Monday, 7 July 2014

God works quietly and could be missed by those who aren't looking- Gen 24

Deciding to move to Toronto so I could go to seminary was a big decision that came with lots of things to plan and lots of things we could worry about. We had very little money, and we weren’t completely sure how things were going to work. We had a yard sale and sold most of our furniture and a lot of our belongings.  We weren’t exactly sure what we were going to do about furniture once we got to Toronto. I was pretty sure that was what God was calling me to do, so we moved ahead in trust. One day about a week before we were flying to Toronto I got a phone call. The voice on the other line said, “I understand you are moving into one of the apartments at Wycliffe College. Well the previous renter left a lot of furniture in the apartment. Did you want us to move it out so you can move yours in, or can you use any of it?” So we let him know that anything he wanted to leave we would use because we were coming with nothing.
Before we arrived in Toronto Crystal had been emailing her resume to a number of labs. She didn’t have any responses until we had been in Toronto for four days. It was the only interview she had and her resume was one of dozens. She got the job in the end and the lab was so close that the walk between our front door and her lab was 4 minutes, which is an unheard of commute in Toronto. There were other things that seemed to just fall into place.
Now, I could say that it was all a coincidence. It’s not obviously supernatural. It was nothing that could convince a skeptic. There is no proof of God in those circumstances, but when I remember those events I remember them as God caring for me. I felt like it was a confirmation that I was following God’s leading. I felt the reality of Psalm 23, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” I felt led, and protected, and cared for by an invisible presence.
As I say these words I am conscious of how many conversations I’ve had with people in this room where I’ve repeated the phrase “I don’t believe in coincidence anymore”. You have told me about things that have happened in your life where things have seemed to be connected, when the chances of it being merely random are astronomical. You have gotten money, and just the right amount, just when you needed it. You have picked up the phone and called a friend, just at the right moment. There are moments when it seems like an invisible hand is orchestrating events. We often don’t see it in the moment, unless we are really attentive. Usually, if we see it at all, we see it when we are looking back on it.
Again, it is nothing that would convince a skeptic. Many would call it good luck. Many would call it coincidence. But, those of us that believe that God is at work in our daily lives see his hand leading and guiding. Sometimes we don’t see it. And sometimes it all seems to be going wrong, but there are those moments when it all seems to be led.    
We read about one of these moments in our reading from Genesis 24. Abraham sends one of his servants to go find a wife for his son, Isaac. Isaac is the child who carries the promise God gave to Abraham and his family. So Isaac’s wife will be the one who will continue the promise by giving birth to the family who carry God’s blessing to the world. The servant returns to Abraham’s original home to be a matchmaker, which doesn’t seem all that holy, but it is actually a holy task. He comes to a spring in Abraham’s old stomping ground and asks God to guide him.  He asks that a woman who comes to the spring and gives him a drink and then offers his camels a drink would be the one God chooses.
Abraham’s servant says, “’Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, 'Please let me drink.' She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, 'Drink, and I will also water your camels.' So I drank, and she also watered the camels”.
God doesn’t show up in a cloud. No audible voice from the heavens is heard. No one sees an angel. And yet, God is present and God is active.
The story continues as the servant goes and meets the girl’s family, but before that he adorns her with jewelry. And immediately the servant attributes this meeting to God. He prays out of thankfulness and asks for further discernment. The servant says, “Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left."… How is it that he expects God to speak? Sometimes people really do expect an audible voice. I do know people who have heard an audible voice, but it is more likely that the servant is listening through the circumstances that are before him. Rebekah grants her permission and her family grants permission and she goes with the servant. To the servant, this is God’s leading.
After their long journey they finally come close to Isaac. Isaac had been walking meditatively through a field. Rebekah sees Isaac and she falls off her camel. Before she knows who he is she seems to be drawn to him and asks, "Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?"           Isaac and Rebekah are married and we read “he loved her”. It seems like a fairytale. The prince finds Cinderella.
            The servant saw God’s hand guiding these events. There was no obvious supernatural event. The sea did not divide. On the mountain the prophet Elijah learns that God is not in the violent wind, earthquake, or the fire (1 Kings 19). We so often expect God to show up in our lives in dramatic ways, but that is not His primary way of being with us. Primarily God is with us quietly. Elijah encountered God in “sheer silence”, not in the other dramatic ways. It was in the silence, which is so often why we miss it. Our lives are busy and noisy and mostly unreflective. So it’s no wonder we can go for long periods without sensing the hand of God in our lives.
I heard the philosopher Dallas Willard once say that you will not truly believe that God is good unless you believe that God has done good to you personally. It will not do to believe that God has been good to others, but not to you. To believe that God is good means that you have to believe God has been good to you personally. If we are to believe that God is good, then we have to be willing to see God’s hand in our lives. Will it be conclusive proof? No. Will we possibly get it wrong? Yes. We will have to walk the line between romanticism and cynicism. To have a mature understanding of God’s hand in our lives we will need discerning meditative hearts. We will need to be able to see God’s hand in the blessings of our life, but even more difficult, we will have to learn to see God’s hand in the midst of our sufferings. We don’t see him as the one who causes the suffering, but we see Him as present in the midst of it. And we will have to see God’s hand as blessing and shaping of our souls which is leading us to our ultimate joy.

This story on one level is about finding a wife for Isaac, but I think we can learn a profound lesson from the servant who was willing to see God’s hand actively guiding him in silence ways. It is easy to get cynical and ask, “Where is God? Where is He in the story? Where is He in our lives?” When we look around we don’t see him. We have never met our guardian angels. Most of us have never seen a profound and unquestionable miracle that would prove God’s reality in our lives. We sometimes ask for obvious signs from God. But, like Elijah, we learn that God’s presence isn’t primarily in the dramatic, but in the sheer silence, and only perceived by loving, contemplative, and discerning attention.  We will become closer in our walk with God when we are able to even see God in the midst of our pain and see even those moments as gifts from a good God who loves us and wants the best for us.  God does not work primarily in oddities and in spectacle. God works in the usual ebb and flow of our daily lives. Our job is to discern and be ready to trust Him and then to be thankful. Amen.  


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