July 9, 2023
It’s a hot girl summer as we journey through Genesis. We’ve heard of the great matriarchs of the faith. Eve, Sarah, and now Rebekah. You don’t need to know what a “hot girl summer” as I didn’t know what it was until recently. Eve was talking to our niece who had just gone through a break up. Eve said, “Now you can have a hot girl summer!” I thought, “That sounds great! I want one of those, too!”
We’ll take a running start since the lectionary leaves out a lot of the story. Now, Abraham was old, well advanced in years; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. This is how chapter 24 of Genesis begins. Sarah died at 127 years in Chapter 23. Some rabbis claim that she died when she heard what Abraham intended to do to Isaac. Last Sunday’s scripture, so deftly handled by Pastor Meghan, was a horror story of sorts. This Sunday we get a love story.
Abraham sends out an unnamed servant to find Isaac a wife from Ur, as the Canaanites are unsuitable. The servant’s litmus test for this search is hospitality. Whoever offers him a drink and water for his camels will be his sign from God. Before he is done deciding how he will chose the woman for Isaac, out comes Rebekah. The girl who was fair to look upon (24:16). She provides hospitality. She waters the camels. Now a camel can drink 20-30 gallons of water at a time, and there are ten camels. Not only is Rebekah beautiful but exceedingly… perhaps freakishly… strong to carry all that water!
This is a good story. Filled with drama and humor. When Rebekah sees Isaac is a great example. Our translation of verse 64, it says “She slipped quickly from her camel.” Another translation reads “She got down from her camel.” But the Hebrew says very plainly that she falls off her camel.
“Rebekah is one of the most dominant matriarchs in the Israelite story,” writes scholar Wil Gafney. “She has agency, and she uses her voice. A close reading of her story indicates that she is portrayed as one of the most active women in the canon.” 
Dr. Gafney points out how Rebekah offers hospitality herself. She doesn’t check with anyone first. While the servant checks with the family to make sure it’s OK, it’s Rebekah who agrees to go and consents to marry Isaac. She meets her husband and by all accounts, literally falls in love. Right off her camel and into love.
Where is God in all of this? Well, God is with Rebekah. She is strong and decisive. She, like Abraham before her, leaves home and family and travels to a land she has never seen. She is a model of generosity, strength, and courage. She speaks directly to God. For all intents and purposes, she is a mirror image of Abraham. And like Abraham, she makes things happen both for good and for ill. She’s a strong and central character, but not a hero for God is the hero of the Hebrew Scriptures. But she is on par with the male characters and has a massive impact on Genesis.
God speaks to Rebekah in this story without an intermediary, prophet, or messenger. God promises that the twins Rebekah will bear will become great nations, but they will be divided. She gives birth to Esau and Jacob, which we will talk about next Sunday. When Jacob identifies himself later in the story, he says he’s the son of Rebekah and does not mention Isaac or Abraham in Genesis 29:12.
Strong, independent and faithful women are central to a life of faith. Thank God for all the women of faith in our lives. Those who say, “On Sundays we go to church.” Those women who make up their minds and make things happen. Those women who are models of generosity.
In this story, it says that Isaac took Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he was comforted after his mother’s death (verse 67). Love is born. Love was not, and often is not considered a necessary ingredient in a marriage then and through the ages. But it seems that God is generous in this story, providing love for this couple.
There is also an acknowledgement of grief here. Letting go of the old life, mourning it, and emerging into new life. Isaac was “comforted after his mother’s death.” Life goes on. It passes to another strong, young woman who will be the matriarch of a new generation and a fulfillment of God’s covenant to Abraham back in chapter 12.
We also give thanks for the unnamed servant. When called to a particular task, the servant prepared, prayed, and waited. We would do well to do the same. The servant makes a plan, outlines what signs he’s looking for in the woman he is tasked to choose for Isaac. God meets those signs overwhelmingly with Rebekah.
