Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A messy cast of characters

This sermon explores the story of 40 year old Isaac & his young bride Rebekah.

(A child bride & her new husband)

Every week you receive in your bulletin about 2 pages of announcements. In addition to the weekly calendar and information on upcoming events, you find a list of people whom you are asked to pray for including those facing illness or have been deployed. We send our blessings upon the life of Emily on her Baptism day and congratulations to Amy and Joseph on their wedding weekend. These announcements are not a Holy Trinity community calendar. They aren’t simply an FYI of the meetings and activities of a group of people. Our announcements, and the time that we use at the beginning of the service to highlight these announcements are a public profession of God’s work in our Christian community. It is a testimony, that at the beginning of life, God and the community of God’s people are present in events like Emily’s Baptism. It’s a testimony that God, and the community of God’s people are present at the end of life as well. The announcements are a statement of faith—we believe that we are called to gather in worship, grow in faith and go in service. That Christ’s call to “go forth and make disciples of all nations” is a call for us…It’s a call we live out by sharing the Word of God during VBS. These “announcements” are a testimony that we take seriously God’s call to feed the hungry and live it out by filling Christian Ministries food bank. You will notice, through these statements of faith in our weekly announcements that we don’t only highlight the neat, clean, positive aspects of life. They don’t simply include the “positive” aspects of community life. Because we don’t believe that God is absent when tragedy strikes, or when life is painful, we don’t wash over the announcements and stories of life that are painful. We believe God is present throughout our lives, in our joys and in our sorrows, and in the sometimes unconventional decisions we make.

The belief that God is present in all stages of our lives, in the clean parts, and in the messy are not only highlighted in our announcements. They are highlighted in scripture. When we look at today’s 1st reading from Genesis 24, we find a God who is present in the mess of life, remaining faithful to His people. Isaac, who is about 40 years old in this passage, has not yet found a wife. His nervous father Abraham decides to address this matter, telling his servant (ie slave) that he needs to find a wife for Isaac. Not just any wife, but someone in the family. The servant/slave swears an oath that he will go back to Abraham’s homeland and bring back a wife—he won’t allow Isaac to live with the girl’s family, instead, the servant needs to find a girl and bring her back. The servant sets off, and begins to pray, and during this prayer sees a girl who may be a relative. He asks who she is, and the girl confirms that she is indeed family…a cousin to Abraham and Isaac. After meeting with the girl’s family, it is agreed that Rebekah, who is probably around 12-14 yrs old, is to leave her family, likely never to see them again, and go marry a 40 year old man she has never met. The passage concludes as she is taken by Isaac into his mother’s tent, and they are married. Isaac is comforted by his new wife following his mother’s death.

We have a 12-14 yr old girl taken from her home and family, sent to marry a 40 year old relative she has never met. I’ve written many announcements for church bulletins, but I have to say, that one would be a bit tricky! But, the Bible was not given to us as the Word of God so we could examine the neat, clean lives of upstanding citizens from ancient times. It’s not a history book filled with perfect events or perfect people, just like our announcements are not edited down to only include “happy” events. The Word of God was given to us, so we may see that God is present with, and uses the lives of very messy people. He promises never to abandon young girls who are married off to strangers, those who experience this 5,000 years ago as well as those who experience it today. God is present with Isaac, who is still mourning the death of his mother, 3 years after she is gone in the same way He is present with those in our midst who mourn the death of their mothers. This passage tells us that God is present in the midst of our lives, no matter what our lives may contain. God is in the ordinary, everyday events of life—births, weddings, deaths through the generations. God doesn’t stop his active role in human history because births, weddings, and deaths get messy. Instead, He fully immerses Himself in human history BECAUSE births, weddings, and deaths get messy. Moreover, God uses this messy family: Abraham, who fathered a child with a slave. Isaac, who marries a teenager. Rebekah, taken from her homeland. And it doesn’t stop with the messy people of the Old Testament. God will continue to use each and every one of us in the midst of our messy lives. When we are ill, when we disappoint our loved ones, when we are in jail, when we are divorced. In a society that says “we can’t use someone like you” God turns to us and says “I can. And I will.”

Scripture passages like these also give us permission to tell our own messy stories and share God’s presence in them. When we read these uncomfortable passages, we can find comfort, because we know that God did not abandon the people of the Bible for their practices, and He will not abandon us for ours. Instead, the messy stories help spread the faith and work of God—stories from 5,000 years ago, and stories from 5 minutes ago. Telling these stories does not mean we are accepting them as "correct" or what God wanted as a whole. Instead it is professing our faith that God has and will continue to work within us, moving us toward the fulfillment of his promise that comes through Christ.

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