Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Honest Mirror

Genesis 29:15-28
July 27, 2014
© 2014

In her comments on the story of Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel, Kathryn Schifferdecker who teaches Old Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota says, “The swapping of brides on a wedding night (not to mention the fact that Jacob doesn't notice the switch until morning) would seem to be strange fodder for a sermon.”
When I started preaching with you, I said that we’d use the lectionary selections, albeit flexibly, to listen for a word from God for us. I must admit that though the story is familiar, hearing something I could understand as a word from God was harder than usual. I encourage you listen for God yourself and not take my words as God’s.
Two weeks ago as we watched the struggle between Esau and Jacob, we saw how God’s gracious, sovereign will was accomplished through the free will of flawed people. This week we see that God didn’t leave Jacob stranded with his flaws but was remaking him to be a suitable bearer of the Abrahamic covenant to bless all people.
As I have tried to live into this story of the polygamous marriages of Jacob, Leah and Rachel – looking ahead to adding their maids to this convoluted story – the word I am getting is that God’s gracious, unconditional love accepts us as we are and persistently prods us to grow up into Christ.
When Rebekah learned that Esau was planning to kill Jacob after Isaac died, she prepared to send him to her brother Laban for his safety. (Genesis 27:43) Independently, Isaac sent Jacob to his uncle Laban with specific instructions to marry one of his daughters. (Genesis 28:2) When Jacob met Rachel at the well, he responded with emotional tears and kisses (Genesis 29:11) I wonder if it was the same well where Eliezer found Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife. The text doesn’t say this, but I imagine him thinking, “Wow! She’s beautiful. Having her for a wife would be just great!” She seems to have responded positively too by running to tell her father. (Genesis 29:12) Laban ran to embrace and kiss Jacob. (Genesis 29:13) They seemed to be off to a great start for everyone.
But, yes, but! The sibling rivalry and family favoritism that fueled the disruptions in Jacob’s family in Canaan followed him to Haran and Laban’s family. This is a classic example of a basic principle of pastoral counseling. You cannot run away from your problems by changing locations (or spouses, or neighborhoods, or jobs). You carry them with you. Or as Cassius says in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”
What we read today is just the beginning of a story that would do the consummate soap opera writer proud. Jacob discovered that his uncle and father-in-law was a bigger cheat, sneak, swindler than he was. What seemed to be a good faith offer of fair pay for work seems to have been a scheme to marry off the less appealing daughter. He treated both Leah and Rachel as commodities, not at all the way the family treated Rebekah when she agreed to become Isaac’s wife. Seemingly to compensate for not being loved, God gave Leah children while Rachel remained childless for a long time. Starting with Rachel, the two sisters enlisted their maids to engage in a baby making contest and barter for Jacob’s attention with vegetables with legendary fertility qualities. As Laban’s flocks grew under Jacob’s care, Jacob began to build his own flocks, which were grazed a distance from each other. Though Laban kept changing the terms, with God’s blessing and apparent selective breeding, Jacob’s flocks became stronger and stronger, out-stripping Laban’s. Animosity and the call of God propelled Jacob to take his now large family and flocks back to Canaan. For whatever reason, Rachel stole her father’s family idols, which only added to the tension between Laban and Jacob. So they made a covenant to stay away from each other. On the journey to Canaan, God’s angels again met Jacob, and he called the place “God’s Camp.” Jacob was reminded of being encountered by God at Bethel, that we looked at last week, and assured that God had been with him during the difficult years in Haran, remaking him into a suitable leader to carry on the covenant with Abraham. And affirming that God would continue to be with him.

