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DIGGING OUT THE OLD WELLS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon For Sunday Choral Evensong

9th February 2014

Re-Digging Old Wells and Fanning Gifts Into Flame

I am taking up two enormous themes of scripture tonight that are essential for physical life and essential for spiritual life. We need both to live. If one fails we die. If the other fails, we die.

The two themes are water and light. With water, we live. With light we live. Without either we die. With both we live.

But first, you do not know me very well as I gather from the labels you already apply to me. I have preached here in the past four years about five times so you can not know me. Some clues, for you. I have an insatiable love of the Word of God and this came from my theological college of Oakhill and my time with Ichthus Christian Fellowship. Whatever one might say about other things, please do not knock the fact that Oakhill engenders a love, a passion, for the Word in its fulness.

Secondly, I was immeasurably influenced by the Mirfield Fathers, the Community of the Resurrection, with their understanding of the numinous and the wonder of God expressed through the sacramental, and St Mary’s Rickmansworth, with its wonderful sense of sacramental worship, also here in St Wilfrid’s where I have learnt much.

Thirdly, I was and am, part of the renewal movement, the charismatic world, with the preparedness to step out in faith in the power of the Holy Spirit; with a willingness to heal and to use all the gifts of the Spirit as a matter of course, be it prophecy, words of knowledge, discernment of spirits, deliverance etc.

These three great themes of word, sacrament, and charism should and must converge in our relationship with our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so if you must give me a label, use Anglo-costal as it is in this spirit that I bring tonight’s sermon as it relies on the Word, on Vision and on Prophecy.

So, Isaac grew wealthy and influential in the land of King Abimelech of the Philistines who then proceeded to fill in the wells dug by Abraham, that Isaac depended upon for life, and for his flocks. Genesis 26.15-18. Filling in someone’s well is tantamount to murder. Each of us has wells of experience with God, that the devil has caused to be filled in, and forgotten, such that the work of God in us dies, and dissension replaces it. We accept the forgery for the real thing, and argue about candles instead. I have another sermon for this issue by the way.

Isaac emptied out the filled in wells; he restored the water of life to his people. We have filled in wells to dig out; wells to be cleared of debris so that the living water of God might flow once again. Take St Wilfrid’s, can we uncover the well of the water of life that led people to make an extraordinary sacrifice to build this place? Can we resurrect the energy and direction of our forebears who built this place?

Let me tell you about digging out the wells.

First it is messy and disruptive and the naysayers rise up with sanctimonious frowns that ‘you can’t do this here!’ The dust gets everywhere, the dust of the valley of dry bones, of dreams defeated and lost. But as you go deeper, and the mess gets messier, the stuff you are taking out of the well starts to get wet and dank and black and gloopy and it pongs to high heaven. This is what happens to manna that does not get used. It rots and becomes putrid. Gifts from God go off if they are not used.

The naysayers have a field day at this point. The opprobrium is immense. But the well re-digger keeps going and gradually something wonderful begins to happen. The gloop gets thinner, the water increases, the blackness clears and gradually, clear water is seen and white sand at the bottom of the well is seen. So the well re-digger, uses the clean clear water to wash the well clean, to clear up all the mess and turn the well into something beautiful. Oh by the way, this is just what happens at the sacrament of reconciliation. Repentance, forgiveness, absolution, clean and new!

And suddenly the naysayers are all around singing praises and saying how we must protect all this from the hoi polloi and put up barriers to stop the people becoming fresh and clean.

But the well re-digger has heard, from others, that God is saying that the water of life cannot be withheld from the children of God. The water of life is alive and powerful. The water of life transforms the sinner into the saved.

So he explores more deeply and finds that the living water is bubbling up from the bottom of the well in a circle. He investigates the possibility of there being a plug at the bottom of the well. So he says to those around him, ‘perhaps there is a plug. We need to pull it out.’

The naysayers go berserk. If you pull the plug all the water will go down the drain and our beautiful well will be just an empty pit and we will lose face and you just can’t do it.

But the well re-digger knows his Scriptures, knows what Jesus said to the woman at the well and knows the imagery used. He knows that ‘the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ John 4.13

Now let us look at that a bit more closely, ‘welling up’. Anyone seen the end of Mamma Mia? Anyone seen the fountain in Lake Geneva?

So the well re-digger pulls the plug. Could this be the motto for St Wilfrid’s? We pull plugs!

Immediately, the water of the river of life erupted up the well shaft, blew off the roof, demolished the building and all the ‘nice areas’ and just poured over all the people washing them clean and healing them of all their troubles. The naysayers tried to put up umbrellas but the water just kept going. It sprayed out life to all the surroundings. It restored the people. It became the river of life that is to flow from the Temple, Revelation 22.

At the bottom of my well is a memory from 1961, at Easter, at Ardmore Teacher Training College along with 700 Young Anglicans meeting in the main auditorium to worship God. I was late to the meeting, and came in alone as they started to sing a new song. I was familiar with wonderful choral singing from our family connections with the Royal Auckland Choir. I knew and loved great choral works, so I was prepared for the singing in that sense. But this was 700 young people who had moved into worship as they sang the new song of Revelation, the song of ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’. I met God that night.

To get to that memory nearly 50 years later, I had to excavate my own personal well, to re dig it, to get rid of hurt and pain in order to recall that moment of wonder and awe. Scripture advises us ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.’ Proverbs 4.23. Inevitably, as we go through life we do not ‘guard our hearts’ and our wellsprings become cluttered and filled in. All of us here have similar moments of the presence of God in our lives that we need to re-dig and re-live. We need to pull the plug to unleash the reality of the living water that is already present in our lives.

St Paul helps us with this, when he writes in his second letter to Timothy. He writes to a Timothy (today we would call Timothy a vicar) who has clearly had his enthusiasm for God dampened. He has had his well filled in by the enemy, or to put it another way, the light has begun to flicker and go out, he has become almost stale, his gifts are waning through lack of use, his zeal is rotting. Paul recognises this and remonstrates with him using imagery of light rather than that of water. ‘Fan into flame the gift of God which is within you.’ 2 Timothy 1.6-7.

I look around this Church and see dull embers, flickering flames, cold coals. I see wells of living water that are filled with the dross and detritus of cynicism, doubt and just plain indifference. Our problem is not finances (and I speak prophetically now) we have become a church with wells that are firmly stopped up and it is killing us, we are dying because the living water is not being released into each of our lives. For our souls’s sake, we must change this. We must dig out those personal wells; we must fan those gifts into flame.

Pray into this, ask for God’s help, dig out your wells, fan into flame your gifts and then we will be able to live as the children of light that Paul admonishes us to be in tonight’s epistle. Water and Light, we need both.

Scriptures Genesis 26.15-18 2 Timothy 1.6-7
Proverbs 4.23 Revelation 22.1-2
John 4.13