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A Willingness to Serve
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
by Rev. Randy Quinn

Last Sunday we were in Prairie Farm, Wisconsin, attending the church where my mother attended as a little girl and where several of my relatives are still active members.  It was an Evangelical Church before it became an Evangelical United Brethren Church before it became a United Methodist Church.  My grandmother used to say she had been a member of three different churches but never once changed her membership.

And while I never was a part of that congregation, most people in the church know who I am Ė I am either Carolís son or Luellaís grandson.  I donít need to be introduced because people know me.  So in many ways, going there is like going home.  Itís a place where I experience great love and have many fond memories.

But I also feel like an outsider there because I donít know anyoneís name.  I havenít spent enough time with them or been with them often enough to remember who they are.  I donít remember who is who Ė even those who my mother refers to by first name because they are her cousins.  I didnít grow up there so I donít know who is related to whom and how they are related to me.

(Itís a place where I wish they would use name tags so visitors donít feel like the only ones who donít know whatís going on.)

I tell you that before I begin today because I know that every time I go into the doors of that church building a part of me rehearses the same story, the story Iíve heard and known for many years.  Itís the story of my family and itís the story of how God has been at work among us from generation to generation.  Itís the story of pastors who come and go but a congregation that remains steadfast and faithful.

And in that sense, our experience in Prairie Farm Ė the first one for Mariah and Jesse Ė is very much like what happens in our text today.  A story is told.  And itís retold.  And itís told again.  The story is repeated within the same story, in fact.

And because I believe the ďretellingĒ is almost as important as the story itself, I was tempted to read the entire chapter this morning.  (The price for that would have been a shorter sermon since itís a long chapter Ė which may have made some of you happier than a shorter scripture and a longer sermon and would have disappointed others, Iím sure.  Either way, you can thank the Bible Study folks who helped me realize exactly how hard it was to listen to the whole story.)

So, let me read the portion the lectionary committee has selected with some explanatory notes along the way.

Our story begins, really, in the previous chapter where Sarahís death and burial are reported.  At the end of that chapter, Abraham begins to think about his own death and his concern for his son Isaac.  Without a wife for Isaac who can recognize and celebrate Godís promise, the covenant God made to Abraham would expire and there would be no future generations to claim it.

So Abraham asks his servant to go to the land of his father and find a wife for Isaac.  He makes him swear that he will neither take Isaac back Ė as if he might choose to stay there rather than in the Promised Land Ė nor to come back without a wife.  When the servant asks what he is to do if Abrahamís family will not allow it to happen, Abraham assures him that God is faithful and can be trusted.  He says an ďangel of the LordĒ will guide him (Gen. 24:7).

So the servant goes, but when he arrives in the town of Nahor he realizes he doesnít know how to choose a bride.  So he says a little prayer and asks God to reveal her to him.  He goes to the well and waits.

[Now, what if the woman is like the woman Jesus meets at the well?  What if she has had five husbands?  How will Abrahamís servant know?]

The servant prays that the woman will be one who will offer him and his camels water Ė and almost before he finishes with his prayer, a woman appears who does exactly that!  And not only that, she is a relative of Abrahamís!

Clearly God has been faithful.  After giving God thanks, the servant goes to her home and tells her brother Laban the story of what happened.

"I am Abraham's servant.  The LORD has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys.  My master's wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns.  And my master made me swear an oath, and said, 'You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, but go to my father's family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.'

(Gen. 24:34b-38)

He then repeats the story of his conversation with Abraham and the assurance that an angel would guide him, so he came trusting in Godís faithfulness.  He continues, repeating most of what we, the readers, have already heard:

"When I came to the spring today, I said, 'O LORD, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come.  See, I am standing beside this spring; if a maiden comes out to draw water and I say to her, "Please let me drink a little water from your jar," and if she says to me, "Drink, and I'll draw water for your camels too," let her be the one the LORD has chosen for my master's son.'  "Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, 'Please give me a drink.'  "She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, 'Drink, and I'll water your camels too.' So I drank, and she watered the camels also.

"I asked her, 'Whose daughter are you?' "She said, 'The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milcah bore to him.' "Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, and I bowed down and worshiped the LORD. I praised the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master's brother for his son.

Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn."

(Gen. 24:42-49)

God had been faithful.  Abraham had been a willing servant who was faithful.  The servant had been a willing servant who was faithful.  Now it was up to Laban.

Or perhaps more pointedly, it is up to us.  God has been faithful.  Are we willing servants who will also be faithful?  Will we seek Godís will and then do Godís will?

The servant presents the options fairly clearly.  And Laban chooses to be a willing servant and be faithful.  Then the opportunity is given to Rebekah.  Will she be a willing servant who is faithful?

At any point in this story, the choices made by the people in the story could have affected the outcome.  Abraham could have sought a wife for Isaac in Canaan where no one else knew his God the way he did.  The servant could have simply found the first available woman without concern for her willingness to serve a stranger or even her particular pedigree.

Laban could have denied the request and left the servant looking for another woman.  Even Rebekah could change the end of the story by choosing to not be a willing servant of God.

That is true of us all.  God often works among us; but God can only work among us if we are willing to serve.

So they called Rebekah and asked her, "Will you go with this man?" "I will go," she said.  So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham's servant and his men.  And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, "Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies."  Then Rebekah and her maids got ready and mounted their camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.

Now Isaac had come from Beer Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev.  He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching.  Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel and asked the servant, "Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?" "He is my master," the servant answered. So she took her veil and covered herself.

Then the servant told Isaac all he had done [the only place in this chapter, by the way, where there is an unused opportunity to repeat what took place before].  Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.

(Gen. 24:58-67)

Itís almost a fairy tale ending to a short little novel that spans 67 verses.  (But as we all know, they donít really live ďhappily ever after.Ē  In fact, they bring some trouble on themselves and cause tension between their sons Ė but weíll hear more about that in the coming weeks, so there is no need to address that today.)

The point of this story seems to be that God is at work in the ordinary events of our lives Ė from the feeding of the camels to offering a cold drink of water to a stranger, from grieving the loss of a parent to finding the love of a spouse.  God is a willing partner in our lives, but it is a partnership that requires a willingness to serve on our parts.

God is with us at family reunions and ball games.  God goes with us to the grocery store and to the post office.  God is faithful to us in all things ordinary and extraordinary.  God is simply asking us to respond with faith, to be a willing servant.

Abraham didnít know who his servant would find, but he trusted God to lead and direct him.  The servant didnít know how to find a wife for Isaac, but he trusted God to reveal her to him.  Laban had no idea what the future would hold, but he recognized that God was at work and so he trusted his sister to Godís care.  Rebekahís story was changed dramatically as she accepted the invitation to be Isaacís wife, an act that would change her from being the one who drew water from the well to the wife of a man who was not only very rich, but had also inherited the promises God made to his father Abraham.

None of them did anything remarkable.  And yet it was Godís remarkable way of bringing the story to a new generation.

God is speaking to us today.  God has sent Jesus to cleanse us from our sin and restore us to a right relationship with God.  All we need to do is accept what God has done and make ourselves available for God to work.

If youíve never made a commitment of that kind, or if youíve never officially joined us in our commitment to serve through this congregation, Iím going to ask you to remain at the altar after receiving communion.  We will pray with you here and we will celebrate with you what God is doing in our midst today.

God has been faithful to us.  The question is the same one presented to Abraham and his servant, to Laban and Rebekah:  Will you be a willing servant of God?  Amen.