‘Places of encounter’ – 5th July 2020 – 4th Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 24.34-38, 42-49, 58-67

So he said, ‘I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, “You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.”

‘I came today to the spring, and said, “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, ‘Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,’ and who will say to me, ‘Drink, and I will draw for your camels also’—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.”

‘Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water-jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, “Please let me drink.” She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, “Drink, and I will also water your camels.” So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, “Whose daughter are you?” She said, “The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.” So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshipped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.’ And they called Rebekah, and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ She said, ‘I will.’ So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
‘May you, our sister, become
thousands of myriads;
may your offspring gain possession
of the gates of their foes.’
Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.

Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, ‘Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?’ The servant said, ‘It is my master.’ So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30

But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’

At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’


Scripture quotations are from The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Sermon
By Catherine, a Lay Reader at St Mary's.

In a normal year, this weekend would have marked the end of the annual Walkley Festival. But this is not a normal year and our festival had to be cancelled.

In a normal year at St. Mary’s we would have created our annual well dressing. A picture would have been designed, pricked out into clay and lovingly created from petals and seeds. We would have had our doors open and people from the church and the wider community would have dropped by to watch, to chat or to join in. The finished picture would have then been displayed outside the church alongside an improvised well. People would have stopped by to look, maybe even take a photo. Conversations would have happened as they paused to look. The act of creating and displaying the well-dressing would have enabled it to become a place of encounter.

Wells are places of life-giving water. Without wells people would die of thirst. But they are also places of encounter.

A man approaches a well. A man charged with a serious task, who has travelled a long way from a far-off land. With his 10 camels laden with gifts, he hopes to find a bride for the son of his master, Abraham. He’s mulling over things in his mind. He has some doubts about the success of his mission. Isaac is a troubled young man. How will the servant know he’s found the right woman for him? Will she consent to the marriage and return to Canaan with him? The servant is tired and thirsty. His camels are flagging too. He reaches the well and halts, exhausted. And then he prays.

“Please God, let the young woman who I ask for a drink freely offer to water my camels too. Let that be a sign that this woman will be the right bride for Isaac.”

A young woman approaches the well. The man makes his request for water and, joy of all joys, she does indeed offer to provide water for the camels too! The servant learns that she is Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham’s nephew, Bethuel. He adorns her with jewellery and she offers him and his camels hospitality. So he travels on with her to meet her family.

Before he will accept any food, he insists on explaining why he has come. After some discussion, the family, and more importantly, Rebekah herself, agree to the match. And so the next morning when Abraham’s servant sets back off home, Rebekah is with him. Rebekah, the generous young woman who provided replenishing water, quenching the thirst of a stranger. Rebekah, whose generosity extended to watering the 10 thirsty camels too, and to providing them all with rest and lodging for the night. And Rebekah is accompanied by her nurse. Later in Genesis we learn the nurse’s name – Deborah – which means “Bee – provider of nourishing honey”. Her presence ensures the best possible start for any children Rebekah will have with Isaac.

A man returns from a well. A man whose father has sent his servant to find him a wife. This man’s name is Isaac. For a man whose name means “laughter” there hasn’t been much to laugh about. As an infant, his half-brother and playmate, Ishmael, has been sent away. As an adolescent, he’s gone through the trauma of being bound to an altar as a sacrifice by his own father, only to be saved by God at the last minute. And as a young man he has suffered the bereavement of his mother. We can barely begin to comprehend the potential emotional damage caused by all this. Not a stable start for married life.

But before Isaac meets his new bride we find him returning from Beer-lahai-roi. This is not just some random place. It’s another well. This is the place to which the pregnant Hagar fled when Sarah had mistreated her. It’s the place where she had an encounter with God. It’s the place where she saw God and lived. Where she named God El-roi, which means “God who sees” or “God hears”. Where God saw her anguish and gave her the strength to return to Abraham’s household to give birth to Ishmael. This place became known as Beer-lahai-roi, which means “Well of the living one who sees me”. And this is where Isaac has now been. We don’t know what he experienced at this well. But we do know that when he meets Rebekah, he is able to welcome her into his home as his wife. And we know that she provides solace from his bereavement. She enables him to live again.

Wells are places of life-giving water. Without wells people would die of thirst. But they are also places of encounter. They are places where people meet each other. But they are also places where people encounter the life-giving Spirit of God.

This is not a normal year. But that does not mean that we have been unable to encounter each other. We couldn’t have our well dressing, nor many other of our usual festival activities. But we have been able to share in each other’s creativity, through displays of artwork, messages or plants in our windows and gardens. And in our festival week, there have been a number of impressive scarecrows to enjoy too. We have encountered each other over the phone or online, over our fences or through our windows. As the lock-down restrictions have eased, we have begun to meet in person again at a distance.

This is not a normal year. Many people have found to their surprise that the life giving Spirit of God has sprung up in unexpected ways throughout the crisis. And if like, Abraham’s servant, Rebekah or Isaac, we reach out in trust to God, with an open heart and mind, we will surely find him there ready and waiting for an encounter with us.

The Prayers
Prepared by Anne.

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.

Lord we pray for our world in these difficult days that we may find your kingdom arising in unexpected places as we open our eyes to see you at work in our world.

Lord we pray for those who find themselves waiting at this time, for ordination, to be married, for medical appointments or treatments, for the results of “exams” that have never been sat, for schools or workplaces to reopen. Hear their anxious longings, their frustrations and fears, their pain and their hopes. Grant them patience and fortitude as they wait and peace in their hearts.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Lord we pray for those who feel overwhelmed by the circumstances and changes of these times, for those whose income has dried up, whose jobs have been cut, whose lives feel as if they have been turned inside out and upside down and those struggling to cope with new ways of doing what were familiar routines. We pray for those who daily juggle the challenges of working from home, home-schooling children and caring for others and those who feel utterly isolated and alone. Ease the burdens of, and bring comfort to those who feel stretched to breaking point or buffeted by storms they could never have foreseen.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Lord we pray for young people and children whose education is disrupted and who feel anxious about their future in both the short and long term. Breathe hope into their hearts and vision into their thoughts that they may see beyond the current crisis to a time of stability and adventure.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Lord we pray for those who are ill or infirm at this time, in body or mind, and for those who care for them. May they know the sustaining grace of your presence with them. Bless those who have sacrificed their own home life to care for others. Bless all those who have striven to keep us all provided with food, with water and power and who have continued to collect refuse or process waste throughout these days of pandemic and whose dedication has carried us through these times.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Lord we pray for all who are grappling with new regulations and restrictions as they try to reopen businesses, premises and even churches. Help us as we work out how we can safely be the welcoming and worshipping people of God in these changing days. Guide us as we weigh up risks and responsibilities, longings for normality and concerns for safety.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Lord we pray, bless those who mourn, especially those whose hearts were broken when they were unable to see or touch loved ones in their last days. We pray for all whose hearts are heavy with grief and loss. Surround them with your gracious love and hold them close to your heart, we pray.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Lord, we remember in your presence all those have died in these difficult days, from whatever cause. We know that no-one has died without your knowledge and loving presence. We pray that you receive them into your presence, according to your promises.
Living Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Walk with us on the way.

Hear our prayers. Surround us with your love. Guide our feet on unfamiliar paths and bring us with joy into your kingdom of justice, truth, peace and everlasting love.