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Monday, July 10, 2017
A sermon based on Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58
by Jared Slack
For the People of First Austin:
a baptist community of faith
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 9, 2017
I’ll be the first to admit that had we met when I was a teenager you might not have liked me all that much. Now, to be fair you may not like me all that much right now, but I assure you the person who stands before you today is a vast improvement on earlier models.
You see, when I was a kid I had this odd tendency to see my life a lot like one of those ABC Family teenage melodramas that we all shamefully and secretly love… shows from the late 90’s and early 2000’ like Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, or Gilmore Girls, those terribly written, cheesy as all get out, poorly filmed primetime teeny-bopper soap operas that typical Americans relentlessly indulge week in and week out.
From my vantage point these shows all had one major thing in common… taking the everyday, mundane experiences of teenage life and amplifying them by drenching every single conversation and interaction with dramatic undertones, sexual tension, and an addiction to destiny. Every episode, it seems, was designed with explicit intent to make you cry or gasp and ravenously come back for more.
And if you were a naive, hormonal, and impressionable young person like myself; watching shows like this had the terrifying side-effect of causing you, yourself, to begin seeing your own experiences in life as though you were the star of your very own weekly, hour-long television show chronicling the ups and downs of your adolescent escapades, complete with co-stars, love interests, and recurring characters. Every single moment of your small-town, East Texas life becoming an opportunity for intrigue and an avenue through which you might stumble upon your destiny or have an adorable meet-cute with your one true love.
So, at the tender age of 18 when I first stepped foot onto the campus of UMHB I saw this transition to college as an opportunity to reinvent myself… a sort of sequel to the dra-medy of my high school year where we anxiously watch as the young boy who miserably failed in love before moves to a new town and transforms into the kind of guy who could finally fall in love. I even played the part by changing up my hairstyle, getting some better clothes, picking out the best AOL instant messenger screen name I could come up with, and doing the most cliche thing of all: buying a guitar at a pawn shop.
And as if all of that wasn’t enough, I decided to major in Christian Ministry… because as many of you may already know, when it comes to being on a small, private, Baptist college campus there is none more desirable than a ministry major who knows three chords on his guitar.
In effort to speed up the inevitable, I’d occasionally take it upon myself to park myself under the most picturesque tree in the quad and serenade passersby with the latest, greatest, and simplest Christian worship songs hoping that the fateful day would come when the girl of my dreams would serendipitously walk by and fall head over heals into the trappings of our God ordained, destiny to spend the rest of our lives… or at least the next semester… together.
I readily admit, that in all my ignorance and innocence, I honestly thought this was how the universe worked. And to be fair, bible stories like the one we’re considering today did a rather good job of shoring up these delusions. According to the variety of Christianity I fully immersed in back then, this is exactly how things were supposed to work.
In this 24th chapter of Genesis, we’re gifted with a story that meets all the requirements to feed our obsession with melodramatic love stories. Isaac, the son of Abraham, is in desperate need of a suitable partner in life, but it turns out poor Isaac had all the odds stacked against him.
If you’ve been following along, this is the same Isaac from last week’s lectionary text, who probably has some serious daddy issues stemming from his near death experience at the hands of his own father. This is the same Isaac who had been drug with the rest of his family out into far country of Canaan away from any eligible cousins or kindred with whom he could marry, and the same Isaac who was now in desperate need of a divinely orchestrated miracle if he was going to stumble upon his soul mate.
With Isaac and Rebekah’s story, we find that Ancient Near Eastern sensibilities were a bit different than our own in regards to the type of love stories they liked to hear. Because it’s not a young Isaac parked beneath a tree with his guitar, but instead it was one of his father’s servants camped out by a water well with a bunch of camels waiting for the right woman to walk by.
And sometimes, that good enough. Sometimes, all we need is a good fairytale love story to get us through the day. But sometimes we need more than that and I believe there’s far more to this story than just being about Isaac and Rebekah getting married. So this week, as I sat down to study this story there were two great things that I was drawn to, two things that feel a whole lot like truths that I need to hear at right this very moment.
The first thing I was drawn to was that the God experienced in the lives of these women and men is a God who is considered to be not above the ordinary, mundane events of life with which you and I busy ourselves. Things like the challenges of finding a life partner or meeting your soul mate. No, what we find in this story and in all of scripture is that such things aren't beyond the care and concern of this God.
Now I don’t mean to imply that I think God is off behind some curtain pulling levers or moving each of us around like pawns on a chess board. But stories like this offer us an important perspective regarding a God who is immensely personal and intrinsically involved; a God who is deeply committed to caring for creation. A God who’s enduring character is one of faithful presence and continued concern over each and everyone one of us as we are guided towards healing and wholeness.
I don't know about you, but I need that kind of God right now. I need to hear over and over that I’m cared for, that my life matters, and that the one who breathed life into me way back when, continues to breath life into me this very day. I need to feel deep in my heart that I am cared for, that I am loved beyond measure, and that my life and what happens to it matters to God in a real and meaningful.
