Tuesday, July 5, 2011

He makes the ordinary holy . . .

One of the distinct honors of serving as a priest in this community is that I get to set at the hub of a wheel of activity. Far more often than you know, your “no big deal” actions, words, or example radically impacts the life of those around you. I thought of several good examples of ordinary stuff which God used to bless someone in our midst. Better still, as I was asking permission to talk about these ordinary things, I earned more about the ripples. Person B was all about letting me share how Person A had truly blessed them, but then they, in turn, did not want me talking about how Person C had been moved by their response. I suppose modesty and humility are good qualities, in moderation. We are going to have to work on our willingness to share some of these stories, however. One of the reasons we gather each week is to remind ourselves how God is active in our lives, in the lives of those around us, and in the world. To not be able to preach on some of those actions and blessings not only hamstrings the preacher, but, I believe, starves each of us of a bit of the bread which He shared. That all being said, amazingly enough, our readings give us a great example of what I am talking about.

Place yourself in our story in Genesis. Which character do relate to today? Are you, perhaps, Abraham—wandering how on earth God is going to keep His promise to you now that your beloved wife, Sarah, is dead? How can he and Sarah have countless offspring if she has passed? Perhaps you are Isaac. All your life you have heard how special you were. Talk about a change-of-life baby! And yet, there was this time that dad seemed willing to do something horrible to you. Maybe you relate best to the servant. The master/boss has given you another impossible task. To make matters worse, the master/boss has placed certain conditions on how the task must be completed. Rather than trusting you to do it quickly and correctly, the master/boss has just turned a hard job into a damn near impossible one. Maybe you relate best to Rebekah? You have a kind heart, but it has done you no favors so far. You are of a marriageable age, yet you are not even betrothed. Maybe, you relate best to the camel?

Each of our characters today had a particular need and concern. Abraham likely wondered how on earth God would keep His promises in light of Sarah’s death. Isaac, we are told, missed his mother terribly. The servant had to struggle with the responsibility placed upon him by Abraham. Each had a reason to wonder whether God still cared about them and whether He was able to keep His promises to them. So what happens?

Abraham sends his servant to find a suitable wife for his son. He wants Isaac to marry a girl from home, not one of these Canaanite women (later, we learn that Canaanite women will lead Israel’s sons from the worship of Yahweh into Exile, so Abraham’s desire is good). Isaac must marry a woman who can bear the testing of God and not turn aside. This “following God” stuff is hard. It is not for the weak or for the idolaters. Naturally, Abraham tells the servant to go back to where he was from and where he found Sarai. Of course, knowing the temptations, Abraham does not allow Isaac to go and the servant must go in a round-about way. In this way, Isaac won’t be tempted to go “home” if he does not know where "home" is.

Having completed the (from the servant’s perspective, pointless) journey, now the servant must get to work. How does one invade such a close-knit culture to find a wife suitable for his master’s son? It can’t be done. Why, if only finding such a wife were as easy as watering ten camels?

Into our story appears Rebekah. She offers the servant water and then, in a radical show of hospitality, offers to water the camels. Immediately, though, the servant recognizes the hand of God at work! Rebekah has offered an incredible gift, a gift worthy of Abraham and Sarah in the eyes of the servant. And so he asks her to consent to marry his master’s son. You and I might not think it particularly romantic, particularly if we have ever been on a blind date. He asks her to consider how much wealth God has given Abraham. He asks her to consider his journey to this point. And throughout this “sales” pitch, the servant gives all credit to God. Rebekah might wonder what Isaac looks like, but she knows that he is blessed and directed by God. And she accepts the offer.

The return journey is not mentioned. The faithful obedience and responses of our characters has already occurred. But notice how the story ends. Rebekah and Isaac share that “love at first sight” experience. They know, by the words of the servant, that God’s hand is upon their marriage. And so Isaac takes Rebekah, gives her the matriarch’s tent, and becomes her husband. Everybody wins. Certainly Isaac and Rebekah get a great deal out of all this – a spouse. But Isaac is even comforted over the loss of his mother by the new presence of his wife. Abraham now has an apparently beautiful daughter-in-law. Can grandchildren be far behind the marriage? After all, Isaac and Rebekah are much younger than when he and Sarah had their first. The servant has learned that God’s sovereign hand is upon this family. How well do you think he will serve in the future, knowing his master's unique relationship with God? And Abraham learns that his servant will do seemingly stupid and crazy things to fulfill his wishes. A common occurrence in those days—finding a suitable wife--is used by God to reassert His covenant with a faithful family. The ordinary is blessed. The common is made holy.

Brothers and sisters, such is his promise to you. If I talked to you this past week or two about some particular “ordinary things” in your life, then you know God is active in your life. God has taken your words at work, your visits during free time, your willingness to carry a sack or fix something broken to bless another. That particular blessing, in turn, has been seen and heard by others. And for a few moments, many of us have found ourselves in the activities not unlike what we read about today. But, I think, most importantly, we have been reminded of something truly amazing. In His kingdom, there are no ordinary people. In His family, there are no ordinary children. In His kingdom, there are no second tier shrines or temples. In His kingdom there are only Princes and Princesses. In His kingdom there are only first-born children in His eyes. In His kingdom, all become a worthy dwelling place for His Spirit. There is no ordinary. There is only exceptional!

Sitting there today you may be a scoffer. Have you seen my temple, Brian? It’s crumbling and teetering and it isn’t exactly up to code, if you get my drift. How can I reach others for His name’s sake with everything going on in my life? My family put the shun in dysfunction—how can I ever hope to be drawn into His? The truth is you cannot, unless He draws you in. Just as you cannot be that truly exceptional son or daughter, that prince or princess, unless He calls you. But the glorious news is that He calls and He makes new! He takes that which we are at war with in our bodies and uses it to glorify Himself. When we were each unlovable He went willingly to the cross. When we each felt inadequate to the task set before us He promised us a Counselor. And just to remind us that none of us were “ordinary” but special, He ascended back to be with the Father and took part of our “fully human” with Him. To be sure, we and other Christians still make mistakes, we still screw up, we still sometimes find ourselves losing our faith. But to remind us of our heritage and His love, He still excels at taking the ordinary in our lives and using it to advance His kingdom, one precious son or daughter at a time, a son or daughter worth dying for—just as He died to save each one of us!


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