Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Love Will Keep Us Together

This is a sermon that was preached on Sunday, July 9, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church, Sterling, KS.

Read Genesis 24 here.
Listen to the sermon here.


Note:  Watch a fun video of the from which I borrowed the title here.


What’s your favorite love story?

Long long ago in a land far far away, there lived a beautiful princess…

This is the typical beginning to a classic fairy tale love story.  There would, of course be some sort of issue:
  • ·  the princess is lonely or trapped in a tower, or
  • ·  the kingdom is failing, or
  • ·  there’s an evil dragon or an evil villain. 

Whatever it is, the issue creates tension which draws us into the story.  By the end, the issue is resolved, and the princess has met a handsome prince who risks his life to save the day, and they get married and live happily ever after. . .The end.

Believe it or not, the story we read today from Genesis 24 is considered a classic love story.  Not a modern classic, though.  An ancient classic. 

Do you believe in fate?
We also call it destiny, kismet, serendipity.
Whatever we call it, it’s the belief that something bigger than ourselves has a hand in directing our lives.

I prefer to call it providence.  Providence is what we see at work in our story from Genesis 24.  Providence is the hand of God at work in our lives.
Throughout the story of Abraham, he has heard from God and responded with obedience.  In today’s story, God’s action is more subtle, more like the way many of us experience God in our daily lives.  We trust in God’s faithful love, and do our best to be obedient disciples, and watch prayerfully and expectantly for God’s will.

As we’ve been talking about the past few weeks, Abraham has received a promise from God that he will have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.  God has confirmed that this happens through Abraham’s son Isaac.  God has also promised Abraham that the land in which he is now living would belong to his descendants – the Promised Land.  So Isaac needs to get married, and Isaac needs to stay local

If this were a Disney story, there’d be a grand ball and all the fair maidens of the kingdom would be invited so that Isaac could choose one to marry.  Like in Cinderella. 

Did you know that Cinderella was really bad at sports? 
She kept running away from the ball.[1]

But this isn’t Disney.  This is a story that shows us how God was faithful in keeping his promise.  This is a story about faith and commitment and a deeper kind of love.

·      Abraham trusts God to lead the servant to the right woman for Isaac. 
·      The servant also trusts God’s leading, and so does Rebekah.
·      Isaac, too, trusts that the woman the servant has brought back is the best woman for him, and verse 67 says he loved her.  No courtship.  No steamy love scenes.  Just faithful, committed love. 

I love how the servant finds Rebekah.  He goes to the well, apparently the local pickup spot (a common place to meet women in ancient times), and he asks God for a sign.  He says, “This is my request. I will ask one of them, ‘Please give me a drink from your jug.’ If she says, ‘Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too!’—let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife. This is how I will know that you have shown unfailing love to my master.”

This is very similar to what Gideon does.  In the book of Judges, we read about God telling Gideon to go lead his people to fight off an attacking army.  Gideon wants to make sure he heard God correctly, so Gideon puts out a fleece, like a wool blanket, and asks God to make the fleece wet and the ground around the fleece dry so that Gideon will know it’s really God’s will.  And the next morning the fleece is wet and the ground is dry.  But Gideon still isn’t certain, so he asks God to do it again, only this time make the ground wet and the fleece dry.  And the next morning the ground is wet and the fleece is dry, so now Gideon knows that God has spoken. (Judges 6:36-40)

Abraham’s servant puts out a fleece of his own.  He is also asking for a sign so that he will know which woman is the right one to take back to Isaac.  And before he has even finished praying, here comes Rebekah.  God knows what’s in our hearts and minds before we can even say it, and God was already working answering the servant’s prayer.  Jesus says in Matthew 6, God knows what we need before we even ask for it.

The servant asks Rebekah for a drink of water, and she responds exactly as the servant had asked, “Yes, here’s a drink, and let me get water for your camels, too.”  Aha!  Could this be the woman he’s looking for?

We should note that Rebekah doesn’t just say she’ll give the camels some water.  She says she’ll keep giving them water until they’ve drunk their fill. (24:19)  The servant has ten camels.  They’ve just crossed the desert, so these are thirsty camels, and a thirsty camel can drink as much as 30 gallons in about 15 minutes.[2]  Drawing enough water for 10 camels is a serious commitment, and says something about the character of Rebekah, and maybe something about her physically as well.  We know how much one gallon of milk weighs.  Imagine carrying 300 of those! 

And then in talking with Rebekah more, the servant finds out that she is the daughter of Abraham’s brother.  Perfect!  God has indeed brought just the right woman to the well at just the right time, and the servant wastes no time in acknowledging this and thanking God for his unfailing love and kindness. Providence at work.

Finding the right woman is only step one, however.  Now to meet her family, and see whether they will agree to let her go.  When the servant tells his story to Rebekah’s brothers, they agree that this is God’s will at work and that Rebekah should indeed go be Isaac’s bride.  And when they ask Rebekah if she will go, she also agrees.  Step two – success!

The last step is to bring her home to Isaac.  How will that go?  Of course, it goes well.  Isaac loved her.  Cue the joyful and triumphant music, and roll the credits.

