When couples come to me to plan their wedding, and in the conversation that follows, I always like to ask: “How did you two meet?”
To go back in time, and recall the unique circumstances, people and events – and sometimes even the drama – around two people meeting each other and “falling in love” – all of that is the stuff of story and legend.
The Biblical story in Genesis of how Isaac came to marry Rebekah is one such amazing story.
Here’s this servant of Abraham, sent by Abraham on a quest to find a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac.
The servant seems almost desperate as he prays and pleads to God that his mission be successful.
He prays that at this particular spring of water to which he’s arrived, that the first woman who happens to come to draw water, and say the exact words: “Drink, and I will draw water for your camels also” would be `The One.’
Well, how likely is that to happen, right?
It really seems this servant is tired and desperate and at wits end.
But what do you know, sure enough, God answers the servant’s prayer: the first woman who comes is Rebekah, and she speaks the exact words the servant was looking for, signalling loud and clear, that Rebekah is `the one’!
The servant takes Rebekah back to Isaac, Rebekah and Isaac fall in love, and they live happily ever after.
Apart from the incredibly specific and particular way God answers the servant’s desperate plea, there’s another part of the story that I’d like us to stop at and ponder.
Less dramatic, but no less important and worthy of our attention.
It’s the verbal encounter between the servant, and Rebekah.
I’m struck by the courage – the sheer bravery – the servant has in approaching Rebekah – a complete stranger to the servant, a complete unknown – and opening up a dialogue with this person!
It’s hard to be the first person to initiate a meaningful dialogue with a person you don’t know. It’s hard, isn’t it?
And then Rebekah’s courage, not only to respond to the servant’s request – who is also a stranger to her – but to respond with abundant hospitality and generosity, eagerly willing to provide drink not only for the servant, but also the servant’s camels.
Face to face engagement, communication, interaction between two people who don’t know each other very well, or not at all.
And I’m not really talking about “breaking the ice” while mingling at a BBQ or party somewhere, with “small-talk” or light-hearted surface conversation.
This is about meaningful engagement,
…the kind that listens more than speaks,
…that is curious about learning more about a person you don’t know very well – their story, what makes them tick, their worries, joys, and concerns,
…the kind that really connects on a human level, no matter differences in age, or appearance, or philosophies of life.
And this is hard to do.
We naturally, by default, like to flock together with people “of our own kind” – people who look like us, sound like us, talk like us, think like us.
It’s easy. Comfortable. Hardly takes any effort.
But it’s hard to engage personally with someone outside those safe, easy, comfortable circles.
The main speaker at the course I took last month, a Canadian Anglican priest, Alan Roxburgh talked about his first visit to South Korea recently.
He was attending a meeting, and then was invited out with a group of South Koreans, to a restaurant to eat authentic Korean cuisine.
Sitting cross-legged on cushions, his Korean friends were eager that he order the freshest sea-food.
And so, he ordered squid.
When it arrived, he picked up his chop sticks, and was about to delve into the food, when he suddenly noticed the small pieces of squid moving around on his plate.
Apparently, the squid was so fresh, the nerves in each piece still kept the pieces moving about.
His delighted Korean friends with big smiles watched as he courageously ate it.
But he also noticed that something had changed in the dynamic around the table.
His friends realized he was someone who wanted to meet them in their world, on their terms, not his own.
He was ready to be present with them in ways that met them in their context and environment.
It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it, and brought about deeper human connection, and an unexpected joy and happiness.
Engaging “the Other.”
Who is “the Other”, in our lives, on our context?
During this past Synod Assembly last week, the challenge and encouragement was put out for us to make new connections, new friends, encounters and engagement with the First Nations indigenous people in our neighbourhoods and cities and communities.
Reconciled and right relationships between indigenous and non indigenous people in Canada is still far from reality, especially in the painful aftermath of the “residential school” system which was not only designed a century ago essentially to forcibly assimilate indigenous children to European culture, but also was a place where many indigenous children were abused.
Painful memories live on.
So, a challenge to listen, and learn from, to open up dialogue with a people we don’t normally or typically as individuals, and certainly as a congregation, relate with.
Right here, within our walls, at St. Matthews, we have a ready-made opportunity to practice genuine hospitality with people we don’t normally hang out with: Our Ethiopian congregation worshipping in the chapel on Sunday mornings.
Maybe to stop in the hallway for a little longer, and linger with one or two of our new friends, to open up a dialogue, to listen, learn from, to grow in understanding and establish some human connections – this may be hard to do at first, but doing it anyway can do so much good, and bring so much enrichment to our collective lives in various unexpected ways.
Who is “the Other”? Maybe the neighbour we hardly notice living next door. A grandchild we’ve lost touch with, and with whom we could have a heart-to-heart conversation. The “other” could even be a member of our own family.
When Jesus in the Gospel text today talks of taking on his “yoke”, it may at first sound burdensome, stressful, and difficult, because yokes were actually instruments of burden for oxen – heavy, wooden objects designed to fit over the animals’ shoulders so they could pull a plough or cart behind them.
But another factoid about yokes: a yoke typically would be designed to link two oxen together to share the plough, thereby making it a bit easier for each of the animals.
When Jesus says: “Take my yoke upon you…for my yoke is easy, and my burden light”, he’s saying: his call to follow him in continuing his ministry of hospitality, compassionate care and service to others – may at first glance seem burdensome and “not-fun.”
But we’re not alone. We’re linked with each other, and with God.
But in actuality, when linked with others in community, and especially when linked with God in Jesus, our actions of listening to, serving, and engaging others can, not only be “easy” and “light”, but it can also bring an unexpected joy, refreshment and meaning to our lives.
Linked with Jesus and to one another, God’s love can flow out of us naturally, and has the power to heal, and transform all who come into contact with it.