I’ve never really liked the name we give to this church season of the calendar. Ordinary time. Who thought of that title? Ordinary time.
Advent is a great name for a church season. It means to wait with expectancy and to know that something very special and wonderful is about to happen – At the end of our patient waiting, we sing “Joy to the World the Lord is come."
Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Eastertide. You would expect another flashy season title to take us through these long summer months, but, no. Instead, we call this time of the church year, “Ordinary Time.” Just that name alone can makes it tempting to skip church.
But if we stop to think about it – where do we spend most of our time? We spend most of our time in the ordinary every day events don’t we?
If you’re like me, on most days, we don't encounter a burning bush, or have angels visit us with some profound message, or witness someone walk on water, or see a stone rolled away from a tomb.
Not usually. An extraordinary day for us may be a day without getting any bills in the mail. Or gas prices go down just before we fill up the tank. Or it doesn’t rain during a family picnic. For many of us, these are the kinds of things that make for an exciting day, myself included.
Most of our daily existence seems routine and uneventful. Maybe this is why Ordinary Time on the church calendar is the longest season of the church year, because this is where we live and move and have our being.
For the past several weeks, we have been in the midst of a summer sermon series on the Book of Genesis. The stories from the Book of Genesis are exciting, gut wrenching, life changing, and thought provoking stories of faith.
That’s what you get with the Book of Genesis. Noah and the Ark; the calling of Abram to begin a new nation; family jealousy involving Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, & Ishmael; and perhaps the most dramatic story from the Book of Genesis which we looked at last Sunday – the story of Abraham about to sacrifice his own son Isaac.
These are “sitting on the edge of your seat” kinds of stories. These are blockbuster summer hits that everybody talks about with their friends.
But then we come to our Genesis story for today – this very ordinary story of Isaac meeting Rebekah. For the past several Sundays, we have had all of these exciting and dramatic story lines and today, we get some chick flick starring Ryan Gosling as Isaac and Emma Stone as Rebekah.
What do we make of this very ordinary story situated in the middle of all of these other exciting stories? Maybe this story just goes to show that what looks ordinary from the outside, is really very extraordinary on the inside.
In a nutshell, Abraham sends his servant to find his son, Isaac a wife. And the servant, not wanting to disappoint his master, Abraham, or fail in his mission, prays for God to bring him success in this task of finding Isaac a suitable wife.
And this servant comes to the conclusion that the woman who offers his camels a drink will be the one whom the Lord has appointed for Isaac. What a way to pick a spouse for someone!
We later read that a woman named Rebekah does exactly that, and Abraham’s servant doesn’t waste anytime, because he puts a ring on her nose and bracelets on her arms and before this woman can say a word, he bows down and worships the Lord because the Lord answered his prayer and he is now off the hook.
Now, how can she refuse this dedicated servant after all of this commotion?
Nevertheless, this servant briefly explains his mission to Rebekah and says to her, “So what do you say?” Rebekah’s family jumps into the conversation and they offer their blessing for Rebekah to leave their homeland and follow Abraham’s servant to be married to Isaac.
And when Rebekah and the servant arrive home, Isaac and Rebekah meet for the first time, and they end up getting married.
This is one of those romantic stories with a very happy ending.
But it’s more than a sappy love story. It’s a story of how God is present in our ordinary day to day living.
For example, think about Abraham’s servant in this story. He is given the task of finding a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac. He could have used all kinds of criteria in his search for the right person. He could have said, “I’ll find the prettiest woman in town and she’ll be the one.” Or he could have just accepted the first woman he saw. Or he could have used the tried and true, “Eenie, meanie, minie, moe…”
But he did none of that. Instead, he prayed to God. Now, the very fact that he prayed to God shows me that he knew what it meant to live in the ordinary time. This servant knew that this task of finding a wife for Isaac was not just something to be done on his own.
This servant knew to pray. He prayed, “Lord, God of my master, Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham.”
Prayer has a way of opening our eyes to God's presence and guidance in our everyday tasks. Prayer gives us God’s perspective on things. And we find that it was this prayer that enabled the servant to find the right woman for Isaac.
