A Legacy of Grace

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Romans 8:1-11

We have traveled with the family of Abraham for several weeks, experiencing the chaos that often described this family as they made decisions indicating they did not fully trust God’s faithfulness in their lives.  We have heard that even as their choices had consequences, God’s faithfulness continued to move them through the chaos toward community with God and others.

Today we come to a point when we consider the legacy Abraham leaves for those who follow.  A legacy which can help us work through the chaos that sometimes describes our lives, into a community firmly founded in God’s promises.

We begin our look at this legacy through the story of Isaac and Rebekah, the next generation.

As the story opens, Isaac is farming in the outskirts of Beerlaihairoi, his mother Sarah has died at age 127, but he did not attend her burial.  Abraham is around 137 and Isaac is about 37.  Isaac hasn’t seen his father for about 20 years, yet it seems Abraham has, at the minimum, kept track of his son and knows he does not have a wife.  Information available to us indicates that if Isaac has a household at all it consists of servants and farm workers and his father develops a plan to find a wife for his son.[1]

Parents choosing the spouses of their children, while not viewed as a good thing by many in our culture, is common in the time of Abraham and in various cultures throughout history.  There is a new study out that indicates you have a better chance of a long-term good marriage if your family and friends like your spouse, so maybe there is some validity to running prospective spouses by your family even today.

Abraham doesn’t go out to find a wife for Isaac himself.  He asks his principal servant to go to the land of Abraham’s father to locate a spouse for his son.  This servant is likely the one who has witnessed God’s faithfulness through the chaos in which Abraham was often embroiled, the servant who knew him the best, and who Abraham trusted completely.

Abraham lays out the specific criteria for finding a wife for his son, but it is the servant who figures out how to faithfully complete the task set before him.

The servant travels to his master’s homeland and heads for the place he will most likely meet young women, the community well.  The well is often the place where future spouses meet in biblical stories – Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Zipporah.  Once there he doesn’t start talking to anyone, he prays.  He asks for a sign and watches, and waits, to discern God’s will.

Rebekah comes to the well to draw water and when asked by Abraham’s servant for a drink, she immediately offers to draw water for his camels as well.  Her offer was well beyond what might be expected.  One camel can drink 20 to 30 gallons of water at a time and there are about ten camels.  Not every young woman who came to the well would think to offer watering the camels, let alone have the physical stamina to complete their commitment once made.

The servant observes that Rebekah is God’s answer to his prayer and, giving her gold jewelry, he asks to stay at her father’s house.  However, he continues to watch for God at work in the situation before making a final decision.

As he discerns God’s direction, he learns Rebekah is of Abraham’s kin, one of the criteria placed in his charge to find a wife for Isaac, further confirming he has found the right woman.

It seems he has learned from Abraham’s relationship with God and some of the mistakes along the way.  He prepares and prays and then waits, watching for signs of God’s faithfulness.  When he experiences that faithfulness, he is quick to praise God and to share the news with others.  He is also generous, not keeping back the resources in his control, but giving them away freely.

There is more to the process.  Rebekah’s family listens to the servant’s story and evaluates it, ultimately discerning that it is of the Lord.  That seems sufficient for Rebekah who, when asked by her family if she is willing to go, does not hesitate to say yes.  She leaves home and family to travel to a land she has never seen to be wed to someone with whom she has had no contact or knowledge other than what the servant has shared.  She brings to Abraham’s legacy her personal character of generosity, strength, and courage, and of listening for God’s direction.

God’s faithfulness and generosity is apparent throughout this story.  God stays committed to promises made to Abraham of giving him many descendants, providing Isaac a wife who will in time bear him two sons.  God answers the servant’s prayers, provides the resources to show Rebekah’s family this was indeed of the Lord.

That generosity continues as we learn that Isaac loved Rebekah.  In the patriarchal culture of ancient Israel, love was not considered a necessary ingredient in a marriage, so its presence in this marriage was a gift from God to both Isaac and Rebekah.  The Hebrew words describing the moment when Rebekah, after traveling so far, sees Isaac state she falls off the camel, a strong implication the love and attraction went both ways.[2]

This story is one which could easily be developed into a Disney princess movie.  It is full of humor, tense moments as the pieces fall into place, and love which the book of Genesis will reveal was long-lasting and faithful, with a little bit of family drama to keep it interesting.

It is much more than that, as we consider the legacy of Abraham and what that means to the legacies we are building for future generations.

While God is not quoted as directly speaking to anyone.  God is present and the servant, Rebekah, Rebekah’s family, and Isaac all look for God’s plan to be revealed by praying, observing, testing their conclusions with each other, and then taking action.

As we pray and observe the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and others who are the fore-bearers of our faith, I invite you to test with each other these legacy lessons:

Prepare for the journey, pray, wait patiently, watch for signs of God’s faithfulness in the ordinary, day in and day out, routines of your life.  When you experience faithfulness be quick to praise God and to share the news with others.  Be generous.

As the stories of Abraham indicate and the Apostle Paul points out in the passage from Romans this morning, we have inherited a community of faith fraught with all the marks of human sinfulness.  There has been disorder and messiness, violence, anger, and inappropriate behavior in communities of faith down through the generations.  Relationships have formed and relationships have been severed.

There has also been love, and purpose, and promise, and deep relationship with our creator God.

Our power to live into the love, purpose, promise, and deep relationship with God comes through Jesus Christ who has conquered sin, and with the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, revealing God’s plan to us, just as Rebekah was revealed to Abraham’s servant at the well.

Like all human families, the first families of our faith tradition were not perfect.  They had their share of failure and struggles, just like everyone else.  But throughout it all, they knew the abiding presence of the Lord God was with them.

We live in a time when the pressures of our culture set up many perceptions that lure us into believing we have it all handled.  We sometimes seek fulfillment in places, things, and relationships that have nothing to do with where God calls us.  Grace was extended to Abraham and Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael, to Abraham’s servant, Rebekah’s family, to Rebekah and Isaac, to the Apostle Paul.

God’s grace extends to us every day, in every circumstance, even when we aren’t looking.  God was and is faithful.

We are invited into a world of giving and receiving and out of the bountiful grace we receive from God and beloved companions, we gain the wisdom and ability to give gracefully to others and to work for justice for the marginalized and forgotten.  Grace invites us to become God’s active companions in the work of salvation.  The inner struggle may never end, but we have the resources to live with the uncertainty, trusting God is faithful and will get us through it.

Abraham’s servant experiences the grace of finding the right wife for his master’s son.  In the midst of his prayers, Rebekah appears.  Her generous response is life changing for Isaac and all those involved.

We receive a legacy of grace and are reminded in these scriptures that our spiritual journey is a constant process of falling down and getting back up again in the context of a grace that constantly embraces us.

Recognizing our need for grace enables us to accept the brokenness of others and to do what is in our power to be grace-givers and healers in the companionship with our Graceful God as we continue living out this legacy of Grace.

[1] Taylor Burton-Edwards Geography, Timeline, and Genealogy, Preaching Notes 5th Sunday After Pentecost 2017 Discipleship Ministries.

[2] Kathryn M. Schifferdecker Commentary on Genesis 24:34-38, 43-49, 58-67

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