Sermons Author: The Very Rev. Dominic Barrington

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You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch...

August 02, 2020

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

You’re a mean one, Mr Grinch, you really are a heel…

Thus sung Boris Karloff back in 1966, when Dr Seuss’ seasonal tale, “How the Grinch stole Christmas” was turned into a TV special, complete with newly composed songs written specially by the author for the broadcast. And so, as Boris Karloff, and somewhat more recently Jim Carrey have told the world in song, “You’re a mean one, Mr Grinch, you really are a heel…” The reason that the Grinch is a heel, of course, is because he hates Christmas. And not just the day, but: “the whole Christmas season! Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But think that the most likely reason of all May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”

Let’s stick with Dr Seuss’ diagnosis about that inadequately small heart, and let’s notice the consequence of such a terrible condition. For this wonderful - and supremely theological - classic depicts the life of a lovely community of Who’s - a group of happy Seuss-ian creatures who know how to celebrate together the joys of life. But not the Grinch. He lives outside the community, on his own. The Grinch lives in a deserted place. And it is in this deserted place, when the hour is late, that Dr Seuss’ classic begins, and we see just what a heel the Grinch is - just how his attitude and behavior has separated him from the community. And before you turn too many pages, you will find that heel of a Grinch scheming to take away things which belong to other people - things to which he is most certainly not
entitled.

You’re a mean one, Mr Grinch, you really are a heel…

It’s an old-fashioned insult. You may not be familiar with it. Various dictionaries of slang chart its main usage as being in the first half of the twentieth century and claim that the roots of the term lie in the gangs of the US underworld. But they’re wrong. They are wrong not by decades or even by centuries. They are wrong by millennia, for we need to go back into the pre-history of monotheism, initially to a story we heard read in church three Sundays ago. For if you jump back seven chapters in Genesis from the passage we just heard read, you can read again of the birth of the twin boys Esau and Jacob. A troublesome birth for a troublesome pair, wrestling with each other in Rebekah’s womb even before they are born. And Jacob - the younger sibling - emerges into life gripping his brother’s heel. And, so the biblical text explains to us, he is named Ya’aqov - literally ‘the heel’.

And thus it is that well before Dr Seuss penned the lyrics and Boris Karloff and Jim Carrey started singing them, back in the very mists of time, they were already singing: You’re a mean one, Mr Jacob, you really are a heel…

You can see it in Jacob’s Grinch-like surroundings and in his Grinch-like behavior. From the word ‘go’, Jacob has been pretty much the ultimate heel, as his name so rightly suggests. As a young man he acquires his elder brother’s birthright for a plate of stew, and when their father is on his deathbed, Jacob pulls a trick to prevent Esau from receiving his father’s final blessing, taking it for himself. The result of his treachery, however, is that Jacob ends up fleeing - fleeing to escape Esau’s inevitable fury. And as Jacob flees, the hour gets late, and we are told very pointedly that the sun sets on him. Night falls on Jacob in a deserted place, as he approaches the borders of the Promised Land. And - heel that he is - this is no ordinary night. For - at least in spiritual terms - this is a night that is going to last for years and years. For the Bible makes no mention of the sun rising the next day, and Jacob spends the next twenty years or so far from home, working for Laban the Aramean in the distant fields of Haran.

And here in the darkness of exile and fear, the tables are turned on this Grinch-like character, and he discovers what it is like, not to deceive but to be deceived, as his hoped-for marriage to Rachel turns out to be a union with her elder and less desirable sister Leah. And throughout all this, there is no hint, absolutely no mention that the sun ever rises, and Jacob labors long and hard far, far away from his home. And even when Jacob finally gets to head back two decades later, his journey is still far from easy. Laban pursues him with anger much of the way to his homeland. And when their issues are finally resolved, Jacob has a rather bigger problem awaiting him - his elder brother, whose fury had been the clause of Jacob’s flight in the first place. His elder brother, whom he discovers is coming out to meet him with four hundred men. At which point Jacob sends his family and possessions to safety, and in the darkness of the night awaits his destiny, alone. For the hour is late, and Jacob is in a deserted place. But this time, instead of wrestling with his brother and showing himself to be a heel, this time Jacob finds himself wrestling with God - who is not a heel.

