At the Well of Well Being
A sermon based on Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on July 9, 2017
by Rev. Scott Elliott
Whenever my mom asked why one of us kids did something and we came back with a halting “Well . . .” during that pause she’d say “That’s a deep subject” . . . meaning the “Well.” Even though mom started it long ago, please do not blame her for the rest of these WELL meaning puns. Like when a friend told me he dug a hole in the backyard and filled it with water, and I thought he meant WELL. Or when our city friends asked us if the water on our rural property is healthy, and we told them we only have WELL water. Or how I’ve always thought WELL drillers have boring jobs.
Wells. I’ve gone over board with the puns today because I want us thinking about that word, WELL. Our story has a well in it. Wells are in the Bible a lot. People meet there– couples in particular. Wells, we could say were actually the popular pick-up spots of the Ancient Near East. Women came to the wells to get water, men knew this and so they’d find a way to be there when they did. And sometimes in the Bible (a lot of times) one thing would lead to another and pretty soon a coupling was arranged. If we wanted some more puns (and I know at least Denny does) we could say that our couple was WELL met, that their marriage was WELL arranged, and of course that, all was WELL at the start.
Our story today is about how Isaac and Rebekah met and got married. And it’s not Isaac who goes to the well to pick a wife it is old dad Abraham’s servant. The servant is traditionally thought to be Eliezer (el-a-EE-zer) the name given to Abraham’s head servant in Genesis 15. Isaac is apparently not allowed (or maybe unwilling) to leave Canaan, the Promised Land. Some suggest he cannot go for fear that the connection to it, the family’s right to claim it, may be lost if he was gone and the very elderly Abraham dies. Or perhaps Isaac needed a non-Canaanite spouse so that the Abrahamic claim to the land is not diluted by a Canaanite family line claim to it. But I think that for the story to work the person who goes to Ur of Chaldeans (cal-dee-ans), Abraham’s hometown and country, needed to be a stranger in order to reveal the true nature of the prospective spouse. How one dealt with strangers is a common theme in Genesis– and actually much of the Bible.
Whatever the reasons, Abraham is adamant that the wife Eliezer finds for Isaac be from his dad’s homeland, and Isaac does not do the searching for a wife, that is the servant’s mission. Another curious thing about this story is that God is not named as the one guiding the process first hand, rather human choices guide it those made by Abraham, Eliezer, Rebekah and her family. How they choose to act, especially toward strangers, matters.
I have mentioned many, many times in this church that love in the religious and divine sense has to do with God and our desire and actions for the well being of others. I did not use word play yet about the WELL of water being in this story has to do with WELL being– except, WELL, in the sermon title: “At the Well of Well Being.”.See well being of others is a very important aspect of this story, indeed as we hear most every week it’s a cornerstone of the entire Bible, it central to Jesus’ Way and our faith.
The last two weeks in our wonderful Talking About God class we’ve ended up discussing Meister Eckhart’s claim that all living things long to “be,” that “being” is creation’s quest, and we also discussed that Meister Eckhart and Paul the Apostle had theologies that included the idea that God IS existence – being– itself. (We go down some pretty heady paths in that class, I highly recommend it to all of you.)
Modern American theologian Marcus Borg’s ideas on this “God is being” theology can be summarized something like this, if God is omnipresent – everywhere– then God cannot be separate from the universe so the name God refers “to the reality in whom we and everything exist.” 1 Dr. Borg notes that this changes
the question about God’s existence. It is no longer about whether there is another being separate from the universe. Rather, the question is about the nature of reality, of “what is,” of “is-ness.” “What is,” “reality” or “is-ness” is –does anybody what to debate that? The question is not whether “is-ness” is, but what “is-ness” is. . . . The referent of the word God affirms that reality “what is” is ultimately a sacred reality a “more” all around us, wondrous and glorious. The word [God] does not point to a being who may or may not exist, but names “what is” as wondrous, and sacred, a stupendous and glorious “more.” 2
As the Bible puts it God “is what we live and move and have our being in.”
That’s wonderful stuff, but there is more to it. Our lesson focuses on how we are to act in this reality once we embrace its sacredness. As Marcus Borg puts it,
our relationship to the sacred, our openness to the sacred, our participation in the scared, makes possible things that otherwise might not be possible. There can be cooperation –interaction– between divine purpose and human action.” 3
In our recent Talking About God classes we have also discussed the idea that a difference between humans and other earthly life forms is that humans not only long to be, but have a drive for well being for self and other humans and even other creatures. That’s what we can hear Dr. Borg referring to when he mentions “cooperation– interaction– between divine purpose and human action.” God wants us, calls us to want, creation’s well being. When we answer that call there is “cooperation – interaction– between divine purpose and human action.”