Laban was God’s mirror held up to Jacob so he could take an honest look at himself. Unlike the wicked queen in Snow White, who tried to kill the “fairest of them all” when the mirror answered honestly, Jacob was reshaped bit by bit as Laban banged up against his rough edges. James 1:23-24 also used the mirror as a motif for the Word of God that shows us as we are. We can choose to walk away and forget what we’ve seen or make amends when God’s gracious, unconditional love accepts us as we are and persistently prods us to grow up into Christ.
Have you ever recognized yourself in something that annoys you about someone else? I know I have. The story of Jacob and Laban tells us that this can be God’s way of getting us to grow up into Christ by taking an honest look at ourselves.
In the physical realm, coaches and trainers remind athletes that “no pain – no gain.” Similarly, while God’s unconditional love accepts us with all of our flaws, to leave us stuck with our shortcomings would not be love but cruelty. So even though an honest look in God’s spiritual mirror can be painful, it is lovingly intended to stimulate our growth to become more like Jesus.
The New Testament frequently speaks of growing up into Christ. I’ve posted several passages on the church’s Facebook page, on my blog and on Twitter at #FCCSUNDAY for you to explore that further. And I am intrigued at the three times the New Testament uses the image of milk as an encouragement for spiritual growth.

  • 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 “I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready.”
  • Hebrews 5:12-14 “You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.”
  • 1 Peter 2:2 “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.”
Since God’s gracious, unconditional love accepts us as we are and persistently prods us to grow up into Christ, none of us can use “that’s just the way I am” as an excuse for not growing toward Christ.
As I have reflected on this story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel, I have sensed God asking me to identify my growing edges where God is currently working to remake me. That exploration filled about 8 pages of my personal spiritual journal. I ask you the same question. What are your growing edges where God is remaking you?
Laban was God’s tool for remaking Jacob. Who are the annoying people in your life whom God may be using to remake you as they bang up against your rough edges? They don’t have to be people you necessarily think of as good spiritual examples. Laban certainly wasn’t. But with the right attitude, you can thank God for the gift of using them to help you grow up into Christ.
I know very well that the interim journey can be an uncomfortable, difficult time not just for the church as a community of faith, but for individuals as well. Uncertainty and competing and even conflicting hopes for the church's future can either push us to resist or open us up to God’s reconstruction in our lives. For this church, improvised summer worship adds to the discomfort. After the Praise Medley drawn from the first service, the rest of the service follows the plan of the second service. But the fit isn’t always smooth. We’re tweaking it every week to try to make it work as well as possible. Before long, we’ll be back to the regular schedule. Worshiping in a place and at a time we're not used to also keeps us off balance. The renovations in Fellowship Hall bring both anticipation and anxiety. I suggest the story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel encourages us to ask how God is using our discomforts to help up grow up into Christ.
We all need an honest spiritual mirror so God can remake us. The pastor of the church I served in New Jersey preached about the dangers of “hidden faults” and quoted Psalm 19:12. “Who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.” After the sermon, one of the Elders said to the pastor, “I don’t think I have any hidden faults. I think I know all the faults I’ve got.” To which the pastor responded, “The problem with hidden faults is that they are hidden.” Just as Laban was God’s mirror to help Jacob recognize and amend his faults, God sends us people, circumstances, and yes Scripture, as spiritual mirrors to prod us to grow up into Christ.

Growth Verses

Romans 8:29
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 

Romans 12:2
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

1 Corinthians 3:1
And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.

Ephesians 4:14-15
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

Hebrews 5:12-14
You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. 