One Christian saint has said, “You should not make long prayers, for it is better to pray little but often.” I notice that this servant said a short prayer. I used to think that the way to pray was to say a really long prayer in the morning and then forget about God the rest of the day.
I’m learning the importance of saying little prayers throughout the day rather than just one long prayer. Little prayers remind me to invite God to be part of the ordinary tasks of my day. And so before you go into the grocery store, maybe say a little prayer thanking God for the food you are about to buy.
Or before you go into a meeting, maybe first say a prayer for God to give you guidance and wise discernment for any decision you might need to make.
Or when you go onto Facebook, say a little prayer for your friends who have birthdays that day.
Of course, praying before meals is one of the ways we can stay in relationship with God throughout the day.
I was visiting an older member of one of my churches who was confined to his apartment. His name was Chester. He didn’t have any family nearby and he was pretty much alone. During my first visit to see him he said to me, “Pastor Robert, I pray for you every day. I just want the best for you and the church.”
I was taken aback by his comment. It was so genuine. The thought of Chester praying for me every single day meant so much to me. Every time I would visit him, I thanked him for his prayers.
I remember leaving from his apartment that day thinking how blessed I was to have somebody who was that focused on praying for his pastor. It made me think of how important it is to pray for people on a continual basis.
Nothing can be more ordinary than for a person confined to their modest tiny apartment praying every single day for another person.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately thanks to today’s focus on the importance of daily prayer. Maybe that’s why when I’m feeling stuck in preparing a sermon, a story or a thought will come to me out of nowhere and it ends up being just what I need to include.
Maybe that’s why when I’m faced with a difficult decision, I am reminded of a scripture or a past experience to help me make a better informed decision.
Maybe that’s why when I’m feeling a little nervous before getting up to preach, I feel a peace which passes all understanding.
Maybe that’s why when I’m not even thinking about the church, a thought will come to me about improving one of our ministries or maybe even starting a new ministry will come to me.
I wonder if those things would happen as often if it wasn’t for the prayers of people like Chester and so many of you who pray for me on a daily basis. I just want you to know that I feel those prayers.
Like I told you before, when I first came here to be your pastor, I could tell that there were many prayers being lifted for Penny and me before we even arrived here. You can sense these things. Those prayers really make a difference!
And Lord knows, you have a pastor that needs all the prayers he can get! And I thank you for those prayers.
There will be times when the staff will be discussing an issue that isn’t easy to resolve and someone will stop us in our tracks and say, “We need to pray.”
It’s incredible to be part of a staff where a staff member will interrupt you and just start saying this little prayer for wisdom and guidance with whatever we may be facing.
Thank God for the Chesters in our lives who are praying for us day in and day out.
One of my routines in the morning is to begin my prayers by praying for Penny and our family. That leads me to then say a prayer for all of you, and specifically for our Leadership Board, our staff, our ministry leaders, and specific people in our congregation who have specific needs. I know that God knows the names of the people I am lifting up in prayer, but I like to say those names in my prayers any way.
So, isn’t it incredible that we can learn so much about the importance of prayer from one of the most ordinary people in all of the bible, this servant of Isaac who depended on prayer to find the right person to eventually marry his master? There is so much to learn from this Old Testament story which often gets overshadowed by these other more dramatic stories from the Book of Genesis.
This servant of Isaac reminds me a lot of Chester.
In addition to offering these little prayers each day, having a God given purpose can help us follow God during these ordinary times. Abraham’s servant knew his God given purpose. On the surface, you would think that his purpose was to find a wife for Isaac. But it was so much more than simply finding a wife.
His purpose was to find a wife for Isaac so that God’s covenant to make of Abraham a great nation would continue to be fulfilled.
It was this greater purpose that this servant of Abraham was thinking about as he embarked on this task. I am going to find a wife for Isaac so that God’s promise that was made to my Master can eventually be fulfilled - the promise of Abraham having offspring who would then have more children and they would have children until you eventually have this great nation of a people claimed by God.
The Jewish people today can claim Abraham as their ancestral patriarch thanks in part to a servant who helped Isaac find a wife so that they could have children. Christians who are not Jewish can also claim Abraham as our father of the faith because we have been grafted into this covenant through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This story of Isaac and Rebekah is our story as well.
