St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for July 9, 2017 

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock                                 

St. John's, Centreville
July 9, 2017
Proper 9 A
Genesis 24:34-38,42-49,58-67
        God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     This morning we continue our journey through some of the great stories in the Book of Genesis. Just to recap, a few weeks ago, we heard the story of the three strangers telling Abraham and Sarah that they will have a son, even in their old age. Then we heard about the birth of Isaac and the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael into the desert where God saved them. We continued last week with the near sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham, a difficult story to understand, but which showed Abraham's radical obedience to God.
     This morning, we have the story of Abraham sending his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac, not from the Caananites, but from his own people. If the story of Abraham and his covenant with God is going to continue, with his descendants as many as the stars in the sky, then his only son Isaac will need to marry and have children.
     So Abraham's servant is sent on this important mission to find Isaac a wife. He goes to the city of Haran, which is where Abraham has come from and where his brother Nahor still lives. He goes to the well where the women come to draw water. He asks God to point out to him the potential wife by a particular statement and answer. "Please give me a little water from your jar to drink" he says, and Rebekah gives the correct response. "Drink, and I will draw for your camels also." Rebekah passes the test - she is The One!
     Wouldn't it be nice if all our choices in life were so easy.  We ask for something, we hear the right password and we know what God wants us to do! Simple! But our lives don't work that way.
     Obviously, Rebekah is a kind and generous person to offer to draw water from the well, not only for this servant, but the camels as well. Now the servant has other men with him and at least 10 camels. Now thirsty camels can drink up to 30 gallons each in 10 minutes. Hopefully, they are not dehydrated and the servant is not standing around as this teenage girl draws 100 to 200 gallons of water with one bucket from this well. But the point is that she is a generous soul.
     So the servant gives Rebekah rings and bracelets, and the entire entourage returns to Rebekah's house. Now Laban, Rebekah's brother, has the right to negotiate his sister's marriage. He is a man of God as well, and after Abraham's servant repeats his story of Abraham's charge to him and how he found Rebekah, Laban and the servant both agree this is what God's intends. But we can also be sure that Laban, seeing the many lavish gifts that the servant has brought, realizes what a rich man Abraham must be.
     So Rebekah agrees to go with the servant to become Isaac's wife. As they see each other at a distance, Isaac takes her and loves her as his wife. The mission is accomplished. Abraham will have descendants through his son Isaac and God's covenant with Abraham is fulfilled.
     What a great story.....a successful mission, untroubled negotiations, evident benefits to both sides, and a happy embrace. Wonderful! But what does this have to say to us today?
    This is a story about God's love and generosity. Abraham's wealth and faithfulness are God's gift to him. The marriage of Rebekah is God's gift to Isaac. God's blessings are seen throughout this story, which helps us to remember that God's many blessings are God's gifts to us and we should be grateful. Prosperity is not a reward of faithfulness. Many faithful people are not rich materially or financially. But those who have prospered should see it as a gift from God and be thankful.
     God delights in our happiness and joy and we are to be grateful. This story should inspire gratitude, not calculation of God's terms for a hassle-free, comfortable life.  We are grateful that God provides us with good things to enjoy, loving relationships to cherish, faith to lift us up. We should give thanks to God when life goes well, knowing that our earthly joys and successes are of great interest to God.
     But as we know, our lives will not always be enjoyable and pain-free. Why should we expect it to be? We are continually being formed in God's image. Given all the awful things going on in this world, why should we be spared from the chaos and the complexities, sickness and violence that we have in this life? Aren't we called to follow in the path of Jesus? He endured insults, hatred, violence and death.
     God's love for us does not stop when our lives become difficult, when we have to endure pain or sickness or death; when our hopes crumble and our lives become dark. God's love and strength are there to hold us up, to remind us of God's unceasing love for us.
     In our gospel lesson today, Jesus says, "Come to me you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you . 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." God shares our burdens with us, just as he rejoices in our happiness.
     The story of Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah and the servant is important because it reminds us of God's many blessings. The opportunities in life that surprise us, the comforts in life we enjoy, plans that flow together, love that surrounds us, gifts that come to us - all these are gifts from God, not anything we earned or anything we are entitled to. When God gives us earthly hopes and happiness, we should be grateful and not take such joys for granted. And when we do, we are more ready to deal with the difficult parts of our lives when they come our way. For God who is with us in the good times is also with us in the difficult times.
     Abraham endured the terror and heartbreak of God asking him to kill his only son Isaac, the story we heard last Sunday. The story we heard today is of Abraham's hopes and dreams realized, as the servant finds a wife for Isaac and his descendants will continue. God's covenant with Abraham will be fulfilled.
      As the stories in Genesis continue, come back next week to hear about Jacob and Esau, the twins born to Isaac and Rebekah, and the selling of the first born's birthright. God works in, through, and sometimes around these biblical characters and we still have much to learn about God from these ancient stories. Amen.

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