IntroductionI want to start by talking about a very special word that is repeated throughout the Old Testament and is really, in many ways the glue that holds the whole story of God’s works throughout all these characters we hear about, together.The word is hesed, and it is translated in a number of ways but mostly, loyalty, mercy or kindness, or probably best of all, loving kindness. The three pillars of hesed are strength, steadfastness and love. We find hesed describing God’s relationship with us, but it’s also the thread that connects all the main players up, when they are at their best, through time and history. Some of these characters do some appalling things, but when they are at their best they express hesed, the quality of their relationship with God, and the quality of their relationship with people around them. We can theorise all we like about the poor people in the world, but it’s that moment where we go from theory to action that we see hesed. We look for hesed , for acts of loving kindness, and we say there is God at work. So there is love and romance here in our story today, but we are also being asked to spot the hesed. Let’s stand back and say within the complexity of life lets spot the hesed and give thanks. Where strength, loyalty and love are revealed.So, we’ve gone from the big stories at the start of Genesis to focus on Abraham and Sarah from the start of chapter 12.Abraham and Sarah have been called by God to travel to the land of Canaan. God has promised to bless them as the father and mother of a new dynasty. A new people. Which will become the Jewish or Hebrew nation. But they have a special call on their lives, to find their purpose and identity in being a blessing to the nations.Isaac has miraculously been born to Sarah and Abraham when they were both very old.And what we are hearing about today is the shift to a new generation. Is God’s promise, is God’s faithfulness, going to be discovered in the next generation?Sarah died in chapter 23 and Abraham is aware that his son Isaac has not found anyone to marry. And even though God has sent Abraham and Sarah to the land of Canaan, Abraham instructs his servant to go back to Mesopotamia, roughly from modern day Israel to modern day Iraq, to find a bride.When the servant shows concern that the right woman might not want to come with him to Canaan, Abraham tells him that God will provide the right woman. If not, Abraham releases the servant from this obligation.
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-6734 So he said, "I am Abraham's servant.
37 My master made me swear, saying, 'You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; 38 but you shall go to my father's house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.'...
42 "l came today to the spring, and said, 'O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! 43 I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, "Please give me a little water from your jar to drink," 44 and who will say to me, "Drink, and I will draw for your camels also"—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master's son.'
45 "Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, 'Please let me drink.' 46 She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, 'Drink, and I will also water your camels.' So I drank, and she also watered the camels. 47 Then I asked her, 'Whose daughter are you?' She said, 'The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bore to him.' So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. 48 Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. 49 Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left."...
58 And they called Rebekah, and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" She said, "I will." 59 So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham's servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
"May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes."
61 Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.
62 Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. 63 Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. 64 And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, 65 and said to the servant, "Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?" The servant said, "It is my master." So she took her veil and covered herself.
66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her.
If I went around this morning and asked people a question, a question which we might phrase something like ‘what personal stories are most important for you?’ I wonder what personal stories people might disclose? And one of the stories you may or may not tell us about is the story of you meeting someone, forming a friendship, maybe falling in love, perhaps you may have decided to get married. Or maybe not.If the number of wedding photos adorning the walls of New Zealand homes or the photos of us with those we love - if these things are anything to go by then our stories of personal relationship, love, closeness, loyalty are among the most important stories we have. Hesed is the most important thing.Do you remember the first time you saw him, or her. Meeting. Seeing. The first touch, the first kiss?What’s it like to know that someone wants to spend time with us. Enjoys our company. What’s it like to be asked out. To know that someone is mindful of us. Is thinking about us when we are not there?Of course there are endless jokes bad movies and good movies made on the whole subject. And the reason there is so much written produced, discussed about these things is that they are really important things for us.In the Psalms in the Song of Solomon even in the language we find late on when the church is described as the bride