Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s a difficult task to preach a meaningful sermon at a wedding. Everyone seems a bit distracted. The bride and groom are often unaware that anything is being said to them. The wedding party is counting down the minutes until the reception begins. The parents of the bride are wondering whether they really do have to pay for the no-shows at the dinner. As for the groom’s parents, they are simply counting their blessings that they are not the parents of the bride. Of course, this year is different. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the postponement of so many social events that couples are wondering whether they should get married or not.
Yes, with so many weddings being postponed, I have had time to meditate on a whole new set of Bible verses for future weddings. Forget 1st Corinthians 13 and Colossians 3. I rather like Jeremiah 33:11, “There shall once more be heard the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord.” Or perhaps, Jesus’ own words in St. Mark’s gospel, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?” These verses remind us that, even in the midst of a pandemic, nothing can prevent God’s love and joy from touching and changing people’s lives-not disease, nor distance, not even death. And no story in the Old Testament seems to underscore this truth more than the arranged marriage of Isaac and Rebekah.
In the earlier chapters of Genesis we heard of God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. In order to enjoy that privileged position, Abraham obviously had to have a son. For 25 years, Abraham and Sarah waited for their son Isaac to be born, but now Abraham found himself waiting again. I remember my mother telling her soon to be son-in-law, the night before the wedding, that he could call her by whatever name he wanted, even “hey you,” but after two years, it had to be “grandma.” Apparently, Isaac didn’t get that message. Abraham, you see, wasn’t waiting for a first grandchild. He was waiting for Isaac simply to get married. Isaac had become a shy, but wealthy, 37 year-old Norwegian bachelor farmer, who on a good day was extroverted enough to look at his neighbors’ shoes or sandals, as it is.-
Abraham, Sarah and Isaac had been a close-knit family. Regretfully, Sarah lived to the ripe old age of 127, but saw no grandchildren. Isaac mourned his mother’s death, the only woman in his life, for 3 years, but with no marriage prospect in sight, Abraham realized that if God’s promised was to be fulfilled, he had to take the initiative and make plans to find a wife for his son himself.
Abraham called his servant, Eliezer of Damascus, the manager of his entire household, and assigned him the task of finding a suitable bride. Abraham said to him, “You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you shall go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” Abraham was afraid that his son Isaac would be corrupted by the Canaanites deities of any local wives, and that God would not be pleased. So even though, Abraham’s own relatives in Mesopotamia had their idols, he trusted that they were at least a moral people who knew about God and respected him.
So the old servant began the toilsome journey to the vicinity of Haran, where Abraham’s brother had remained after Abraham migrated to Canaan sixty-five years earlier. Abraham had assured the servant that the angel of the Lord would go before him. With that sense of divine direction, he stopped at a well in the town of Nahor, which happened to be Abraham’s brother’s name. And he prayed that God would bring the right girl to that well and lead her to offer water for his camels. Before Eliezer got to the “Amen,” God had the answer on the way. Rebekah, who was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, came out with her jar on her shoulder. Eliezer ran to meet her and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord” and she quickly gave him a drink. When he finished drinking she said, “I will draw also for your camels until they have finished drinking.” So she emptied her jar into the watering trough and ran back to the well for some more, and she drew enough water for all ten of his camels. What a girl she was—beautiful, vivacious, friendly, kind, outgoing, unselfish, and energetic. And when the servant found out that she was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, he bowed his head and worshiped the Lord. From the beginning of the story, it is clear that God is the real matchmaker and not Eliezer. With that, Eliezer presented Rebekah with a gold ring and two bracelets.
Rebekah’s father Bethuel and her brother Laban negotiated her marriage. Oddly, Rebekah was not asked about her own desire or willingness. It was simply assumed that she would follow the guidance of her male elders. It was soon all agreed. The night before Eliezer and Rebekah were to depart from Mesopotamia for the 500 mile journey to Canaan, they all feasted together. They “ate and drank, and spent the night,” and the following day, when Eliezer and his entourage rose up and were ready to head back to Canaan. Rebekah’s family refused to let her go. Her mother and brother decided they would keep Rebekah for a while. They wanted her to stay for 10 more days.
