“Do you hear what I hear?”

A sermon by The Rev’d Wendy Morecroft

Song of Mary, James 5.7-10, Matthew 11.2-11

Today’s Gospel reminds me of the echoing chorus line in the Christmas Song “Do you hear what I hear”. The first verse begins:

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see?

And then the second verse begins

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear?

I am reminded of this song because Jesus tells the disciples of John the Baptist “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, etc. John would have recognised these words from the Old Testament in the Book of the prophet Isaiah 29.18-19 “On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.” Also in chapter 35.5-6 “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer.

What would we say if Jesus told us to tell of what we “see and hear” of God’s work in the world? The healings and the spread of the good news are normal occurences in our current medical technological age, but do we give God the praise? Only earlier this year my husband had life changing spinal surgery and exactly 6 weeks later we were able to travel overseas. Last month he was able to dance the night away at our Festival 150 Gala Ball. Praise God for medical advances, doctors, nurses, hospitals etc. Many of us have been healed this year with antibiotics, or had our symptoms managed with medication or had a range of remarkable surgeries. These are all signs of the breaking of God’s kingdom but it has not been fulfilled yet.

For all the signs and miracles that we can see and hear, what about all those we know right here in this community who are experiencing pain, loss and suffering; those who know there is no cure for them? What can we say about the wars, famines, and natural disasters around the world; our own nation on fire, those struggling to breathe in hazardously smoky conditions; the lives lost and the devastation to those left behind by the volcano eruption in New Zealand?

We live in difficult times; we see and hear of the breaking of God’s kingdom amongst us but it is at the same time, not yet. We expect that we should live in a heavenly state already, where we would all be protected from harm and we would live forever. Bp Tim in his Thursday 7.30am sermon in the Cathedral Lady Chapel this week, spoke of Advent as a season of yearning for what is to come, for the fullness of the kingdom of God when Christ will come again and all things will be made new.

Our readings from Isaiah 11 last Sunday morning described such fullness as when the cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

Revelation 21.4 describes the fullness of God’s kingdom as when “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ Our reading from the Letter of James today tells us to be patient for the coming of the Lord.

The most remarkable signs of God at work that I see and hear, here at the Cathedral are the conversations with those first time visitors who look a bit shell-shocked as we shake hands at the end of the service. “Have we met before?” I like to ask. If they say “no”, I enquire, “What brought you to the Cathedral today?” Every now and again someone says “I’ve lived in Adelaide all my life and this is my first time inside the Cathedral.” “So what brought you in on this particular day?” I might ask. Sometimes I hear them say, “I don’t know, I just felt something draw me here – I felt that I was meant to come”. “Would you like to talk with one of the clergy about that sometime soon?” I ask. Four of those people were baptised and confirmed last Easter. To see and hear God at work in this way, drawing people to come and find new life amongst us, is so exciting. We only need to talk to each other to be encouraged by what we each see and hear of God’s activity amongst us.

Another great joy has been hearing of profound spiritual experiences. If those experiences are not shared, we may doubt their authenticity. When we do share them we encourage one another enormously. We do need to remember that not everyone is given the same insights. Jesus says to Thomas in John 20.29 “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Joining one of the many study or home groups at the Cathedral is often an opportunity to share our spiritual experiences. One of my friends who has often complained about not having had a significant spiritual encounter, describes feeling heavy weights in her open hands when she prays. “I reckon that’s really something” I often say.

Someone who had no trouble telling of what she had seen and heard was Mary in Luke 1. You may recall that when the angel Gabriel told her that she would give birth to the Christ child, he also told her that her much older cousin Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant. Mary wasted no time in going to Elizabeth to tell of what she had seen and heard. Before Mary even spoke her experience was affirmed by John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth affirms Mary further when she says in Luke 1.45 “And blessed is she who believed and there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

We pondered in our Advent study on Wednesday at what insight Mary received as she carried the Christ child within her. As at least one theologian has noted, Mary certainly was a great theologian which is reflected in her Magnificat. Listen out as the choir sings it as we receive communion. Eight times in this short song Mary tells of what the Lord has done for her and for those who fear him. We hear of Mary’s enormous joy, faith and confidence. She can see the great goodness of God’s love and she is not shy in proclaiming it.

On the recent clergy retreat, the retreat leader Bp Alison Taylor from Brisbane, suggested that we each write our own Magnificat, telling of all that we see and hear of God’s work in us and in the world.

There are many things I have had the privilege of learning from Dean Frank and his vast 40 years-experience in ordained ministry. Most recently, at this week’s staff meeting, he taught me to ask parents who bring their children for baptism to write a baptism prayer for their children. Our Cathedral Administration Assistant and resident musician and composer Rachel Bruerville “chimed in” and asked me if I had heard of the Lullaby Project to which I replied “no”. There seem to be a number of internet sites about it but it encourages parents to write personal lullabies for their children. My husband and I did put a lot of effort into finding the perfect lullaby for our children and sang them Hushaby Mountain from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang every night. I was totally taken aback a few months ago when I heard our 4 year-old granddaughter singing it to her little brothers so these things do get handed on.

How wonderful would it be if our prayers and lullabies for our children and grandchildren, Godchildren etc, reflected our personal Magnificats telling of all that we see and hear of God’s work in our world.

May the parents and godparents, families and friends of Teresa Grace Maria Nelson and Ross Alfred Williams who will be baptised this morning, never cease in telling these precious young people of all that God has done for them in Jesus. Amen.