Granted not everyone acts on it and some act contrary to it, but the idea of well being for more than just ourselves is what many of us strive for, which seems unique among humans. Many humans, I like to think a great majority of us, possess a caring that transcends our family, clan and even species. Notably we do not detect this as a common trait in other creatures. Humans, at our best, want more than just our own well being, at our best we want creation’s well being . . .as does God. This may be what Psalm 8 in our invocation is referring to in verse 5 about humans being “made . . . a little lower than God, and crowned . . . with glory and honor.” It is why Genesis declares at the start that humans are made in God’s image!
Our best moments, our sense of being closer to God very often come when we tend to or notice the well being of one another and creation . . . Right? Our morals, our ethics, our laws, our arts, our sciences our religions are not just about being, but about having well ness in that being. And if we listen very closely in our story today we can also pick up that is its central theme. The section of the story set out in our Lectionary reading has Abraham’s servant Eliezer reflecting on how God has blessed Abraham, providing for his well being, giving him all that he has including an abundance of wealth and a son. What’s most telling though is that upon that reflection Eliezer decides that the proper spouse, the new matriarch for the Abrahamic line will be known to him by her expression of desire for the well being of both himself, a stranger in a strange land, and the creatures nearby.
Abraham’s good living and Godly ways has had ripple effects. His servant appreciates that the desire for the well being of others is the single most worthy trait to judge a prospective addition to the family by. He understands that the one who will mother and nurture the grandchildren of Abraham and Sarah, to further the line that is to bless all families on earth, must desire the well being of others. That simple decision wonderfully highlights the heart of the lesson of the entire Bible actually, which is: Tending to the well being of all people and creatures is what matters. At the well Rebekah does just that. She gets Eliezer water. She gets his camels water. She desires well being for Eliezer, she shows love to a stranger and creation represented by the camels.
I’ve mentioned that Eliezer observed God’s love for Abraham and Abraham’s love for God. But, what Eliezer did not pick up on (and what is left for us to notice) is that that reciprocal love generates and attracts more love. As pick up spots the wells were known to be a place where maybe romantic love might blossom, but the author of this story makes it a place where love for humankind also blossoms. Every living thing mentioned, or at, the well is loved. In addition to God’s love of Abraham and Abraham’s love of God there is Abraham’s parental love for Isaac. There is Eliezer’s love for Abraham.
All that love is brought from Canaan to Ur. But once it gets to Ur and waits at the well in the form of a servant, that love triggers the idea to look for love in someone at the well in Ur. And what happens? Rebekah shows up and she creates new love at the well, love for another stranger and for other creatures. Once she tends to the well being of Eliezar and his livestock then she – also a stranger– is showered with blessings for her well being, as is her family in part of the lesson that’s not in the Lectionary reading. Then when Rebekah is brought back to Canaan, what happens? In an arranged marriage between two caring strangers love happens, we are told Isaac loves Rebekah and she acted lovingly toward him.
I could stop here and just claim that all’s WELL that ends WELL but I have a few most things to point out.
I’ve mentioned before that we can boil Jesus’ teachings– the very heart of Christianity– down to these four basic premises (1) God is love, (2) believe in love, (3) love love and (4) be love. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, so it should not really be too much of surprise that we’d find those teachings in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Jewish stories and texts. And, sure enough, it can be found in our lesson today. God is love in the story and in fact love soaks the story. Abraham believes in the God of love. Abraham loves the God of love and he is being love . . . and here is the most important part, so is Eliezer, so is Rebekah, so is Isaac.
Being love in the world, bringing God to the world through love is the whole point of our faith and the Jewish faith and the Bible– and this story. We can hear the pebbles of love each character drops into the well water of being– God has marvelous ripple effects sending out concentric circles of love. This is a story about a well of well being, a bottomless well of well being. All it takes is one pebble of love plopped into life to generate ripples that just go on and on. Here we are thousands of years later touched by the ripples of love set off at a well by a servant of Abraham.
And it is important to note, as we have seen over the past couple of weeks, Abraham and his family are by no means flawless in their following of God or in their being love on earth. They are sinners. To sin is to miss the mark God aims us at. They sinned and so do we. Humans are not perfect in conduct, and as we discussed a couple of weeks ago life is messy. Our job in the mess, whether we make it or someone else does or life just throws it at us . . . our job is to “repent” that means to turn toward God and go to God’s well of well being and look around and see who needs watering with love and draw love out and give it away. We need to ask who and what can we provide better care for? And then we need to try and provide that care, regardless of our past or our awkwardness at caring . . . we just need to do it.
To use the metaphor of our Lectionary lesson, is there someone, a family member, a neighbor, even . . . no especially, a stranger, that needs us to dip into that well and provide water of well being to them? Or are their other parts of creation that need tending too? If there is – and there always is– we need to cooperate with God by interacting between divine purpose and human action and deliver that water of well being to all that we can . . . just like Rebekah.
May we all have our thirsts quenched at the well of well being, and may we draw from that well and help quench as many other thirsts for well being as possible. May we do this to bring about Shalom, God’s peace.
1.Borg, Marcus, Speaking Christian, 70-72
2. Ibid., 70-71
3. Ibid, 72
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