Genesis 26: 18 "Isaac dug again the wells
of water that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham;
for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of
Abraham; and he gave them the names that his father had given
The situation here is quite straight-forward.
With a supply of fresh water desert tribes are rich, without
it they cannot survive. So when Isaac and his family returned
to the old places where his father Abraham had lived, their
first concern was the rediscovery of the wells which Abraham
had dug and which the Philistines had in the meantime filled
Put yourself in Isaac's place. He has a practical
and urgent need of water. But more than that the good work,
which his father has done, has been destroyed. He feels the
hurt personally. He digs again the wells that his father has
dug, and he calls them by the same names which his father
had given them.
This morning I want to suggest that this desire
to go back and recover something old and good that has been
lost has relevance for us in our lives. Of course anyone who
wants to live in the past is making a fatal error. Life changes
and we must change with it. The maths I learnt at school would
be quite useless now for my children. Some of the science
would simply be wrong. Working life is not the same as it
was. I was at a meeting with a prospective new minister at
a Church last week and someone asked “Are you computer literate”.
They never used to ask that! Anyone who isn't willing to change
becomes obsolete and irrelevant. But real progress is not
simply a matter of creating something new - it also involves
a holding onto of what was best in the past. If there are
new gains to be made- there are often old gains which need
to be recovered.
Here is Isaac. He did not simply repeat what
went before. He has tasks to carry out which his father never
had. But he had Abraham for his father and was not ashamed
of it. He did not live merely on this narrow neck of land
that we call the present. He found something that his father
had done that had been destroyed by the Philistines. So he
dug again the wells his father had dug. This is not just an
ancient story. Look around you and see. Perhaps we too must
dig again the wells which the Philistines have filled up.
Firstly perhaps let’s apply this in our personal
lives. In life we frequently face new challenges and new situations
but do we not sometimes also need to rediscover something
we once had but now have lost? Most of us have had this experience.
Life races on in restless busy activity and then suddenly
comes a pause. It may be that illness or a holiday gives us
the opportunity to relax and reflect on our lives. It may
be a piece of music brings back memories of the past. Then
we recall the way we were and we see that something has been
lost, something which ought never to have been lost.
If we could go back and meet the person that
we were, what would they make of us as we are? How many young
people start out with ideals and then lose them somewhere
along the way? How many marriages begin in love and end in
monotony? How many people drift into something which actually
they would never have chosen?
Sometimes the way forward for our lives is not
so much going on to something new, as going back to something
old we ought never to have lost. I do not know what wells
of living water the Philistines in Sutton have been trying
to fill up in your lives but I know that not one of us can
fail in some degree to share his universal experience. We
all need to be called back to things that we have lost.
Secondly this applies not only to personal character
but also to personal religion. If religion is a living faith
it has to change. We are not living in the world our ancestors
knew. We are in a time of deep and profound change and one
thing that’s clear to me is that as a church here at Trinity
we are only at the beginning of the kind of changes that we
have to make if we’re going to be in a future a much stronger
church than we are now. Of course those of you who’ve been
here many years will know that this church has already changed
and is changing.
Leonora McCroft once she suggested to someone
at Westminster Central Hall, where she then worshipped, that
she should transfer her membership to Trinity which was closer
to where she lived, only to get the reply “Oh you don’t want
to go there – all those ladies in fur coats”. How true was
it then? I don’t know, but it’s certainly not true now.
Already this is a changing church. Less formal.
More socially and racially inclusive. But still we’re only
on the edge of the kind of changes we need. For that reason
the education committee is beginning to work on a programme
called Trinity 20/20 that will try to look to and shape our
future. So we’re looking to the future. But whatever that
future is there are some things that have not to change.
It takes the profound experiences of vital religion
to make a genuine Christian. And they are not new. They are
old. They were in Jesus and Paul Wesley. Maybe there were
there in your parents and their parents before them. They
were certainly in the old Trinity of 30 years ago and we need
Prayer for example is not new. The understanding
that the cope with the challenge of life you need an inner
life - that is not new. On one occasion Jesus went away to
pray and when he came back the effect on him was so obvious
that his disciples asked, "Lord teach us to pray".
If we've lost that we'd better go back and recover it.
Or take belief in God itself. Of course many
of the beliefs we have about God and the ways we worship God
change. How we see God working in the world would certainly
be differently from the way people understood 100 years ago.
But the inner experience of God is not difference. The se4nse
of wonder that breaks in on you when you find yourself in
the presence of the holy is not new. The experience of a still
small voice whispering in the quiet of our lives is not new.
The inner fire when the spirit floods into a life is not new.
These are old wells which nourished our ancestors. And if
we do not re-dig them and keep them clear then no matter how
modern our faith it will inevitably be futile.
And then thirdly let us make our final application
of this to our social life. Take for example the current crisis
in family life. Family life is changing rapidly and certainly
there is no pattern of family life that is there for all time.
But whatever pattern of family life there’s something we have
to be sure we’ve not lost touch with. A man and a woman loving
each other so much they want to spend the rest of their lives
together and giving their children the security in which to
grow. That's an old tradition. In Genesis 24 we come across
the following short simple sentence. "Isaac took Rebecca,
and she became his wife, and he loved her". That's 3000
years ago from a world from a world with a very different
idea of family life from anything we would want but which
of us doesn't understand what it means. In our reading we
heard how to try to protect Rebecca Isaac pretends she is
his sister and not his wife. But he pretence breaks down when
Abimelech the Philistine king looked down from his window
and saw Isaac and his wife Rebecca in a loving embrace, looking
at each other with loving eyes and laughing together, and
knew this was no brother and sister. There's nothing modern
about the deep commitment that two people can have for each
Today modern family life will not be a simple
recreation of what the family was like in the past. The equality
that a woman expects is quite different from the old dependency.
The old way that many fathers were hardly involved with their
children is certainly not something to turn back to. At least
I mostly think so.
But if the shape of marriage can change and
evolve there’s something we have not to lose. The family is
where we learn who we are, where we come from, and where we
belong. The family is where we learn fidelity, loyalty, responsibility,
compassion, and honesty. A family is where we love and are
loved. What alternative is there which can give us that?
Look what the family can do for children. My
sister teaches in what according to the results table the
7th worst primary school in the country. I like to tell her
it’s the only place she can get a job. Actually it's not the
7th worst in the country at all. It's a very good school.
It happens to be trying to teach very many deeply disturbed
children. Why are they deeply disturbed? One of the answers
is quite simple. Hardly any of them have what we would call
a stable loving family background. Can anything really matter
to a child as much as that? Any of you who been married in
this Church may remember the phrase in the wedding service.
“God has provided it for the birth and the nurture of children,
so they find the security of love and grow up in the heritage
of faith”. Today in our relationships we need not simply something
new but also something very old: deep committed loving partnerships,
the joy of lasting loving, genuine devotion to family life
and to the care of children - old wells to dig again.
I do not want to live in the past. I want
to look towards the future. But some values do not go out
of fashion. Some of the old wells are parents drank from are
just as life giving today. God forbid we should let the Philistines
stop them up and keep us from them.
Rev'd. Martin Camroux MA
Trinity Church, Sutton
Cheam Road, Sutton, SM1 1DZ