Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, July 9, 2017

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
July 9, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

I am Evelyn, daughter of Janet, daughter of Afton, daughter of Evelyn, daughter of Lucie.

I have no daughters, the line ends here.

But for many of you, you are both daughters and mothers – granddaughters and even grandmothers.

It is easy to read the Bible and ignore the women – too easy.  I ask that you pay attention to them instead. 

Isaac is all grown up. His mother, Sarah, has died, and Abraham is old, nearing death himself.  It is time for Isaac to find a wife – he’s forty years old!  So Abraham sends a servant to his relations in what is now northern Syria; his brother Nahor, and Nahor’s wife Milcah. 

So off the servant goes, with rich gifts, to visit Abraham’s family, and as he arrives in Nahor’s city, Anam-naharaim, he prays that God will identify the woman whom Isaac should marry, that she not only offer him water, but also his camels.  And Rebekah comes, and does just that. 

He asks her who she is, and she says she is Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah – who is Nahor’s wife, Abraham’s sister-in-law.  The servant introduces himself, and asks if he can meet her family.  He is welcomed by her mother – who is not named – and her brother Laban. 

Yes, that Laban, about whom we will hear more in a couple weeks.

Her mother and her brother are quite happy to send her off to Canaan to her great-uncle Abraham, and she is also willing.  In fact, even though her family wants her to wait ten days, at least, before she leaves them, she agrees to go immediately.

So they set off, and when she sees Isaac, she veils herself, and they are married.  Isaac takes her into his mother’s tent, and, for the first time in the Bible, a husband is said to love his wife.

So what do we know about Rebekah?

She’s Isaac’s first cousin once removed.  Her grandfather is Isaac’s uncle, his father Abraham’s brother.

Her own father seems to be out of the picture; all the negotiations are carried out by her mother and her brother, but she gets the final word on when to depart.

We’ll hear more about her next week, and her influence will be central to the continuing story of the patriarchs.

In short, she is a matriarch, like her mother-in-law before her, and like her daughters-in-law Rachel and Leah will become.

Throughout Israel’s history, women are key players in many of the major plotlines. Rebekah’s grace to Abraham’s servant and the love that Isaac and Rebekah shared, is called “hesed” – a Hebrew word meaning steadfast love – a word used to describe God’s own covenant love for the people of Israel.  Over and over again, we find that marriage is a metaphor for the relationship between God and the people – whether a strong and lasting marriage, or a bond broken by adultery that is used to describe the faithlessness of kings and the people.

In what we call the seventh chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul uses the adultery motif to describe the relationship of believers to the law.  If a wife leaves her husband to be with another, she is an adulteress, but if her husband dies, and then she marries another, she is not.  So it is with the law – Paul writes, “In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.”[1]

Christ has “discharged [us] from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”[2]

It’s not that the law is bad – no, the law is the teacher, the disciplinarian.  “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.”[3]

The problem is that SIN – and here he means our separation from God that we are powerless to remedy – has warped the law such that one cannot, no matter how well one obeys the law, actually do good.

It is not the law that does this, it is sin.

We can probably come up with a long list of things that seem to be good decisions, good actions, and good intentions, that lead to harm and evil we never intended to occur.  Sometimes it’s an unexpected consequence, sometimes the evil is predicted, but seen to be a lesser evil than the good that should result.  Sometimes the same action may be good for one person, but bad for another, or good for one group of people, but bad for another, or good for us, but not for the earth.

My mom used to say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions – usually it was when I said “well, I meant to” when I didn’t actually do what I was supposed to – chores, that sort of thing.

Paul knew all about this. Look at his own story – he was a Pharisee, well-versed in and observant of the law – yet he held the coats of those who watched the stoning of Stephen, approving their actions.

So it’s not just that we do what we don’t want, and don’t do what we do want – even when we do what we want, even though we know it to be good – we still fall short.  We think we are doing God’s will, but others suffer because of us and our choices.

Who will rescue us?  “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”[4]

And in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says the things of God are known by the infants, the children, the disregarded, the powerless. He cries “Woe to you, Chorazin” and other cities in the bit left out of today’s reading, great cities like Bethsaida and Capernaum – they will not last because they have not repented or turned to God.[5] 

He appeals to his followers, to all of us “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”[6] 

God never gives up calling us – prone to error as we are, prone to sin, even to evil as we are – God offers us a way out, the presence of Christ within the church, within our hearts and minds, to guide us.

Yes we sin; and yet grace is still offered.  For without grace, we have no hope, but with the grace of God, the burden he lays on us is light. 

Put down the burdens of fear, anger, despair, bitterness, anxiety, and hatred.  Take up the burden of light, of trust, and of love.  There will we find rest, as though lying in the grass on a summer’s day, watching the clouds overhead.  Seriously, when was the last time you did that? When was the last time you gazed at the stars above us?  Or walked in a field of fireflies?  Rise up, my love, my beauty, and come away!

God’s steadfast love, God’s “hesed,” is our salvation and our hope.

 

 

[1] Romans 7:4.

[2] Romans 7:6.

[3] Romans 7:12.

[4] Romans 7:25a.

[5] Matthew 11: 20-24.

[6] Matthew 11:28.

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