Jacob wrestles with God; Jacob strives with God; you might say Jacob finally brings his issues into dialog with God - and as a result, he is given a new beginning and a new name. He is no longer Ya’aqov, ‘the heel’, but the ‘one who has contended with God’. He has become Israel. And thus - with God brought into the picture - the evils of the past are finally put right, and finally, finally, we are told that “the sun rose upon him”. And - by the light of the sun at the start of a brand new day - in the very next verse Jacob, sees Esau approaching him… only to find that decades of fury have also been set aside. His older brother runs towards him - not to attack him, not to harm him, not to kill him, but to embrace him, to fall on his neck, and to kiss him. And so it is that these twin brothers, reconciled at last, weep together in the light of the remarkable new day that has dawned.

For during that long exile in Haran, Jacob had heard the song they were singing, and, he had had time to look at himself and to look into himself, and he had realized how just true that song was - just how true his name was. And that self-knowledge had brought him to a deserted place when the hour was late, wondering if anyone or anything could ever bring him to a new dawn and a new beginning.

For it took Jacob a long time - a very long time indeed - to discover the most important truth about being in a deserted place. He discovers that even out there in that place of isolation, heel though he is, he is not alone. For God is with him, and - quite remarkably - God does not subdue him. God does not dominate him. Instead, God gives him and gives us a lesson that we should learn well.

Last Sunday, the BBC was privileged to interview Michael Curry on its weekly religious affairs program. And, although he did not use the literal turn of phrase, the Presiding Bishop was nevertheless speaking about the challenges that we experience in a deserted place, when the hour is late. For he spoke of how America today is - in his opinion - dealing with ‘multiple pandemics’. “My instinct,” he said, “my instinct tells me that the fact that we’ve all had to shelter in place and had to live differently has made us more vulnerable.” And in this time of vulnerability, Bishop Curry reflected about the soul of this great nation, and the challenge which seems so very hard at present, the challenge of making real the great aspiration that jingles on the coins in our pockets - E pluribus unum. And he reminded his listeners in Britain that, “Honoring the diversity and honoring the variety - that’s not possible as long as somebody dominates somebody else. It’s only possible when there’s reciprocity, equality and mutuality between people - when we treat each other as children of God.”

Which is exactly what happens when Jacob encounters God at the end of a twenty-year night in a deserted place. For God the all powerful, God the all-good - this God does not dominate Jacob, even he surely could. Instead, although Jacob has been ‘a mean one’ and behaved like a heel, God still treats him as one of his children. Which is how God redeems him, which is how God makes it possible for the sun to rise on a scene of reconciliation with his long-estranged brother - that is how God deals with God’s children when they are in a deserted place. Because the truth is that God’s love is universal, and that nothing we can do can ever really separate them from God’s presence, God’s sustenance and God’s love. 

Charles Wesley, that great hymn-writer and poet - he’d heard the old song. There were times he heard it all too clearly: You’re a mean one, Mr Wesley, you really are a heel…

He wrote about 6,500 hymns, some of which are famous and deeply loved, without which no hymnal would be complete. But put to one side Hark the herald angels sing, or Love’s redeeming work is done, or O thou who camest from above. Because his elder brother John,
who outlived him, thought the greatest of all those remarkable hymns was the one we heard earlier in this service. It’s not a hymn that has ever become well known, partly because it is not often that we hear Genesis 32 read in church on a Sunday morning. But the words are a deeply profound reflection on Jacob’s wrestling match - a reflection which recasts the old song into Wesley’s own words, as he admitted, fully and clearly, that he was, indeed, a heel: I need not tell thee who I am, my misery and sin declare. Like any honest person, he knew the song well, but he also knew that no matter how late and dark the hour, God’s sun would still rise, and that the darkest night would always turn to dawn. But, unlike Jacob, Wesley did not need to ask the name of the man with whom he wrestled, for, in a verse sadly excised from the abbreviated version in our hymnal he wrote:

I know thee, Saviour, who thou art,
Jesus, the feeble sinner's friend;
Nor wilt thou with the night depart,
But stay and love me to the end;

For Christ is there in the deserted place, and he can deal not just with Jacob, not just with Charles Wesley, and not just with you or me. He can deal with five thousand people at a time, for Christ sends nobody away - Christ has compassion on the hurts and griefs of God’s children, and offers food in abundance. Which, of course, is just what the Grinch discovers in Whoville. For he has stolen from all those
lovely people what he mistakenly thinks are the real blessings of Christmas, just as Jacob steals his brother’s birthright and blessing. The Grinch thinks the dawning of the day will bring misery:

They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!
Their mouths will hang open in a minute or two
Then the Whos down in Who-ville will all cry BOO-HOO…
But of course, he’s wrong! Because
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
It CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And what happened then….?
Well… in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!

