sermon February 28 2016 Lent 3

March 28, 2016

Isaiah 55: 1- 9

Psalm 63:1 – 8

I remember reading about how to raise a cat.  But raising a cat like it was in its natural setting.  Now cats in their natural setting do not get tinned food placed on a saucer at regular intervals.  I don’t remember why someone would want to feed their cat like it was in the wild, must have been good for its fur or its psychological state or something, but the suggestion in this article was to replicate something like the natural world you should  feed your  cat at irregular intervals, and even skip food completely a day a  week.   

Like  the domesticated cat we humans in the West never have to go hungry.  We are never more than a few hours from the next  meal. 

Being properly hungry is an unknown experience.  And the same with water and thirst. Walking  around the local park with a plastic water bottle is about as thirsty as we are ever going to get.

  Unlike many people in our world.

And today our bible readings use the metaphor of physical hunger and thirst being quenched to address our spiritual needs.  Bread to satisfy our hunger, water to quench our thirst. And what I am saying is for people who know little of physical hunger and thirst, do we know anything more of spiritual longing to be satisfied. Not impossible but kind of takes the edge of the metaphor when you can visit the supermarket and see 25 different loaves of bread all in plastic wrappers on the shelf.  Bread of life….? Maybe….  Aisle 5 half way down on the right shelf after shelf of bottled water. And like me resent paying a couple of bucks for bottled water when we live in a city with some of the best quality water in the world.  Well just,tTurn the tap on as you have done 17 times already today…. living water?…. yeah sure…

What of our deep emotional/spiritual longings/yearnings? 

‘Dear Madam. I long to hold my child again and look into his eyes and see the spark of life in them. This will heal me of the terrible sadness I have felt since he was taken from me. Faithfully yours etc.’

This letter is from the ‘Collected Longing’ exhibition, held recently at the Museum of Modern Oddities. Brazilian artist and curator, Gabriella Zitsk has been collecting letters on the subject of longing for almost forty years. Some of these letters are exhibited, and responses are elicited, from around the world. Zitsk’s concept is exceedingly simple. The museum provides a book, as well as sending letters out, inviting people to answer this question: ‘What is it that you long for?’

People’s answers ranged widely and included ‘A job’, ‘World peace’, ‘Integrity’, ‘A passion beyond the sexual’, ‘Love’, ‘Someone to do the dishes all the time’, ‘A husband’, ‘Chooks for fresh eggs’, ‘arms, all wrapped around me’, ‘Long legs’.

The most commonly expressed longing was about children: to have them, to protect them or, as in the letter above, to bring them back to life. Children themselves seem to be the physical embodiment of longing, of the wish to continue in the world. To quote Gibran Kahlil, ‘Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.’

Christianity , along with most other religions,   has been decidedly uncomfortable with  our human longings and yearnings, fearful people will be seduced or distracted by lesser worthy objects from the One who it is claimed is the fulfiller of  all our longings and yearings. There is certainly a rich irony that we search for God in sex and love while we demand celibacy of many of our religious practitioners.

Religion has a confused relationship to longing or yearning as we often call this experience in the religious tradition.  The desire for both spiritual and physical fulfilment seems to arise from the same longing: to merge with or go back into some sense of original unity.

There is a poem  read at weddings, and that a dear friend recently read at her father’s funeral. It is one of the last poems Raymond Carvers wrote before he died

And did you get what You wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.

Longing is inherently conservative. It is a desire to return, to hold onto. What is truly radical about many spiritual paths is it’s encouragement to let go of how one has imagined ones life would or should be.

The themes of longing and desire shine through in this Psalm. The language and images the Psalmist uses are rich, they are evocative, and they charge our senses.

Look at some of the language in this psalm:

‘O God, you are my God, and I long for you.’

‘My whole being desires you;
like a dry, worn-out and waterless land,
my soul is thirsty for you.’

Longing, desire, thirst, they are all incredibly passionate words, full of emotion and energy.  If we were not here in this church on a Sunday morning, listening to a sermon on God and the Psalms, and you heard those words, you’d most likely be in the middle of a poetry reading of erotic literature.  And there is a tradition within the church, including a lot of women mystics in the Middle Ages who did use this sort of language to describe their relationship with God.  How comfortable are you with this language?   

What images spring to your mind when you hear phrases like this, when you hear about longing and desire

Longing, hunger, desire, is basic to the human condition.  We would not be human if we did not long for what we do not have to enjoy.  This is more than  selfish gratification here

We long for these things.  And when I say we ‘long’ for them, I mean more than that we merely wish for them or sigh for them.  True longing engages our passions and our wills.  It involves the commitment of our entire being.  It does this because we know that human life is marred and flawed without the things we long for.  More than that, our very longings themselves are signs that we still have the capacity to envisage a better future for others and for ourselves.  Not to long for a better tomorrow would mean to settle for the compromises and shortcomings of today. 

Our yearnings/longings are to provide vision and energy for the commitment to work/build a better future. 

Where do you take your yearnings?  With whom do you share them?  What do you yearn for?

The Psalimist concludes that God’s “hesed” is the final and ultimate desire, better than life itself.  “Hesed” is usually translated “steadfast love”  and Hesed is declared to be ibetter than life and so I will praise you.  One of the great words of the bible, hesed.  Psalmist saying this is the ultimate, there is nothing greater, more fulfilling than God’s steadfast love.

Two comments for the Object of our longing – attend to it as if the most important thing on earth. Cherish it, attend to it Second comment – .Forget it, don’t analyse it, assess it, just live it, celebrate in living it.  It will look after itself if you are doing the first thing.