Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, If I Were Preaching, Reflectionary

Who works for us?

So he said, "I am Abraham's servant." 
(Genesis 24:34, NRSV)

As Revised Common Lectionary preachers continue to work through the multi-generational family history of Genesis, this week we meet an unnamed servant of Abraham who is tasked with a dynasty-making errand, to find a bride for Isaac. I’ve read this story many times, and my reflections on it in the past were more familial and less political. We can see the fairy tale element in it. The “right” young woman is at the well, and in the end, she will marry a man who loves her and who, though not a literal prince, is the heir to our faith heritage. And they lived happily ever after… (until next Sunday). I am also influenced by my friend and colleague the Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney‘s reading of the story in Womanist Midrash, particularly her description of Rebekah’s strong character nurtured in a matrilineal culture. Her family sends her with Abraham’s servant only after she consents to go. (v. 58)

We find systems of social status in this long ago story that still exist. The meeting at the well with Rebekah is told twice, once as it happens and then in this retelling by the servant. The segments of chapter 24 chosen by the lectionary minimize Rebekah’s experience and focus instead on a negotiation promoting the profile of the father of the potential groom by highlighting his wealth. The rich man’s son doesn’t have to travel and be put at risk. A servant will bargain for his bride.

Isaac is a son of privilege.

Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing protests against racial injustice point us toward interrogating privilege, both Isaac’s and ours. Who works for us? Whose work supports us and our way of living? Who goes out into the world and risks life and health so that we have what we want? This angle will feel different if you have essential workers in your congregation. They are like the servant who travels to get what his master wants. 

Next week this system of privilege will come to us again in the struggle between Jacob and Esau. I am having a staycation and won’t be writing text reflections for July 12, but I encourage you to read those texts, too, with our current times in mind. The struggle between the two brothers is the same conflict at the root of our sin of racism. Where there is jealousy and competition there is a fear that there will not be enough to go around and a belief that we must win at all costs. This theology of scarcity fuels White Supremacy. We are all captive to it until we are all free from it. 

Confession, Liturgy, Prayer

The violence of our silence

Holy Three-in-One, 

What are human beings that you are mindful of them?

We confess that we forget the scale of our importance in the universe,
making ourselves larger and more powerful than we have any right to be.

We take the words of scripture
and twist them until we imagine ourselves to be like you,
all-knowing and all-powerful. 

We bend the meaning of your commandments
by classifying some people as less than human
and therefore not worthy of our care. 

We take offense,
insisting our personal behavior is innocent
while forgetting our complicity in systems that oppress.

Holy God, Creator, Christ, and Spirit,
we want to turn from our sinful ways.  

We repent and confess our actions:
the harm we have done in service of racism
as individuals and institutions,
both in history and today. 

We repent and confess our inactions:
the indifference of our ignorance and
the violence of our silence.

We ask for your forgiveness,
Holy One-and-Three,
yet we still have work to do.


Assurance of Pardon

Even as we grapple with our collective and personal sin, there is good news. God has loved us, loves us now, and will love us always. Trust in God’s abundant grace and healing mercy and live into the image of God we were created to be, forgiving and forgiven. 

This confession for Trinity Sunday is admittedly a prayer for majority white communities of faith, written in response to Psalm 8:4a. You are welcome to use the prayer or whatever parts of it might be useful in the coming week, as well as the image below. 

Prayers for Pastors

Would we open the doors?

Dear God,

I ask myself,

Would we open the doors
On a Friday night
And shelter protestors?

Or would we stop short,
Worried about the police,
Or angry neighbors?

Would we turn off the lights,
Draw the blinds,
Hide in the office?

Or would we be ready
With water and cookies,
And first aid kits?

Would we welcome strangers,
For Your sake,
And keep them safe?

O God,
who opens doors,
I hope so.

(Offered with thanksgiving for Central Reform Congregation and University United Methodist Church in St. Louis and their hospitality to protestors this weekend.)