And thus it was that the Grinch - who certainly was a mean one, who certainly was a heel, and who certainly was in a deserted place by himself - the Grinch ends up feasting on the grace of God in the heart of a beloved community that accepts him. Because, as he discovers, Christmas - the real Christmas that celebrates the coming of God into a dark place at a late hour - the Christmas that he realizes doesn’t come from a store - the real Christmas could not be stopped. Christmas could not be stopped, because Christ could not be stopped, and will not be stopped. For in the deserted places of the world, God in Christ also comes just the same. For the Grinch was a heel, and Mr Jacob was (literally) a heel, and Mr Wesley was a heel, and this Mr Dean is a heel. Go look in the mirror - there are times when we are all heels.

But we are God’s heels, all the same, and God comes to us in the desert not to dominate or subdue us, but to forgive us, to feed us and to love us, until even our too small hearts can grow three sizes bigger, and all that is broken is gathered up, and all have sat down to eat with and of the God of love. Even the Grinch! Amen.

Nothing Is Beyond Redemption

July 12, 2020

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost


One of the great limitations of recording a sermon online is that there is no possibility of getting any interaction with or feedback from a congregation. This reality is something which clergy have learned very clearly in the months since the lockdowns began across the world, and it is a reality which prevents me from asking a simple question right now. Had we all been gathered together inside the cathedral this morning, I would have ventured to ask you a simple but profound question. What I would like to know is have any of you ever actually seen a chicken cross a road?

Since our youngest days, we have been asked, and have probably asked others, that old, old question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?”. However, if you put the word ‘chickens’ into a Google image search, you will see pictures of the birds in all sorts of farm-like contexts. But scroll as you might through countless pages, you will not find a single genuine picture of a chicken on a road. 

Chickens are not creatures of great intellect, but those who own and farm chickens know full well you don’t put chickens on roads, which is why the simple question about the chicken crossing the road is, of course, the stuff of a certain kind of humor. So let me ask another simple question that rears its head in the readings we have heard this morning from Genesis and from Matthew.

Jesus is out to tell us something. About that he is quite emphatic, demanding of his audience, “Let anyone with ears listen!” And what he tells his audience is this: ‘A sower went out to sow.’ But can you tell me - WHY did the sower go out to sow?

Bizarrely, we heard - we SORT of heard - that question being asked by the long-suffering Rebekah in our first reading. The stories of the matriarchs and patriarchs that we find in Genesis are both full of surprises, and also repositories of age-old truths and realities. Abraham and Isaac and their families do longevity remarkably well, and - with the help of God - cope also with the issues around fertility. To our modern ears these accounts bring many surprises of this kind, and we heard of one such surprise today.

At the age of 59 or 60, Isaac is about to become a father for the first time, Rebekah, his wife, having been barren until the Lord intervened and answered Isaac’s prayer. (We might note that it is, specifically Isaac’s prayer on behalf of his wife - we do not know whether it was Rebekah’s prayer.) And, as can be the case in the contemporary world where medicine and science can augment prayer in dealing with such issues, Rebekah has conceived not one child but two - she is expecting twins. The sower has indeed gone out to sow. But even before they are born, we learn that the children ‘struggled together within her’, leading her to cry out, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”, and she goes to inquire of the Lord. She is, you might say, asking the question, “Why did the sower go out to sow?”

