Old Testament: Genesis (24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67)
[The man said to Rebekah and her household,] “I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’ I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also”—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’ Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.” And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
The Response: Psalm (45:11-18)
11 “Hear, O daughter; consider and listen closely; *
forget your people and your father’s house.
12 The king will have pleasure in your beauty; *
he is your master; therefore do him honor.
13 The people of Tyre are here with a gift; *
the rich among the people seek your favor.”
14 All glorious is the princess as she enters; *
her gown is cloth-of-gold.
15 In embroidered apparel she is brought to the king; *
after her the bridesmaids follow in procession.
16 With joy and gladness they are brought, *
and enter into the palace of the king.
17 “In place of fathers, O king, you shall have sons; *
you shall make them princes over all the earth.
18 I will make your name to be remembered
from one generation to another; *
therefore nations will praise you for ever and ever.”
The Epistle: Romans (7:15-25a)
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
The Gospel: Matthew (11:16-19, 25-30)
Jesus said, “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
As many of you know, the Lectionary that we use for our Sunday readings uses a three-year cycle. In just a few weeks, I will have had the privilege of walking through that rotation with you seven times. Some of those readings make creating a sermon easy, while others seem to dare: “See if you can make something out of this!”
Of all the varied readings and all the different types of literature that we encounter in these selections, the first readings that we have this year, from mid-June through mid-October, are some of my favorites. They present us with carefully chosen selections from the books of Genesis and Exodus.
These timeless narratives serve as the foundation stories for our entire Jewish and Christian heritage. They are where we began. They give us footing. More than that, they are expressive of realities and experiences that are fundamental to all human beings, no matter who they are. To use a technical literary expression, many of them are foundational myths.
Among the rich insights provided by these passages are differing, sometimes complementary, views of God and of people’s varying experiences of God. In some of these tales, God appears to or speaks directly to the principal human characters. But often, God doesn’t make any explicit appearance at all. Instead, God is working behind the scenes, guiding the cast and directing the overall flow of the drama. We’ll have an extended example of that later this summer in the Joseph story. And we find it in today’s story as well.
That approach is much more in keeping with our own experience in life than any sort of direct appearance or intervention of God. Unlike those whose so-called “religious” practices include things like snake-handling, or who are always looking for dramatic signs from God, or whose idea of faith approaches the level of superstition and magic, we in our tradition reflect a more subtle, more mature, far deeper understanding and experience of God, present and active in our lives and in the world.
In reflecting on the story that we heard this morning, Walter Brueggemann (Genesis, page 201) has observed: “The workings of God are not spectacular, not magical, not oddities. Disclosure of God comes by steady discernment and by readiness to trust the resilience that is present in the course of daily affairs. There is an understatement about the action of the narrative. But it is not reticent about faith. It is an understatement that is ready to be sustained and profoundly grateful when gifts are given.”
If we try to be in-tune with what is happening in our lives and in the world around us, there are times when it becomes obvious that there is something – or someone – at work in the things that happen that cannot be explained by mere coincidence or by our own meager efforts. Some people try to dismiss that presence, attempting to portray it as a remnant of a pre-scientific mindset. But others who are wiser and more perceptive reach a deeper understanding.
Albert Einstein, undoubtedly one of the greatest scientific minds that have ever existed, perceived that deeper dimension of reality. He recognized that it is the basis not only of all art, but of all science as well. He expressed it this way: “The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the sower of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness” (Einstein: His Life and Times, by Philipp Frank).
That impenetrable presence manifests itself in many experiences and touches the life of the world in many ways. But one consistent area in which we see that ultimate reality at work is in bringing people together, in bridging the divisions that separate them from one another.
In today’s first reading, that invisible presence is at work, guiding Abraham’s servant in his journey in order to bring together Rebekah and Isaac, ensuring the continuation of God’s promise. In the Joseph story, the narrator will lead the hearers to recognize God at work through the unlikely sequence of family jealousy, enslavement, imprisonment, and a series of trials, all to heal the division within the chosen family, to bring them together, and to rescue many people – Egyptians as well as Jacob’s family – from the danger of starvation. Later, God will bring together a collection of twelve tribes along with a “mixed crowd” (Ex. 12:38) and bind them together into a new people. As the biblical story continues through both the Old and New Testaments, God will bring together people of many different nations and cultures and religious backgrounds to share God’s gift of life. And, in almost every case, God will be working in the background, guiding and empowering people to accomplish God’s work of reconciliation.
For that work of bringing people together, that work of reconciliation, is not God’s alone. As St. Paul reminds us (2 Cor. 5:18), “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” That assertion forms the basis for The Book of Common Prayer’s teaching (p. 855) that: “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
So, where do we need to be doing that today? The possibilities, as the saying goes, are limitless. Among other divisions that need us to work for healing are those between people of different races and nationalities, between people of different sexual orientations, between members of various Christian denominations, between people of different religions, between people of different political positions, between people of various income levels, between people in our cities and in our suburbs, and on and on and on. There is an abundance of work for us to do in helping to bring God’s people together.
And where do we begin? Returning to the ancient biblical narratives, neither Abraham’s servant, nor Jacob, nor Moses nor any other great example of bringing people together simply sat back and waited for others to come to him or to her. Every one of them took the first step to go out to the other: to those whom they did not know, to those who seemed to be different from them. It was a courageous thing for them to do: stepping out onto an unfamiliar road to an unfamiliar place. But as N.T. Wright reminds us (Twelve Months of Sundays, Year A, p. 85), “The lonely road across the desert can still be the right way to the destination.” And ultimately, it is still the destination to which God calls us.