This sermon went something like this. Audio and text are likely different.
You can listen to the sermon here.
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 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. 36 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. 37 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; 38 but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’ 42 “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! 43 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,” 44 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.’ 45 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.’ 46 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. 47 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. 48 Then I bowed my head and worshiped 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. 49 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.” 58 And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” 59 So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 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.” 61 Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. 62 Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. 63 Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. 64 And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, 65 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. 66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 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.
This morning, we heard the story of Abraham arranging to find a wife for his son, Isaac. Or put more simply – the beginning of the story of Rebekah.
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been traveling along through the book of Genesis and the story of Abraham and Sarah.
At the beginning we heard about God’s call to Abraham to leave his home and to enter a new land, and through this calling God promised to Abraham and Sarah not only land and not only descendants as numerous the stars, but also that they would be a blessing to the entire world.
But each step of the way, those promises came under threat.
At first, Abraham and Sarah were barren for many years, and they wondered if it would ever come true.
Then the promise was under threat again when Sarah didn’t think this promise was for her and so she sent Abraham to have a child with another woman, their servant, Hagar.
But God’s promise of offspring was to Abraham and Sarah. So, late into their years, Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Finally, their hope and their promised future had arrived.
But then last week, that promise was under threat again in the horrifying story of Abraham hearing God’s call to sacrifice Isaac. To sacrifice Isaac would be to sacrifice the future and the very promises God had made. But Abraham was faithful to God, and God was faithful to Abraham. And another way was found. And Isaac lived.
Now, today, in Genesis 24, many years later – the promises of God are under threat again. Most notably because Sarah, Isaac’s mom has died. And not only that, the chapter begins by saying, “Now, Abraham was old, well advanced in years…”
The first generation is beginning to pass away. The promises of God had made it this far. But Isaac, the next generation is not married. Will there be offspring? Will it all end here? That’s question that echoes throughout this story.
We know what it’s like to live with that question. To live in those times of uncertainty and change and to not know how things will go. When a beloved one dies suddenly, and the impact and effect on you and the family is unknown and unsteady. Is this it? Is this the moment our family falls apart? Or that moment a few weeks from now, when many parents will send their last child out into the world and by doing so join a club known as the “Empty-Nesters.”
And some of these parents will wonder if their child will make it outside the home. Others will wonder if their marriage will make it inside the home, now that it is just the two of them again. Is this it? Is this the end of what has been?
Or as we wait and watch our government sink into deeper and more cloaked forms of dysfunction and paralysis, we wonder if any good could possibly come out of all of this. What does the future hold? Will things ever go back to the way they were? Should they ever go back? Is this the end of the way we’ve known?
We know what it’s like to live in uncertainty and to wonder – will it end here? Or will the promises of God hold true in the midst of unlikely circumstances?
Those are the questions being asked in this story. Which in a lot of ways means that this story is our story. Not only that it is part of our scriptures, but this is the human story. We know these moments as the baton is passed from one generation to the next and to not know. To not know how things will be.
So, as we walk through the story this morning, I invite you to wonder – who are you in this story? Because sometimes all the gospel we need is to just know that we have a place in the woven fabric of God’s story.
Now, for as serious as the concerns of this story are, there is humor to be found in Genesis 24.
Yes, Sarah has died. Yes, Abraham’s getting old. Yes, Isaac isn’t married. But as far as I can tell, this is the first biblical example of a parent trying to micromanage their child’s life.
No, Isaac, you’re not going to take a year off to go find yourself. You’re going to listen to me. I’m your parent. I know what’s best for you. You’re going to go to St. Olaf, you’re going to sing in the Choir (we didn’t pay for all those lessons for you to just quit now), you’re going to major in business or science (not Philosophy) and you’re going to meet a very nice Scandinavian Lutheran girl.
Well, for Abraham, he wanted Isaac to marry a nice Mesopotamian girl, and most certainly not a Canaanite (we can see how prejudice starts early in this story).
So old Abraham, likely from his deathbed (one scholar thinks), takes the initiative to carry on the promises of God and to find Isaac a wife. He sends his servant back to his homeland to find a suitable wife for Isaac.
Now, Isaac is about 40 years old at this time. If God made a promise of descendants as numerous as the stars, and that promise depends on Isaac being married – why is this happening so late in the game? Was Abraham waiting on God? Was God waiting on Abraham?
Have you been waiting on God for something? Could God be waiting on you? Either way, one thing we learn from this story is that God is willing to go with us when we take the first step into something. God goes along with Abraham’s idea. They co-create this moment together. And what happens yes depends on God but also on the people and how they respond. Abraham recognizes…the woman could say no – she won’t marry Isaac. Who knows what will happen. All we know is that God is willing to go along with Abraham’s idea as possible way for the flourishing of God’s promises.
This servant takes 10 camels, and a bunch of gifts and goes back to Abraham’s homeland. And just outside the city, the servant stops by a well of water.
Okay, now if you hear about a well showing up in Biblical story, take notice. Because a well in those days is like match.com in these days. It’s where people go to find someone, you know…compatible. It is this classic type-scene of where Biblical characters meet their spouses. It is like when you’re watching a romantic comedy and in the first 10 minutes a the main character walks into a bar and bumps into a guy spilling his drink all over himself – most of us in the theater think, “Yeah, those two are going to get together in the end.”
That’s what it’s like in the Bible and wells.
So the servant is at the well and he starts to pray. O Lord, if only you will make this successful.43 I am standing here by the spring of water; when I say to a woman, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44 and she says, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” —- let her be the woman for Isaac.’
