7.06.2014

Rebekah and the Camels: A Model of Faithful Action - Or, Why Story Problems Matter


Sermon Preached at St. Mark's Episcopal Church
Proper 9A

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




Today I want to tell you a little bit about camels.  A camel can travel about 30 miles per day while carrying between 400 and 600 pounds.  They can travel for about 100 miles – or just over 3 days without water.  When they do need water, a camel can drink 30 gallons in about 13 minutes![1]  And then they are ready to go again.  So, when I read this morning’s story about Abraham’s servant seeking a wife for Isaac I did a little math.
The distance from Canaan, where he began his journey, to Haran, where Abraham’s family was living was about 960 miles – or about a one month journey. Presumably along their desert journey the servant had found some source of water for himself and the camels.  But, by the time they reached the well where he would encounter Rebekah his camels were thirsty! And, no doubt, Abraham’s servant was too exhausted to draw water for them to drink.  So, now, not only is he in search of a wife for his master’s son, Isaac, he is also hopeful that someone will come along to draw water for his camels – all 10 of them needing about 300 gallons of water to drink!  No wonder the “test” he devises for finding a suitable wife for Isaac involves finding the woman who is willing to draw water for all of those thirsty camels!
And along comes Rebekah with her 5 gallon water jar on her shoulder.  And who wouldn’t want to marry a woman who, after drawing water for this thirsty man, offers – without first being asked – to draw water for the camels?!  61 trips to that well! --- 60 for the camels plus the initial one for the servant.  And you thought story problems weren’t important!
Here is Rebekah, a woman who is kind – provides water to the servant; thoughtful – offers water for the thirsty animals; and strong – carries more than 300 gallons of water.  And it is this woman who is the center of this story in Genesis. 
This may not seem particularly remarkable but, when you consider the time and place in which she lived – the second millennium BCE in the ancient near east.  A time during which women were largely regarded as property with little or no value beyond their child-bearing potential –and by child, we do mean male child.  A time during which women were confined to the private rather than the public realm.  That a woman of this time and place should find her place in Scripture alongside the great male heros of our faith – Abraham, Jacob, Moses and the like – it is truly remarkable.  Rebekah, unlike the wives of other patriarchs (for example, Sarah or Rachel), is lifted up as an ancestor of our faith.  It is Rebekah’s story – not her soon-to-be-husband Isaac’s story – that is lifted up in parallel to the story of Abraham, the father of our faith.
·        Earlier in Genesis, the Lord says to Abram,
Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”4
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.”[2] And in today’s passage, it is Rebekah who leaves her country, her kindred and her father’s house to go to the land that God has shown to Abraham, the land of Canaan.
·        When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God appears to him again and blesses him again this time saying, 
“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. . . . I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. . . .  And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”
[3] 
And again, we find a parallel in today’s reading when Rebekah’s family sends her with this blessing: “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.”[4]
And so it is Rebekah who is lifted up in this and subsequent stories in Genesis as the active ancestor of our faith. 
The message I take from this story – this counter-cultural raising up of a woman as hero in the story of our faith – is that God’s purposes unfold in and through the actions of the most ordinary human beings.  Each and every one of us – from the famous, powerful and rich to the nameless man or woman we bump into on our way to work , the grocery store, or the playground –from the well-educated adult to the child who has not yet learned to walk – from the CEOs and Presidents of major corporations to the downtrodden, underpaid and undervalued laborers – each and every one of us can be an agent for the unfolding of God’s purposes in the world.  But, like Rebekah, we need to be willing to do the work.  We need to be willing to lift the  300 gallons of water.  We have to be willing to say, “yes I will go.”  We have to be willing to take tremendous risks.  In short, we have to be willing to put our faith in God into action in our lives, in our households, our neighborhoods, communities, and world.
And isn’t that what our baptism is all about? In a few moments we will welcome Colin Robert Nesburg into the community of the faithful.  His parents, Kevin and Pam and his godparents, Stacey and Kristine, will make promises to bring Colin up in the Christian faith and life.  You and I will make promises to help him grow into the full stature of Christ and then all of us together will renew our own baptismal promises, recommitting ourselves to putting our faith in God into action – action that involves fellowship and prayer, sharing bread, turning away from sin, proclaiming the Good News, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and striving for justice and peace among all. 
These promises take us back into the stories of our faith – the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs – of Abraham, of Rebekah and the stories of those first disciples – stories that span centuries leading all the way up to this day when our own stories of faith are being written so that God’s purpose of new life for all of creation can be fulfilled.  Grant, O Lord, that all who have baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Son may live in the power of his resurrection. Amen.


[1] “The Camel” in The Story of the Weeping Camel, accessed July 2, 2014 at nationalgeographic.com/weepingcamel/thecamels.html#2.
[2] Genesis 12:1-4.
[3] Genesis 17:4, 6, 8.
[4] Genesis 24:60.

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