Monday, July 7, 2014

Engagements modern and old

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Lectionary 14 A, July 6, 2014

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

We live in a very small world. This weekend, I celebrated my grandparents 60th wedding anniversary. One of their friends told me that he knew exactly where Princeton, Iowa is. He worked on this very railroad. I never expected to make that connection!

Especially in our world today, sixty years of marriage is a huge accomplishment. My grandparents have stood by each other for better and for worse, for richer for poorer, in health and in sickness. When their health started to decline, they compensated for each other's disabilities. Even now in their retirement home, they do everything together. They share an apartment, they eat their meals side by side, and they go to events together. 

When I looked at their wedding photos, I admired how young and in love they were. Their wedding day looked to be just as enchanting as mine was. Of course their love developed and matured over time. Raising three children could not have been easy. They certainly enjoyed watching their grandchildren grow up, and now they have fun with their great grandchild, too.

With this celebration on my mind, I could not help but compare my grandparents to Rebekah and Isaac. This morning, we heard about how Rebekah and Isaac got engaged. Although I'm not quite sure how my grandparents got engaged, I am sure that they didn't go to a well to find each other!

We are pretty familiar with engagement stories. Some of us even have stories of our own. Even so, engagement stories in the Bible worked quite differently than our modern stories. If we look to our first lesson, we learn how Rebekah became engaged to Isaac. We might expect a romantic story of longtime love coming to completion in marriage, but we would be horribly mistaken.

Most of the stories that we hear are about a young man asking a young woman for her hand in marriage. This doesn’t apply to Rebekah’s story on two accounts. First, Isaac is no spring chicken - he probably was 40 years old at the time! Second, Isaac didn’t go fetch Rebekah. His father’s servant did.

Next, we would hope that the couple would get engaged in a beautiful location - maybe along a body of water or in a beautiful building. Instead, Rebekah meets Abraham’s servant at a well outside of town. This wasn’t exactly a romantic locale.

You certainly would expect that the couple at least knew of each other before getting married. Rebekah may or may not have known about Isaac, but she certainly wasn’t expecting to get engaged when she went to the well that evening!

This servant didn’t get down on one knee. He didn’t even tell her who he was. He simply asked for a drink. Then, when she offered to water his camels, too, she knew that he was the one for his master’s son. Watering the camels must have taken some time. Rebekah only had one water jug, but the servant had ten camels. Camels can drink gallons at a time! This would have given Abraham’s servant time to prepare what to say.

Men prepared to ask a woman’s hand in marriage often have wonderful speeches prepared. They confess their love and share how their girlfriends have changed them for the better. Abraham’s servant had no such speech to give! He simply asked, 
“Whose daughter are you?”

The average girl today expects to see a beautiful diamond ring when she is getting engaged. But for Rebekah, she received different sorts of rings - a gold nose ring and two gold bracelets.

Finally, you would expect that man on bended knee who is presenting a diamond ring to say the famous words, “Will you marry me?” Not so for Rebekah. She was not destined to hear words so romantic. Instead, when Abraham’s servant was ready to go, her mother and brother asked her with some disdain, 
“Will you go with this man?”

Yes, yes, she would go with this stranger. She would leave her entire family and everyone she knew, only taking her nurse and a few possessions with her. Then she went on the long journey to Isaac’s home. 

Certainly engagements in modern times can last for months or even years. Happy couples need time to prepare such an important ceremony and reception. Not so for Rebekah and Isaac. As soon as the caravan arrived, Isaac met a veiled Rebekah. Abraham’s servant explained all that had happened. That very day, Isaac and Rebekah were married. Although they certainly had their problems later in life, Rebekah and Isaac were able to live together into old age. 

Where is God in all of this? We often don’t think of how God brings two people together when they get engaged. Yet, the scripture here is clear. Abraham’s servant is praying to find a suitable wife for his master’s son. Before he can finish his prayer, Rebekah shows up. She is generous not only to give him a drink, but to retrieve enough water for his entire group of camels. Then she continues to be generous when she invites him, his ten camels, and his other attendants to stay on her property. 

Rebekah is the prime model of gracious hospitality. She cares for this servant and those with him before thinking of herself. She is willing to take a risk by leaving her home, journeying with this servant, and meeting her future husband in a new place. She will be the perfect wife for the son of Abraham. 

This certainly is nothing like the engagement stories of today. It even isn’t much like most arranged marriages. Yet it is a common story in the Old Testament. Often women find their husbands when they go to the well to retrieve water for their family. These women trust that God is involved in their matchmaking.

I don't know if my grandparents realized how God was involved bringing them together. Often we may not realize it either. 
Yet, God is there. 
In our special moments that we share with the ones that we love, God is there. 
When we celebrate engagements and anniversaries, God is there.
Most importantly, whenever we pray, God is there. Amen. 

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