Have you ever prayed a prayer like that? A prayer that holds God to some really specific expectations. Lord, if you will just make it so I get at least 82.3% on this test. Lord, if I can just get one of the first three parking spots close to Target, I promise I will go to church 2 out of the next 4 Sundays.
And then it happens. And you think, “God did it! God answered my prayer!” Is that how God works, is that how God provides? I don’t know.
But, lo and behold, before the servant is done praying, a woman named Rebekah appears at the well.
So the servant does his part, “Ahem…please let me have a drink.”
The woman says, “Drink and I will also water your camels.”
Those are the words! – that’s what he said she would say! She must be the one!
Now, picture this. Rebekah has a jar. One jar. She has just offered to water this servant’s 10 camels. A camel can drink 20-30 gallons of water at time. That’s 200-300 gallons of water, folks! And one jug. So, the first thing we learn about Rebekah is that she is amazingly strong.
While she is accomplishing this huge endeavor, the servant is still discerning if she is the right one. What if he discerns wrong? Is this where it all ends? Could the promises of God rest on this single moment? This one decision? Would his failure make God and God’s promise to Abraham a failure?
But once the servant learns that Rebekah is part of Abraham’s people, that seals the deal. He gives her all of these gifts of jewelry and Rebekah offers him to stay with her and her family that night. An offer of hospitality not unlike that of Abraham when the angels came to visit him. And then Rebekah rushes home to tell her family what has happened.
Once at their home, the servant has to retell the whole story to Rebekah’s brother, Laban, and father, Bethuel, to try to convince them that she is the one to marry Isaac and to give permission for her to go. What if they aren’t convinced? What if they say no? Could everything fall apart here?
Well, Rebekah’s family decides that this message comes from God and give permission for Rebekah to go. And then they ask Rebekah, “Will you go with this man?” What if she says no?
But then we hear the words from Rebekah – “I will.” And so the second thing we learn about Rebekah is that she is courageous. Because she, following in the footsteps of Abraham, is being asked to leave her homeland, solely on the promises of God, and to be part of the promise of God – to be a blessing for the world.
And so they go. With all the camels. And along the way, Rebekah sees a man, Isaac, far off. The text says she quickly slipped off the camel. But actually the Hebrew says that she falls off the camel. So I guess the third thing we learn about Rebekah is that she’s a little clumsy in love.
And it says that Isaac loved her too.
And so they get married in Sarah’s tent. And the light that had dimmed through Sarah’s death, has been rekindled in Rebekah’s arrival. And hope for the next generation and hope for the future of God’s promises is reborn.
So that’s the beginning of the story of Rebekah.
What I marvel at in this story is the number of people it takes create the fabric of this story. The way their ordinary lives make a difference in the story of God. I marvel at the number of people of all the generations in and through whom God works to keep hope for the future alive. Sure, many of us know the giants of faith – Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and David. Mary and Jesus and Peter and Paul. But in this story, God is at work, behind the scenes through all the people.
So, who are you in this old story?
Are you Abraham? As we watch God at work in a man at the end of his life and the way he worries about the future of his son.
Are you Isaac? As we watch God at work in the one on the edge of the story, fearfully and desperately waiting for a place to jump in and grab a hold of a future that just hasn’t arrived yet.
Are you the servant? As we watch God at work through the often anonymous person, seeking to serve others in ordinary ways, prayerfully hoping to make a difference
Are you Rebekah? As we watch God at work in the strong and courageous one who faithfully steps out into the unknown, trusting that God will be with her.
Are you Rebekah’s family? As we watch God at work in those who have watched their beloved child step out into a world that is uncertain and far away and all they can do is send them with your blessing and love.
Who are you in this old story?
Who are you in God’s present day story?
Kimberly Bracken Long was the pastor of a small Presbyterian church in New Jersey. To kick off the annual stewardship campaign, the stewardship committee planned a church dinner in the fellowship hall. The choir agreed to provide entertainment – a mix of old romantic songs and Broadway tunes. After dinner, the choir launched into their program, and people were having fun, singing along and laughing. As the final number, the choir sang a kind of exaggerated version of “Give Me That Old Time Religion.” A version about how that old time religion was good enough for the giants of faith, so it was good enough for them. And the choir sang all the verses they knew, rolling their eyes as they sang – “It was good enough for the Hebrew children…it was good enough for Abraham and Sarah…it was good enough for Paul and Silas…and it’s good enough for me.” People were enjoying it so much, they didn’t want the choir to stop, but they had run out of verses. They had run out of names. So after a short hesitation, a tenor in the choir made up a new verse: “It was good enough for Edith Pursley, it was good enough for Edith Pursley, it was good enough for Edith Pursley, and it’s good enough for me.” The mood changed. Edith Pursley was a saint in the congregation who had just died a few weeks before. When that verse had ended, someone in the crowd started another new verse, “It was good enough for Paul Lapin…” Paul Lapin another saint in the church gone to glory. And they sang verse after verse, naming the ordinary saints of that church. By the end, the satirical old timey gospel song had been transformed into a powerful hymn of faith about all the characters in the story of God.
God works through the ordinary saints and their everyday ordinary lives to keep the hope for the future and the promises of God alive.
As we gently step into an unknown future, when we are not sure if things will ever be the same, I wonder if you can hear your own name as part of the song and story of the life of God. Can you see your own life as woven into the very story of God that is and has been and always will be? A life through which God has promised to bring blessing to this world?
May you have eyes to see. And may it be so. Amen.