Thursday, 6 July 2017

Becoming Myriads: The Quick Guide

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 9 – Year A
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

The answer to the question is “yes”.  The door to a new world opens.  

Where are you right now?  How will you get from where you are to a more fruitful and hopeful place? Will it happen by accident?  Do you need to do something?

Is this remotely important to you?

There is a bit of family tradition handed down, from somebody on my mother’s side, that when my great grandfather was studying for the Presbyterian ministry at Queen’s College in Kingston Ontario at the end of the 19th Century, one of the College’s previous graduates wrote back to his friends that the work he was doing in China (on the eve of the Boxer Rebellion) was proving impossible without a wife and could somebody please help him out.  The story has it that a small group paid a visit to the missionary and deaconess’ training home in Toronto and enquired of the young women enrolled there whether any amongst them felt the vocation to marry a missionary in the field. 

I cannot imagine the story without a bit of embarrassed silence in the room.  There must, surely, have been an awkward pause.    

As it happened, the query was met with agreement by one young woman in Toronto.  Yes, she felt so inclined.  Letters were exchanged and the young woman packed her trunks and sailed to China at the beginning of a hazardous decade for foreigners (and especially missionaries) living in that country.  One man’s history weaves into the history of one woman - the fruit of risks taken by the one who asks and the one who answers.

In our first reading this Sunday, Abraham’s servant is given the task of finding a wife for Isaac from amongst his kinsfolk in Mesopotamia.  The servant prays to God for direction, establishes the criteria by which he will know God is so directing him and is subsequently led to the young woman Rebekah who is drawing water at the local well.  Later, when the servant has spoken with her family they turn to the girl. 

“Will you go with this man?” they ask.   “I will” she says. 

The young woman’s agreement leads to the family’s blessing

“May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” 

The faith of Abraham’s bonded servant intersects with a young woman’s freedom to say “yes” or “no” and the story culminates in blessing.   Our story weaves together those things which “must be” (either by God’s command or by patriarchal fiat) with what “could or could not be” due to family politics and individual choice.  Energy goes into the equation from two sides.   

Rarely do we stand on ground which is gently sloped in a downward direction for ease of entry and discovery.  Nor are our options so distilled in pure forms, unmixed with the particularity of our lives and families, that the choice becomes obvious.  Secret gardens, hidden doors, the way in and the way out of labyrinths, pearls of great price discovered amongst lesser gems, all the treasures found in fields, and - yes - the very thing the present reader wants or needs - these are to be found by seekers.   

They are the fruit of engagement and risk.   They require undertakings which extend beyond our pay-grade and beyond the bounds of what is considered safe or, for that matter, even polite.