from Genesis 24
“Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord…who had led me by the right way…”
The story of Rebekah and Isaac, how they met, how they married, is one of the Bible’s great love stories. It begins, however, with great sorrow, for Isaac’s mother, Sarah had died, and Isaac was heartbroken. Abraham was so worried about Isaac that he sent a servant back to the homeland to find a wife for Isaac, thinking perhaps that would give his grieving son a new reason to live. The servant arrived in Haran, went straight to the local well where all the eligible young women in the area were sure to hang out. He did it with a prayer in his heart, asking God to lead him, seeking God’s guidance, asking that God might send him the right young woman for his master. He prayed, “let her offer me a drink, and then let her offer to water my camels while I drink, and let her be the one.” No sooner had he said the prayer than she appeared, the lovely Rebekah, offering him a drink, offering to water his camels while he drank.
He wasted no time making her the offer he’d been authorized: flocks, herds, camels, donkeys, servants, silver and gold, bracelets on her arms, a ring in her nose, if only she would come with him and marry his master, Isaac. Would she accept? This blind date? To marry Isaac sight unseen? What if he was a total schmuck? Did she have any idea what she was getting into? Surely when she set out to fetch water that morning, she had not planned on having to make such a monumental decision that could change the course of her life. She had no way of knowing that if she accepted, she would become a critical figure in God’s unfolding plan for his people, that for Isaac, it would be love at first sight, that she would bring joy to this heartbroken man, that she would marry him, that she would one day bear twins Jacob and Esau, that Jacob would one day become Israel, that he would one day become the father the 12 tribes of Israel, that all of this would make her a brave foremother of our faith, that aeons later we would be talking about her in church? What if she said no? She could have said, no, I don’t do blind dates. The verses we just heard come at the critical moment of decision: will you go with this man? they asked her. And Rebekah said, I will.
Max Lucado once put it: “If there are 1000 steps between us and God, God will take all of them but one. God will leave the final one for us.” Like in this story. 999 steps have been taken to arrange this marriage, and all of them have converged on one place, one moment, one woman, one decision. So much seems to be predestined to happen. But the story is not about predestination. It’s about providence. That’s different. Predestination means that nothing happens that God didn’t make to happen. Providence means that nothing happens that God is not involved with, that God is at work in all things for good–with us, through us, in us, God’s watchful eye over it all, God’s hidden hand at work within it all. Like in this story: though God never intervenes with a blaze of light or a booming bass voice or angels singing or bushes burning, but clearly God is working, leading a willing servant to the well, with perfect timing, making a match, taking all these steps but one, the final one, which one?– the one that only Rebekah could take, the one that had to be freely chosen. Will you go with this man, they asked her. Rebekah said, I will.
Goethe once wrote: “There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that never otherwise would have occurred . . . But that’s why commitment is so scary. Because we can’t see the future. It is a blind date: a blind date with God and with God’s future. None of us ever knows what we are getting into when we say “I will.”
Five years ago when the bishop called me in Baton Rouge and asked me if I would go to New Orleans, to serve at Rayne, if he had told me, oh, and by the way, 2 years into your appointment, the worst natural disaster in the history of the US will hit New Orleans and nearly destroy the Rayne sanctuary, would I have said “I will”? I don’t know, all I can say is that I’m glad I did. Though I never would have planned it, I would not trade the experiences I have had over these past 3 years.
I remember meeting a member of the church at a nursing home where his wife of over 40 years had Alzheimer’s so advanced that she no longer knew his name. He combed her hair, he brought her dessert, he cared for her so tenderly, but visibly grieving all that was slowly slipping away. We talked about Alzheimer’s, “the long goodbye,” as it is called, and I asked him if on the day that they had married he could have known that 42 years later they would be going through this together, would he have still said “I will”? He said, “Oh, yes.”
And if you knew on the day the doctor laid that baby in your arms all the details about what that would mean for the rest of your life, that this most beautiful blessing of your life could also be the source of no small amount of stress in your life, would you have still wanted to embark on that incredible journey? There is a reason we are not given to know these things in advance! There is a reason life is like a blind date with God’s future! That’s what faith is: trust—to trust in a way that we cannot see, to step out into the future without knowing in advance what that future will be, but believing God is with us, at work for good in and through all things.
That’s why I love the story of Emily and Ryan’s wedding. If ever there was a blind date with God’s future, this would be it. They had made their plans to get married at Rayne on September 4, 2005. Their dream wedding had been carefully planned with all the bells and whistles and every detail in place. But on August 29, Katrina swept into this city. Emily and Ryan evacuated with 1000’s to Houston. Within days, with the news of the levee failure, the flooding of the city, the toppling of our steeple, it was clear there would be no wedding in New Orleans. What would they do? postpone it? get a Justice of the Peace? What an incredibly huge disappointment.
I was evacuated to Leesville and then to Baton Rouge. I had no idea where they were, where Emily and Ryan had landed, how to find them, how to reach them. It was not for many weeks later, back in New Orleans, that I received a card from Emily telling me about what happened in Houston. When the people of the Woodlands UMC found out about their plight, they went to work to give them a wedding, within 36 hours the most beautiful wedding you could ever imagine, providing everything: sanctuary, music, minister, cake, dress, tux, flowers, hairdo, makeup, reception, photography, party favors, limousine, hotel room. They even reprinted the wedding programs, went so far as to find out what their love song was and played it for the first dance. Evacuees who were in attendance said it was the only bright spot in their week, a reason to hope in the midst of all the horror. Emily said “It was absolutely amazing. I went from feeling sad and sorry for myself to feeling like the luckiest bride on earth. I still feel like the luckiest bride on earth, and I smile every time I think of our wedding day. It helped us to realize what is truly important…We were truly blessed.” But you never would have planned it that way! Not in a million years! You wouldn’t change it either—would you?
And that’s not all. Imagine my surprise on Christmas Eve this year when Emily and Ryan showed up with twins!—their beautiful girls Molly and Allison. And then when they asked that Molly and Allison be baptized here. Something has come full circle. 999 steps that have led us to this place, to this day, to this baptism, and though I can’t say I fully understand, I believe God’s up to something! And no telling where it will lead us next. And even now, we are called to put our hands in God’s hand and say, I will.
I think of Jane Brennand, our brave, beautiful Jane. She’s on a blind date with God’s future too, putting her hand in God’s, moving to Texas, taking that step without knowing in advance what that future holds. I think of Arleen Cerbonne, on a blind date with God’s future, putting her hand in God’s hand, back home again in New Orleans after 3 years away, making her plans to come back even before she had a job waiting for her, even before her house sold, rejoining Rayne today, what a leap of faith she took. I think of the Derhams—Kevin, Natalie, Casey, home again after 3 years, a blind date with God’s future. And beautiful brave Gayle Batt, putting her hand in God’s hand today, on a blind date with God’s future, stepping out in faith today, making the decision to join Rayne. So many of you as well, on a blind date with God’s future. And that’s what makes the difference: it’s God’s future. It is a future we can trust. For God will be with us.
That’s why verses from Matthew 11 are among the most cherished words of Jesus: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, my yoke is easy, my burden light.” That’s what we need to know, this is what gives us courage, to take that step toward him, because we know we are not alone, that there is nothing we ever have to face alone, but God is with us, no burden we ever bear, that God does not share. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we know the One who holds the future.” Who holds Isaac, Rebekah, Emily, Ryan, Molly, Allison, Jane, Gayle, Arleen, Natalie, Kevin, Casey, you, me. What then do we have to fear in this life or the next? If, at the end of this blind date, the One whose face we see is his? Nothing.