Pull Together Now
Rebekah’s online dating profile would read like this: strong, independent woman, filled with compassion and a cunning spirit. Willing to travel, accompanied by a nurse and maid, to care for babies to be one day. Able to ride camels and dismount gracefully.
Isaac’s would read something like this: 40 year old mamma’s boy bachelor with the keys to the kingdom. Intelligent (although sometimes naive), exceptionally loyal, and seeking wife with a very specific set of qualities- She must be willing to move and accept my marriage proposal through a mediator. Sight unseen. Must be a cousin. And must worship the one true God.
Isaac and Rebekah. The scene that Erik read for us this morning is their “meet cute.” That moment when a future couple, first encounters one another. In the film world, this moment is sometimes adorable/ sometimes awkward and yet… always filled with hope. Isaac and Rebekah’s “meet cute” is all that.
Remember when Rebekah first laid eyes on Isaac? The verse simply say that, “She got down from her camel.” In other translations it suggests that she quickly dismounted… but the translators are all being kind to her, for in the Hebrew there is no mistaking the fact that she fell off her camel. The story goes on to say that she then put on a veil and covered herself for modesty sake before meeting her future husband… but I think we all know that she was really just hiding her embarrassed blush and righting her tumbled clothing…
Isaac and Rebekah’s story is meant to charm us.
There are a lot of little nuances of their meeting that are just wonderful:
Abraham’s servant found Rebekah at the well… the place where women went to find partners. It was the eHarmony of its day.
It wasn’t Isaac’s choice to send someone out to fetch a bride, it was Abraham’s. Isaac wan’t even consulted.
But it was Rebekah’s choice to get married. Even Rebekah’s father, who traditionally had the final say, placed the decision solely in her hands.
Did you notice the exchange of jewelry? While today we exchange wedding bands. Rebekah was give bracelets and a nose ring.
And finally, Abraham’s servant asked God for a sign as to who should marry Isaac. He asked God to send him a woman that would offer him a drink and water his camels. Watering the human was easy, camels on the other hand drink about 30-50 gallons of water at a time- and he had camels, as in plural. She would have been drawing water all day long for this stranger.
Isaac’s name means laughter. And so, it seems that Rebekah is his fitting partner. The Scripture tells us distinctly that he married her and he loved her.
While this story is meant to charm us, it is also meant to fill us with confidence.
Abraham and Sarah were adventurers and dreamers, they were the first open to hearing God’s whispers. They would overcome the odds to begin a holy nation together.
Isaac and Rebekah would pick up the baton from them.
Together they would take this vast concept of “God’s people”- as vast as the stars, and they would give birth, quite literally, to the distinct nation of Israel.
I love Genesis. From the very beginning of God’s story we are taught that God invites unexpected people/ unexpected encounters to pave the way for God’s will in this world. The extraordinary through the o’ so very ordinary.
It’s a truth that is woven into nearly every tale that the Bible has to offer- and today’s Gospel lesson is no exception.
As much as I would like to linger over Isaac and Rebekah’s romance… It’s Jesus who has the better lesson for us today. And just to warn you, our gospel reading stands in stark contrast, as Jesus is doing a fair bit of yelling.
“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another…”
As he rants you can practically feel the migraine coming on…
You see, John the Baptist had just been arrested… and knowing that his death is likely… John directs his disciples towards Jesus… but they have their doubts. They ask him, “Are you really the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” In other words: are you really the Messiah?
If I were Jesus… there would have been a major eye roll at this moment.
And so he responds (perhaps kindly, perhaps yelling- your choice). He says, “I have given sight to the blind, I have healed broken bodies. I have cleansed those with leprosy, I have opened the ears of the deaf. Shoot! I’ve even raised the dead. I have proclaimed good news to the poor from one end of this desert to the next, you brats!” *I added that last part.
