Toorak Uniting Church

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For good ye are and bad

Genesis 24: 34 – 67     Song of Solomon 2: 8 – 13
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
10:15am, 3 July 2005

For good ye are and bad, and like to coins, some true, some light, but every one of you stamped with the image of the King.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, 'The holy grail'.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Many of you would agree I think that religion and politics don't mix, and that when you're doing business you do well not to leave God out of it. The sacred and profound should be kept separate, it is best to keep the distinctions clear and if we don't we usually end up with a lot of troubled.

For the story we read from Genesis this morning however this is not true. The profound and profane in it are intertwined in such a complicated way that it is difficult to see where one ends and the other begins, let alone see where they could be separated. Politics, business, God and divine providence are all in there and it is impossible to tell which is which. The business and politics get interfered with by God and religion is used to secure a good deal and cement the political links between two tribes.
And not only there, even in the reading from the Song of songs the distinction is difficult to make. It has been hotly debated for centuries if these words should be taken as physical and factual language describing the passionate love of two human beings or if they should be viewed as a more symbolical and spiritual description of Gods love and passion for us, his people.

Let's first look at Genesis:
Abraham's servant Eliezer is sent out to find a wife for Isaak. Sarah has died and a woman is needed. A woman to head the household, to bear the heir to Abraham's riches and to comfort a motherless son and a widowed father.
To Ur Eliezer is sent, back to Abraham's home country and family to find a wife. Jewish exegesis has it that this was not due to some tribal loyalty Abraham still felt, nor because Abraham did not approve of the women of Kanaan.
But that it was because, if he had chosen a Kananite bride for his son, people later could have said that the land had come to Israel through a dowry or that Abraham had married his son into the land. It was very important that there would be no misunderstanding about the fact that the land came to Israel through God's guidance and generosity alone.

The story that unfolds is not very edifying. Eliezer goes and worms his way into the household of Bethuel and Laban, two kinsmen of Abraham with tall stories, jewellery, gold and trinkets. He very cleverly plays on the greed of Laban and the piousness and loyalty of Bethuel when he asks for Rebekah's hand. Showing off the rich gifts he has brought to purchase a bride for the son of his master he talks about the guidance of God that has brought him here in a way that puts the pressure on both the men he is dealing with. If God has guided Abraham to riches and Eliezer to the well, who is going to argue about him taking one of the daughters of the house to marry what seems to be a very wealthy husband with good prospects?

It's a bit like the G8: There are haggling and negotiating men around a table, enjoying a good meal and some drink while securing a good deal for their people.
And in Genesis they do (it remains to be seen what the G8 will come up with): Laban and Bethuel secure a considerable amount of gifts and gold and acquire a wealthy son and brother in law in the bargain. And Eliezer is going home with a good-looking, hospitable and resolute wife for his master's son Isaak. Even God must be pleased: through all the haggling, the cunning of Eliezer, the dubious motives of Laban and Bethuel and the politics of tribal interdependence, the future of Gods covenant with Abraham is more secure when Isaak gets a good wife. All is well that ends well........

In the meantime something, or rather somebody seems to be completely forgotten. In the story itself and later in the history of the exegesis of the text.

This is not an uncommon thing to happen. The world wide "Make poverty history" campaign is an example of a movement trying to put something on the table in Edinborough that is in danger of being forgotten there. And quite often, in business and in politics there are those with little power and not much voice whose fate is decided without consultation.

Rebekah is a woman, and at the time that meant you had very little to say for yourself or decide on for your own future.

Hardly mentioned in all that goes on, she proves to be of major importance.

One has to read between the lines to fully appreciate her role and character. But who does, will quickly realise she is something special. Frank and open hearted does she water Eliezer's camels and answer his questions. If we take into consideration that Abraham kept Sarah hidden from 3 strangers visiting his tent when she was nearly a hundred years old, we might wonder how a young, good looking maiden gets to be so independent, forthright and resolute as Rebekah. She busies herself watering the camels, she gives Eliezer a drink, answers questions, offers hospitality, runs up and down between home and well and initiates the first contact between the parties involved. She is definitely not your every day kind of girl!

It is extraordinary that she would get a chance to make any decision concerning her future. 10 days she gets, negotiated by her mother, to take her leave and get adjusted to the fact that she will probably never see her family again. 10 days to get used to the idea that she will travel with this stranger to marry another stranger many days travelling away, and step into the shoes of Sara whom, from the story Eliezer has told, must be a hard act to follow. Go and follow a God she doesn't even know!

10 days, one for each commandment, one for every law that is given to mark the way of God.

And to emphasise even stronger that there is a lot more going on than just a tribal nomadic wedding, in only 4 verses the Hebrew word for go or arise is used 7 times. A word that recalls the story of Abraham and his going and arising earlier on in Genesis indicating that Rebekah is about to step into the footsteps of Abraham and truly become part of the movement that God has begun with him. She makes the same decision as the father of all believers, and the blessing that accompanies her when she leaves is very similar to the one Abraham has received from God: may you become mother to thousands upon thousands.

