Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Anne Kennedy.
YrA P5 9 July 2017 (with thanks to Helen Phillips) 8am
May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
Yesterday afternoon, I opened the USB stick that Roberta had left for me – one on which she had put the service today, and the services for the next two weeks. Time and again I tried to open it and all it would say was that the file was corrupted!
So I had to start again – or I could go back over the Powerpoint services that Helen Phillips had so carefully filed during her time with us as St Dunstan’s. I was so grateful when I discovered the 5th Sunday after Pentecost 2014 was safely filed, and all I had to do was change the hymns, basically. That meant I saved several hours work.
As I looked at the service, I discovered she had preached on the first lesson, and the slides she had prepared were so good that I decided that they should be used at least once more.
If you remember this sermon, word for word, please forgive me, but let’s take a look at who Isaac and Rebekah were and how they came to be in our readings today. This is a very abridged version of the family tree, but you can read the full version in Genesis, and a newer version at the beginning of Matthew.
*We know that Abraham and Sarah were very old when they had Isaac and he was a very precious child. Last week we heard how Abraham was so obedient to his Lord that he took Isaac to sacrifice him on a fire. But God provided a ram for the sacrifice at the last minute.
Sarah died eventually, and Abraham, remember he was not a local landowner, but an alien in a foreign land, bought land in the area of the Hittites so that he could bury Sarah in land he did own.
*So now, very old and nearing his own death, he had one last thing to do. Find a wife for Isaac. You’ll remember that God promised that he would father generations – so it was imperative that he found the right woman to be Isaac’s wife. As we read so much in early writings, women were treated as chattels, and marriages were arranged as much to provide descendants as they were to bind tribes together, and add property they inherited to wealthy landowners holdings. But often in the Bible, we read that these marriages did end in true love and respect for each other and Abraham and Sarah were no exception to this.
For Abraham to achieve his goal in life, he sent his oldest and most trusted servant back to Abraham and Sarah’s homeland to find a wife for Isaac from his own clan.
*It was a long journey, (as you can see on the map) from the Hebron area right up to Haran, in today’s world, near the border of Syria and Turkey – around 600 kilometres on foot and camel.
*He didn’t go empty handed, but took many gifts to encourage the woman, who he would be asking to leave her family and her life as it was, to accompany him for many days on the back of a camel, and eventually arrive to be the bride of a man she had never met. Gifts might work – but how was he going to discern who was the right woman for Isaac? To begin the work of producing the first of many generations of offspring, she had to be strong – and she had to be a strong person to withstand homesickness in a totally strange land. But this faithful servant worked out what he’d do.
* If the servant stayed at the well until sundown, when the women traditionally drew water in the cool of the evening, he would ask one for a drink. If she responded favourably, and offered to give his camels water as well, he would know that she was of good character.
*If it turned out that in discussion she mentioned that she was from Abraham and Isaac’s own clan, he would immediately know that this was the woman he was seeking. Then all he had to do was to convince her to return with him and marry Isaac. And it happened – she came to the well, gave the servant a drink, and then offered to also give water to the camels.
* In the Middle East, as in Asia and Africa, and probably parts of South America, the well is the life-source of the people. Often there is no other water available, so the well becomes the centre of the community – animals are brought to be watered, the women gather water for their families. It’s not easy carrying jars or buckets of water by hand, let alone on your head – but that’s what the women did then, and still do now in many places – while the men had the difficult task of watching flocks graze – oh, and I guess, fighting off the marauding lions on occasions!
*Back to the story of Rebekah – it turned out well for the servant, she was indeed one of Abraham’s family. He put a ring in her nose and gave her jewellery, and she took him home to meet the family.
*He received a very warm welcome, and over a meal he explained the reason for his journey, and how God had brought him to find Rebekah. He asked if it was alright for him to take Rebekah back with him, to marry Isaac. The family decided to think on this for a while, and after a week or so they agreed.
*So Rebekah set out with the trusted servant, to marry Isaac.
“How do you think Rebekah felt about her prospective marriage? Why? Think about how different marriage was then.
*Step one – betrothal. Today there is usually a ring involved, but not one for one’s nose! Symbolically, the nose ring and the bracelets, indicated that one was betrothed, promised to someone in marriage. When we were at Petra in Jordan, one of the simple shops there near the Treasury had lovely old silver wedding bracelets for sale, but I settled for a pair of earings. The shop, incidentally was run by a New Zealand born nurse who married a Beduoin man, and she became the only medical go-to person for miles around the area. I’d read her autobiography which I happened to buy early in the trip, and I asked her to sign the book. I’m happy to lend it if you are interested.
Step two – submission. As a sign that she was ready for marriage, Rebekah covered her face with her veil when she saw Isaac approaching when they reached Hebron – I guess that is where our tradition of veiled brides walking down the aisle comes from – if they still do it!
Step three – consummation. As Isaac takes Rebekah into Sarah’s tent, their marriage is complete and she becomes the matriarch, the head woman of the tribe. Abraham has completed his life’s work – to get Isaac a suitable wife. He marries another woman and has six more sons.
*Finally Abraham dies and is buried with Sarah, but not before he gave his blessing to Isaac leaving all he had to him. He gave gifts to his sons by his secondary wives, sending them away so that Isaac could be the leader of the clan. Ishmael reappears to help Isaac bury their father, according to the book of Genesis, but this might be a redaction, or a later addition. Isaac, now the leader of the clan is responsible for the Covenant.
*We could read this as a good story and leave it at that. But there are some key themes which we can recognize as we go through it.
- Faithfulness to God and the Covenant – handed down through Noah’s family through to Isaac and right through the many generations to Jesus who gives us the new Covenant.
- Working with what life gave them – allowing God’s purpose to come about through their life choices
- It’s often difficult to see the activity of God until we reflect back
- Sometimes it is really important to find the right person for the Job – especially when it comes to serving God – found this when seeking a new vicar for our parish – we had to wait until God provided the right person.
- Discerning of gifts and strengths is important
- Being willing to move beyond our comfort zones is the step to life-changing ventures – are we prepared to do this? Have you done this?
- Nothing stands in isolation – all works together (Romans 8:28) We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.
- Sometimes we do feel very insignificant, and powerless, but God can and does work through each individual – you and me.
- As we sometimes despair at the apathy of the community towards Jesus Christ and the work of the churches, think about the people in our story this morning. None of these people knew that they were building towards the future kingdom of God through Christ – but they were – and so are we. Amen!