Sermon 27 September 2015

Some words from today’s Collect taken from St Augustine ’s Confessions: Almighty God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.

Restlessness is something we all experience from time to time. Unfortunately it seems to have a kind of negative label. If an Ordinand appeared to be restless, or if the Novice Guardian in the Community considered someone to restless, it would appear to be a black mark against them. This can be a misunderstanding.

In fact we are born with the experience of restlessness deep within us. The re is a deep longing in the heart for something which will bring us complete satisfaction. This, however, is never finally reached for us in this life. It appears to be always just beyond us, never completely attained.

The tragedy is that most people today are unaware of what this deep longing is about. We seek to satisfy this feeling that is planted in us in all kinds of ways. It can be in work, success, a personal relationship and even in religion. The re seems no end to the amount of work we can pursue, without ever being satisfied. To seek complete satisfaction in all our own longing in another person may lead to disaster. Pope Francis recently said the re is no perfect wife, no perfect husband, no perfect mother-in-law (but don’t let’s go there!).

In our Christian vocation, we can seek satisfaction in the certainty of our views - whether traditional or liberal - but neither are the experience of a journey which perseveres in the dark uncertainties of Faith in God. We may have to experience the disappointment that the College is not all that we hoped it would be - or the life in CR - as we expected at the beginning. The danger is of this disappointment in not finding complete satisfaction leads to disillusionment, cynicism and sadness.

The reason for all this disappointment is that the longing we are born with is for God. The satisfaction of this longing is not experienced in this life – it cannot, being infinite, be filled in this finite environment. Placing the longing in anything else than God is doomed to frustration.

The psalms use language which is clearly physical for this longing. Words like thirsting, hungering, aching. The journey into God begins here and now but the ultimate union with God is beyond this life. Sometime we glimpse something of this ultimate union but it does not last. The thiteenth century theologian and mystic Eckhardt wittily described it as if we were catching God off his guard, naked, in his dressing room.

The place where all this is most obviously experienced is in our prayers. We never ever felt we have satisfied all the longing that is inside us. It can lead us to think we are no good at prayer. Strangely enough this unsatisfied longing is what prayer is.  If we came from prayer completely satisfied, this would seem to be some kind of stroking our ego!!

Having said all of this, what is this experience of God that we long for? How should we recognise it? How should we experience it ?

Someone once said that God was a code word for our bewilderment. Today we do not hear much talk of life after death. Heaven is not mentioned very often. Ancient images of it seem to have been discarded and there does not seem to be a clear understanding of what it might mean. This is curious since it is meant to be the hope of all of us here this morning.

When a baby is inside the mother, it has no concept of what happens next though it is certainly going to happen.

All it is aware of is: the child is, the source of life (mother) is and love is. For Christians these three necessities are a possible description of our own life after death. Each of us is, God is, Love is. This is the end of all the longing that we are born with inside us. This is the ultimate satisfaction – the communion and community of overwhelming love.

Today’s Collect says “and so bring us at the last to your heavenly city, where we shall see you face to face”.

I want to with George Herbert’s poem about all this:

The Pulley

When God at first made man

Having a glass of blessings standing by;

Let us (said he) pour on him all we can:

Let the worlds riches, which dispersed lie,

Contract into a span.

So strength  first made a way;

The n beauty flow’d, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:

When almost all was out, God made a stay,

Perceiving that alone of all his treasure

Rest in the bottom lay.

 

For if I should (said he)

Bestow this jewel also on my creature,

He would adore my gifts in stead of me

And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:

So both would losers be. 

Yet let him keep the rest

But keep them with repining restlessness:

Let him be rich and weary, that at least,

If goodnesse lead him not, yet weariness

May toss him to my breast

 

 

            Simon Holden CR