Families are complex things, and if such was the cry of Rebekah while the twins were still babies in her womb, the consequences of the sowing of the sower would only worsen in the years that would follow. Even if we had no further knowledge of the lives of these two children, the very fact that the one baby comes out with his hand gripping the other’s heel is enough of a hint in the narrative to tell us that trouble is in the air. From the word go, the twin lives of Esau and Jacob demonstrate for us the hard truth that the seed of the sower falls on all kinds of ground. Centuries before Jesus would speak about such things, it tells us that the seed has to contend with both rocks and thorns - a metaphor, if you like, that speaks well to the twisted stories of these two brothers and their parents, let alone speaking to the twisted and complex realities of the ethnicities and sovereignties of the middle east both then and now, which is clearly foreshadowed in the account of their lives. In an age where the pursuit of equality has become something to be taken very seriously - and, at least in the church, is something we understand as being not merely a political necessity but a theological one - we should weep at the prediction Rebekah receives from the Lord that is about division, about the strong and the weak, and how one would ‘serve’ (or enslave) the other.

That the Lord predicts it does not, of course, mean it is a situation of the Lord’s choosing or endorsing, and, if you read on through several chapters of Genesis, you will be reminded of just how conflicted the lives of these two brothers become. And to compound the tragedy, Isaac and Rebekah are hardly model parents. We are told clearly that Isaac loved Esau but that Rebekah loved Jacob - not an indication of first-rate parenting skills - and there are signs to suggest that Isaac’s love was a selfish and self-fulfilling kind of love. Esau becomes a great hunter and is able to provide lovely meat for his greedy father - and yet this great provider of fresh meat sells his birthright for a bowl of lentils. A clue, perhaps, that Esau is forced by his over-bearing father to pursue a life that has no real appeal to him, while Jacob, as the ‘stay at home’ son is cultivated by his mother into a life of deceit and dishonesty.

And thus the seed that has been sown does what it always seems to do - does what Jesus knew all too well - it falls on the path and on the rocks and in the thorns, not just on the good soil. And, frankly, when we read of the lives of the ancient forebears of those of us who worship the one God, it is pretty hard to find any ‘good soil’. So, we have to ask, echoing the sentiments of Rebekah - why does the sower go out to sow? 

Because chicken farmers are not stupid. They do not put their chickens in the road, for they know that if they did, certainly around the streets of Chicago or any other traffic-rich city, very few of the chickens would ever make it to the other side. And no sensible sower goes out deliberately to throw their precious seed on the path or the rocks or amongst the thorns. We should remember that this is a parable, and Jesus did not intend these words to be a succinct guide to arable farming. His audience would doubtless have contained a good number of people who had more convincing experience of this kind of farming than Jesus had ever had, and who probably knew how to sow genuine seed quite effectively.

But this is a parable, and, as we are told, the seed about which Jesus is talking is the word of the kingdom, or, as Luke puts it more bluntly, the word of God. And that word has a wider reach than any seed in the hands of any farmer, for it is THE word for the whole world: Good News for all the children of the one God, Israelites, Edomites and even those who dwell in Chicago. Indeed, the writer to the Hebrews was clear that ‘the word of God is living and active’, and the writer of the fourth gospel was clear that the Word had become flesh and lived among us. And the Word of God came into the world not because of the good soil, where God’s abundance could already yield thirty, sixty or a hundred fold. The good soil was doing just fine, as it always does. If all the soil of God’s creation had remained good, rather than being subject to the sinfulness of fallen humanity, the Word of God would not have needed to become flesh and dwell among us.

No - the Word of God came into the world precisely because of stony pathways, because of rocks and arid places, and smothering thorny bushes and plants that choke out the prospect of life in all its abundance. The Word of God comes into the world precisely because in Isaac’s era and Jesus’ era and in every era of history down to our own, God’s children fall away, and are lured by the cares and wealth of the world, or are snatched away by the lure and power of evil. For, as Jesus delights in telling the Pharisees just a few chapters earlier in Matthew, he has come “not to call the righteous but sinners."

And that’s just as well. It’s just as well for Jacob, whose scheming ways are introduced to us in this morning’s reading, as the prelude to one hell of a story. Before the sower intervenes to help put things right in a divine wrestling match which will feature in our readings in early August, Jacob will have broken his family apart, lost the right to be regarded as his father’s son, and entered a night of darkness that will last more than fifteen years. Jacob will most certainly come to know what happens when seed falls among thorns. 

