Aspiration

Knock and the door shall be open unto you, seek and ye shall find, ask and it shall be given unto you

2nd August 2015: ‘Aspiration’
1 Kings 3:5-15 ; Matthew 20:20-28
Revd. Dr. Philip Krinks

An English banker was on holiday in the Caribbean, sitting on
the dock of a harbour, when a boat came in carrying just one
fisherman. Inside the small boat was a good number of large yellow
fin tuna. The banker complimented the fisherman on the quality of
his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The fisherman
replied, ‘Only a little while’. The banker then asked, ‘Why didn’t you
stay out longer and catch more fish?’. ‘Oh’, said the fisherman, ‘I
make enough to give my family what we need.’
The banker then asked, ‘But what do you do with the rest of
your time?’. The fisherman said, “I sleep late, play with my children,
take a siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I
drink a cold beer and play guitar with my friends. I’m very busy’. The
banker smiled and said, ‘Listen, I understand business, I could help
you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy
a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could
buy several boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.
Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you could become the
processor, soon control processing and distribution. You could leave
this village, and move to LA, perhaps to New York.’
The fisherman asked, ‘But, how long will this all take?’ ‘15 to 20
years’ replied the banker. ‘And what then?’ The banker smiled and
said, ‘That’s the best part. When the time is right, you can announce
sell your company to the public and become very rich. You would
make millions’. ‘Mmm..’ said the fisherman, ‘Millions….. and then
what?’. The banker said, ‘Then you would retire.’
The fisherman looked at the banker and said ‘What will you do
when you retire?’ The banker said, ‘Well, I’ve always thought…. I’d
like to be a fisherman.’
+ + + + +
When we asked what you would like to hear sermons on, one of
the requests was a single word: ‘Aspiration’. This word ‘aspiration’
has become quite charged in British national life, especially over the
last few months. It has become a powerful word, a word ‘to conjure
with’. A politician who does not ‘address voters’ aspirations’ is
supposed to be immediately a failure.
But aspiration is a word which gets its power with us partly by a
trick. Mostly, what people mean by ‘our aspirations’ is just ‘our
desires’. The word can be used for any desire you have: I aspire to a
world peace, you aspire to a new car, Arsenal aspire to win the
Premiership, and indeed the Community Shield!
If we called these ‘desires’, we would prompt ourselves to ask
questions about them. To think – well, we all have lots of desires:
some desires are important, some unimportant; some healthy, some
unhealthy; some worth aiming for, some so unrealistic as to be
unhelpful; some which matter for individuals or small groups,
some which a concern of all in society… and so on.
But when we use the word ‘aspirations’ for them, we play a trick
on ourselves. We encourage ourselves to think any ‘aspiration’ – any
desire we call an aspiration – is important, is healthy, is worth aiming
for, is a concern to everyone. But they’re not, not all of them. Some
are, but some not.
Calling desires ‘aspirations’ seems to make people’s desires into
a kind of trump card in political and ethical debate, which some
desires deserve to be, and others not. In politics this makes it look
like there can be no debate about which of the desires people have,
society can and should help them realise, and which not. And in our
own lives, it makes it look like whatever desires we have now, we
ought to pursue them.
+ + + + +
Now of course our Christian faith gives us many antidotes to
this kind of trick. I will focus on just one: an understanding of
ourselves as called by God, a sense of vocation. We each have at least
three vocations. Firstly, as baptised children of God, taken up into
the life of the Trinity, of our Father, his Son Jesus Christ and the
Holy Spirit. Secondly, as called to live out faithfully our relationships -as children, as friends, some of us also as spouses and partners, some
of us also as parents and grandparents. And thirdly, as called to a
certain kind of work. So one thing we can ask about desires we have
is how they relate to our vocations.
The fisherman in my little parable seems by God’s grace to be
living out his vocations as he understands them – as a father and a
husband and a friend and a fisherman (and perhaps also as a Christian
– the parable doesn’t tell us that one way or the other). He isn’t
tempted to deviate from that sense of vocation when offered
something which some people might say would be in material terms
‘better’. He has a vocation to feed and house his family, and he can
do that now. And he sees the difference between providing what is
needed and increasing comforts and wealth without limit. And he
thinks also perhaps, ‘I am a very good fisherman, but I wouldn’t
make a good fishery chief executive’.
Now, on that last point, someone might say, ‘well, perhaps he
needs his aspirations raised’ (especially if they have been listening to
what has been said in the British education sector over the last twenty
years). And perhaps that’s right. But it’s only right if what we mean by
raising the fisherman’s aspiration is helping him better discern his
vocation and raise his commitment to live it out. When we discern
vocation, we rightly ask both what would be stretching, and also what
would have a realistic chance of offering the person fulfilment.
+ + + + +
In our reading, Solomon is called to be king, in fact he is already
anointed king. The role of king is often going to be stretching, as the
historical books of the Old Testament show us. ‘Ask what I should
give you’, says God. Solomon has the grace to know what his
vocation requires, and to ask for that. What will it take, to do what he
is called to do, to be a good king? It will take a lot of wisdom, and
this is what he asks for.
Looking at our lives through the frame of vocation helps us
have a sense of integrity, of realism; to understand that choices have
consequences; to resist the fantasy that we can have things which
involve sacrifice – without making the sacrifice.
And to understand, even, that sometimes we have to make
sacrifices which don’t seem to give us any benefit at all. To the
mother of the sons of Zebedee Jesus asks the same question: ‘what
do you want?’. She seems to answer from a logic of status and
prestige: ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your
right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’

Jesus turns this upside down. That means sharing in His cup,
His royal cup – the cup of suffering service. And it means sharing in
it, not because it will lead to a throne at God’s right or left hand –
only God knows and can decide about that; but just because it is
right.
+ + + + +
Our Lord deeply wants us to be fulfilled. Our God is good. He
is universal goodness, total goodness. And so, as well as all our other
desires and aspirations, each of us has a desire – very deep, in many of
us often quite hidden – for God. God wants us to come to Him,
and through his specific vocational call to each of us, He shows us
how. He wants to fulfil all those desires which will bring us to Him.
‘Knock and the door shall be open unto you, seek and ye shall
find, ask and it shall be given unto you.’ Let us pray that by God’s
grace we will come to know what we most deeply seek, and what we
most deeply aspire to, and to ask Him for it.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.