Abraham’s servant had a God given purpose. What is your God given purpose? One of the great things about participating in the life of the church, is that all of us can have a God given purpose. The purpose of our church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world.
This is what we live for and this is why we are open for business.
Isn’t it great to know that each one of us is given the same overarching God given purpose? If someone would walk up to you and say, “Do you know what your purpose in life is?” What would you say?
Your purpose probably sounds a lot like mine – “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world.”
Let’s all practice this together. Church – What is your God given purpose? Say it outloud with me - “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world?” Say it again with me! “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world.” One more time! “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world.”
To make disciples of who? (Jesus Christ) For the purpose of what? (transforming our community and world.) Give yourselves a hand.
People ask, “What does the church have to offer me and my family?” One of the things the church gives us is a purpose. And it’s a grand and glorious purpose.
If you work with children, you might specify your purpose to be “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world through the faithful teaching of my elementary Sunday School class.”
Or if you are an usher, maybe your purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world by providing a positive first impression for people attending our church.
My specific purpose as the Sr. Pastor goes like this – “to equip and encourage the church to effectively and enthusiastically make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world.”
It’s great to have a God given purpose. A God given purpose reminds us of what God has called us to do and we can be part of the building of the Kingdom of God.
We’ve already been focusing on one love story from our Genesis reading this morning, but I’d like to share with you one more love story. Sorry guys, two love stories in one worship service is almost too much to take.
Thirty-four years ago this Fall, a college student was sitting in his dorm room at Temple University in Philadelphia when an attractive female student barged into his room. The female student apologized by saying that she thought it was the door to the stairwell and that she had made a mistake.
As she started to walk away, the startled and very handsome young man introduced himself to her and they got to know each other a little bit. In the course of the conversation, they found out that they were both United Methodists. They would later see each other around the dorm and talk. He was really smitten by her.
When the Christmas break came, he sent yellow roses to her house. As luck would have it, those roses were delivered at the same time that her high school boyfriend was there visiting her. That didn’t go over so well.
When she came back to campus after the break, they spent even more time with each other. They went to church together on Sundays, ate meals together, and two years later they were married.
After their honeymoon, they came to Ohio so that he could attend seminary and they have served churches here ever since.
The reason I share this love story with you, is to let you know that Penny is the one who helped me realize that God was calling me to enter the ministry. If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be a pastor and I wouldn’t have the privilege of being your pastor.
Penny helped me to discover my purpose in life. She helped me to listen to God’s voice and God’s call in my life when I wasn’t able to hear it.
So to my wife, I say thank you for this life we share together. Thank you for these past thirty-two years and for helping me to find my purpose in life, because as you know, I would have been a terrible Physical Therapist!
Small Group Questions
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
July 16, 2017
The church is currently in the liturgical season known as "Ordinary Time." This is the longest season on the church calendar usually beginning in June and lasting through the middle of November. The color associated with this season is green reminding us that spiritual growth takes a lot of time and patience.
In what ways do you seek to grow in your faith during this long church season of "Ordinary Time?"
We have recently begun a sermon series that focuses on the different stories in the Book of Genesis. Sunday's scripture reading focuses on how Isaac (Abraham's son) met his wife, Rebekah. Isaac's servant plays an important role in this story as he prays for God to help him find the right person to become Isaac's wife. His prayers led him to choose Rebekah.
In what ways does prayer guide your decisions and thoughts as you go through your day?
Pastor Robert shared about a church member who taught him that saying "little" prayers throughout the day is a way for us to grow in our prayer life.
As a group, think of some ways that can help us to remember to say "little" prayers throughout the day and share with the group.
The story of Isaac and Rebekah is also a story of the importance of being aware of God's purpose at work in our life. In order for God's covenant with Abraham to become a great nation, Abraham's son, Isaac needed to find a wife and eventually have offspring. Isaac's servant was aware of this big purpose which was why he took his mission in finding a wife for Isaac so seriously.
What is the "purpose" that God has given you in how you live out your faith on day to day basis? How does your purpose help to fulfill the church's overall purpose which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world?"