7.5.14 Walking in the Dark
4 Pentecost A2014 July 5/6, 2014
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Oh, do I feel sorry for Abraham’s servant! Can you imagine traveling hundreds and hundreds of miles across the desert in a camel caravan to bring back one unmarried woman from one family? It feels like the proverbial challenge of finding a needle in a haystack.
What a heavy, uncertain, terrible assignment this poor man was saddled with!
We know about Abraham, coming from the East—from present-day Iraq—going to present-day Israel to fulfill the commands he heard from God. To move on—to be a stranger in a strange land. He was a wandering Aramean, trying to fulfill God’s marching orders—even if it meant obedience of the most gut-wrenching kind.
In today’s reading we fast-forward 10 or 20 years from that fateful attempted sacrifice of Isaac and see what happens to Isaac. His father Abraham, acting to insure the purity of the line of descent, wanted the servant to fetch a wife for Isaac from his family back in the land to the east.
Now, we may ask: Why didn’t Isaac make the trip himself to find his own wife? Maybe Abraham felt he almost lost him once—and he wasn’t willing to take that chance again. That’s the best explanation I could come up with. But the text doesn’t really tell us the reason that the servant went instead of Isaac. We just have to make peace with that.
So let’s take a close look at how the wife-picking happens. The teenage boys and unmarried men here today might want to pay particular attention. At first glance it seems that the servant is being really presumptuous. He dictates to God the sequence of events that he’ll take as an indication that he’s found the right woman.
But look even closer and realize that this so-called presumptuous dictation proceeds from the servant’s total reliance on God to make things come out right. He encloses his thoughts and actions in what I’ll call a “God sandwich.”
First he invokes God to be present and to bless his actions. Then he asks God to honor the conditions by which he’ll know he’s found the right woman. Then after she’s found, the servant worships God. He closes the action by bowing his head and worshiping the Lord and blessing the Lord, the God of his master Abraham … who led him by the right way to find Rebekah.
It’s a God sandwich, for sure: invoking God’s presence and help; moving forward with action and completion; and then ending with worship and blessing God. And to bless God is to praise and thank God.
I was heartened to recognize that a really important part of what happened is that the servant asked permission of Rebekah’s family. And they in turn ask HER consent to leave for marriage to a 2nd cousin she’s never met.
It’s touching to read about what happens when Isaac meets Rebekah. She covers herself for modesty, and maybe from shyness. Isaac hears the account from the servant about how he found Rebekah. Then “he took Rebekah [a genteel euphemism, for sure] and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” [Genesis 24:67]
Now, imagine the dark, “not-knowing” predicament of the servant. Trekking to a strange land to find someone he wasn’t even sure existed. Not knowing if her family would see him or Isaac as worthy of trust. Not being sure the match would work. Wondering and hoping Isaac and Abraham would approve. Worrying about his own future if this mission were a failure.
So much uncertainty. So much risk. Such a walk in the dark. Such a walk in the dark.
Walking in the dark happens a lot in a lifetime. Think about the high school student making decisions about what to study and where to study and what profession to prepare for. Think about people committing themselves to married life and what a large number of risks that involves over the years. Think about a woman who’s just learned she’s pregnant. Think about that little embryo in the dark for 9 months. Think about someone considering divorce and all its uncertainties
Now consider the darkness we enter when we learn we have a serious illness or someone we love’s just received a dark diagnosis. Think about the darkness of death and the darkness of grief for those left behind.
When have YOU had to walk in the dark?
This August we’ll meet on 2 consecutive Tuesdays to discuss a book that’s all about walking in the dark: the literal darkness of the physical world at night, and all kinds of figurative darkness. Even if you can’t make the series, still read this fine book—Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor. It’s easy reading and also good food for thought.
It’s good to ask the question: how might we cope with times of darkness?
Let’s see how the people from Iceland deal with their winters. Maybe that can give us some clues. Those in the north of the country might only see the sun for a few hours each day in the wintertime. The rest of the time it’s either dusky or totally dark. All season long. How do they get through it? I’ll share some ways they use for coping, and hope that we can use these in our own times of darkness, our own times of not-knowing.
First, they light the night with natural energy from inside the earth. We can draw on our own inner reserves to persevere in times of darkness.
Some Icelanders use “happy lights” indoors—high brightness aids to help fool their bodies into thinking they’ve been in the sun. What aids can we use for light in our dark times? Our faith, and prayer, and our network of friends at church, of course. These aids are all so much better than the counterfeit aids like alcohol and food—these promise relief from the dark but it still comes back again, doesn’t it?
Each little Icelandic town seems to have its own hot springs or geothermally heated pools—and even in the cold, dark winter Icelanders congregate there after work for a long soak. In the cold. In the dark. The hot springs help people relax and their social connections there and elsewhere help them endure the dark. So--How can we take care of ourselves so that our good friends help us through the dark? How can we rearrange our lives a little so that we might be able to find comfort from friends more often? How can we bathe and relax in God’s presence more intentionally so that our souls feel that they’ve been to a spa for the spirit?
Icelanders go to school in the dark season. They buckle down and study like crazy. They prepare themselves for the future that way. How might we study and learn so as to be more available to God’s presence then? (Reading books like this one helps teach us so that we’re stronger to face whatever comes along.)
And, finally, Icelanders have a real romance with coffee. They drink high-test all the time, even at night. They think you’re crazy if you ask for decaf. They can’t seem to get enough coffee and many of them, like many Americans, are dependent on coffee to get them going. There are coffeehouses all over. And this coffee habit from the North Atlantic can remind us to stay alert in our own versions of the dark. It can remind us to watch: to look for what we might learn, especially from waiting in darkness and, sometimes, from waiting in pain.
So—to recap: light the night with the practice of faith, seek comfort in simpatico friends and people, soak in God’s spirit, learn, stay alert. Moreover, make your own God sandwiches, and make them often. All these things help us through the dark.
Even if we don’t have to go find a wife for the child of our employer, still, we all walk through the dark. Let’s do it more intentionally, more carefully, walking in the darkness of faith.