Hebrews 13:21
make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

James 1:4
and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

1 Peter 2:2
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—

2 Peter 3:18
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Waking Up at the Gate of Heaven

Genesis 28:10-19a
July 20, 2014
© 2014
Jacob's Dream
William Blake
We just read about Jacob waking from his dream and exclaiming, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” Whether from sleep or spiritual stupor, have you ever awakened to discover God was right there with you?”
The last night of a high school mission trip our evening activity was small groups performing brief skits to represent the week. The first one was funny, and without planning, each one was more serious than the previous. The last group reenacted Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and then washed the feet of the whole group. In the quiet that persisted when they were done, one of the guys who projected an “I’m too cool for youth group” attitude and didn’t come often said, “Oh wow! God really is here!”
Close to death and knowing that the covenant promise would be fulfilled through Jacob, Isaac blessed him and sent him to Rebekah’s brother Laban to get a wife from the clan. Esau was planning to kill Jacob when Isaac died. With his mother’s help, Jacob not only obeyed his father’s wishes, but fled for his life from his brother. Seemingly by chance, Jacob came to a certain specific place where he dreamed of a stairway to heaven and woke to the realization the Lord was in this awesome place.
Just like Jacob, on your journey, God is beside you in every place whether you are awake to know it or not.
Do you have some personal sacred spaces you go to where you expect God to meet you?
Ancient Celtic Christians spoke of “thin places” where this world and eternity were so close together you could hear or see from one to the other. Dawn and dusk, when it is neither day nor night, are such holy times every day. The Benedictine hours of Lauds to start the day with praise and Vespers to end the day with prayer reflect this rhythm. Sacred spaces may be adorned with symbols of previous encounters with God, such as this church’s cross walls and the Good Shepherd window in the chapel.
Jacob apparently accidently stumbled into a place that was already recognized as a sanctuary, perhaps a solitary rocky peak. He unwittingly takes a stone for a pillow, which was sometimes done by those desiring an oracle from God. The “ladder” may have been like a stairway up the side of a Mesopotamian ziggurat that Abraham would have been familiar with from Ur. That would have symbolized a sacred connection between earth and heaven. Unlike pagan ziggurats, such as the Tower of Babel that were human efforts to climb to heaven, Jacob’s ladder was God coming to earth to visit a human.
The Elders did some thinking about what makes a sacred space when talking about renovating Fellowship Hall, which had once been this church’s sanctuary, to become a worship center without losing its multi-functionality. The stained glass windows were obviously critical. The arches are being played up for a sacred focus on the chancel. Some of a place’s sacredness comes from the celebration of important events such as baptisms, weddings, funerals and holy days such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. After Jacob’s encounter with God, Bethel continued to be an important sacred place for Israel until the destruction of the Northern Kingdom over 1,000 years later.
Jacob’s journey to a relationship with God poses a haunting question for us. Has your journey taken you from believing in God to an intimate relationship with God?
Several times in the 13 months I’ve been with you, I’ve quoted Father Thomas Hopko, retired Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in New York. He told the students preparing for ministry that his mother’s advice applied to them: if you want to grow as a Christian, read your Bible, say your prayers and go to church. These are at the core of all the spiritual disciples of every Christian tradition from every time of Church history. And sometimes as we sleepwalk through them, we wake up and discover that God is standing beside us and we did not know it. We feel the awe of being in the dwelling of God at the very gate of heaven.