Jesus failed to fulfill their expectations. And quite frankly I think Jesus may have been proud of that fact, proud of the fact that he was utterly unexpected. The text tells us that they called him a drunkard and a glutton- maybe because he always knew where the best parties were, but more likely because he was determined to meet the people wherever they were.
They called him a friend of tax collectors and sinners- scandalous! But he was, unabashedly, a friend to all. He even invited a few disgraced sinners to be his closest disciples. He didn’t care about the baggage that people brought with them into their friendship… he only cared that the friendship existed in the first place.
Jesus was weary of proving himself. Especially when they were so bent on trying to pound a square peg into a round hole- forcing him to fit their image of a King.
But, Jesus was Jesus. A backwoods, Palestinian preacher from no-wheres-ville. A child of humble parents- who were not exactly nobility. He had dirty feet from the miles he tracked bringing good news. He was surrounded by a band of loyal misfits. He had nothing more and nothing less to offer this world than himself.
And Jesus, I think he liked in that way. The purity of it all. The sly unexpected nature of his Godliness.
He would die for these people he loved them so. Even for the disciples of John who wanted more magic tricks so that they could possibly/maybe/perhaps then believe.
Isaac and Rebekah. Jesus and the leery disciple. Somehow… they are love stories both.
But then, once Jesus calms down and has had some time in prayer… we have this nugget of brilliance from him:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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 from your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Seeing their own fear, skepticism, weariness/ seeing their earnest desire to know… Jesus passes the peace and he offers an invitation.
But… perhaps you noticed this… Jesus doesn’t offer to unburden them, but to burden them with something completely different. Jesus wants to change out the yokes around their necks. They are offered a light burden and and easy yoke– oxymorons if I’ve ever heard them before.
It seems that with Jesus there is still a yoke, there is still a burden.
With the children we talked about the purpose of a yoke… That they allowed animals to pull together on a heavy load when working in pairs or teams.
So, in essence we are invited onto God’s team. But through this yoke imagery, we are reminded that there is work to be done, we are reminded that we are part of something far greater than just ourselves. To be yoked will require our focus, our everything… and we are held accountable for our effort.
Think again of Jesus and the disciples of John the Baptist. He has invited them onto his team. But he makes it clear that they can only be yoked to one cart at a time. Their expectations, their fear, their allegiances… They have to be shed/ given up… so that they can now be burdened with the yoke of Christ.
Lance Pape wrote this:
“What Jesus offers is not freedom from work, but freedom from onerous labor…The easy yoke means having something to do: a purpose that demands your all and summons forth your best…It means work toward a certain future in which all of God’s dreams will finally come true. To accept the yoke of the gentle/ humble Lord is to embrace the worthy task that puts the soul at ease.”
Taking on the yoke of Christ is a celebration in the fact that we are part of a vision that went back all the way to Abraham and Sarah/ Isaac and Rebekah. We are yet more unexpected people pulling the cart of God’s will in this world. We are the ordinary, for the sake of the extraordinary.
Together, in our yoke, we pull towards the kingdom of God!
And in that collective effort, there is joy, there is spiritual assurance and rest, there is a true freedom for our often captive hearts.
Children of God, it’s true. We pull towards the kingdom of God! It’s our job, together. It’s our purpose as God’s Church.
In giving to the Smile Train, our summer mission partnership…we pull towards a more just world. We make a monetary effort to bring sustainable medical care to children in developing worlds. For all people deserve to be healthy and never feel they must hold back a smile.
In caring for this wonderful earth/ in being good stewards of our resources… we pull towards a world that is whole and viable, where God’s creative work can continue.
In Biblical study and discussion… we pull towards a more enlighten community, one where God’s truth can be heard and shared.
In our commitment to fellowship… we pull towards a kingdom where the dignity and worth of all people are celebrated, where differences are not seen as a threat but an opportunity to encounter this (sometimes absurd) culture from a new vantage point.
Together we pull towards the kingdom of God. Just as Rebekah and Issac made way for the nation of Israel, we do our work now to carry God’s story and will forward.