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Pentecost 3 Proper 9 July 3, 2011

Pentecost 3 Proper 9A RCL July 3, 2011

Genesis 24: 34-38. 42-49. 58-67
Psalm 45: 11-18
Romans 7: 15-25a
Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30

Our reading from the Hebrew scriptures today tells the story of how Abraham finds a wife for his beloved son, Isaac. The psalm is a song for a royal wedding. Our passage from Romans is Paul’s honest and insightful account of the struggles of the spiritual journey. We want to do God’s will, but, in spite of our best efforts, we do fail. Sometimes we get into recurring patterns of doing what we do not want to do and not doing what we know is right. At such times especially, God’s grace is the only thing that can break the chain and get us back on track. In our gospel, Jesus tells us that he is here to help us carry our burdens. It is a yoke for two oxen, a double yoke. We don’t have to do it alone.

This morning I want to try to shed some light on the first lesson. This passage has not appeared in our lectionary until the development of the Revised Common Lectionary which we adopted for use only in 2008.

If we read the part of Genesis which precedes this passage, and we look at the part right after God has spared Abraham from sacrificing Isaac we learn that Abraham has found out that, back in Haran, Abraham and Sarah’s home, Abraham’s brother, Nahor, has married a woman named Milcah, and they have had several children. One of these children, Bethuel, has become the father of a young woman named Rebekah.

Then Sarah dies, and Abraham arranges for her burial. Abraham is now old. God has richly blessed him, and he wants to be sure that God’s promise of descendants as numerous as the stars will come true.

So he asks his most trusted servant, who is not named but we think it is his servant Eliezer, to go back to Haran and pick a wife for Isaac from their home tribe and family. He does not want Isaac to marry one of the Canaanite women because they do not believe in Abraham’s God. Abraham also does not want Isaac to go back to Haran. He wants Isaac to stay in the promised land, so he tells Eliezer that an angel of the Lord will go with him and guide him on this mission. Abraham tells his servant that he should, with God’s guidance, pick out a woman to be Isaac’s wife, but, if the woman does not want to come back to Canaan with Eliezer, he should abort the mission. And he will be free from the oath he is about to take. Eliezer takes a solemn oath to carry out his master’s wishes.

So Eliezer takes ten of his master’s camels and all kinds of choice gifts from his master, and he sets out for the town of Nahor, which is near Haran. When he arrives, he makes the camels kneel outside the city near the well. It is toward evening, and the young women will come to draw water. Eliezer prays to God, and he says, “Let the girl to whom I shall say, ‘Please offer me your jar, so that I may drink,’ and she shall say,’Drink, and I shall water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac.”

Along comes Rebekah, with her water jar upon her shoulder, and the scripture says that she is very fair to look upon. She fills up her jar, and Eliezer asks her for a drink, and, sure enough, she offers him a drink and says she will water his camels, and the scripture says, Eliezer  “gazed upon her in silence to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.” (Gen. 24:21.)

As you can see from the passage which Lori has read, everything went according to plan, and we need to remember that Eliezer is trusting in God’s guidance every step of the way. This is the next step in carrying out God’s promise—to find the wife God intends for Isaac.

Rebekah has extended hospitality to Eliezer on behalf of her father, Bethuel, and now Eliezer has come to their home and is asking for Rebekah’s hand in marriage on behalf of his masters, Abraham and Isaac. Here we have to add a note about courtship in 1600 B.C. E. As one scholar puts it, the well is the singles bar in each town. The young men go to the well. The young women are drawing water.  The young man, of course, usually knows the young woman and what family she comes from; he asks her to marry him, gives her some appropriate gifts, and goes to her father’s house, whereupon the father would usually, if he feels this young man is a good match, just hand over his daughter to be married.

This is not the case in our story, Rebekah is given the privilege of choosing whether she wants to marry Isaac.  She is given a great deal of power in this account. She chooses to go to Canaan and sets out with her retinue.

They finally come upon Isaac in the Negeb. He is walking in the field in the cool of the evening. Rebekah sees him and asks who the man is. Eliezer says that it is his master. Isaac has become his master. The leadership is passing from one generation to the next. Isaac and Rebekah do not actually run across the field into each other’s arms, but they might well have done so. Eliezer tells Isaac the details of the journey, and all is well. Isaac brings Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and the rest, as they say, is history. And there is another very important point. This is not just another arranged marriage, as was the custom in those days. The text says of Isaac, “He loved her.”

As with the story of Abraham and Isaac, this story points out an increased level of understanding of several things. First, this marriage comes about as a result of God’s guidance. Eliezer, the faithful servant, is praying throughout the journey and seeking God’s will. Secondly, Rebekah is respected. Her father asks her what her wishes are. Her husband loves her.  She has a voice. She is a woman of substance.

But the major point is that every step in this story is taken with the guidance of God. What a wonderful example for us to follow. What a faithful servant of God and of his master Eliezer proves himself to be.

As Paul eloquently describes it, our journey is sometimes a struggle. Thanks be to God for the gift of grace. With God’s grace, following in the footsteps of our Lord can be, and often is, a journey of joy.

May we seek God’s guidance as faithfully as did Eliezer; may we seek and do God’s will with God’s grace. May we let our Lord Jesus be our partner in the shared yoke of obedience.

                            Amen

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