And, in its own way, Jacob’s story is also both the story of the world, and it is also our own story. Jacob’s story is the story of the world, because we know so very clearly that the distribution of good soil is not an even one or a fair one. The resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks is but one stark reminder of how sinful humanity put choking thorns and scorching rocks to ruin the good soil of countless fellow children of God. Jacob’s story is the story of the world as we hear the constant rumblings about plans to annex the Jordan Valley by the Israeli government - a stark reminder that the tense relationship of the ‘two nations’ about which the Lord spoke to Rebekah back in the mists of time, continues in that very place to this day.

And Jacob’s story is our story - my story and yours. For within our own lives we know full well that our own soil contains rocks and thorns that stifle our proper and full response to the loving, living Word of God, and which prevent us from yielding the fruit of our divine calling. But - thank God - as those of you who are fans of Monty Python may well remember from their final movie in 1983 (aptly called The Meaning of Life!), every seed truly is sacred (and you can check that in the Greek), and in the great economy of the true sower of the seed, nothing is beyond redemption.

So I call you as I call myself to have a heart of gratitude, because the Sower has not deserted us. This Sower may not be a wise farmer, but this Sower has gone one better - for this Sower is the God of Love, and the God of Love is interested in more than just the good soil.
This Sower has gone out into all the dark places of the world, to sow the word of God, and to call all people to yield abundant fruit. Because the world needs today, just as it did when Jacob was a boy, the world needs those seeds of love, equality, justice and service to counter the thorns and rocks of this complex world. Whatever the soil we have created for ourselves, or which others have created for us, let us always give thanks that the Word of God has not deserted us, and continues to call us to share in that unending love. Amen.

Take Up The Cross & Follow

June 21, 2020

Third Sunday After Pentecost

God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

Just over a year ago, a Gallup poll was published that caused something of an intake of breath around the churches of this country. “US Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades” proclaimed the stark headline. Leading with news of a 20% decline in membership over twenty years, to many eyes, the figures made challenging, if not gloomy reading, and these statistics are backed up with the reported figures from many faith communities across the United States during this period. But to my eyes, the most extraordinary figure in the Gallup report was the fact that about 25% of adults across the nation are, and I quote, “religious but not members of a church, synagogue or mosque”.

It is not my place to speak about Judaism or Islam, but at least as far as Christianity is concerned, this shows a remarkable blindness - and I use the word advisedly - to what the proper nature of religion actually is. But, although the numbers that pertain to mainstream religious practice in the USA, and in much of the western world, show a very clear decline in church attendance that has happened during my adult lifetime, we should not forget that the call of the church is a complex one. Back as long as 1935, back in my mother country, a very distinguished American wrote: “I journeyed to London…There I was told: we have too many churches… Men do not need the Church in the place where they work, but where they spend their Sundays. In the city, we need no bells: Let them waken the suburbs. I journeyed to the suburbs, and there I was told: We toil for six days, on the seventh we must motor [into the country]… If the weather is foul we stay at home and read the papers… The Church does not seem to be wanted in country or in suburb; and in the town only for important weddings.”

Eliot’s words come from a ‘pageant play’ called The Rock, which, perhaps ironically, he wrote to support a fund to build more churches in the London suburbs to minister to the ever-growing population between the world wars. But Eliot depicts well a blindness that he could see in those of his own era, and which the Gallup poll has shown is alive and well right now - a blindness about the nature of God’s call to be disciples who can, as we say in the diocese of Chicago, ‘Grow the church, form the faithful and change the world’. And maybe that is hardly surprising, when, in that extraordinary gospel reading, we hear Jesus saying that despite his blessing on the peacemakers only five chapters earlier, we learn that he has not ‘come to bring peace, but a sword’. “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Those of you who have backgrounds in sales or marketing will realize that this is hardly a compelling sales pitch. Is it just that people have been coming to their senses in the 20th and 21st centuries? For Eliot continues: “Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws? She tells them of Life and Death and of all that they would forget… evil and sin and other unpleasant facts. They constantly try to escape…” Why, indeed, should men or even women love the church? Critics both of the Christian faith, and certainly of the Christian churches in their various forms and outlooks have asked questions of this kind repeatedly. Almost all societal sins you can name have been associated with the church in differing ages. Does the church deserve to be loved? And never mind the Church. There are passages in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament which seem to portray a god whose behavior and appearance makes it hard to accept that this is the God of love. Passages such as today’s gospel reading, in which we appear to be encouraged to break any kind of confidence or secret entrusted to us. Moreover, we are to forget our role as peacemakers and cause intra-family conflict, apparently in the service of a god who is utterly and completely jealous. And if we look back to the continuation of the ancient story of Abraham from the book Genesis, which is our Old Testament diet this month, we find what would appear to be a story shot through with an affirmation of both slavery and racism. Indeed, the huge fault line that exists today between the western world and at least some of the Islamic world might be said to be traced back to the story of Hagar and her young son Ishmael - condemned, apparently, to the thirsty and dusty death of the desert because of Abraham’s questionable marital behavior. With lections such as these it would be easy - very easy - to despair of any hope of Good News, and to sink into despair. It would be easy, indeed, just as Jesus predicts, to ‘call the master of the house Beelzebul’ - it would be easy to claim that what we have going on here is the work of the devil and not of a loving god. And - in so many ways - that sense of despair is all too prevalent at the moment. Protest marches about black lives mattering, inspired by the murder of George Floyd, have not yet stopped, but already we are reeling from the murder of Rayshard Brooks by a police officer in Atlanta. And appalling and pervasive though systemic racism is, it is far from the only cause of despair in our world.

