Sermon – 27 July 2008 Leah's Lovely Eyes

[The audio of this sermon can be heard on this page – the text is Genesis 29:15-28].

I have to confess, that I’ve quite enjoyed preaching on the readings that we have been getting in the book of Genesis. All human life, it seems is there.

I preached a couple of weeks ago about how a wife was found for Isaac. This week’s reading is about how Jacob got two.

All human life is here in just a few verses. We have drama, pathos, jealousy, sensuality and unrequited love.

It is a simple tale, isn’t it. It is as old as the hills. Boy meets girl. Boy sooks up to the prospective father-in-law. Boy married girl. Boy gets rather a surprise in the morning. Boy sooks up to wicked father-in-law again. Boys gets married again. And all ends up happy. It could happen to anyone!

At least, it could happen to anyone in the landscape of so-called Biblical morality in Genesis.

At least, it could happen to anyone in a moral landscape where women are owned by men. It could happen to anyone in a moral landscape where women have a price. It could happen to anyone in a moral world where men can have as many women as they like and if they get lucky, they get a slave girl thrown into the bargain for free.

That is the moral landscape which the writer of Genesis presumes we will find unsurprising.

As we watch these folk go off into the sunset together, Leah, Rachel, Jacob and he poor maid Zilpah, who also is now available for his pleasure too, as we see them set up house together, what are we supposed to think?

Well, I’ve been focussing on Leah whilst I’ve been thinking about this text this week. She is my way in to finding something to say this morning. The pathos of this story revolves around her.

“The name of the elder daughter was Leah and Leah’s eyes were lovely, whilst Rachel was graceful and beautiful. And Jacob loved Rachel.”

So much of Genesis is about competing siblings. Often it is brothers. Today we hear of sisters. Isn’t it extraordinary to come a figure in a story written so very long ago and know that little detail of her? That she had eyes that were just so lovely. But Jacob loved Rachel.

Whilst I was thinking about what to say about Leah this week, I turned on the television. I don’t do that often when trying to write a sermon but I did this time.

I came upon a programme that I had never seen before. It was one of these makeover programmes. It had an extraordinary stylist. His name was Gok Wan.

I’m sure that none of you have ever tuned in to such a programme. It was called, “How to look good naked.”

Now, before I go any further, let me reassure you that I feel no need of this programme myself. Everything, I can assure you is where it should be. And contrary to what some might think, I don’t wear my vestments to the beach.

Anyway, this was a programme which had a message, and it is a message for poor Leah with her lovely eyes and it is a message for us in the Christian faith today. The message was simple. It was this: emphasise your best bits.

If only we as Christians could organise ourselves in such a way that we emphasised our best bits, it would not just be this church that had rising numbers, they would all be packed out. Somehow, we seem intent on emphasising our worst bits. Petty judgementalism. Prurient interest in other people’s lives. Power crazed prelates. Palpable hypocrisy rather than a passion for the poor.

I’ve heard this week on a number of lips the story that the bishops at Lambeth were told to bring only one wife.

I don’t know whether that is true or not. The fact that I can’t tell whether that is a joke or whether it is fact tells you something.

Two Lambeth conferences ago, 20 years ago, the church made a compromise over polygamy that is worth returning to as we are looking at the plight of Leah with the lovely eyes. It was decided that where the church had a mission to local cultures which were polygamous, if a family were converted to Anglican Christianity, then it would be better to keep the family intact than to dump all but one of the women in a culture which was remarkably like that of Genesis – where women had no power and little value.

That compromise was worked out in order to sustain the mission of the church in that part of the world. It was essentially a liberal compromise to ensure that women did not suffer as the news of the gospel spread.

It meant that different standards of behaviour were being worked out in different cultures.

The fact is that now many from those very cultures are now turning the tables on us in the West and demanding that we listen to them and take our cue on morality from their local customs.

It is offensive. It is disrespectful. And it shows rank hypocrisy for the leaders of those churches to behave in the way they are doing.

It is often said that the average Anglican is a young black mother in sub-Saharan Africa. That is probably true. And it is probably true that if she lives in Zimbabwe she is worried about where her next meal is coming from. It is probably true that if she lives in Rwanda she wants a real peace and not simmering ethnic tension and reminders of genocide. It is probably true that if she lives in Botswana she is concerned about the number of relatives she has who have HIV.

I suspect that average Anglican cares little about the situation that our guest preacher next week Gene Robinson finds himself in.

