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