When Jacob deceived his father Isaac into giving him the covenant blessing, thinking he was Esau returned quickly from the hunt, Isaac asked how he had been so fast. Jacob answered, “The Lord your God granted me success.” (Genesis 27:20) But now, after being personally encountered by God, Jacob said, “The Lord shall be my God.” (Genesis 28:21) As we shall see in the next two Sundays, God had a long-term plan for reshaping Jacob, but he was a changed man after being encountered by God at Bethel. His journey took a new, though not easy, direction.
Our faith often consists of theological convictions and religious practices. Those are important and can bring us to a sacred space or time when we awaken and discover that God has been beside us all along. Then, like Jacob, our journeys take a new turn toward an intimate relationship with God who is beside us in every place whether we are awake to know it or not. Among everything else, our spiritual disciplines and religious practices are transformed. We get a great picture of this from Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) whose book The Practice of the Presence of God records his spiritual insights while working in the kitchen in the Carmelite Priory in Paris. While the better educated monks did the “important” work of study, meditation, prayer and ministry, he washed pots and pans, and in his later years made sandals. He did recognize that his work enabled the other monks to engage in monastic disciplines from which he was excluded. We have no record of the insights of the higher monks, but we have his little book that records his friendship with Jesus who stood beside him in the kitchen.
What hints and clues let you know that Jesus is standing beside you?
I love one episode in C. S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, from The Chronicles of Narnia. The Dawn Treader is the ship sailing to the edge of the world with the children who have come to Narnia from England. They arrive at the island of the Duffle Puds, invisible creatures who make a loud thumping noise as they move around. They want to become visible again, and Lucy agrees to go into the magician’s house to find the book of spells and discover and speak the spell for making the invisible, visible. With some trepidation, Lucy searches the house, locates the book, finds the spell and reads it aloud. She can’t see the Duffle Puds from there, but discovers that Aslan, the Christ-figure lion in the Narnia stories has suddenly appeared beside her. A little startled, Lucy asks, “When did you get here?” Aslan answers, “I’ve been with you all along on your whole voyage. You just couldn’t see me.” Lucy asks, “Then how can I see you now?” Aslan answers, “You said the spell for making the invisible, visible. So I appeared.” In astonishment Lucy asks, “Do I have the power to make you visible?” And Aslan answers, “Don’t you think I would follow my own rules?” By the way, yes, the Duffle Puds also became visible: dwarf-like people with one very large foot on which they hop around, thus the thumping noise.
God reiterated the Abrahamic covenant to Jacob. You will have descendants who will inherit this land, through whom God will bless the whole human race. Then God promised Jacob to be with him wherever he went, which must have been wonderfully assuring to him as he was going to be wandering in one way or another the rest of his life. This God without boundaries was dramatically different than the pagan deities who were thought to be tied to specific geographic territories. When people changed locations, they changed gods. This God who had promised to be with Jacob everywhere was God for all people – a radical concept then and even today as our society tends to treat religion as a cultural artifact rather than an intimate, personal relationship with God.
During this interim journey between pastors, we have been very aware of being in transition from the way things were to the way things will become. However, I can tell you with great confidence; you will not be going to a settled, static situation. You will be embarking on an ever changing journey into an uncharted future. I can also assure you that God will go with you wherever you go, just as God went with Jacob on his journey. Our personal and family lives are not settled and static either. Children and grandchildren grow up. We retire from careers. Babies are born and old people die. That’s not always easy, but it is inevitable and actually good. Whether you are awake to know it or not, God is beside you at every place on this journey. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Pieces Fit Together

