Toorak Uniting Church

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God’s gift of love

Isaiah 64: 1 – 9   Mark 13: 32 – 37   1 John 4: 7 – 12
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
30 November 2008

Story from: John Eldredge, The Journey of Desire.

Today I want to start my sermon with the telling of a story. As a Church we are a story telling community who tell each other stories about God and about our encounters with him over the ages as human beings. They are stories of inspiration we believe we can feel the Spirit of God breathe through when we listen to them. Some of them may speak more to our hearts than others, some will confirm, comfort and encourage while others grate and challenge us, but all of them have some bearing or reference to the realm of faith and spirituality, of our relationship with God and our journey with him through life. They are stories that help us communicate the mysteries of life with each other and find words for what otherwise is impossible to express.

It is not only biblical stories who will do this for us. There are other stories as well who will do the same. Stories that will make us think, that can touch us in places nothing else can reach, stories that get our imagination going and take us places. Stories that niggle at our brain and pull at our heart, stories that open up our minds and make us see things we may not have seen before.

The story I am about to tell is, for me, one of those stories. Ever since someone shared it with me last week I have not been able to stop thinking about it. I keep turning it over in my mind and the more I think about the more new angles of looking at it and understanding it seem to open up. I decided to share it with you because I believe it bears reference to our readings this morning, and to our world full of violent turmoil and economic chaos. If you want to know more about the story: it comes from a book written by John Eldredge called Desire.

It is the story of the Sea Lion and the desert.

There once was a sea lion who found himself in the desert. He had been there for a long time and he had no conscious memory of the ocean apart from a feeling that something was not quite as it should be with his life. That something fundamental was missing.

One day, on his wanderings through the desert, he happened upon an oasis, with a small pool in the middle of it. The oasis was a pleasant place to be in but when he dipped one of his flippers in the pool this awoke an overwhelming longing in him he could not quite understand. That night he dreamt of vast blue expanses of water, of a pool as big as the desert, of the sunlight playing on the water and him frolicking in it. He woke up confused and sad with a heart hurting for more. The dream awoke a desire in him he simply could not shake and kept niggling at his soul. Over time the acuteness of his desire wore off though. He reasoned with himself that there could not be a place like that and that he should be content as he was, in the desert, with the occasional small pool to dip his flipper in. This went on for quite a while.

Until one day the Sea Lion found himself crying. He licked at the tears that were streaming down his face and suddenly, again this feeling, this memory, this deep desire flooded back into his soul. It is like this he thought, salty, wet, but infinitely more.

That night he dreamed again. This time the dream was even more vivid and stronger than it had been before. There was a name this time and a feeling that he would either go and find that place or wither away. He decided he needed to go and find the Ocean.

Find this place that lived in his dreams and pulled at his soul. He no longer resisted, but opened his heart to the dream of the vast blue sea, he allowed his heart beat faster at the thought of the salty wetness where life would reach fulfilment and he would finally find peace and happiness. From then on, everything in the life of the Sea Lion became directed by that deep longing, that infinite desire awoken first by the vague feeling of dissatisfaction, spurred on by the discovery of the pool in the oasis and deepened by the taste of the salty tears on his cheeks.
He knew where he was going now. He would not rest until he would find this world filled with this vast blue wetness once again........

Do I need to explain the connection I see with our reading from the letter of John this morning? Or with the reading from Isaiah or Mark? Or would it be better to leave you with the story at this point and ask you to come to the service tonight at St. Johns where I will enter into the relationships between those scripture readings and the desire for another world and the dream of fulfillment of the deep longing for an existence where we are free to be happy and frolic because all tears have been washed away and pain and suffering are no more?

No, I won’t, because that would not be fair on those who really can’t come tonight.....

I will indicate a few connections I can see, but not all, because I would like you to go away and think about this story and what it means some more, for you to contemplate its relation with our readings of this morning and search your soul for that niggling feeling of dissatisfaction, or that dream that you try to reason away, or that deep longing or desire your dreams have been infected with and to see what that longing, that desire calls you to do, or where it challenges you to go. Or perhaps where it is calling us, or challenging us, as a community to go.

Isaiah 64 is full of impatient longing for a world of peace and justice where God will reign. Mark 13 speaks of the same longing but adds to it the certainty of its coming based on God’s power and love revealed in Jesus Christ. Be alert! It says, it is on its way! Keep your eyes open! Make sure your heart is ready to receive the Kingdom when it comes, because it is on its way! And if you look carefully you can see the first signs of its coming.
1 John 4 puts into words what it is our dreams have been seeded with. What it is God has instilled in our souls and in our hearts.
It is the dream of love, the call of a God of love to his people to let that love take over their lives. It is the dream of a world taken over by love, of people loving each other because they have let themselves be filled by the love of God. A dream of something completely different from our present state of being, filling our hearts and minds with a deep longing and an incredibly deep desire for what may seem unimaginable and impossible from where we stand now but is never the less calling us to surrender ourselves to and to let ourselves be guided by it.

We are that Sea Lion in the desert, with the deep longing for a different world and a desire for peace, harmony and justice built into our systems. A desire instilled and nurtured in us by God, handed on to us over the ages by others who decided they would let the dream direct their lives, that dream of a world of peace and wholeness.

God calls us in the depth of the desert to listen to that deep desire and profound longing he has instilled in us, to let it take over our lives and through our lives the world, to allow it to drive our lives and our being, to surrender ourselves to it, no matter how silly or impossible it may seem to dream that dream of love in the middle of a world filled with hatred. To entrust ourselves to love and trust the victory already won through Jesus Christ to be a victory that will win the world over in the end.

Love stronger than hatred, life stronger than death, justice overcoming injustice, war crowded out by peace; It may seem an impossible dream in the midst of what we see going on around us. But it is a dream worth dreaming, because it changes life, even in the middle of the desert and gives it direction, opens it up to a community of people who dedicate themselves to living that dream and making it happen. A community of Saints who over the ages have brought about change, even if it was only on a smallish scale. A dream which has filled people with longing over the ages.

Isn’t it worth being part of that communion of Saints, even if we don’t reach the ocean ourselves? To hand on the baton and share of the dream? To allow our lives to be part of a movement of hope rather than one of resignation and acceptance of what seems inevitable? To let the Ocean rule our lives, no matter how far and unattainable it may seem rather than give in to the desert and die knowing we gave up trying to make God’s dream happen? Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2008

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