Sermon given at the Sung Eucharist on the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity 2022

What do you want?

The Reverend Dan Warnke Priest Vicar, and Chaplain, Westminster School

Sunday, 9th October 2022 at 11.15 AM

I would like to begin by asking you a question. My question is this: What do you want?  It’s a simple question, but one that can be hard to answer because if we try to answer honestly, the reality is that we may discover something about ourselves that we don’t really like. We may have the desire to do good, or be seen to be good, but the reality of what shapes us, and directs what we want, can bring surprising—if possibly unwanted—results.

This same question drives the plot of Andrei Tarkovsky's acclaimed film Stalker. Ranked in the top ‘50 Greatest Films of all Time’ by the British Film Institute, Stalker tells the story of a journey led by a guide known as the ‘Stalker’, who takes his two clients—a melancholic ‘Writer’ seeking inspiration, and a ‘Professor’ pursuing scientific discovery—to a mysterious destination simply known as the ‘Zone’. More specifically, their quest is to find something called the Room, which Stalker promises will grant a person’s innermost desires. In the Room, you will get what you really want. And this is the very reason why both Writer and Professor begin to have second thoughts as their journey's end brings them to what can only be described as some kind of a post-apocalyptic oasis.

Yet, as they approach the Room, nerves take hold as the realisation quickly dawns on them that they’re about to come face-to-face with the deepest desire of their hearts. The Room will reveal the reality of what they really, really want. The writer and polymath, Geoff Dyer, captures this moment masterfully in a book that he wrote narrating the film, scene by scene:

They are in a big, abandoned, derelict, dark damp room with what looks like the remains of an enormous chemistry set floating in the puddle in the middle, as if the Zone resulted from an ill-conceived experiment that went horribly wrong.

Off to the right, through a large hole in the wall, is a source of light that they all look towards. For a long while no one speaks. The air is full of the chirpy chirpy cheep cheep of birdsong. It’s the opposite of those places where the sedge has withered from the lake and no birds sing. The birds are whistling and chirruping and singing like mad. Stalker tells Writer and Professor—tells us—that we are now at the very threshold of the Room. This is the most important moment in your life, he says. Your innermost wish will be made true here.[1]

Faced with the reality of what they really want, both Writer and Professor freeze. What if the Room reveals not what you think you wish for, but instead, what you deeply wish for? Something that perhaps your conscious mind has suppressed. What if the way you live, and the things you’ve done, have shaped you in ways that have changed your deepest longings? The haunting question that confronts both Writer and Professor (and possibly us) is, what if they don’t want what they think?  Dyer makes a striking observation: ‘Not many people can confront the truth about themselves. If they did they’d run a mile'.[2]

So, I have a question: What do you really want?

When things are quiet, when you’re on your own, what are you really longing for? Or as the philosopher and theologian, Jamie Smith, has asked, what do you ultimately love? In a place like this, it may seem that there is an obvious answer. But much like the story of the child in Sunday school who, when asked what is small, grey, fury and lives in trees, responded: “Well, I know the answer is Jesus, but that sure sounds a lot like a squirrel to me!”

We may know the right answer to what we want, but our deepest longings may be revealed in surprising ways.

In our Gospel reading this morning, we hear of Jesus on a journey. It’s a journey of longing and expectation. And along the way, he is confronted by those who have their own wants and desires. At face value, it would seem their greatest want is to be healed from leprosy, and so Jesus does just that.

But much like the Room, what we then find out is the deeper longing of their hearts. Once healed, nine of the ten just carry on their way. They don’t stop; they don’t look back. Their deepest desires are orientated inward. But one of them is different. When healed, one of them—in fact, the most unexpected one of them—a Samaritan, immediately returns to Jesus. No longer exiled, his healing reveals that his innermost longing was to know love. And this love was (and is) ultimately found in the person of Jesus.

It turns out that our deepest longing, what we really want, is not something we spend much time thinking about. Instead, it’s something shaped by our daily lives—by habits acquired through the things we do, week in and week out. Or, as Jamie Smith puts it: you are what you love.[3]  

And this is why Christian worship can often find itself in a head-on collision with the demands and realities of how we really live. Within our cultural landscape, there is what we think we want, and then there’s what we actually want. So often there’s a gap between what draws us towards rival gods (or what we think the ‘good life’ looks like) and the sort of life that shapes us towards love.

But to be the people called church—a community of practice that asks questions about the ‘devices and desires of our own hearts’—is to recognise that (if we’re honest with ourselves) what we really want can sometimes go astray. To find ourselves in a habit of worship is to return to a life of gratitude that brings us closer to God.

Jesus says to the Samaritan, the one who would’ve experienced isolation his entire life, and having fallen at his feet; that he should now “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” All ten were physically healed, but only one was filled with gratitude, and only one became fully reconciled to God.

And so, this is it. Who wants to go first? Who would want to step into the Room? This is the place where you can have what you want. What you really want. And if we are what we love, I have a question: What do you think you really want?



[1] Geoff Dyer, Zona (New York: Vintage, 2012), 161

[2] Ibid. 165

[3] James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand rapids: Brazos Press, 2016)