July 9, 2017 Sermon Pentecost 5
Simply A Love Story
We’ve been looking at stories about Abraham and Sarah the last few weeks. I’ve reminded us that we should read these as stories, because that’s what they are. The Bible is a library of stories, written by different authors at different times in history, covering a span of some 1200 years.
Now, to be fair, not everything in the Bible is a story. There are parables and poems, songs and genealogies, laws and letters and bits of history. All kinds of literature, and all of them pointing somehow to God. This is how our ancestors in the faith tried to figure out how God is present in life.
Some of the stories are fun; some tell of everyday human actions like love and betrayal, hope and loss; some stories are horrifying, like the story of the binding of Isaac. Some are love stories, and others are letters. Many of the stories are playful. Some of the stories are even told two or three times, and usually they’re told differently. It’s what you would expect of a good story—it never stays exactly the same.
These stories were first told by our ancestors in the faith. In other words, they were oral; they were only written down centuries later. If you can imagine our ancient ancestors in the faith sitting around their fires at night, telling stories about their origins and ancestors—then you get a sense of how these stories began.
The purpose of these stories was to try to find ways of talking about how God was present and active in their lives. So when they tell a story about creation, they also understood that God was still at work, creating them. As God called their ancestors, so God was calling them. As God was involved in the lives of those who went before them, so God continues to be involved in our life.
In other words, these are not just stories about way back then. They are stories about now. This is who we are. This is our God. We are people who belong to this God.
One of the things that makes our Bible different from any other kind of religious story is that these stories tell about a God who gets involved in human life. Other religions affirm a distant God, an all–powerful God who stands above the petty affairs of human life, a God who is untouched by our lives.
But not the Bible. We tell stories about a God who cares—about our lives, who cares about creation, and who demands that we also care about one another and about all the other creatures of this wonderful creation. We tell stories about a God who gets involved with us, It is, after all, one of the names given to Jesus—Immanuel, which means “God with us”.
Sometimes in these stories, God is front and centre. Other times, God is hiding in the shadows. The book of Esther, for example, never mentions the name of God. Not once. The story of Joseph, one of Abraham’s great–grandsons, hardly ever mentions God, except when Joseph talks about his trust in God.
Today’s story is like that. Sarah died. She was 127. Abraham is old too; it’s time to make sure that the next generation will continue the story. So Abraham calls his most trusted servant and gives him a mission. “Go back to the place I first came from, to my kin. Find a wife for Isaac there.”
It’s a pretty vague set of instructions, but away the servant goes. He reaches the city, and stops at a well outside the gates. He prays, “God, if I ask a woman for a drink, and she responds ‘Drink, and let me also water your camels,’ then let her be the one.”
It’s kind of like saying, “God if I find a parking spot in front of the CD store, let that be a sign that you want me to go in.”
And it happens exactly that way. Rebekah comes to the well. She is stunningly beautiful. She offers the servant a drink, and then waters his camels as well. She’s the one! It’s a sign from God, right?
The servant offered her the gifts he had brought—two arm bracelets, and a nose ring. (I’m not going to say a word about that. Not. A. Word.)
She runs back home to tell everyone what had happened. The family invites the servant to stay, offering hospitality as was expected. And, in good story–telling style, the servant tells the whole story again, from Abraham sending him off, to his prayer at the well, to seeing Rebekah. “And I praised God for leading me here.”
Rebekah’s brother Laban responds, “This is totally God’s doing. We have no say. Rebekah is yours. Take her, and may God bless you.”
The next morning Abraham’s servant and Rebekah leave for home. The story ends with Isaac seeing her as they come close. Isaac and Rebekah were married. The story ends on this simple note: “She became his wife and he loved her.”
Now some people want to make more of this story than it is. I found a long essay online entitled, “How to Find a Godly Wife”—as if this story were God’s instruction manual for finding a spouse.
I don’t believe that for a moment.
It’s an ordinary story, a simple love story, with God very much behind the scenes. It comes from ordinary human experience. It’s the kind of story we might tell about meeting someone at a bar or coffee shop or a dance. Ordinary stuff.
When these stories were first told, no one thought that they’d become “Holy Scripture”. They were simply stories about ancestors, and stories about God working in their lives.
And just as we might say when we are celebrating a 50th anniversary, “It was meant to be…”, so our ancestors in the faith tell this story looking back and seeing God’s loving purposes in the story. God was there, active behind the scenes. It’s a story about providence and guidance. It’s a story about God’s promises being fulfilled. It’s a story about blessing.
Our responsive reading this morning comes from the Song of Songs. It’s a wonderful, erotic love story. We only read the cleaned–up bits, but if you read the whole Song, it gets pretty racy.
Ordinary stories. Simple love stories. And yet, for those who have eyes to see, our extraordinary God is at work in the ordinary stories of our lives. For those who have hearts to trust, our God is present and active in our lives and in our world.
So, as you look back over your life, where has God been at work? Can you see moments when you felt the rush of God’s love? Were there moments of sorrow and disappointment where now you can say, “I learned something important”? Do you have eyes and hearts which have seen and experienced the love of God at different times in your lives?
God is there. We are in the presence of the divine, in the presence of the holy. Because here’s the thing—God is involved with us. God is deeply committed to God’s people. God is with us.
And that’s a very good thing.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
July 9, 2017 (5th Sunday after Pentecost / Proper 14)
Genesis 24: 34–38, 42–49, 58–67
Song of Songs 2: 8–13
Romans 7: 15–25a
Matthew 11: 16–19, 25–30