Genesis 25:19-34
July 13, 2014
© 2014

The fairy tale love story of Rebekah and Isaac that we looked at last week did not end with “and they lived happily ever after.” We just read how it took a bitter turn that lasted the rest of their lives and played out through the whole second half of Genesis. In Genesis 50:20 after Jacob’s death, his son Joseph told his brothers who had sold him as a slave, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”
Knowing God’s covenant promise to Abraham was to be continued through them, twenty years of childlessness stressed the faith of Rebekah and Isaac. When they did have the twin boys – Esau and Jacob – sibling rivalry and parental favoritism undermined their love story until what Isaac and Rebekah shared was bitterness from Esau’s Canaanite wives (Genesis 26:35).
The story of Isaac and Rebekah as parents of Esau and Jacob is an eloquent if awkward dance of God’s sovereign will and deeply flawed human free will. God chose Isaac and Rebekah to continue the covenant promise to Abraham, and God chose to keep them childless for 20 years. With love and deep empathy for Rebekah’s anxiety, Isaac prayed for her to have a child. Probably many times through those 20 years.
God answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah began a difficult pregnancy. In distress, Rebekah inquired of the Lord to understand what was happening. She received the oracle foretelling the struggles that would continue between her children for generations interminable. God did not just know she was carrying twins; God gave her these rival twins as part of God’s plan to bless all humanity through Abraham’s descendants.
Jacob comes off as a sneak and a cheat. But he knew the value of the birthright and blessing of the covenant. He was willing to swindle, cheat and lie to get it. Esau discounted its value so much he was said to despise it and was willing to sell it for a bowl of “red stuff.”
Today we would say the favoritism of Isaac toward Esau and Rebekah toward Jacob was dysfunctional. Rebekah even collaborated with Jacob to not only cheat her other son, but deceive Isaac who had loved her so passionately. Yet God used all of this to propel the covenant blessing forward.
We shall see in the next couple of weeks the disastrous effects of jealousy, favoritism, and deception. Yet, justice prevailed, spiritual sensitivity was sharpened, and covenant blessing proceeded, not in spite of but through the deeply flawed choices and actions of all.
For millennia, theologians and philosophers have debated and speculated whether humans have free will or is all determined by God’s sovereign will or even blind fate. The Jacob and Esau story does not resolve that issue but invites us to marvel at how God’s sovereign will and even deeply flawed human free will fit together. As responsible, free moral agents we trust God to work not just in spite of our flaws but through them.
We may recognize this in world events seen in the sweep of human history over the centuries, but we have trouble discerning God’s hand in the midst of a present catastrophe.
The cruel, ancient empires all collapsed: Egypt, Babylon, Persia and Rome, as did Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. But the chaotic conflicts that are shredding Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan today defy even knowing who to cheer for, much less figuring out how the United States or the international community can or should respond.
I have found an immensely powerful perspective in the Hebrew Prophet Habakkuk. He began by complaining to God about the rampant injustice among his own people.
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. (1:2‑3)
God answered that judgment was coming from the Babylonians (Chaldeans).
For I am rousing the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own. Dread and fearsome are they; their justice and dignity proceed from themselves. (1:6-7)
Habakkuk objected to God using those who are so evil as agents of justice.
Are you not from of old, O Lord my God, my Holy One? You shall not die. O Lord, you have marked them for judgment; and you, O Rock, have established them for punishment. Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing; why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they? (1:12-13)
God answered to be patient because judgment would come to the Babylonians too.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith. (2:3-4)
Habakkuk affirmed his trust in God when he still couldn’t see the pieces fitting together.
Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. (3:17-18)
From Habakkuk I am learning to be patient with an always fluid flow of world events and watch for every expression of justice and peace as pointers toward the Kingdom of God in our messy world. I am learning to trust God’s sovereign will to fit together with the deeply flawed pieces of human free will.
Every congregation’s interim journey between pastors has many moving parts, and this church is no exception. Many of them seem to have nothing to do with each other. Some are planned and some seem random. Some seem to take steps toward the future and others slip back toward the past. Some are apparent but many are hidden until the last minute. As we reflect on Jacob and Esau today, I think we can learn as a congregation together to trust God to fit the pieces together.
During my time with you informal conversations about possibilities of merging with other congregations became serious exploration with Bethany Christian Church. We did a few things together: Trunk or Treat, children’s Christmas pageant, fellowship dinner. Both churches formed Merger Committees. Our Merger Committee met several times and envisioned many mission opportunities in Odessa, and concluded we could do almost any of these whether the merger happened or not. Of course, it didn’t but that committee became the Mission Task Force and continues to pursue our future mission.
We have taken some beginning steps toward greater mission presence in Odessa, starting with last summer’s service day. We have stepped up involvement with Meals on Wheels. The spaghetti day and resultant gift of $5,000 to Hope House was wonderful fellowship of service for our folk, a positive opportunity for our community, great help to Hope House which resulted in wide awareness of our church as committed to the good of Odessa.
Our shared interim journey and the search and call process are approaching climactic culmination. I hope you are all praying with earnest anticipation for God to fit all of the pieces together.
Last July 7, when I had just started this journey with you, I shared my testimony and told you how God used a fight in the church we belonged to in Illinois to start the process of calling me to pastoral ministry. God used another fight in the church I was serving in Wisconsin to bring us to Texas and into the Disciples. Both of those were painful experiences. I believe the combatants of their own free will chose words and actions that were not in harmony with God. Yet, I believe God worked in those events, not only for our family but for the others who were affected. We often quote from Romans 8:26-29 when facing difficult circumstances, perhaps too glibly.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.
Rather than superficial assurance, I see this passage as not only a call to prayer, but to intense prayer beyond words, depending on the Holy Spirit’s intercession.
Rather than puzzling over how God’s sovereign will works without overriding my free will, this passage directs my attention to the purpose of God’s sovereign will: that I will be conformed to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. How my perspective changes when instead of complaining about what is uncertain or uncomfortable, I focus on how God is shaping me to be a little more like Jesus every day!
Yes I have free will as a gift from God. That makes me a responsible moral agent who must live with the consequences of my decisions and actions. I am also affected by the freely chosen decisions and actions of others. However, our free will is not powerful enough to thwart the gracious sovereign will of God. So I am learning to trust God’s sovereign will to fit together with the deeply flawed pieces of human free will.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

