A spurious drop of ink and the wooing of Rebekah

A Sermon for Proper 9 – A, 4th after Pentecost

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Psalm 45: 11-18, Romans 7:15-25a,
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

The wooing of Rebekah (Fretheim) seems to be a story about signs, Abraham’s servant is always looking for one sign or another. That’s not always a good idea.
There was a person who wanted to know God’s will and so he flipped open the Bible, blindly jabbed his finger at the text, and then read the verse, “And Judas went out and hanged himself.” Since that didn’t seem to provide quite the direction he was looking for, he tried again, this time plunking down on the verse, “Go and do likewise”! (Hozee)

And while there is plenty to be learned about preparing for, praying for and waiting (Schifferdecker) for divine guidance, it’s the interplay of hesed (kindness)and ʾemet (faithfulness) (Strong’s) where we will begin our journey this morning.

The unnamed servant makes a very intimate pledge to Abraham to get a wife for Isaac from Abraham’s home country. The servant goes to Abrahams’ home town, and settles in by the well. There he asks God to show hesed, steadfast love, for Abraham, describes the sign he will look for, and waits. Rebekah shows up and offers him and his camels water. That’s the sign. The servant immediately gives thanks God has shown hesed. As the servant recounts his mission from Abraham, to Rebekah’s family he mentions God’s hesed again.
He is always giving The Lord credit. We have also developed a habit of giving God all the credit in bible stories, such as this.

And while the author of this tale makes it clear that without God’s steadfast love there would be no success (Fretheim), the ’emet faithfulness of the servant also plays an important role. Although success may well depend on God, the activity of human beings may bring about the failure or success of God’s intention. Fretheim) The servant’s faithfulness is apparent in two ways: one – his insistence on offering prayers for guidance and thanksgiving; and that he does not take the easy out Abraham’s gives him, if he cannot find a willing bride among his people. (Genesis 24:8) Without divine hesed Abraham’s vision is thwarted. Without the servant’s ʾemet Abraham’s vision is thwarted. It’s the interaction between the two by which Rebekah follow Abraham and leaves her family for unknown lands that bears fruit, ensuring the covenant continues for future generations. So when we set about mission and ministry let’s prepare for, pray for and wait for divine guidance, a form of hesed; and be prepared to act or not as we perceive a sign, or not.

All of this has curiously relevant timing. Friday we celebrated July 4th, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We all know the phrase:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

There are many who fear for these rights. So, it may be coincidence or divine guidance that Thursday’s New York Times ran an article about the question of a period. (Schuessler) Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. believes there is an error in the typical punctuation, of the Declaration, caused by an errant ink spot, that’s been interpreted as a period.
Allen, cites many sources that do not include the period. Unfortunately the original Document is so faded to make an exact determination isn’t possible. (Schifferdecker) What’s the big deal? The phrase that follows is:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

Allen says:
The logic of the sentence moves from the value of individual rights to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights … You lose that connection when the period gets added. (Schuessler)

At this point the ancient wisdom of Genesis sheds light on the implementation of the divine insight given our fore fathers in the Declaration of Independence. Yes, we have been endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among [them] … Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (no period) … However, we also have a divine sign to secure these rights by governments [that] are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, … Just as it took hesed and ʾemet for Abraham’s vision to bear fruit; it takes unalienable Rights and Governments … instituted among Men for the vision of The Declaration of Independence to bear fruit. Without both hesed and ʾemet we cannot glean the fullness of divine revelation in the story Rebekah’s wooing. Without both unalienable rights and governments we cannot glean the fullness of independence revealed in our Declaration.

I fully recognize the difficulty of holding both unalienable rights and governments in dynamic tension. That is one reason I pray for all our elected leaders, by name in my daily prayers. I fervently believe if those elected and charged with the responsibility of governance begin every day with prayer, not for their position to win out but for:
thy Kingdom come,
thy will [to be] done
on earth as it is in heaven.
and waiting for hesed and ʾemet, then relationships among them will change and governance of the people for the people will be a vision fulfilled.
The results is the same as in the story of Rebekah’s wooing the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for generations to come will be secured.

Works Cited
Fretheim, Terence. The New Interpreters’ Bible. Vol. Volume 1 General Articles on the Bible; General Articles on the Old Testament; Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus. Abingdon, 1995. 12 vols. CD.
Hozee, Scott. Genesis 24:34-67. 6 July 2014. .
Schifferdecker, Kathryn. Commentary on Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67. 6 7 2012. .
Schuessler, Jennifer. “A Period Is Questioned in the Declaration of Independence.” New York Times 3 7 2014. web. .
Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. n.d.