Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
There are many ways to come home. Flying, one watches vast territories go by in the span of hours: passing coastlines, mountains, cropland, lowlands, highlands, deserts and everything in between. However, I will never forget driving home from seminary for the first time. I had successfully lobbied the seminary to make my summer camp job at Suttle Lake United Methodist Camp an external non-parish ministry internship setting for the summer, and I was eager to get back to a climate and culture I was more familiar and comfortable with.
Returning would be my first solo drive across country since the summer before I had taken a friend with me. When I left Virginia that May to get back to Oregon, I chose a middle-of the country route that ultimately would bring me to Interstate 84 and the Columbia River Gorge; different from the I-90 route we’d taken east nine months before. Traveling east to west is quite scenic. Approaching the Rockies it was a sight for sore eyes to see mountains again; on the other side it was a long dry haul to the Idaho-Oregon border, then finally coming through the eastern Gorge. The gradual increase of evergreen trees lifted my spirits, when, all of a sudden, rounding the corner from The Dalles to Hood River full evergreen forests begin to meet the eye. When those deep green forests marched down the mountains to the road and then the river itself beyond Hood River, I finally felt like I was approaching home territory.
I wonder if that’s what it felt like for Abraham’s servant. Upon returning to the fields of Canaan, finding Isaac striding toward him as he brought home from afar Rebekah, her nurse, and her maids, it must have been a similar sense of relief. After a long journey to a distant land, a successful finding, and a safe journey home, he finally arrives.
“Human affairs go well in this tale,” commentator Alan Gregory tells us, but he also warns,
“It will not always be like that. Why should we expect it to be? As Christians, we continually are being formed in the image of God, as Jesus taught. Given the world’s woes, how could we imagine that God will not ask us to follow Jesus’ path? … If, when God grants worldly hopes and happiness, we cultivate thanksgiving and wonder, then we shall not take such joys for granted, and we shall also live more hopefully. Thus we may be ready, with less bitterness and more courage, for more difficult eventualities.” (My emphasis)
Literary analysis says there could be no greater contrast in story line and plot between last week’s reading and this week’s. Putting these two stories together side by side in the lectionary reminds us that, “just as life sometimes breaks our hearts to pieces, at other times our heart’s desire falls into place as inevitably as a clock ticks forward.”
What we can glean from this pairing, is this: God is with us at all times in our lives. God is with us when things are harrowing, difficult, or utterly despairing, just as God is with us in our moments of ineffable happiness. Joy-filled moments today may look very different than the Biblical account from today’s text of course. Our moments today may include interracial or interfaith marriages, same-sex couples, those who are single, and those who do not have children as well as families defined by more traditional terms.
What we can still draw from our moments, both the happy ones and the difficult passages of our life, is that God is still at work – in ways conceivable by us as well as ways we cannot conceive of – always relentlessly pursuing a divine love of self-emptying creativity – bent on God’s own choosing, not ours, I might point out.
This raises a few questions of course. For example, what about that prayer of Abraham’s servant that is basically a glorified version of “Oh God, help me find a parking place right now….” In the servant’s case, Rebekah materializes right before his eyes. But for me (and perhaps some of you, what happens when that prayer isn’t answered? What is God’s plan, anyway? How do we fit in today?
I don’t have an answer other than God is there in the midst of it. As nice as today’s story is, quite the opposite sometimes happens. I have found some of my life choices have led me into challenges I did not expect. Like choosing to be a stay-at home father instead of pursuing a career as a professional camp director…or even choosing to move away from public education with summers off to the private year-round life of itinerant ministry. If I am really honest with myself, I could point out even deeper challenges tearing at the heart of who I am, who I thought I wanted to be.
I have to remind myself that, despite all my dreams and aspirations, I am probably right where God has chosen me to be – or at least not too far off. I may not have the bigger picture, but in faith, I can journey on knowing “God is at work in all the complexities” of my life: Thankfully, regardless of my finitude and lack of understanding of God’s plan,
In the long run, perhaps that is a metaphor for the journey home of another sort. Perhaps the great green evergreen forests of my beloved Pacific Northwest that came to embrace me on all sides as I traveled homeward from afar are but a foretaste of the homecoming I shall receive at the banquet table of the Lord when my earthly work is done.
And, perhaps, that is the best lesson of all; the comfort that we do indeed have a divine home waiting for us through Jesus Christ, the One who tells us to come to him, not just when we are celebrating, but at all times and seasons of our lives. “Come,” he says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30)
Oh God, is this really so? Let us pray that it is … Amen? May it be so.
 Gregory, Alan. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Tull, Patricia. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Bartlett, David L. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0