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A sermon delivered by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo., on July 3, 2011

The Third Sunday After Pentecost

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Psalm 45:10-17; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30; Romans 7:15-25a

How’s your summer reading? What do you like to read in the heat of the summer? Fiction? It’s a great season for a light read. Biographies? Mysteries? Science Fiction? Perhaps you’re the kind to enjoy a good romance novel?

In my previous church we had a library that was large and surprisingly well stocked. It had wonderful resources for Bible study and other Christian resources but it also had a great section on popular books. Often I would need something in my own library and I would search the stacks. Sometimes when it was unusually noisy in the office, I would go down there to study in quiet for sermon preparation.

The library had a team of dedicated volunteers who were incredibly loyal to the library. If you needed a “pick me up,” the best place to go on a Sunday morning was the library because there was a party going on all the time! I later learned the library had a secret. Hidden away behind the desk in the librarians’ workroom was a special collection only “the insiders” knew about. Hidden away was a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf where the romance novels were kept.

You know what I’m talking about. These were the books that were slightly suggestive, lusty even. They had covers with hunky, virile men with their shirts unbuttoned and notorious, southern women who looked as though they were on the verge of swooning. One look at the cover and you knew they were not as pure as they purported themselves to be. Some of those romance novels were even “Christian.” Scandalous! Maybe there’s just such a hidden romance section in our own library I haven’t yet discovered. If so, don’t tell me about it. But if there’s not, maybe there needs to be.

I

This story from Genesis 24 is a romantic tale. There’s a sweetness about it that’s inspiring. But this story also serves a narrative purpose as what Walter Brueggemann calls one of “the transitional stories” of Genesis.[1] This love story functions to “move the plot along” just as a novelist might use it and it helps shift the focus of the story from Abraham to Isaac.[2]

Maybe love’s like that too. Our romantic adventures often form the backdrop to other more descriptive stories that may be told about us. We graduate from school. We choose a career. We make our mark on some large project or community contribution that defines us as a person. In the background of those more extraordinary events and we find someone with whom we fall in love. Sometimes love leads to marriage and perhaps we have children and grow as a family. Love, marriage, and bearing children are all common enough events that they can become rather mundane.

But love and marriage are anything but merely “transitional events.” They may be the most honest and truthful things about us. What this story tells subtly is that it may be events just like this where a larger, deeper story gets told.

II

The discovery of love and the commitment to marriage stands out in this story. In this ancient culture of arranged marriages, a love story is told. It’s obvious the role Abraham plays in Isaac’s love for Rebekah and their subsequent marriage is a role not played in our culture. This was an ancient time and culture that defined the mate selection process as one made by family arrangement. Both Isaac’s father, Abraham, and Rebekah’s brother and father play a role here in bringing these two young people together.

The dating game is played so much differently now than it was then. No matchmakers … no parents guiding our decisions. No more passing notes through friends … little pressure to get married by the end of college or right after high school. Goodness, I can’t tell you how many Internet marriages we ministers perform these days and not just for the young … and adults of all ages are using the Internet to find love. It cuts through the awkward stage of introductions and pre-dating quandaries of trying to determine whether you have anything in common.

But the roles of courtship and marriage are on the move in our time. This week’s front cover story in Missouri’s Word & Way asks the question, “Does marriage matter?” citing the statistics that young adults are waiting later and later to get married or don’t think marriage much matters.

  • To put it quite simply, fewer adults are getting married.
  • Last year’s census showed that married couples are now in the minority in America accounting for only 48% of all households.
  • Further, a May Gallop poll found 60% of Americans now believe it’s morally acceptable for unmarried men and women to have sex, while 36% believe it is morally wrong.
  • Most of you are aware that cohabitation is more the norm than ever.
  • In fact, the notion of being “born out of wedlock” is no longer much of a scandal and the term itself is dated.

The series of articles in the Word & Way sheds light onto a significant way our culture is on the move. Like or not, paying attention to them would help us in our ministry with younger adults who are riding a different cultural wave.[3]

Whatever the process may be it’s the end product I want to focus on from this story. Even though our own culture would tell this story much differently than what we read in Genesis; in the end, even in the way this story is told, two young adults find one another and, in the process, discover love and it’s the scent of love we pick up in this story. It’s a sweet story told simply as a series of events and then we realize the point of the telling was that we would get a glimpse of the love they shared.

III

That raises the second observation that we can make in this story:  Life and love are circular. One life ends but another goes on. One generation travels its journey in this existence and the next generation takes their place. Even in the twilight of one life, another generation is dawning. It’s been this way for all time and it continues today. All of us are on some point on the circular journey of life. Maybe you’re waiting for your turn at love to begin. Maybe you’ve already lost your life’s mate and are grieving terribly over your deep sense of loneliness.

This great love story is told in the shadows of death. Isaac’s love and marriage is sandwiched between the death of Mother Sarah and Father Abraham. But in the shadow of that great loss, even in the grief of losing his partner and lover in life’s journey, Abraham sets in motion the beginnings of love so life could go on.

What this story helps us finally accept is that God was in it throughout the process. From Isaac’s first sight of Rebekah, even from seeing her as she first appeared in the brightness of the sunset riding toward the camp on a camel coming across his father’s fields, we know that God was in it.

The Bible doesn’t say it explicitly, but there’s something about the description that tells us Isaac was smitten. The Bible, in fact, is very coy about it all but read between the lines and you’ll agree. Love and comfort and the makings of a great and lasting romance are found for them both in the fact that God was in it from the very beginning.

What we also recognize was they had to go through the steps of learning to love one another. Marriage and love are like bread … it’s always best when it’s fresh. It takes tender care to see that it is growing and fresh. Isaac and Rebekah were newcomers to love and marriage in this romantic tale. They were the recipients of the blessing of God.

In the great, unending love of God, even when one life was coming to an end, God was starting something new. God was involved in their lives so that the Promise could move forward. Always fresh, always present, always starting something in the present moment, God was drawing two people together so that the human love of two people committed to one another in marriage could glorify God and bless the world.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, JohnKnox Press, Atlanta, 1982, 194-203

[2] There are similar “transitional stories” in the telling of Jacob (chapters 34-36) and Joseph (chapters 47-50)

[3] Statistics from Bob Allen, “Is marriage a ‘dying institution?’” Word &Way, 6/23/11

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