Rebekah does not hesitate. She does not need the 10 days that are given to her to decide that she wholeheartedly wants to go and become part of Gods people. She truly becomes a mother of believers. Quiet surrender, dignified assent to what the men have arranged and still staying her own woman. She may be marginal, she may not have a voice in the haggling and the politics that go on around her, but she makes her own decisions and her own choices.
In between the haggling of the men, the piousness of her father, the greed of her brother, the cunning of Eliezer and the pressure of her mother to please stay a few days longer, there is the refreshing breeze of Rebekah's commitment, her resoluteness and her surrender to what is to be her vocation.

We might feel at this stage that as a people of God, as people of the Church we should be like Rebekah, eager, willing, ready to go. But often it is not like that at all is it? Often we seem to get caught up in the politics, the haggling, the negotiating and the cunning strategies even, that seem to be necessary to keep life in general and even the Church and the message of the Kingdom going. Shouldn't at least faith, shouldn't at least going Gods way not be entangled in all these very earthly, very human things? Shouldn't it all be very pure and lofty, spiritual and idealistic when it comes to believing and Church life?

As Rebekah, Eliezer has his place in Gods history with his people, and Laban and Bethuel.

Sometimes a tall story and some gifts might be the thing that is called for to help God's future along a bit, sometimes negotiations and heavy lobbying have to be done in order to gather support for a plan, for something that is essential to safeguard God's future. Sometimes even playing on dubious emotions has its place. Eliezer, Laban and Bethuel they all somehow have their part to play, profane, mundane and not very edifying as it may be. But it is Rebekah who moves the story forward, keeps up the pace, the very person that is nearly forgotten when the story is handed down through the centuries.

She initiates contact, she communicates, she runs back and forth, she offers hospitality, she dares to travel into the unknown, she comforts Isaak and she takes on Abraham's household. And later in a less than noble episode, she makes sure that Isaak blesses the right son with what little power she has to influence that decision.

There have been many women (and men) like her through the ages. Women (and men) who have moved the story of God forward, watering, feeding, giving, surrendering, steering, taking decisions where they could, travelling God's way and accepting his calling with an open heart. Often without exactly knowing what this might entail.
And just how many men and women are carrying today's Church forward into the next generation? Going, trusting, travelling with quiet resolution like Rebekah or using their talents to get the best deal that will help to bring the Kingdom a bit closer and secure at least some justice and peace for the people that God loves? It might not always seem a lot that we do, or very edifying at that, but somehow we may trust, if we try and work to do Gods will, God will find a way to include even our clumsiest efforts into his plan and fit them into the making of his Kingdom.
As he did with Eliezer and Laban and Bethuel and Rebekah.

Finally, Rebekah meets Isaac at the well Lachai Roy, the Lord sees its name means, so named by Hagar when she became aware that God cared as much for her and her son as he did for Abraham, Sarah and Isaac. And where Hagar felt the Lord had seen her, Rebekah sees Isaac and Isaac sees Rebekah. Again she meets her fate full on, no hesitation, she doesn't wait for her camel to kneel so she can descend gracefully, she slides down and meets the man she will marry without reserve.
And he loves her. A whole book could be written about those few words that conclude the chapter. He loves her, he falls in love with her, sings her the Song of songs and God's future opens up further from there, from where two people love each other.

We may see in the love of Isaac for his bride the image of God's love for his people. God falling in love, God being in love in a way that is stronger than any love humans can feel for each other. A love so strong it conquers death itself.

In the story of Rebekah the material, the day to day is intertwined with the spiritual. The higher purposes of life brought together with the tacky business of family politics and dubious motivation, culminating in two people finding each other in love, sharing from then on in he way of God.

And it is like that all through scripture.

God does not stay away from our lives, he does not set himself apart, but he chooses to become part of every aspect of it, the love, the suffering, even in death itself with all the passion and all the yearning and aching that goes with it.

Yes, God is not an outsider to our everyday existence, to be set apart somewhere in a sanctuary to only be wheeled out on a Sunday in reverence and awe.
He is here when we shop, he is here when we work, when we negotiate our way through life, he is here when we love, he is here when we hurt and hate and despair, he is here when we conduct our lives nobly or not so very nobly and He seeks through and in between all of that to make his Kingdom grow. In us and through us.

God sanctifies our everyday lives, by lifting them up, taking the wholesome nourishing aspects of it together with its brokenness, and bringing them together, healing, transforming, bending what is there to meet his purposes.

His future does not depend on us, but he invites us to play our part in it, women and men. With the noble and the not so noble that is in us, urging us forward towards his future, his kingdom, his desire for a world of love and peace and justice.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005

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