It is time we started listening to that average Anglican a bit more.

Our current troubles in the Anglican Communion are not our best bits. They are not altogether lovely at all.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Remember Leah with the lovely eyes. Remember Gok Wan telling us to emphasise our best bits?

Well what about it. Why don’t we do that.

We could begin by listening to that average Anglican and doing something about her troubles. (That might mean working towards the Millennium Development Goals).

We could continue to engage and revel in the good things that God has to teach us in our Western culture. When people are griping about Western values leading us all to hell in a handcart, think of the medical advances, the artisist triumph, the best kinds of internationalism. Christianity may have started in one place, but the Christ I believe in is inspiring people to better things in every culture. We need to listen to that Christ. We need to bear that Christ to the world.

And, we could teach people the spirituality that they crave. It is our heritage. It is everyone’s heritage.

And we could take the bible seriously enough to want to share the best bits with others.

We could proclaim a God worth believing in. We could be a church worth belonging to. We could build a world worth living in.

Where shall we begin. We shall begin by emphasising our best bits. Remember Leah’s lovely eyes. Her best bit remembered down the ages.

What are the best bits of faith? What are the bits worth shouting about? Worth telling everyone about.

For me, oddly enough, we’ve heard one of my best bits in one of the other readings that we had this morning.

When life gets tough, it is a good place to go back to. It is a place of new beginnings.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor Lambeth Conferences, nor anything else will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.



  1. Father, I confess. I have watched Gok Wan, and there is no health in me. 😉

  2. Kelvin – You must have a Tardis, or the Cathedral Website is in a different timezone as it infer you preached the sermon on 26 July.

  3. Can I sook up to YOU Kelvin, by saying that was one of the most powerful sermons I’ve heard for a long time? It put into words, in a way I’ve been unable to, how I feel about the whole Lambeth thing, and the, now (for me), tiresome, issues of sexuality. Yes, let us deal wth these issues, and punt Paul’s bit in Romans to all who feel marginalised. That is the Gospel. Our Bishops need to listen!

    But your take on the average Anglican was wonderful. Wot I’ve been trying to say, unsuccessfully, for weeks.

    The average mother in Dumbarton’s “worst bits”, is concerned tonight for her teenage child who will, again, come home with needlepoint pupils and another brush with authority under their belt. The house will be damp and nobody in the family will be employed. Addiction, poverty, lack of self-worth, hopelessness, helplessness…

    And, here, like everywhere, it doesn’t help us when a single issue is punted by the press as the only thing we’re interested in as Anglicans.

    Show the world our best bits? Aye, but sometimes it’s hard to, because the people have already made their decision.

  4. Hear, hear, Kenny. An astonishing sermon that astounds again and again on re-hearing or reading.

    God’s Truth, simply stated, clearly and succinctly delivered.

    I’m all for emphasizing the good bits – so long as we DON’T ‘wear vestments on the beach’ – and that we DO actually deal effectively with the ‘less than good’ bits, so that these can be seen – without embarrassment – when appropriate – and seen as of little importance to the Central Truth.

    Dear Leah.

    Thank you, Kelvin, for once again bringing new and highly relevant light and insight. I hope Leah’s lovely eyes continue to look over our shoulders, bring Light into dark days and scrutinize doubtful corners……..

  5. irishpisky says

    I have always looked forward to the Sermon time in any Service.

    If it proves un-interesting to me, I can spend the time contemplating the great scheme of things, untrammelled by the diversions of life. If, however, it catches my imagination, my spiritual switch is ‘turned-on’ and little flashes of revelation can turn into a flood of light.

    Especially, the latest group of sermons has proved to be of the latter kind…all different, with a different approach, theme and presentation, but yet all pointing us in one direction…think outside the’box’.

    Because, almost by definition, our Episcopal congregations come for a variety of backgrounds with different viewpoints, so perhaps it is not surprising the those meeting just now have varying opinions.

    Perhaps Lambeth may not be notable for what it does, or does not ‘achieve’, but by the fact alone that we all as individuals have been forced to evaluate our view of things.

    We know that we will never all agree on everything, but we can sit together happily Sunday by Sunday, and be prepared to have our bigotry and self-centredness questioned.

    Perhaps if more Bishops came and sat in St Mary’s congregation they might learn a great lesson…’now we see through a glass darkly, but we are seeing a bit more clearly every day’.

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