Sunday, July 06, 2014

Sermon; Proper 9A; Genesis 24

The story of how Rebekah came to be Isaac's wife is the longest single story in the book of Genesis.  It is a story of faith, hope and love.  It is a story of connections and continuations.  It is a story that offers some relief for those of us who have come through the two great emotional ordeals of the banishment of Ishmael and the binding of Isaac.  And it is a story where God provides.

In the sequence of events, Sarah has just died in the previous chapter.  Some traditions say she died as a result of that little incident from last week.  But however she died – brokenhearted or of old age – Abraham is now alone with his son and he decides it's now time to find the boy a wife.  So he sends his oldest servant back to his homeland to find a suitable woman.  In other words, a good woman like us; not one of these strange Canaanite women.

Abraham makes his servant take an oath that he will not get a Canaanite woman, that he will get a woman from the homeland, and that he will not take Isaac back to meet the family.

After swearing to uphold these conditions, the servant heads out to fulfill his mission with ten camels and all kinds of choice gifts.  When he arrives, he pulls up to the filling station outside of town and waits.  While waiting, he prays, “O Lord, grant me success as I wait here.  Let the girl I ask for a drink of water also water the camels.”  Lo and behold, Rebekah arrives . . . “and she was fair to look upon.”

She gives the servant water, and then also waters his camels.  In case you're wondering about this, a camel can easily drink around 30 gallons of water at one time; so we're probably talking at least 300 gallons of water that this gal hauls around.  So not only is she cute, but she's a good, strong worker.  And the servant is thinking, “She's gotta be the one.”

After she finishes watering the camels, he gives her a bunch of gold jewelry and installs a nose-ring, then asks if her family has room for him to spend the night.  She says they do, so the two of them head off to her house.  Her family sees the nose-ring and other jewlery and immediately welcome the servant as an honored guest.  Then the servant proceeds to retell the story of everything that has happened.  And this is where the lectionary picks up the story – with the retelling of the meeting of Rebekah.  The story ends with the servant and Rebekah returning to Isaac where she becomes his wife.

This is a story of faith.  Abraham shows his continued faith in God's promise to provide offspring and land.  The servant has faith that God has led him to Rebekah in order to provide a wife for Isaac.  Rebekah exhibits the faith of Abraham in her agreeing to leave behind family, friends and homeland for a totally new life with people and places yet unseen.

This is a story of hope.  Abraham hopes that God will be faithful in his promise to provide offspring and land.  The servant hopes his journey will be successful.  Rebekah's family has hope that her new life will be blessed.  And in fact, their hope is reflected in the blessing they give her that closely mirrors the blessing God bestowed on Abram back in Chapter 12:  “May you become thousands of myriads and may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.”

And this is a story of love.  In the previous chapter, Sarah dies at 127 years old.  But it isn't until now that Abraham begins looking for a wife for Isaac.  I tend to think that it took so long because Abraham wanted to make up for that whole sacrifice thing by allowing mother and son to remain together as long as possible.  For the love of Sarah, Abraham waited.  Rebekah's family showed love by letting her decide her fate.  Asking her to decide whether or not she will go with the servant was rather unusual in that day and age, and it reflects their love for her as a person, not just as another piece of property.  And, in the end, Rebekah comforted Isaac and he loved her.

This is a story of faith, hope and love.  If you were paying close attention, though, you might be asking a version of this question: Where is God in this story?  That is a very good question because God does not appear as an active character anywhere in the story.  But just because he doesn't appear doesn't mean his presence isn't felt.  Everything that happens in this story happens because of the faithful following of God.

We can look back through this story with the eyes of faith, hope and love and see not only those virtues in the characters, but we can also see the hand of God in there as well.  This text shows the continued faithfulness of God to his promise.  This text shows that the hope God placed in one man, Abraham, was not a hope misplaced.  This text shows the love of God poured out on Isaac after the trauma of the banishing, the binding and the death of his mother.  With the arrival of Rebekah, it may seem that laughter may once again come to Isaac.

As I look back on our previous lessons, and look forward at the general plot of our upcoming lessons, what I see coming out of this Genesis series are examples of, and a deeper understanding of, God's steadfast love and faithfulness.  Through it all, God will provide.  When we seem to be wandering aimlessly in a harsh wilderness, God will provide us with necessary needs.  Faced with great trials and obstacles we think we can't overcome, God will provide us with options that were previously hidden in thickets, if we are but willing to open our eyes.  We cannot know in advance how God will bless us; but when we take time to study and discern where and how God might be calling us, we can draw conclusions that are grounded in a steadfast faith.

Faith, hope and love.  If we remain steady in those, we will see the steadfast love and faithfulness of God; and then we will be able to look back and say, “Yes, God provides.”



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