July 9, 2017, 5th Sunday after Pentecost, Pr. 9, YR A The Rev. Anne Abdy Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:11-18; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Frances Vander Velde writes: “Second from the top of the list of the important decisions in life is that of choosing a marriage partner. The choice of choosing to serve the Lord comes first.”
My grandmother lived an adventurous life. She was married in Butte, Montana in 1924 and then followed my grandfather to Peru where he went ahead to work in the copper mines. Family lore states that she had the option of staying in the Montana surrounded by all those things familiar to a young adult woman in a mining camp, and reportedly Butte was a roaring frontier town. But she chose to leave. She, like Abraham’s Sarah, and now Rebekah, was headstrong and she lived life to the fullest savoring each moment with laughter, gratitude, and grace. She bore five children in different mining towns across the world.
That’s what I imagine Rebekah to be like. This young twenty something looking to loosen the apron strings of her family. She is given the chance to determine her fate and there is no hesitation with three words, “I will go.” And with that she follows the servant to Negev. I imagine that a journey of about 600 miles from Haran in Syria was not easy. We are told the camels are loaded with gifts, probably the dowry to be given to Abraham. But I am sure that the camels were also loaded with the supplies to spend a month crossing the desert. This is much like what my grandmother did. She took a trawler down the Western United States to Peru and then crossed the mountains by donkey with Indians who guided her to the copper mining camp. I can’t imagine that her crossing was an easy one for her either.
But there is something in common with both ladies. They were energetic, kind, hospitable, industrious and decisive. We know this because Rebekah runs back to the family compound, feeds and waters the camels, arranges a banquet, and seems to wear the pants in the family. The guys are purely the passive hosts.
My grandmother was the backbone to her and my grandfather’s 50 year marriage. Both women married for love, although in biblical times, it was an arranged marriage. I like to think that God just happened to throw in a beautiful woman for Isaac to marry, one that he would not only marry out of custom to keep the legacy going, but that he would indeed fall in love with.
What do all three characters, the servant, Rebekah, and my grandmother have in common? Their stories are not only love stories but they are stories of individuals with great faith. All three stepped out in faith and were rewarded. I think as Christians we are in danger to easily to grow out of faith. We can also fall into a casual relationship in all things about religion, church, and maybe even questioning one’s faith. But we can also be spiritually energized. Admittedly, we can be in all of these phases on our faith journey.
I find that the times that I am most alive spiritually are the times when I have stepped out in faith. Into the unknown and allowed myself to experience the fear, the exhilaration, and relief, and all the while knowing that all will be well. While the journey may not always be easy and fun, I know there will be an end point—and at that end point I will be rewarded.
But nothing prepared me for my experiences in Southern Africa where I had to step out in faith and rely on strangers to help me along. There were many incidences where only God could have orchestrated and be the Over-seerer by putting the puzzle pieces together.
My one suitcase was left behind with a church family who offered to drive the case five hours to the capital city of Windhoek and deliver it to the Cathedral so my host in Windhoek could pick it up. It just so happened that they intended to visit their daughter the weekend I flew into Windhoek. The money saved from not having to pay for extra luggage allowed me to give more funds to a kindergarten started by Anglican nuns not far from the mission station.
Or a family friend that I had not see in over thirty years and she thought she would never see an Abdy again. On a whim, I called to let her know I was in town, and I visited with her for four hours. My host’s home was one house away from shuttle business operated by the same shuttle company that picked me up at the airport an hour earlier. The owner of the business graciously drove me from his home across town to visit my friend free of charge.
Or while visiting my old high school I bumped into the chaplain who whispered in my ear, “The present and future chaplains of Herschel” without knowing that the principal had offered me a job once I finished seminary and was ordained. Obviously I have not accepted his offer yet, but I might!
One cannot live by faith alone, and it is the servant who prepares, prays, and then praises God. He prepares for the trip, he prays, and then he praises God for delivering to him just the right person to be Isaac’s bride.
We are not told whether Rebekah does this nor do I know if my grandmother did these acts, but I suspect that they did because they are women of faith. They both certainly prepared for long journeys, demonstrated their faith in their response to their call to leave all that was familiar, and probably praised God upon arriving at their journey’s end.
We are called to prepare for our journeys in life, pray for a specific prayer, such as safe travels, and are to praise the Lord in all that we do. In order to walk through difficult journeys and even not so difficult journeys, Paul encourages us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thess. 5:16-18) The Benedictines call this type of prayer: “Ora et Labora” or Pray and Work.
I know as I anticipate new journeys or life decisions, I cannot be idle. When I have life decisions to make, at some point I have to engage those same three P’s—preparation, prayer, and praise. For instance, this past Spring I decided I could let myself fall into the trap of the heighten anxiety at work as we waded through some 220 days waiting to know whether the Junction City Hospital would remain open and the fate of our jobs. As I watched colleagues leave, I chose to engage in a job search. I felt the need to become an educated job seeker knowing that at least if I had to move fast and find other employment, I could. That preparation process directed my energy into positive avenues. Somehow during the process, I am able to stay present to what needs to be done and my faith was strengthened. As a result, I was energized and more willing to look for the God’s presence in my life.
All through the process, I engaged in prayer and discernment. I brought God into my process. I talked to friends, family, and my spiritual director. This gathering of information is prayer. The times that I have used this process, the answer becomes abundantly clear and I know what to do.
Then, I praise God. Paul writing to the Thessalonians tells us that we are to “in all things give thanks” (I Thess. 5:18). I get to sit back and watch God put the puzzle pieces together. Most of the time this process goes very smoothly with no hiccups but that is not always the case. I have to bear in mind, it’s God’s plan that is being put together not mine. I generally feel a sense of peace about the decision and there is a knowing that this decision is the right decision no matter how hard it was to make a that decision.
I remember when I was starting the diocesan part of the ordination process. I was invited to meet with the diocesan Commission on Ministry and was basically on the hot seat for 48 hours. There were meet and greets, meals, and interviews. In one of the interviews, I remember answering a question like this. I explained that I was a scuba diver and I felt that I was standing on the edge of the boat ready to jump into the water not knowing what was down below. But I knew that just as I had a buddy who would descend to the depths with me, I would have Jesus as a partner who would help me transverse across whatever obstacles I would face. The urge to jump in the water on faith was real. The relief and joy that I felt when I was told that the commission agreed to elevate me to postulant allowing me to then consider a formal seminary education, cannot be described. My life changed as I used preparation, prayer, and praise—and so will yours.
So I ask you: What zone is your faith meter in? The danger zone, the casual level, or are you spiritually alive? Are you ready to energize your spiritual life and take the plunge—that leap of faith—into uncertainty to see what happens? Are you willing to be that person at work who will take a project in a different direction because you know the outcome will be better. Are you willing to take our ministry programs to the next level, in time, in talent, and in giving?
If you do use the three P’s, your life will change?
 Frances Vander Velde, Women of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 1983), 45.