Sermon 6 July 2008

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This is the text that I was using, based on the story of Isaac being found a wife in the second part of Genesis 24:

We are going back to the Old Testament soap opera this morning. I want to talk about the story of Isaac being found a wife by his father’s servant.

The story is this – the servant goes off to the old country. He parks his camels by a well and does a deal with God. If he asks a young woman for water and she offers to draw some for the camels too then, she is the one. She gets the nose ring, bracelets on her arms and gets carried off into the sunset to meet the man she will spend the rest of her life with who shoves her into his dead mother’s tent and climbs in himself.

It has to be said, it is a dating strategy that I have not yet tried.

I’m very conscious sometimes as I read the scriptures that I read them as a single person, and I sometimes wonder whether they were meant to be read by me. Having a partner seems to be the norm, the expectation, the rule, and that is not my experience of life. Is this faith for me, or is it bound up in being partnered?

People very rarely celebrate singleness in church. And yet I know that I am whole and believe that people can be whole if they are single or married or partnered or single again or whatever.

However, knowing that I am whole does not necessarily mean that I have not tried one or two dating strategies myself. One wonders, is there the perfect person out there who will make all things complete, wipe away every tear from the eye and always remember to put the rubbish out before I do.

(I’ve a feeling that the answer is probably no and I know that some married and partnered people still hope for the same years into a relationship!)

However, one sometimes dreams. But what to do? As I am without camels or servants, I am hardly in a position to try the biblical means of finding happiness that we have heard about in this morning’s reading.

I must try other strategies.

So what to do?

I’ve never placed a lonely hearts ad, but a while ago I worked out what it would say if I did.

Male 41. Own home and cathedral. Seeks similar. GSOH, obviously.

But where on earth should I post that advert?

However, even saying that, I know that it does not really represent my position. There are times when being single is just great. And times when it feels less so. And I do really believe that people can be whole, whatever their status.

So how do we go about these kind of negotiations if we are God’s people.

You see, I long for the day when we the nonsense about sexuality in the church dies down and we can actually talk about the quality of relationships.

The church is always said to be talking about “issues in human sexuality”. But there only ever seems to be one issue and I am weary of it.

What about the issues that really matter. Fidelity, love, passion, stability, excitement? What about the elements of love which affect us so deeply. The pain of unrequited love. The sadness that comes when a partner dies. The point when a marriage has died and people just have to walk from it for their own good and the good of those who are around them. When on earth are we going to start talking about those kind of things which affect us all, every one?

This Lambeth conference is going to resolve nothing if people go with nothing more to say about human relationships than to ask, “What causes people to be gay? Is it natural or not?” To ask such questions diminishes every one of us and stops us asking more holy questions about how to live in God’s presence and enjoy being who we are.

For goodness sake. It is time to talk about what can help people build relationships that are worth having. It is time to talk about making ceremonies that help people to tell the truth about their love in front of the God who loves them. It is time to start talking about what is good in people’s lives.

And time to be unashamed about finding that good in all kinds of place:

  • in the bible,
  • in people’s stories,
  • in fiction, in poetry
  • and in good old fashioned, traditional, orthodox common sense.

The values of human relationship which are worth fighting for are faithfulness, forgiveness, stability, love, passion, truth-telling, kindness, reconciliation and love.

And this nonsense chatter all over the church is distracting us from being able to tell the truth.

The truth this morning that I have to share is that whatever we can get out of the Old Testament soap opera, with all its camels is this. People have moved on. People don’t find partners that way. There are other ways of relating and thinking about human relationships in the bible which we also have to move on from and get on with the business of proclaiming holy, orthodox common sense.

It is time to talk the talk of people who know that God is good and know that God wants good things for us all.

These days, inspired by God’s holy spirit of common sense, we have turned our backs on a world order where women were objects to be stowed away on camels and taken off into the sunset to be the possession of a man they had never seen.

These days, the goal in human relationships is mutality. Our new wedding service takes as its starting point that the couples meet and marry as equals.

That is a departure from the kind of marriage that this morning’s reading told us about. That kind of wooing won’t do.

Respect, tenderness, mutuality and love. These are the things that nourish lasting love.

I’m glad we have changed our minds about marriage. We are inspired by scripture. Fascinated by scripture. We pray with scripture. We think about scripture.

And then we use our minds.

Holy common sense.

It is a gift from God. And it is a charism of the Holy Spirit that I want to pray into our wider Anglican Communion in these horrible times.

Holy common sense. A gift. A holy gift. A gift from the God who loves us. A gift from the God who wants every one of us to be content, inspired, whole and holy.


  1. Moyra says

    Thank you.

  2. Jonathan Ensor says

    As someone who has experienced unrequited love and subsequently manic-depression, I have become almost used to the fact that the Bible and yes, even the church has no answer to these problems. Indeed I believe we need to find our own way forward with what help exists, ie. the love and support of family and friends and also the psychiatric and psychological services.
    This all challenges me to find a way forward which I doubt can be called Christian as the authorities I have grown up with i.e the Bible and the Church are not adequate and indeed when I am with my Jewish friend I must disown the church because of its attitude towards Judaism.
    I do however, love Benjamin Britten’s work, particularly the Holy Sonnets of John Donne and also the Rape of Lucretia, the opera. And because of his work and his partnership with Peter Pears, I can accommodate the homosexual world: because of it’s art.

  3. Thank you for the update – windup and steam laptop users can now access, ponder and rejoice. Holy Common Sense. Has been around a long time, but in camouflage. Awaiting disclosure, exposure and Celebration. Thank you.