of Christ. A lot of the music younger people sing in worship uses the language of intimacy. God as our lover, Jesus as closest friend. The things of intimacy and closeness and love and affection. While many of our hymns talk about the almighty the awe and wonder of God, many especially younger people remind us of the importance of talking in relational terms. We can’t divide our lives into neat compartment of spiritual and physical selves.The story from the Old Testament is really just a little story that tells us how Abraham’s son Isaac ends up getting married to Rebekah. These are the sort of story's that are in a way part of all family life. How did the two of you meet?Remember it’s a story written about a culture three thousand years ago. Abraham sends his most senior servant to find a wife for his son Isaac among Abraham’s people. The servant goes off without any particular idea about the sort of woman he's looking for.And eventually he comes across Rebekah at a well. The servant prays asking for some guidance as to whether this is the right woman. Rebecca sees him and gives him a drink and waters his camels. (Did you know that a thirsty camel can drink as much as 135 litres or 30 gallons in 13 minutes?) So she has her work cut out for her. Just a little detail in scripture. She does this. We skip over this detail but it’s a major act. It’s like saying I’ll bring your breakfast and I’ll milk your cows for you this morning as well. Hesed. Abundance in acts of loving kindness. Remember – the expensive perfume, Mary, Jesus) And somehow through this process we discover that yes she is Miss Right. Earlier on in the chapter we are told that Rebecca has some other features as well. It seems that the woman God intends of Isaac not only comes from the right family; she is also good looking, has many camels and is a virgin. Everything anyone could ever want in a wife. Especially the camels.After payment of some sort of dowry and a lot of discussion Rebekah, this startling young women returns with the servant. The little story finishes with this nice, almost Hollywood touch. Isaac goes for a walk in the evening after a long day. And he looks up and sees these camels approaching him. We can imagine them coming across the desert like landscape. And Rebecca is of course riding on one of these camels. And she gets down from the camel and sees Isaac walking toward them. And she takes her veil and covers herself. And the Servant tells Isaac all that has happened. Then we are told Isaac brings Rebecca into the tent. He took Rebecca, and she became his wife and he loved her.There are some interesting things about this little story. The odd thing is that the story is here at all. A story preserved through hundreds of generation finally written down and valued as a sacred text.There is a very strong sense that God is involved in these scenes of life and romance and love and comfort and loyalty and goodness. God is at work here. Hesed. The discerning believer sees God's presence and everyone else regards these events as just good luck.We get a hint in the langague of what is happening here. The Hebrew word “appointed” in the verse the Lord has appointed Rebecca to be Isaac’s wife, is a very unusual word. It’s usually translated as lead. It is used in the Psalm. He leads me beside still waters, He leads me in paths of righteousness. So even though we can think of God in the Old Testament as this distant almighty thing out there, we also have a sense that courtship, romance, love, and intimacy can all be part of God’s leading activity.There are clichés you can never trust anyone, bad things come in threes, it’s just getting worse, what is the world coming to. The story calls us to live in an affirmative relation with the world and with ourselves and the future. This is the faith of those willing to be led. Led by the still waters led along the paths of righteousness. As Rebecca is led to Isaac as Abraham is led to the Promised Land. You see faith is set precisely where it must be lived, between the old place abandoned and the new place not yet received.You see the whole deal here, when we hear about God and these affirming stories of courtship and intimacy, when we hear about what Jesus tells us about being released from heavy burdens., Whatever Christian faith requires from you and me it doesn't require the taking on of more burdens. And that gets down to some very personal issues. Issues to do with our relationship with each other, with our sense of where we want to go our- life and with God. Acknowledgement of who we are and who we are not. And acceptance of ourselves and others with all our failings. Let’s lift some weight from each other’s shoulders. Come here this morning and go away carrying more weight. That’s not right. Hearing that you are loved, whether you are Rebecca and Isaac or whether you are you, is about a new freedom, less weight... Come to me and you will find rest for your souls Jesus says.So this week I’d invite you to be especially attentive. To hesed. To see that excitement and sense of discovering someone loves them is loyal and strong in a relationship to see that couple and give thanks, thank you lord for the excitement of that new discovery.To think of the love and loyalty of a couple who have shared a lifetime together. To see their love and loyalty and strength. And say thank you Lord.To see the sacrificial commitment of someone who gives so much in the care and support of another in need. And to say thank you Lord.
And to give thanks to God for the gift we have to be steadfast, strong and loving. We are all capable of hesed. AND say thank you Lord for this gift you have given me.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.