God Guides Us for God's Purposes

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, July 5, 2020
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

    I want you to think about a time when you were really sick.  Maybe you felt you were even close to death, or doctors told you, you were close to death.  I have only been hospitalized once in my life other than when I gave birth, and I find it’s often harder to remember what it felt like to be so sick and in so much pain after the fact.  Women joke that’s why they’re able to have more children – they forget about how painful the childbirth experience was and remember the joy of the baby infant instead!  What I remember about those times I was really sick and in pain more so than those feelings is telling myself that it would be over – knowing that I would feel better, that I would get better, and then eventually…I was better.  
    Here we are in our fifth month of a global pandemic, with some signs of hope and relief in Phase 3 here in New York, even while we may have to brace another wave and see cases rising around the country.  We encourage one another with words like, “This too, shall pass.”  “This isn’t forever,” and we do have the joy of worshipping together in-person and celebrating communion, even if worship looks and feels differently than “normal” today.  For me, this time has been like a long illness where we feel a little better and a little worse at times, but always knowing that life will get better.  We need these good-news stories of scripture to sustain us and reminds us that God is faithful!  Today’s first reading and these words from Jesus, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” encourages us to remember that life will get better, and our hope remains in Christ and God’s eternal promises to us.
    Last week we struggled together over the difficult story of the sacrifice of Isaac, and I reminded you all that Isaac’s story gets better.  And because Isaac’s story gets better, our story can get better, too.  God is trustworthy, and God provides.  What better proof of this than this classic love story of Isaac and Rebekah.  Life has gotten a LOT better for Isaac, in fact.  The hand of the Lord guiding Abraham’s servant and Rebekah to bring she and Isaac together is both romantic and miraculous.  Before eHarmony and match.com, God has been the eternal matchmaker, bringing couples together for God’s purposes. The story is long, and so I would recommend that you go back and read all of Genesis 24 if you can for the full story, but suffice it to say we also get a detailed glimpse into the cultural customs and realities of life for the people of Abraham and Isaac’s time.  Apparently nose rings were in fashion. Marriages were arranged between families and within families (Rebekah was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother).  People traveled on camels and donkeys.  And of course, there was no running water, so part of a woman’s job was to carry water for the household and livestock from a well.
    Now, we know from many other stories in scripture how important water is as a symbol of God’s lifegiving salvation for us, most importantly in baptism.  And this water from this well is an important symbol for Abraham’s servant and Rebekah to know that this is not just a chance encounter: God is bringing them together for a purpose.  Abraham’s servant prays to God that a woman who gives water not only to him but also to his ten camels will be the woman Isaac is supposed to marry.  Quite humorously, while it seems obvious to us, it seems to take the servant awhile to be sure that Rebekah is the One.  Watering ten camels couldn’t have been an easy or quick task, and yet he waits until she is finished to discover that yes, God has led him to the right woman for Isaac.
    God has led Isaac to Rebekah – life is getting better.  But this story is not just about God bringing two people together into a loving relationship of marriage, which in itself was not all that common that Isaac and Rebekah would actually love one another and have a happy arranged marriage.  This is also about God bringing two people together for a much larger purpose:  God will continue the promise that he first gave to Abraham and Sarah to multiply a nation and enlarge a family who will worship him and proclaim the Lord as the one true God of heaven and earth.  We will see next week how Rebekah and Isaac’s marriage will produce the next generation of Jacob and Esau, Jacob will be named Israel, and thus the nation and people of Israel is formed.  The three major world religions still today look to Abraham as their founding father – we sometimes refer to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity as the Abrahamic faiths.  God’s purposes are often much larger than they seem at first.  God’s blessings are for Isaac and Rebekah, but they extend all the way down the line to us, today!
    What’s remarkable about this story of God bringing Isaac and Rebekah together is that everyone from Laban and Bethuel to Abraham’s servant, Rebekah, and Isaac themselves recognize that God is leading this couple to each other, and that God has a bigger purpose in mind for this family.  Today, it is easy to write-off coincidences or things that happen in our lives as insignificant to God.  On the other hand, we might thank God for little things like finding a good parking spot, without thinking of how God might be at work in a bigger-picture way for the sake of others and really for the sake of the whole world.  And so today, you might reflect on your own marriage – how you met your spouse, what qualities you still love about them (even in this pandemic time of too much closeness!) and how your marriage relationship might contribute to God’s larger purposes (now that’s a big question)! For those of you who are not married, what are other times in your lives that you have seen God at work and God’s hand guiding you toward a larger purpose?  And for all of us, how is God encouraging us, from the wells of our faith, that life WILL get better?
    We have a God who guides us and who is worth following, thanks be to God. And so Jesus asks us to take up this invitation today:  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  Amen.