It is great that half the congregation today was here ten years ago for the dedication of this new building. The dedication contained within it a marvellous vision of Living Well to which the people of this congregation have been faithful and, indeed, have built upon. But I want to begin by telling you about another living well which can be found in Kondoa, one of our link dioceses in Tanzania.
The town of Kondoa is set in a remote and, in the dry season, brown and dusty area of Tanzania. But as one drives towards Kondoa itself, the vegetation gets greener and more lush. The reason for this is at heart of Kondoa is a huge spring, bubbling up from deep within the earth, which brings life to all around. The spring has never run dry – the supply of water is constant. Nobody can tell you the depth of the spring. There are stories of people diving in to discover its depth and never being seen again. There are many local stories around the spring, but there appears to be some geological fault in the earth through which the water gushes.
People come to the spring for life and the water is channelled in creative ways to ensure water and life are available to all who come. Close to the mouth of the spring, people can draw water to drink and to take to their homes. In another part, there is water for the animals to drink. Yet another part is set aside for people to do their washing. The spring also has come to provide for other dimensions of life: it is a meeting place, somewhere for people to socialise. People come to it for life and community.
Water plays a major part in both the Jewish and Christian faiths where it is seen as bringer of life, abundant life. In the first reading this morning, we hear of the vision of the prophet Ezekiel who saw water flowing from the Temple and what was the result? Let me quote from the passage:
..this water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh and everything will live where the river goes.(47.8-9)
At the time of Jesus and in the Early Church, Jewish communities often met by moving water. In John’s Gospel especially water is very significant. Changes and miracles happen around water, whether it is Jesus turning it into wine or having a remarkable conversation beside the well with Samaritan woman.
Over the last ten years, this church has brought so much to this wonderful area of Dartford. In all kinds of ways it has brought life and healing and opened up new possibilities – not least by having the surgery and Sure Start here. It has been a place of meeting and community, helped by having the popular cafe here. I know that it has been difficult at times and there have been many frustrations, but God has blessed this place, he has blessed the people here and has made this place and its people a blessing to others. So today, we thank God for this living water and, even though we may be weary, let us be assured that God has brought blessings to so many others because of the prayers and faithfulness of those here. There is much to celebrate.
Where the first reading helps us reflect on and give thanks for the last ten years, the Gospel reading issues challenges for next ten years. It is a well-known story – the religious authorities try to entrap Jesus by asking him a question about authority. They ask whether it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor (Caesar) or not. Jesus replies, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ What does it say to us, here, today? It says something important about where real life is to be found. God is very much at work in the world and he blesses the world, but, as we know, the world is not without its problems and temptations. As Christians we constantly need to ask what brings life, real life. We need to be careful we are not always taken in by what the world has to say. For example, is the accumulation of wealth and possessions where life is to be found, as world would have us think? Is focusing only on ourselves and our needs where joy is to be found, as politicians would have us think? Is trying to be in complete control of our lives and relationships where love is to be found, as the media would have us believe? ‘Give to the emperor the things that are emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’
Jesus has come that we may have life, life in all its fullness. Jesus has the key to life…not the emperor, not our politicians, but God. We give thanks to God for the gifts he has given us in the world, but it is our relationship with Jesus Christ which helps us use these gifts to God’s glory which, in turn, will be for the benefit of others and ourselves. My prayer for the next decade is that this church will always remember that life comes from God, and that our relationship with Jesus Christ, rather than the tantalizing lures of this world, is the lens through which we view, discover and live that life.
St. Edmund’s Church Living Well, Temple Hill, Dartford – Tenth anniversary
Readings: Ezekiel 47.1-12;Matthew 22.15-22
19th October, 2014.