I love all the details and description this story gives. It feels real. It feels lived in. It’s a romantic comedy right here in the Bible, the first of the genre. I think it can mean a lot of things for us in a life of faith. The first is that God cares and notices not just our mountain top experiences, but also our domestic concerns and joys.
God is in the details. For us in our life of faith, we can be rather vague. We don’t know what we’re looking for, but we’ll know it when we see it. The servant doesn’t take that track. He prays, he prepares. He has his stipulations of what he wants. Those are met. Now I know this feels like we could be getting into “Visualize and manifest your destiny.” I don’t think I believe that. God is not our cosmic bellhop. The servant seems as surprised as Rebekah. And Rebekah is so surprised at finding love in Isaac, she falls off her camel.
When we were looking for a church, Kate and I tried many. It wasn’t until we sat down and outlined what we were looking for that we found it. We found the United Church of Christ. We found you. We found many other churches that we enjoyed, but we have found our people. UCC Synod last week just proved that. How much we love this church and its people. It is a joy to share life with you. If we had camels, we would have fallen off of them when we first met y’all and you’re still surprising us and we just love you.
Sometimes it can be dire. Sometimes the stakes are high and so are the tensions. But there’s also an element of comedy. Many in the church take it too seriously. We mourn our faith. We want deep gravitas all the time. We like the dark and mysterious, like Luke Skywalker finding Yoda in a murky swamp in Star Wars. Luke has to prove himself and train and unravel cryptic sayings. That’s definitely a genre within the Bible. But that is just part of the story.
We also have the genre of a romantic comedy. Of finding love and welcome unexpectedly. Of making a decision to see where this love leads, even though it means leaving our family and tradition that we know. So we go and we what we find knocks us to the ground. In a good way. It’s what the kids call a meet-cute. In film, television, and literature, a meet cute is a scene in which the two people who will form a future romantic couple meet for the first time. We get one for the ages when Rebekah meets Isaac.
Having reflected on this story, I can boldly say, Church, that we are having a hot girl summer. This is another slang phrase I’ve heard. “Hot Girl Summer” was coined by rapper Megan Thee Stallion to describe being confident, having fun, and not caring what others think. It’s definitely a song that’s not safe for church. Or work. Please don’t look it up, but I like the vibe. It feels like Rebekah. It feels like the great matriarchs of faith I’ve known in my life. Those of you here among us who have shaped this church with your leadership, confidence, and your humor. How you looked for God and what you found caused you to fall off your camel. You get the idea.
This summer we’re seeing women’s rights up for debate. What you can and can’t do with your bodies. What choices you can make. The church has added to this with one protestant denomination in our nation voting to disassociate from churches that ordain or have women in leadership. Not so with us. Here women are welcome at all levels of leadership. Thanks be to God.
Furthermore, the UCC has just elected The Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson as the General Minister and President of the UCC. She has broken so many glass ceilings in her life and call. She is the first woman and first African-American woman to hold the position. She, like Rebekah, is strong, confident, and decisive. The Rev. Dr. Thompson is a woman of great leadership and hospitality. I am thrilled at her election, and the news seems to fit our reading today.
I am so much in love with our history and stories. I love the UCC but I know we have our problems and faults. We’re not the heroes of this story. God is. We’re just trying out best to follow God. To welcome, love, and serve. To follow great women of faith.
We are called, as the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber stated at our synod to have “one arm in the past and one arm in the future, so we can stand firmly in the reality of the present without being consumed by it.” This ancient story shows that way, way back in our history: here’s a story of a strong, decisive woman who is on par with Abraham. Here’s a romantic comedy with a meet cute. Here is a story that can anchor us and propel us into the future.
Strong women are vital to our faith. Thanks be to God for their witness. Thanks be to God for faithfulness by so many countless unnamed servants who found God amid the every day. May we go and do likewise. Amen.
 Womanist Midrash on the Torah, page 45.