It’s not your typical modern love story, but we still get a happy ending.  There is love, and, like the song, love will keep them together.  Isaac and Rebekah even become a model for marriage for future generations.  In fact, the prayer at the end of wedding ceremonies used to say, “Send thy blessing upon … this man and this woman … that, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant they’ve made.”[3]

If Abraham were looking for a wife for Isaac today, maybe he would have used Match.com, the online dating app.  (For Abraham, it might be called Yente.com after the matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof.)
In a sense, using Match.com is still trusting God for things that are beyond our control, trusting God to work through the algorithm that makes up the software work. 

I recently did something like this, and so did you.  Using Match.com is very much like the process that brought us together as pastor and church.  Our denomination has a database called Church Leadership Connection. The name isn’t as catchy as Match.com but the process is similar.
  • ·      Churches enter their information and criteria,
  • ·      pastors enter theirs, and the system matches them up. 
  • ·      Lots of prayer goes into the process of preparing the information that we put in, and
  • ·      lots of prayer happens about the matches that we receive, and
  • ·      there is a great amount of trust that God will bring the right matches together. 

Once we all agree that this is indeed the right match, we get married.  There’s even a ceremony.  I hope you’ll all come on August 6 at 4pm when I’ll be installed as your pastor.  Just like a wedding, we’ll make vows to one another, professing our commitment to one another and to God.
Marriage is a commitment. In traditional wedding vows, we promise to stick together through sickness and health. Love and commitment involve willingness to sacrifice

·      Rebekah is willing to leave her home and her family and go to a land far away to live with people she’s never met, knowing that she will never see her family again.  She doesn’t hesitate.  She says, “I will go.” (24:58) 
·      Abraham had done the same thing, obediently following God’s call to leave his homeland and go to Canaan. 

Both of them had to keep on trusting God’s love to carry them through whatever happened in the process of keeping their commitment.
We make commitments to one another and to God when we become members of a church, too.  God brings us together, and God’s love is what keeps us together.  Through our faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit gathers us together and unites us, and gives us the tools we need to be the church together.

At Church we work on learning how to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  None of that is easy.  It’s much easier to stay home, to avoid people…easier to love your neighbor if you never see your neighbor.  That’s what Robert Frost says in his poem “Mending Wall”:  “Good fences make good neighbors.”  But he’s saying it ironically, because the poem is really about how the wall keeps falling apart.  If they never mended it, eventually it would fall down as the natural forces of wind and rain and time wore it down.  “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”  That something, when it comes to relationships between us and with God, is the Holy Spirit.

Relationships are important.  Our relationships with God and with one another are our strength.  They’re also our witness to the world.  Jesus said that the world would know us by our love.  Church is about learning to love one another so we can be equipped to share that love with the world. 
Our unity is vital to our witness.  Unity is much easier if we stay isolated from one another, or if we stick with people who agree with us.  Unity involves sacrifice.

Relationships grow deeper when we struggle together through the challenges that come from diversity and doing life together. 
  • ·      Marriages are stronger when they’ve dealt with the issues that come up, and not just ignored them. 
  • ·      Friendships are stronger when they’ve spent time together talking about things that matter more deeply. 
  • ·      Churches are stronger when they’ve worked through the conflicts and challenges that come from being together.

Relationships can be difficult, but in the Bible, the Apostle Paul tells us how to do this in his letters.  In Romans 12:9, he says,  Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.”  In 1 Corinthians he tells us what that looks like:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Those sound wonderful in theory, but to put them into practice we need to be with other people.  At church we have the opportunity to work on having this kind of love with others who are also working on having this kind of love, to encourage one another and pray for one another. 

We’re going to be working on having more opportunities to build these kinds of relationships with one another in the days ahead.  One of the things the education committee will be working on is getting us together in groups to talk about God and the Bible and life.  In those small groups, we’ll make commitments to one another to be patient and kind, and to support one another even as we uncover ways in which we might not agree about everything.

Our life together begins with our commitment to seek God and to follow Jesus and to trust the work of the Holy Spirit among us. 

·      One step in that commitment is committing to one another in membership, which is why we’ll have an opportunity to consider that step in our UPC101 class on July 23

·      Another step in that commitment is using our gifts to support the work and ministry of this church.  One opportunity to do that is on the insert in our bulletin today from the education committee.

The story of Isaac and his bride Rebekah is one of the great love stories in the Bible. Another great love story is the story of Jesus and his bride the church.  Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for her, so that she might be clean and holy, washed by God’s word, and presented as holy and without spots or wrinkles. (Eph. 5:25-27)

Not that we don’t have spots or wrinkles—because we do—but as if we don’t.  By Jesus sacrifice we are made perfect, spotless, without wrinkles, in the eyes of God. 

It’s like how a bridegroom sees his bride when she’s walking down the aisle on their wedding day.  In his eyes she is perfect, because he sees her with the eyes of love.

That’s how God sees us, made possible through the work of Jesus.  Because God loves us we can trust in his providence, in his sovereignty.
God’s love is strong.  God’s love draws us together. 
God’s love will . . . keep us together.


  1. I particularly love the line from your sermon that said “Church is about learning to love one another so we can be equipped to share that love with the world.“ For me, learning to love like Jesus is an ongoing process. I am far from there! While I strive to love others as He loves us, my humanness most definitely gets in the way – and I need constant reminders. That’s why I think it’s so important for a church to provide a safe place for people to share their hearts with each other - spots and wrinkles included. Knowing that others face the same struggles can be encouraging and give each of us the opportunity to grow our love for one another. The more we share our hearts, the more we can truly learn to love each other as He loves us. And then, as you said, the more “equipped” we will be to share that same unconditional love with the world.