Because let’s be honest… just living, just existing on this earth is freaking hard enough as it is, and if you’re going to be the kind of person who opens herself up to what’s really going on in the world. If you’re going to make the crazy and courageous decision to actually see and bear witness to all the pain and all the joy that’s out there, then you’re definitely going to need a God who’s primary quality is one of faithfulness and abiding love.
And even more, to be the kind of person this world desperately needs, you and I are going to need to know this truth in the deepest parts of ourselves, it needs to reverberate throughout our entire being. Placing our trust in this kind of intimately, close God is what makes it possible for you and I to see beyond all the hardest parts of our existence and cling to the promise that God is working to bring about goodness and wholeness even in the midst of all the brokenness and division that surrounds us and is within us.
Because believing like this, trusting in God who chooses to operate in this way, is exactly the kind of thing that makes sitting out by a water well with a bunch of camels and waiting on a potential bride to walk by make all the sense in the world.
And the second truth that I’m needing to hear today, and maybe you as well, is that this God, is the kind of God who is found somewhere out in the unknown, along one of those roads that’s less travelled… this faithfully present, intimately involved kind of God is more often than not discovered and experienced most profoundly somewhere in that decision to move from the familiar into the unfamiliar.
The final sentences out of our reading today… when we see Rebekah’s response to her family’s question, “Will you go? ” Her simple, ‘I will” captures the essence and challenge set before each and every one of us as we walk the perilous path of discipleship and spiritual formation. Rebekah is portrayed here in just these few lines as being a courageous, independent woman belonging to a lineage of powerful matriarchs who makes the decision for herself to move away from her family and her land, to marry a man she’s never set her eyes on.
And she does all this, not because she knows what is unknowable, but because she knows the God who will accompany her along the way, the God who will go with her out into the unknown. She makes the decision to leave her home, her family, and all that grown familiar to her because she believes in the deepest parts of her self, that it’s in the unknown places, out in those uncharted waters, where she will find over and over again the real blessing that it is to trust in this God who is always faithful to keep promises.
Rebecca models for us a willingness to say, “Yes,” to the unknowns… a willingness to say, “Yes,” to whatever might come her way. A willingness to walk away from all that she finds familiar and comfortable and go out into those unexplored places because it's out there in the unknown with all those possibilities that she’ll be able to unearth the new thing that this God of hers is hoping to do in the world, where she will discover in a fresh and exciting way how God’s faithfulness and blessing goes with her and even waits for her out there where there is no precedent for her to look on, where there is no blueprint reminding her of how she’s always done things.
For some reason, irregardless of my opinion on the matter, God chooses for it to be this way. God made this decision long before you and I came along and makes this decision even now to be the kind of God who operates somewhere out there on the horizon, out on the fringe of things where there are no scripts. God calls us to be a people who resist the urge to rest on our laurels or create trophy cases honoring our achievements. Rather God calls us to a life of improvisation and imagination.
I don’t know if you’re like me, but this isn’t the way that I wish things were. I wish the model of faith that Rebekah gave us was the the kind that makes it completely OK to just stay where you are. That trust in God meant staying home where things are safe, simple and always the same, where I feel content and I am always surrounded by all the things that make me feel comfortable.
Because the truth is that I absolutely hate the unknown. I hate how it feels to not know what something is going to be like, how it’s going to feel, or what’s going on. I hate it when everything around me that’s familiar and comfortable is suddenly changed without waring. But the reality is that venturing into the unknown is more often than not what is asked of us. Because honestly, that’s life. And even more, the narrative of leaving the known for the unknown resounds throughout the most vital stories of our faith.
So it feels to me like the question that Rebekah’s story is asking me is, how could I ever think that I would get to be exempt from that journey? This is the pattern of faithful following that you and I are invited into. This is the rhythm of formation. That each and everyone of us might make it through this thing we call being a follower of Jesus and not have to make the life altering, and immensely rewarding journey of leaving home, in order to find home.
I know many of you here don't want to hear it from my mouth once again that there are many more new horizons for us to explore, but there are. As a church, I believe we have the opportunity to be a community that is inventive and creative, curious, and questioning.
Because there’s no such thing as “arriving” when it comes to being the church. There is no pinnacle to reach or mountain to crest. Each and every single day is yet another day with God in which were are given the blessing of exploring all the unknown possibilities that are out there.
I know in this room today there are those of you facing your own unknowns, be they personal or professional. You’re staring down a long path that you’ve never been down before. I myself, with my chronic medical condition am living amidst a whirlwind of unknowns. So, I’m in desperate need of a God who has some experience with operating out there in those places where there is no road map. I need a God who is faithfully present with me while I make that journey out on the fringe of what I thought my life would be like. I desperately need to hear today and every single day, that no matter how far out there I get, no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how terrifying things become that this God is right there with me treading water and letting me know that it’s going to be OK.
Maybe you need that too. AMEN.