You Call This a Love Story?

Genesis 24
July 6, 2014
© 2014

The verses excerpted from Genesis 24 (34-38, 42-49, 58-67) that we read this morning give us just the most basic picture of one of my favorite love stories. I hope you will be motivated to read it in its entirety at one sitting this week. Let this love story fuel your reflection on God’s role in your times of transition and decision making. In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola gives practical advice for making decisions, that he calls elections. “In every good election, insofar as it depends on us, the eye of our intention ought to be single. I ought to focus only on the purpose for which I am created, to praise God our Lord and to save my soul. Accordingly, anything that I elect ought to be chosen as an aid toward that end.” 169:2-3
We face different issues at different stages of our journeys with Jesus. When we are young we want to make decisions so our life can unfold with joy and satisfaction. When we are older, we look back at how our lives have come together with both gratitude and sometimes regret. Right now, this congregation is in the transition that will bring a new pastor with a new but still unknown future. Candy and I are also looking ahead, not only to our next interim pastorate but to transitions with our son Erik and with Candy’s Dad.
Wherever we are on our journeys with Jesus, we ask similar questions that do not have a single answer but diverge and expand in many directions. Am I loved? What does my life mean? Do I have strong enough faith? How do all the pieces of my life fit together? Can I find God’s love in the uncertain parts of my life?
The story of how God brought Rebekah and Isaac together helps me expand my perspective on how God fits the pieces of life together with delight, surprise and love.
I want to tell this story from Genesis 24 through the eyes of Abraham’s senior servant. The text doesn’t name him but the general consensus is that it was Eliezer whom Abraham thought would be his heir before Isaac was born. (Genesis 15:2)
Listen to the story with your questions about your decisions and transitions at this point on your journey.
The story actually starts with the death of Sarah. (Genesis 23)
Sarah and Abraham were already old when Isaac was born. After Sarah’s death, Abraham knew that he would soon be departing this life as well. The time had come to find an appropriate wife for Isaac, with whom God would continue the covenant promises.
Abraham sent his servant, who I am going to assume was Eliezer for the sake of storytelling simplicity, to find God’s chosen wife for continuing the covenant through Isaac. No pagan Canaanite woman but one from his own clan who recognized the Lord as God, even if imperfectly. This exclusivity was not about race or ethnicity per se but about faith and covenant faithfulness. I almost wonder if Abraham already knew something about God’s choice of Rebekah. He was confident God’s angel would guide Eliezer.
When Eliezer reached his destination, he prayed to the God of Abraham, appealing to God’s steadfast love for Abraham to make his mission successful. Whether in his own heart or prompted by God, he set a sign that when he asked the right woman for a drink of water she would give him a drink and water his ten camels.
Before he finished praying, Rebekah appeared and was identified as coming from the right family before she fulfilled the conditions of Eliezer’s sign.
His tentative faith having been rewarded by the exact fulfillment of the sign he set, Eliezer worshipped the God of Abraham.
Though the text doesn’t say it explicitly, apparently Rebekah’s father Bethuel had died and her probably older brother Laban acted on behalf of the family in consultation with their mother. When he met Eliezer, Laban recognized that God’s blessing on Abraham was also on Eliezer.
With typical Middle Eastern hospitality, Laban hosted a feast for Eliezer and his entourage.  Before eating, Eliezer retold the whole story to the family. Laban spoke with the authority of his father Bethuel and acknowledged God had chosen Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife and sent Eliezer for her.
