Our Hearts are Restlessness, Until .... they find their rest in you
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
Tonight children will be going to bed longing for Father Christmas to bring to them some wonderful thing which they really badly want. Its an exciting time and it is right that it should be. But of course presents are better given than received.
The phrase, it's 'the thought that counts', expresses the fact that ultimately things are never much good, you can't take them with you, but human kindness and generosity are of much more worth. If we think that possession of some item will change our lives, if we think that possession of anything satisfy us then we are to be badly disappointed. I can't get no satisfaction is a good pop song, it is also an accurate description of human nature.
We are each one of us in a state of incompleteness, of searching. As human beings we are at our most vulnerable when we achieve some great desire. For it is then that we are likely to be confronted with reality, it just doesn't really make any difference. We all have 'Divine Dissatisfaction', a desire which no natural happiness can satisfy. The things which we desire are often good images of the spiritual things which we really desire but as 'things' they are never really good enough. If we mistake material things for the real thing then they will turn into dumb idols and eventually break our hearts. As C.S. Lewis said, 'These are only like the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have never heard, news from a country we have not visited'.
Human desire, the longing for something that will satisfy us points beyond finite objects and finite persons. It points through these objects and persons towards their real goal in God himself. Jobs, qualifications, relationships, none of these can ever provide that for which we search. If we think that relationships with other people can satisfy us we are asking too much of another human being. Without God even our best human relationships are under too much strain, no wonder relationships are on the rocks. The quest always fails to find its object, even when the search seems close to its end we find we have yet another corner to turn. Whatever we think it is that we are pursuing remains elusively ahead of us, evading our grasp.
This is something which we learn with maturity. This is the paradox of hedonism. Hedonism is a view which holds that pursuit of pleasure is the ultimate good. But ultimately the paradox is that pleasure cannot satisfy. Pleasure beauty, personal relationships, all seem to promise so much, and yet when we grasp them, we find that what we were seeking was not located in them. This is the divine dissatisfaction which points us back to God.
Hunger is a human sensation which corresponds to a real physical need. That need points to the existence of food which can satisfy our hunger Thirst is another example of a human sensation which corresponds to a real physical need. That need points to the existence of water which can satisfy our thirst. Dissatisfaction, longing for that which is outside of ourselves, which cannot be satisfied by any physical or finite object or person also points to a real human need. That need points to the existence of God who can satisfy our spiritual desire. This is the theme of the prayer of St. Augustine which speaks about the origin and the goal of human nature.
'You have made us for yourself, O Lord,
and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you'
We are made by God and we experience a deep sense of longing for Him which only he can satisfy—The Psalmist expressed this when he wrote 'As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you'. Psalm 42. In spite of this rather obvious logic there are those who find the concept of God an impossible one. Human reason is hesitant to allow us to speak of anything which goes beyond ourselves. Plato's analogy of the cave is useful. Plato spoke of a cave in which a group of men are confined. A fire is burning and throwing shadows on the wall of the cave. The cave is the only world which the men have ever experienced, and so they assume that this is the real world, the only world. Then one of the men escapes from the cave and discovers a great world outside. He returns to tell the others, but they cannot believe him. Can there really be another world, which transcends that which they have experienced? You and I are surrounded by folk who are living in caves. They fail to be able to see beyond the cave and because they have never experienced the life and vitality of God they cannot believe that he exists.
Why is it that congregations are older in churches? Well we could say that the church isn't hitting the mark, isn't culturally relevant. Let's stop being introspective and think outside of ourselves. However at the end of the day, younger people are more concerned with their homes, their families, their jobs. Many really do think that they can build some form of Utopia on earth. Its perhaps only when the kids leave home, when you are faced with terrible illness, or the loss of a loved one, its perhaps only then that the penny drops that you realise that having material possessions doesn't make you happy.
The church won't cease to be because it hasn't got a youth group, it will just find its new members from those who reach a level of maturity and spiritual awareness. We enter into the life of faith and discover God through belief in that which is beyond ourselves which cannot be proved. You and I who have stepped out of the cave have felt the warmth of the light of God which shines on those who walk in his way. This route can only be discovered through belief, it seems there is no way to have understanding first.
We are like the shepherds we can be told that Jesus is born in Bethlehem, but we have to go in faith to see where he may be found. Those first shepherds went, but they could have decided that their wives wanted them home, they could have failed to believe. If they had failed to believe then they would have never have found the answer to their longing, they would never had been satisfied.
As you are opening your Christmas presents this Christmas enjoy them and I hope you get what you really want. But remember that they are never really good enough. Don't mistake material gifts which are only pale imitations of the real gift which we have all been given this Christmas. If you don't get what you wanted then don't worry because you didn't really need it anyway. Let your desire be for God who will really make a difference. And as you plan ahead for 1996 make room for God in there, you can't build any kind of life for yourself or for your family unless you have God as the foundation.