Saturday, July 2, 2011

Proper 9A 2011

Proper 9A 2011

          We continue to hear from Genesis, Romans, and St. Matthew. Abraham sends his servant back to his relatives near Haran on the SyriaTurkey border to seek a wife for his son Isaac. Rebecca is the girl; she leaves her family to marry her cousin Isaac.  St. Paul wrestles with his desire to do God’s will his experience of sin. And Jesus teaches, “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.”

          Jesus’ sayings make sense from inside the community of faith, but not from outside that community. Christian faith is profoundly counter-cultural. A society based on power and violence and status and law cannot understand a gentle and humble heart. A society that rewards striving and hard work places little value on rest for the soul. We’ve been described as a society of self-made men worshipping our creator – ourselves.

          Most of us live in two worlds. Our hearts are in kingdom of God, but our bodies are in the material world, and our task is to discern how to live from our hearts in our bodies. Abraham, Isaac and Rebecca almost 4000 years ago dealt with the same task. Jesus and St. Paul 2000 years ago dealt with the same task.

          The stories we read this summer about Abraham and his family tell why Abraham’s people behaved in different ways from the people around them. Why do Abraham’s people not sacrifice their children to the gods? Let me tell you about Abraham and Isaac and the ram caught in a thicket. Why do Abraham’s people circumcise boy babies. Let me tell you about the command Abraham received from the Lord. Why do Abraham’s people require free consent by women being married? Let me tell you about Isaac and Rebecca.  Why do Abraham’s people not intermarry with the people around them? Let me tell you more about Isaac and Rebecca and also about Jacob and Esau.

          Last week we left Isaac on the mountain, mighty glad to see the ram caught in the thicket. Then follows another promise of God’s blessing on Abraham and his descendants that they will be “as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands of the sea.” Then a list of Abraham’s brother Nahor’s children including Abraham’s nephew Bethuel. Sarah died at age 127 at  Hebron and Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah to bury her as a sign that he is no longer a nomad passing through but intends to become a permanent resident. Time had come for Isaac to have a wife, but Abraham did not want a marriage alliance with the local people.

It may be they did not want an alliance with him. Continuing into our own time – 4000 years after Abraham - the agricultural and urban Arabs do not intermarry with the sheep and goat herding Bedouin. And the Bedouin prefer to marry within the family, particularly first cousins. The text says that Abraham required of his servant a solemn oath not to marry Isaac to a local girl.  Archaeological evidence shows that the local Canaanite religion was a earth religion where worshippers called on the storm god Baal to bring fertilizing rain to goddess Earth. Abraham’s God is God of history. God cares not only about crops but about the whole world and all creation, including all humanity made in the spiritual image of God.

Abraham also did not want to send Isaac back to Haran on the SyriaTurkey border.  He sent a trusted servant back to his nephew Bethuel. The servant waited by the well for someone to show the traditional hospitality of offering him water. Bethuel’s daughter Rebecca did so and extended extraordinary hospitality by watering 10 camels as well. Abraham’s servant loaded Rebecca with gold, 10 shekels weight, about 5½ ounces or $8000 worth. That’s a good size tip, and it is also evidence of wealth. Today’s lesson includes some of the marriage negotiation. Laban was Rebecca’s brother and both were Isaac’s first cousin once removed. The story as recorded is not very romantic by our standards, but different times, different customs.

We’re not told Rebecca’s side of the story but we do learn that Rebecca had an opportunity to accept or decline and chose to agree. Just as from the time of Isaac the people of God unlike their neighbors never sacrificed their first-born sons, so from the time of Rebecca marriage has required free consent. We are told that Isaac loved Rebecca. She had twin boys, Jacob and Esau. More about them next week.

It is consistent with the Jewish tradition and I think reasonable to read into the story as told a call from God to Rebecca to accept the offer made by Abraham’s servant and approved by her family. We are told that Isaac loved Rebecca. She had twin boys, Jacob and Esau. More about them next week.

St. Paul is wrestling with the human experience of wanting to do God’s will and yet in fact doing something else.  We  “do not understand our own actions. We do not do what we want, but do the very thing we hate.” Ask anyone who has tried to lose weight. But St. Paul ends by rejoicing that he is not – and we are not – set right with God by our behavior, but we are set right with God by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Jesus has indeed rescued St. Paul, and rescues us, ” from this body of death.”

Jesus speaks to the crowd, and to the church, about the difference between living in the kingdom of God and playing the world’s game by the rules of the world.  He calls us to repent and believe, to lay aside the burdens of a life focused on the self-sufficient and self-important, and to trust in the gentle and humble power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of spiritual Truth and spiritual Power, the spiritual power that makes it possible for us to love, and forgive, and receive forgiveness.

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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