Eliezer, however, wouldn’t agree to staying longer. Surprisingly, the family decided to ask Rebekah something they probably hadn’t ever imagined before. “Rebekah, will you go with this man?” Will you leave the land of your birth, your family and friends, your sheep and the other animals? Will you leave all you ever known and go to a place you know nothing about? Will you leave us and marry a man you’ve never seen before?”
Frankly, it is the same question that every man or woman preparing for marriage must answer. Of course, there are plenty of emotions. All of them valid. There are questions about what the future will bring. There may be concerns about how a spouse will react to the challenges of life. Rebekah faced an immense decision —leaving the home and family she would never see again, traveling nearly five hundred miles on camelback with a total stranger, to marry a man she had never met. Would there be joy in her new home? And yet in spite of it all, with the eyes of her family staring at her and their question echoing in her thoughts, “Will you go with this man?” she answered, “I will.”
What allowed this young woman, this young Rebekah to make such a brave, courageous and intentional commitment to a man she did not know and had not seen? I rather suspect that it is the same quality of faith that we pray in every couple that prepares for marriage.
First of all, I believe that marriage begins with a trust that God is the ultimate matchmaker who is bringing couples together. Not even Eliezer of Damascus, a man of the world, believed he could find the perfect wife for his master’s son Isaac. But he believed that God could. So he went to the right place, and at the right time, and prayed that God would lead him to the right woman. Eliezer was not disappointed.
Second, I believe that there is a calculated risk in marriage, as well as a calculated joy. In order to move forward in love and marriage, you do have to leave some things behind. Relationships do change- even with your family. And sometimes family members have to let go of those they love, so that a new life can begin. For Rebekah, it was her trust in God’s sovereign direction that motivated her to face the calculated risk, to take a chance, and make a commitment to a man she still did not know. All for the calculated joy of God’s blessing.
Finally, you simply have to let love take root and grow. To find God and meaning in life today, many people trek all over the world, they climb mountains, and meditate in some gilded sanctuary. They’re led to believe that we need to get outside of ourselves and our daily lives in order to find what we are seeking. They’re led to believe the same is true about love. But the story of Isaac and Rebecca teaches us that in the search for love and holiness, we need to look no further than our own living rooms, basements, backyards and fields. Holiness is to be found in the mundane things and patterns of life. Love, you see, makes the ordinary holy and sacred.
Certainly the days of travel for Rebekah and Eliezer were filled with talk of Isaac. The old servant described him honestly and completely. Isaac was an unassuming, mild-mannered, peace-loving man. He would go to great lengths to avoid a fight. He was a quiet man, and not a quick thinker. Perhaps a bit shy. He was not the man his father was, but he was a good man, with a steadfast faith in God and a sense of divine mission. Isaac was different from the radiant, quick-witted Rebekah, but if opposites attract, Rebekah could feel her heart being drawn to this one whom she would soon meet and give herself to in marriage.
Isaac was out in the field meditating at evening time which was his custom. Yes, like any good farmer, he was outstanding in his field, when the camel caravan approached carrying his precious cargo. Rebekah dismounted from the camel when she saw Isaac, and covered herself with a veil. After Isaac had heard all the exciting details of the eventful trip and the providential guidance that had found him a bride, we read, “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her.
It may not be the order of love and marriage that young couples imagine today. It’s why, when the wedding plans are thrown into disarray, the bride and groom are tempted to postpone their wedding day to another time and another year. But my friends, it is exactly what happens in life. You shouldn’t be afraid, or cancel and postpone your joy. As Jesus said, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?” God’s love enters our lives even in the time of a pandemic. And like Rebekah and Isaac, we grow in love in spite of the challenges- and then through these same challenges, we grow to love our spouse more than we could have ever imagined. Gradually through the mundane activities of life that become more holy and sacred with each day, love grows, and we are comforted and consoled like Isaac- even in our troubles and losses. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.