The Wilderness of Faith
I have made many cross country driving trips in my life. One year alone I drove from Arizona to Chicago seven times. And as you all know I recently made the drive along I90 from Dearborn to Seattle, with side trips to the Badlands, Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore, and Yellowstone.
Every time I prepare for a cross country driving trip I wonder how it will go. Will we run into bad weather? Will we find or make it to our hotels each night? Will we find food and gas when we need it? Will we have car trouble? Will there be bad traffic? Will we get lost? Will we be safe? Will it be fun?
Even though I have all these questions in the back of my mind, as I head off for a long drive I am excited and willing to accept that there are inherent risks to any journey.
The story in Genesis today of Rebekah meeting Abraham’s servant at the well and deciding to go with him into the wilderness to marry Isaac - a man she has never seen let alone met - leaves me awestruck with her courage, strength, vision, and faith.
Rebekah comes from a lineage of strong, courageous women who are leaders in their communities. Her decision mirrors that of her relatives Abraham and Sarah, who also ventured off into the wilderness to follow God’s call. Sarah became the dominant character in that journey, for better or for worse, sometimes taking matters into her own hands instead of waiting for God. Of course, who wouldn’t? She did end up waiting decades for God to do what God had promised her God would do - provide her with a son from whom a great nation would be built. Who wouldn’t wonder if perhaps this or that or the other thing is what God actually intended, when the wait is so long?
Now Sarah has died and Rebekah has moved into Sarah’s tent, married to Isaac. When Sarah lived in the tent, a light burned within it. When Sarah died, the light went out. Now that Rebekah is in the tent, the light has returned. It was thought that God resided in that light. God’s light was shining through these women, Sarah and now Rebekah, in a particular way.
Soon Rebekah and Isaac will become the parents of twins, Esau and Jacob - but that is our story for next week. Today we encounter courage and faith in a woman who willingly heads off into the unknown, confident that God has her back and will be with her.
This is the perfect story for us in our 150th anniversary year as we stand on the threshold between the past and the future, between what was and what could be.
Our history is deeply embedded in our own matriarch, Clara Ford, and her history of helping others. Clara and her husband Henry were members of this church. They gave us this land that the church is built on, Henry Ford himself signing the deed of sale. Clara was present at the groundbreaking ceremony. But Clara was also instrumental in helping people all around the area, helping the hungry and the poor. She was a model of courage, strength, and generosity. She wasn't perfect, but she had a vision and a desire to make the world just a little better, and she spent her life trying to do so. The light that God bestowed upon her still shines in this place.
Clara is our matriarch, we are her legacy. We live in her tent and we are charged with keeping the light of God burning in and through this church. With her DNA in our bloodline we are feeding people in body, mind, and spirit: from our food pantry to blessings in backpack to our community garden; from the unbelievable outpouring of work this week with the effort to build the rainwater collection system to water the garden, being good stewards of the environment and of our resources; to our outdoor summer concert series supporting local musicians and offering the community a free evening of entertainment; to the Holiday Market that supports local artists and crafters; to the labyrinth and the beauty of this property; to the building and the many people and community groups that use it and from which they each have the opportunity to build their mission in the world; in these and so many other ways we offer ourselves as a beacon of light and hope, as a community centered church.
But there is more we can do. I feel it in my bones. Like Rebekah, we have watered the camels and tended to the stranger in our midst. And now, like Rebekah, we are being called to move out into the unknown. The Renaissance Task Force is listening, praying, discerning where and how God is calling us into the wilderness. Do we have the courage of Rebekah to step out? Do we have the compassion of Rebekah and Clara to be agents of transformation in our community? Do we have the ability to be creative in our response to God’s call?
a reflection on Proper 9A: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67