl’s Witches and Frodo in Lord of the Rings have in common – other than they are books? Or what does the answer 42 in Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and some political debates have in common? More importantly, how could these things possibly relate to our readings today as we celebrate Jesus’ Presentation at the Temple.
If we look at Dhal’s little boy, he successfully thwarts the Grand High Witch’s plan of turning all the children into mice. But how does he do this? After being turned into a mouse himself, he stays and listens to the Grand High Witch’s plan. From this act of listening – and with the help of his grandmother – he is able to save the day and uses the witch’s plan against them.
In the Lord of the Rings, at the meeting of humans, elves and dwarfs there is much debate and long held prejudices, which prevent a decision being made on who will take the ring to Mordor to be destroyed. The often overlooked and somewhat insignificant little Hobbit, Frodo Baggins, who has being sitting there throughout out the whole meeting listening to what needs to be done, speaks up saying he will take the ring to Mordor, even when he has no idea where or what lies ahead of him.
On the other hand the well known answer of ‘42’ from Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the Answer to the ultimate question to Life, The Universe, and Everything. The answer was revealed by the supercomputer Deep Thought, before the question was given. This answer becomes practically meaningless, without a question or discussion to give it any meaning.
Likewise, some political debates or ad campaigns can be just as confusing, turning more into an unsavoury commentary on how bad or incompetent the other side is. At times this may take away from what the political party is trying communicate – the message of what they stand for and why they should be voted in.
On one side we have the little boy and Frodo, who ultimately through their listening, are able to react to their situations and save the day. Imagine if the boy didn’t listen to the witch’s plan and all the children became mice, or if Frodo hadn’t listened to what needed to be done, and the others just stayed there debating who would take the ring Mordor – would they have ever reached a decision.
On the other side we have a lack of understanding, a lack of listening, and lack of communication. 42 may be the ultimate answer, but lacks any real meaning. Debates and conversations where the focus is on one-upping your opponent to bring them down, lack meaning and real communication it becomes little more than a shouting match.
Imagine if Mary had never listened to God, would we even have a Christmas story? Or if Joseph decided not to listen, and instead quietly dismissed the pregnant and unwed Mary? By not listening the story of our faith could’ve been very different indeed.
Today in our Gospel reading we hear a little further along in that story. Around 40 days after giving birth Mary goes to the Temple for the prescribed rite of purification, baby Jesus is presented to God at the Temple by Joseph in the rite of redemption of the first born male.
From the lead up to the birth of Jesus and their attendance at the Temple we can see that this small family unit are good listeners. Not only have they listened to angels proclaiming bizarre and wonderful things, they are also listening to their religious tradition – to the Laws and the customs of Judaism. They also listen to a couple of random strangers (Simeon and Anna) saying wonderful, terrifying and overwhelming things about their 40 day old baby boy. As those of you who are parents may appreciate, this is a time when Mary and Joseph are probably still adjusting to life as new (first time) parents, yet they still listen to what is being said.
Simeon’s prophesy stands out, being the longest, starting with what we now call the nuc ditimus and ending with telling Mary that a sword will pierce her own heart. Simeon doesn’t hold back, but tells not only of the joy and the hope of salvation promised by God and made apparent in Jesus for the whole wold, but also the harsher reality of this promise – that it won’t be easy. Simeon’s prophesy is not one of romanticised fantasy but contains the suggestion of the brutality, rejection and suffering that Jesus was to face later in life. I wonder what kind of amazement these young, new parents were feeling when they heard this.
This encounter with Simeon and followed by the one with Anna happens in the Temple no less! God’s special place and the then centre of the Jewish faith. How likely was it that at just the right time both Simeon and Anna were at the Temple, in just the right place (considering that the Temple complex of buildings and courts was around 35 acres). We hear that Anna and Simeon both were upright individuals who often frequented the Temple. We are told the Simeon was guided by the Spirit to go to the Temple and Anna never left the Temple. It may be safe to assume that they listened to the Spirit and were drawn to exactly the right place at exactly the right time, so that they meet the Holy Family somewhere in those 35 acres of the Temple complex.
In this instance it is through the prophecies of Simeon and Anna that Jesus is claimed by God as the one to bring salvation to the whole world. This wouldn’t have happened (or at least not in this way) if Mary and Joseph hadn’t listened to God’s voice spoken through the angels, God’s voice spoken and handed down through the Jewish Law and being open to God’s presence in the Temple and in their lives. From our reading we can also see that Mary and Joseph we also listening to God’s voice in Simeon and Anna.
We can see and be inspired from the events of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple, that by listening we can still hear God’s voice speaking to us directly and through those around us. We can also see God’s Spirit speaking, guiding and calling us through the in-between spaces of conversations and interactions. Opening our hearts to hear God’s word, inspiring us and encouraging us to act.
Today that could look like staying an extra 5 minutes with someone for a cuppa and chat, calling someone, taking a role or position here in church or in our local communities. We could listen to God through meditation or prayer and even in the little everyday acts we do like watering a garden, the meeting of strangers, the making of friends and through the everyday conversations we have and the space between us. We can choose to let God in, like the Holy Family, like Anna and Simeon. Through listening we can ‘save’ the day just like the little boy and Frodo, as we create and participate in the stories of our lives, through listening to God speaking to us, through us and around us.
I would like to leave you all with a quote from C.S. Lewis, as we think of the many ways God may be speaking to us, and how we may hear God.
‘God whispers to us in our pleasures,
speaks to us in our consciences,
but shouts in our pain.’
In the name of Christ.