With the success of his mission confirmed by Rebekah’s family, Eliezer again worshiped God in satisfied gratitude. He had set out on this mission with tentative faith in the steadfast love of God for his master Abraham. When that faith was confirmed in finding Rebekah, Eliezer worshipped the God of Abraham. But now, knowing that he’d be bringing Rebekah back to Isaac, he worshiped God without mentioning Abraham. He was no longer hitchhiking on Abraham’s relationship with God. Eliezer now had his own personal relationship with and faith in God.
This story starts and ends with a focus on Isaac’s mother Sarah. When Rebekah realized the significance of her meeting with Eliezer and the gifts he gave her, she ran to tell her mother. She was excited, and I assume her mother was too. Laban consulted with Rebekah’s mother in the negotiations with Eliezer. I suspect she may have been the one who insisted that Rebekah herself be asked if she would go with Eliezer to become Isaac’s wife. Her “I will,” was not only consent but a readiness to depart immediately. She was anxious to embrace God’s call on her with joy and faith.
Rebekah’s whole household pronounced a blessing on her that identified her with God’s covenant with Sarah and Abraham. Her own maids accompanied her, sharing in her joy, perhaps something on the order of the blessing of a bridal shower today.
In contrast with the details in Eliezer’s narrative, the conclusion of the story is told with spare brushstrokes that invite us to imagine this covenant quest transformed into a love story. As Eliezer’s caravan with Isaac’s bride approached the camp, Isaac was out walking. I imagine he walked east many evenings, anticipating catching the first glimpse of his bride. When Rebekah saw him coming and confirmed her expectation with Eliezer, she slipped quickly from her camel, put on a bridal veil and headed toward Isaac. Like a cinematographer, I imagine Rebekah and Isaac quickening their pace as they are drawn relentlessly to each other.
Neither the Hebrew Scripture nor the New Testament record any religious wedding ceremonies presided over by priest, prophet or rabbi – apostle, elder or pastor. Both do report wedding celebrations, both joyful and awkward, and both recognize a clear distinction between before and after. Weddings were public celebrations of both families with the couple. The story doesn’t tell us about the party Abraham threw for Isaac and Rebekah, but I’m sure it was great!
The story does, however, make clear that Isaac loved Rebekah. The New Testament instructs husbands to love their wives, but with a few notable exceptions, the Hebrew Scripture only rarely describes marital love. So Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent and they became husband and wife. Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
With masterful, Middle Eastern technique, the story is told twice, once as it happened and again as Eliezer told it to Rebekah’s family. Several stories in both Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament do this. The story comes full circle from Sarah’s death and Abraham’s grief to Rachel and Isaac in Sarah’s tent and Isaac’s comfort.
Perhaps you are asking, “How can you call this a love story?”
Eliezer’s determined confidence in pursuing his mission was driven by God’s steadfast love for Abraham. (vv. 12,14,27)
As the story unfolds, Eliezer was able to receive God’s steadfast love for himself. Each time Eliezer spoke to or about God, he said “the God of my master Abraham,” but when Rebekah’s family recognized that God has chosen her for Isaac’s wife and released her, Eliezer worshiped God without mentioning Abraham. (v.52)
When Eliezer first saw Rebekah he recognized she was a pure virgin and very fair to look upon. So we don’t need a Hollywood bedroom scene to imagine Isaac’s love for her when he took Rebekah into his mother’s tent and she became his wife. The steadfast love of God was poured out in fullness on this couple.

I hope reflecting on this story helps you recognize God’s steadfast love as the pieces of your journey fit together.