Sermon for Sunday, July 6

During the weeks of summer the Scripture lesson that will be read will be from the Hebrew Torah (first 5 books). These lessons are the sagas of Abram and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Miriam, and others, which got me thinking about our stories. Each of us lives with or in many stories; our own personal life story, our family’s and friends’ stories, stories of our province, our nation, our world. We are swimming in stories.

I like to think of us swimming in a soup together. You may each have your own metaphor for living, mine is soup. Though mostly I think we’re floating rather than swimming in this soup of life. And it’s a chowder because I like seafood, so it would be a Boston cream seafood chowder, which I guess is also why I like operating a café, I think in food.

Anyway, here we all are together. As I’m floating I’m also reading a variety of books. Lately, I’ve been reading Radical Amazement by Judy Cannato, and I’ll talk more about her thoughts in the weeks ahead, but the one thought that I want to share with you is a discovery I made a few weeks ago about stories.

I realized that we each have various references to the stories in our lives.  In the last two years I’ve heard several mentions of “the old stories” and “the new story.”

Now for me, the “old stories” have always been the biblical stories in the Old/Hebrew Testament. The “new story” we’ve been hearing so much about is the new theories of cosmology which is the scientific study of the origin and structure of the universe–how the earth was formed; how many billions of years old the earth is; how human beings have evolved over time, etc. And I’ve heard people say “the ancient stories need to be replaced with this new story”. That statement has made no sense to me until I was reading Radical Amazementbecause Cannato explained what the “old story” was. And it’s not my old stories from the Bible. The ‘old stories’ are the stories of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. It’s their theories of how the universe came into being. It’s these stories that are to be replaced with the ‘new stories’ of Einstein, Hubble, Heschel, Freedman and the rest of the modern day scientists who are re-formulating what science believes about our universe.

It was like a light bulb went off in my brain when I realized this because I never could figure out why we should remove the old Biblical stories and replace them with a new cosmology story. So I was much relieved and agreed with Cannato that the old ideas, of a 3 dimensional world with heaven up there, earth in the middle and hell below, or the idea of the world being like a well-oiled machine that keeps ticking away, need to fade away and be replaced with the belief that the Earth is a living, sentient being; alive in all the diverse forms of creation. This makes infinite sense to me.

And besides the ancient Biblical creation stories were never meant to literally explain how the world came to be. To begin with, they were written as poetry and poetry is not taken literally. Rather poetry is a metaphor pointing to something else. More about creation stories on August 10th when we dedicate the Creation Season paraments—the communion table cloth and the wall hangings.

It was also helpful for me to realize that while both cosmology and theology tell stories they’re not identical in purpose. Cosmology begins with science and the empirical method then tries to explain the meaning of life and our role in life. While theology begins with religious experience then tries to understand that experience and our encounter with God.

So all of this being said where does that leave us with the story of how Isaac gets a wife?

Early one morning several years ago, my daughter-in-law and I were having our morning coffee at the dining room table. My eldest grandson came in dragging her carrying his favorite stuffed toy. He looked at his mother with and said, “Mommy, why did you marry daddy?” (I was surprised at such a serious question first thing in the morning!) Jette said, “Because I love him.” The child’s face broke into a smile, and he looked at his bunny rabbit. “I love my bunny,” he said. His mother pulled him onto her lap, hugged him, and said, “I know you love your bunny. But your stuffed toy can’t love you back.” He snuggled into her mother’s lap, happy and content, and said, “But you can.”

People marry for many reasons. The attraction of one person to another might be something as simple as the way he walks, the sound of his laughter, the way he holds himself. But we marry for much more than that. We want someone who can love us back.

Isaac needed someone to love him back. His mother Sarah had just died. Isaac was at the age for marriage and Abraham refused even to think about allowing Isaac to marry a Canaanite woman. It was essential that Isaac’s wife be loyal to the living God. Abraham was afraid to send his son on the long journey back to Mesopotamia to find a wife so he sends his loyal servant instead. Abraham assures the servant that an angel will guide him. Then they swear an oath and the servant leaves. God is involved in the selection of Rebekah from the very beginning as the servant prays at every step of his long journey.

If ever there was a marriage made in heaven, this is it! The servant finally arrives at his destination and meets Rebekah at a well. She is beautiful, but she is much, much more than beautiful. As the story unfolds, we discover that she is independent, trusting, generous, and courageous. When Abraham’s servant asks her for a drink, she gladly gives it even though he is a foreigner. Then she offers to give water to his camels. She doesn’t give them just a little. She sees to it that the animals are completely satisfied. There are ten camels and only one water jug, so it must have taken a while! The servant is thrilled. God has led him to a wife for his master’s son. He bows his head and worships God. He speaks to Rebekah’s family. The family deliberates, Rebekah gives her assent, and they are off.

It’s a little hard to believe. Rebekah just goes. She begins a long, dangerous journey with an unknown servant going to an unknown land and an unknown husband. Why did she do it? Obviously she had a sense of adventure. And maybe there was something in the servant’s manner that made her trust him. In any case, Rebekah gathers up her things, calls her serving girls, they jump on the camels and ride away.

When they finally arrive at their destination Rebekah sees a man coming toward her. The servant tells her it is Isaac, her intended husband. So she throws the veil over her face and hops off the camel. Isaac takes her into the tent, and they are husband and wife. It’s a good thing this marriage was made in heaven, because it appears there was no fancy wedding, no feast, no vows. In any case, they met, they went into the tent, and that was that. In this way, God continued the covenant promise with the people through the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. It sounds risky to me.

That is how it was for Rebekah and Isaac. I hope Rebekah saw something about the way Isaac walked, the way he reached out his hand, the sound of his voice, the way he carried himself. Whatever the case, I know they lived out the covenant. Isaac was the child of God’s promise to Sarah, and Rebekah became Isaac’s partner in living the promise. She took an active part in God’s plan. They did have a marriage made in heaven. Together they entered a journey of faith. It became a journey of trust, a trip without maps, not knowing where they were going but going anyway- -just like the stories of Abraham and Sarah’s journeys.

That’s what a covenant is. It’s a journey in which one lives out the promise. It is moving forward in faith even when the desert rains come and the sand is washed away from under your feet. It is forging ahead when the desert winds of life rage and the power of their fury can knock you clean off your camel. Living the covenant means knowing in those terribly trying times when life brings the worst it can, even then, nothing can separate us from God’s promise which was made to each of us in our baptismal covenant.