Just two days ago, I received an email requiring me to undertake annual training to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. A sad reminder of despair that comes from another sinful and despicable pattern of human behavior. And I preach this sermon to you remotely because of the pandemic through which we are currently living, and I do so in a week which has had all too serious speculation about the necessity of new lockdowns both in Beijing, and in parts of this country. Grounds for yet more despair, both medical and economic. Where - we might be forgiven for asking - exactly where are we to find a God of love, rather than the Beelzebul-like figure that the Pharisses have accused Jesus of being, and which we heard him warn his disciples will be a charge that will be leveled also at them. But this is blindness - all of it is blindness. Blindness built on the towering ruins of sinfulness that is utterly human, and which has created what the author of our opening hymn called ‘our strife-torn world’. A world in which a slave is cast out with a child, believing she will die of thirst in the wilderness, abandoned and outcast by her former lover, if not by God. But she is wrong. And God - who has not, in fact, deserted her, or written her off - God opens her eyes. God opens her eyes to a source of living water - living water that offers the possibility of new life to her and to her son, and to a nation yet to be born. For the heat and loneliness of the wilderness are no barrier to the presence of God, and Hagar’s problems do not relate to this desert, but to quite another desert indeed.

For in the same work from which I have quoted, Eliot remarks that “The desert is not remote in southern tropics…the desert is in the heart of your brother.” And it is this desert that is the desert of despair, the real desert of true thirst and of blindness. And it is the irony of our sinful human condition that this desert is both a terrible place in which to find ourselves - but, bizarrely, it is also a place that is alluring and seductive, and it lures us all, time and time again, fostering the idolatries that rise up inside us, taking us away from the proper knowledge of God, and inhibiting us from loving both God and neighbor. And that is why it is our job as the baptized children of God who make up the Church - it is our job to call out to and sometimes to call out against those who stand in the desert of idolatry and lure others to join them. And the tragedy is - as Jesus knew full well and warned his disciples about - the tragedy is that there will, indeed, be times when this will set man against father and daughter against mother.

But in a world of division and despair that creates so many deserts in the human heart, our call is to help people to open their eyes to the living water of God’s presence, the living water which sustained Hagar and Ishmael, and which offers sustenance to all God’s children - and most especially to those who are oppressed and outcast. Because too many of God’s children thirst in the desert. And it is down to us to allow our eyes to be opened so that, like Hagar, we may fill the skin and give those who are thirsty a drink of the real living water that, in Christ, will stop us thirsting again for the trivial and divisive conceits of this world. That is the call of the Body of Christ that we call the Church. And if we honor this call and make it the focus of our lives. If, to use Jesus’ words, we ‘take up the cross and follow’, if we lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, not only will we find that God is alongside us in the desert of this world, offering us a deep well of living water, but we might, just perhaps, be able to share that vision with those around us. And that might just remind the world why it should, indeed, love the God who created it, redeemed it, and who sustains and loves it, and just perhaps we might even show women and men why they might love the church. Amen.

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