Faith United Methodist Church
July 9, 2017
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Psalm 45:10-17
Prayer for Illumination:
Abraham and Sarah heard God’s call and traveled where God led. Rebekah heard God’s call and traveled to Isaac as God led. The God of our ancestors calls to us even now. May we travel where God leads in the name of Jesus the Christ who strengthens us for the journey. Amen.
Sermon: A Match Made in….. Nahor
Today, in our Family Stories series, we have a love story. It may not be the kind of story that we expect, with our modern day understanding of love. Isaac and Rebekah didn’t meet at a bar on single’s night. They didn’t message each other on Match.com. Their eyes didn’t lock over the coffeemaker at work. Their love story was more of the ‘arranged’ variety. Abraham decided that it was time for his forty-year-old son to settle down, so he sent his servant back home to the city of Nahor in the country of Haran to pick a wife for Isaac from his family clan.
In those days it was often the families that set these things up, taking into account dowries and clan relations. Not very romantic. Custom even required that, once betrothed, the groom wasn’t supposed to see the face of his bride until the wedding night. (We’ll see later how that got Jacob into trouble when, intending to marry Rachel he married Leah instead. But that’s a story for another day.)
Today we see Isaac, the long-awaited and much beloved son of Abraham and Sarah, take another step toward the promise as he welcomes a wife and settles down as a family man. We may wonder why Isaac waited so long. As the bearer of the promise one might think he would want to get the promise going. Let’s get this party started! If one is going to be the father of multitudes, one better start having babies. But Isaac, at forty-years-old, lived seemingly as a bachelor, a loner, moving around, tending his flocks and herds.
Isaac’s reluctance to settle may have had something to do with what we talked about last week, Abraham’s near sacrifice of him. Maybe Isaac had some trust issues having been nearly killed by his own father, at God’s instruction no less. Maybe Isaac didn’t think love was a real thing, having been hurt so badly by one who supposedly loved him. At the end of today’s lesson we find Isaac coming from the land of Beer-lahai-roi to the Negeb. Beer-lahai-roi is the land associated with his step-mother Hagar, the land she and Ishmael went to when fleeing Sarah’s anger. Isaac having just been to Beer-lahai-roi brings up memories of another of Abraham’s questionable actions, the banishment of Isaac’s own half-brother.
With family like this, who needs enemies, right? And neither was Sarah, Isaac’s mother, blameless. But she did, it seems, hold a place in Isaac’s heart. For it was at her death that Abraham sent for, and Isaac accepted, a wife.
So far we’ve talked a lot about Isaac, but Rebekah is no wall-flower in this story. In fact, most of the story we read this morning is about her and her family. Rebekah has variously been described as generous, compassionate, full of energy, and courageous with a sense of adventure. In fact, in this story, and throughout their marriage, Rebekah really over-shadowed Isaac. She was a strong woman who usually got what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to take a chance.
And it appears that Rebekah’s family had great respect for her. When her father and brother were deciding whether to send Rebekah to Cana to marry Isaac they came up with a novel idea. Let’s ask her! Rebekah was allowed to speak for herself, which certainly was not always the case for women of that day and place. And, when her family tried to stall her departure she decided that she would leave immediately and go with Abraham’s servant to meet Isaac. The only source of support she brought along with her was her nurse. So Rebekah, by her own choosing, left her family at a young age to be with a virtual stranger. That the story of a woman is recorded in such detail in the Bible speaks to the power of Rebekah’s personality.
At the end of the four-hundred-mile journey, when Rebekah and Isaac finally meet Rebekah, again, took the lead. Upon seeing a man walking in the field ahead Rebekah slipped from her camel, covered her face and presented herself to him. We are told that Isaac took her into his mother, Sarah’s, tent and she became his wife. The scripture affirms, “Isaac loved her and was comforted after his mother’s death.” With Sarah gone, Rebekah became the matriarch of the family, the mother of multitudes.
While God’s voice is not heard directly in this passage, I believe that God was present in bringing Isaac and Rebekah together. With all that Isaac had been through, God knew Isaac needed a strong, compassionate, generous, adventurous wife. And that is what the servant found when he met Rebekah at the well in Nahor. A woman willing to draw water to quench his thirst, as well as the thirst of his camels. It’s a little thing, but it points to the spirit of Rebekah. A spirit that would bring life back to Isaac’s existence. A spirit that would carry on the promise.
So I wonder, when God has worked in the life of your family to provide comfort and hope after despair? I wonder how God has expanded your family tree with just the right person at just the right time? What is the love story – be it a marriage, the birth of a child, the support of a sibling – that changed the course of your life?
The story of Isaac and Rebekah is a story about meeting strangers who become family. It is a story about leaving home in order to find a home. It is a story about the power of love that comforts and heals grief. It is a unique story about two people who lived thousands of years ago. And it is a universal story of God bringing together people to love each other and, thus, bless the world. Thanks be to God who blessed us through the love of Isaac and Rebekah. Thanks be to God who uses us to continue to bless the world. Amen.