  4. Sophie says

    Thank you, Kelvin. I wish I had been there yesterday to hear this marvellous sermon rather than just reading it. As it is, it has inspired me to comment on a blog for the first time in my life. Thank you for saying so much that needs to be said and lived.

  5. Thanks Sophie. If you click on the icon just above the text, you can hear the audio of the sermon here online.

  6. I like how you don’t specify the denomination of the cathedral in the ad: very ecumenical :-).

  7. Kelvin,

    Have you completely missed the point of the passage? From here:

    Now, having laid out the story in brief, let us consider the story of Christ’s winning for himself a bride. Just as Abraham determined to find a glorious bride for his Son, so the Father called out from the far lands of the world a people whom he would espouse to Christ his Son, and present to him as “a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle,” that is, as a fitting and beautiful bride (see Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 5:25-27). Just as Abraham sent out his servant, warned him of the gravity of the task, exhorted him to faithfulness, and promised him success, so God sent out the ministers of the gospel, to persuade the bride to come to Christ, exhorting them to faithfulness (I Corinthians 4:2), and promising them success (Acts 18:10). And to this task, from the first, the gospel ministers devoted all their labors; as Paul the apostle said, “I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (II Corinthians 11:2). Even as Isaac, so Christ was made the heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2); and that which he inherits, he causes his bride to inherit together with him (Romans 8:17). Just as Rebekah, those who readily consent, when they have been called out by the ministers of the gospel, and, notwithstanding the implorings of their dearest friends and family members, immediately set off on their journey to meet the husband to whom they have been espoused; these are, from the beginning, given many rich spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 4:8). But these gifts are but a foretaste of the heavenly riches awaiting them, concerning which, “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have they entered into the heart of man” (I Corinthians 2:9). These great treasures are laid up for the bride of Christ, who although she has not seen him, she loves him, and “rejoices with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8); just as Rebekah loved Isaac, and was willing to be his, when as yet she had not seen him. Because these are as Rebekah, they will be among those who are blessed to be called to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:5-9).

    Let us here apply to our hearts that which we have observed of the marriage of Isaac, and how it marvelously signified and foreshadowed the marriage of the Lamb. First of all, if Abraham’s servant was so overcome with the gravity of his mission, and so willing to apply to the God of Abraham for aid, in light of his own vast insufficiency – and he was only searching for a bride who would be a shadow and type of the bride of Christ – if he was so serious in his task, how much more serious must we be, who are ministers of the gospel? How much more urgent is it that the Lamb, who shed his precious blood to espouse to himself a bride without spot and without blemish – how much more pressing is this goal, and how much less able are we, in our own native strength, to the task! Oh, let us learn from the example of Abraham’s servant, and not fritter away our lives in meaningless endeavors, nor yet nullify our labors by trusting in our own strength. No, let us be serious and heavenly-minded, and let us pour out our hearts to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who alone can make our way prosperous!

    And second, if Rebekah was so willing to leave her family and friends, her home and all that she knew, to be the bride of Isaac, who is but a shadow of our true husband; and if she received, for the course of her journey, only gold and silver, which will soon dissolve away; how much more should we, who have been called to a greater Bridegroom than Isaac, and who have been given greater spiritual blessings than all the treasure of the world, be willing to hate our father and mother, take up our cross, and joyfully follow Jesus (see Luke 14:26-27), whom to know is to love, and whom to see, with the eyes of faith, is to rejoice with unspeakable joy? Oh, let us ponder, and tremble with the greatness of the good news that has been entrusted to us; let us forsake all, to follow our true Bridegroom, Jesus Christ!

  8. Hilarious, Peter. Though spoof reformed theology with comedy proof texts is almost too easy to do.

    You would almost think the author actually did believe that Genesis was really about Jesus, wouldn’t you?

  9. Genesis IS about Jesus – he walks over every page as he walks over every page of the whole of Scripture. Your refusal to accept that is the problem here.

  10. No, Peter. That is not the problem. Jesus had too high a regard for scripture to walk over it in the quite way you suggest.

    Kelvin, I’m just coming to this a week late — perfectly timed after a conversation I’d been having about what happens when reverence and laughter meet.

  11. Rosemary says

    Well, yes, the whole of the Old Testament is, in a way, about Jesus, but not, I think, in the way Peter is taking it. Peter is seeing it as a symbol or an allegory. That is, of course, how many of the early father’s read it, and it was (ironically) swept away as a style of interpretation by the reformers, especially the great Biblical scholar and biblical theologian, Luther. He brought in the interesting and serious question of ‘what did the original author mean by this piece, and if we take THAT seriously, how does it speak to us today.’ (though not in so many words, you understand. I am distilling)

    I think I would be inclined to say that one interesting thing about Rebekah is that at no point in any of the narratives about her is she anybody’s chattel. She chooses. She chooses to go on this huge adventure to a rich man in a strange land. She chooses to promote one son over the other. A formidable woman – and it all goes wrong when she chooses to be manipulative, instead of straight and honest. She moves away from the openness and honesty we see in Christ. She stops confronting, because male power blocks the way. It was never right (the writer plainly sees this, and the whole story of Jacob is how he suffers for this way of doing things). Given her situation it is profoundly understandable – an object lesson in how blocking the ability of women to act as equal partners in life is a wrong thing, which breeds trouble.

    So, yes, it is about Christ, in that it is his background, and speaks profoundly to and of him. But tangentially.

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