July 9, 2017

5th Sunday after Pentecost
‘TO DELIGHT IN THE GOODNESS OF CREATION’

BIBLE READINGS
Genesis 24:34-67
Psalm 45:2-3, 10-17

 REFLECTION

A woman, let say her name was Georgina, was a retiree and was learning how to use Facebook for the first time. Her children had successfully convinced her that Facebook was a great tool to keep in touch and she thought it was a marvelous technology. Not long, she received a friend request on her Facebook page from a man, let’s say whose name was Leo. He claimed to be a serviceman in the US army posted in Afghanistan. He told her that he was lonely and looking for a friend to talk to during his duty in the middle of nowhere. Leo claimed to have lost his wife from cancer and that resonated with Georgina whose husband had also passed away some time ago from cancer.

Soon, Georgina and Leo developed a close friendship over Facebook and, not long after, the relationship became romantic. And as they became more and more intimate, Leo started asking for money from Georgina. And he didn’t ask for pocket money. Once he asked her to send him $15.000 because he said he had trouble using his bank card and had to pay an export tax for his business in Nigeria. Another time, he asked for $20.000 because he said he had trouble with the customs in Malaysia and needed the money to free his confiscated goods. He continued telling Georgina different scenarios and in each time, he needed a significant amount of money. In all, Georgina had transferred around $100.000 to Leo. This only stopped when the police finally got involved and Georgina learned that Leo was a scammer and their whole relationship was fake.[1]

Friends, this story unfortunately was a real story that happened to a real person. And this was not a one-off event. Many other people in Australia had also fallen victims to similar situations.

And it can happen to anyone. I remember one detective who specialized in this kind of criminal activity who said that the victims were not fools; they were ordinary, intelligent, hard-working people. He said that it could happen to them because the perpetrators used their longing for love as a bait. Indeed, love is a universal feeling, whether you’re educated or not; whether you’re wealthy or poor. Everyone is looking for love; for someone who would make one happy; for someone who would be a lifelong companion. As such everyone is vulnerable to this kind of scam.

In the Bible, God doesn’t deny our need to find love; to find happiness; to have desire, including romantic desire; God affirms it. The Hebrews were never ashamed of talking about desire, including romantic and sexual desires. They affirm that romantic and sexual desires were not sins in themselves, but parts of our experience and gifts from our Creator.

Traditional Christian doctrine, on the other hand, had often failed to affirm that desire, especially sexual desire, was God’s gift for us all. Of course, like anything else, sex can become a sin. Sex becomes sin when it is exploited as a tool to control or manipulate someone. It becomes sin when it is used in such a way that it is destructive or causes severe damage, physical or emotional, to the parties involved. But when sex is done within the appropriate framework of a loving and committed relationship, sex can bring delight. And God affirms, not condemns, that delight.

In our reading this morning from the book of Genesis, we hear the story about Abraham’s servant who was looking for an appropriate wife for his master’s son, Isaac. He found what he was looking for at a well.

Now, for us, a well may be a strange place for someone to look for a future wife. But, apparently in Biblical time, a well was a place where many people met their future spouses.

Moses met his future wife, Zipporah, at a well.[2] Jacob met Rachel, the woman he loved, whom he was going to marry, also at a well.[3] That probably explains why, in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples were surprised and disturbed when they found Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman at the well.[4] They must have thought that Jesus was flirting with the woman; even worse: that Jesus was flirting with a foreign woman from a rival nation. We know that wasn’t the case, but we can understand why the disciples reacted that way.

So, a well, in Biblical time, can be liken to today’s dating site: the place where people look for their future spouses! And Abraham’s servant found the right woman for Isaac in that well. Isaac and Rebeca clicked immediately. They seemed to be made for one another. Upon seeing Rebecca, Isaac fell head over heels over her.

And the feeling seemed to be reciprocated. Rebekah herself seemed to have a strong feeling for Isaac. When she saw Isaac for the first time, we are told that Rebecca got down from the camel.[5] But the original Hebrew words actually say that when Rebecca saw Isaac for the very first time, she fell from her camel![6] Indeed, their feeling for one another was so strong that both were prone to making fools of themselves in one another’s presence.

Indeed, we may say that our story today about Isaac and Rebecca is the romantic comedy movie of Biblical time. But this ‘movie’ is definitely not a secular movie. The story was told within the framework of God’s providence. The love between Isaac and Rebecca was not an accident. It was God who ‘arranged’ for the two to meet and it was God who blessed the relationship. Nothing in their relationship could happen without God. Everything happened because God did not only allow the relationship to occur, but also actively guided Abraham’s servant to find Rebecca.

Indeed, the story of Isaac and Rebecca in the end is about God’s affirmation for the desire that both Isaac and Rebekah had for one another. It’s an affirmation that human desire has a part in God’s plan for the world.

We hear a similar theme in our reading today from Psalm 45. The Psalm was a song for a royal wedding between the King and his Bride. When you read this Psalm, think about all the royal weddings in our own life time. Think about the royal weddings between Prince Charles and Lady Diana or the relatively recent wedding between Prince William and Catherine. When I read this Psalm, it reminds me of my own wedding.

Wedding, whether royal or not, is God’s affirmation of the love that the groom and the bride have for one another. When we exchange the vows that we will love and care for one another for the rest of our life, God affirms our desire to find enduring love and delight in our marital union.

So, friends, God wants us to find happiness, to find love, to find delight in this life. Those are God’s gifts for us humans. There is a modern word for our inability to experience happiness and joy in life; that word is depression and today it’s considered as a mental illness. I don’t believe that it’s God’s will for us to be depressed. God wants us to be happy, to be joyful, to enjoy life.

It doesn’t mean that we deny or ignore suffering and evil in the world. Suffering and evil do exist in the world and we are called to alleviate suffering and to challenge evil whenever and wherever they occur. But it doesn’t mean that we then stop looking for joy, creating happiness, and nurturing delight in our life.

God wants us to be happy, to be joyful, and today’s readings affirm that human desires, including romantic and sexual desires, are gifts that God offers to all of us.

So may we find joy and happiness and delight in our life. May we support one another to find their own happiness and joy and delight. May we become a community where people from all walks of life can find the passion in life once again. May we celebrate the goodness of the world that God has created and is still creating for all of us. Amen.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Georgina's Facebook fiancé leaves her flat broke, an article found in
https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/get-help/real-life-stories/georginas-facebook-fiancé-leaves-her-flat-broke
[2] Exodus 2:15-16
[3] Genesis 29:9-10
[4] John 4:6-8, 27
[5] Genesis 24:64
[6] Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, Commentary on Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
onhttps://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3281 (July 9 2017)