By The Right Way
The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, developed three General Rules for the people called Methodists. The three General Rule are: “Do no harm. Do good. Obey all the ordinances of God.” Now, we could have a whole sermon, and a multi-week Bible study on each of the three rules. Maybe someday, we will! This isn’t a sermon on Wesley’s General Rules, but it is a sermon which uses the third rule as an entry point for understanding today’s scripture. I think Father John wouldn’t mind!
Reuben Job, a contemporary United Methodist bishop, translated Wesley’s third rule, “Obey all the ordinances of God,” this way: Stay in love with God.
Stay in love with God. It sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Stay in love. Images of candlelight dinners and walks on the beach may dance through your heads. Stay in love. But how does one stay in love…with God?
In his book on Wesley’s General Rules, Job suggests that we “stay in love with God” by showing-up, and taking part. We stay in love with God by being faithful to our worship attendance at church, by receiving Communion, and by having a vibrant devotional life with God. That last piece is really what I want us to focus on today. We stay in love with God, in part, by having a vibrant devotional life with God.
What are the ingredients to a vibrant devotional life with God? What is it? Well, we have an easy answer for that one, and an answer as complex to live out as it is simple to answer.
A vibrant devotional life with God includes daily prayer. Now, daily prayer may include, but should not be limited to, quick little blurts of “Oh God!” during the day. Saying “Oh God” when we almost rear-end someone in traffic, or muttering it under our breath when we see someone we don’t particularly want to speak to, can be defined as prayer, and not as a swear, so long as the intent and the thoughts behind the utterance are sincere. “Oh God.” Really, those two words are simple prayer.
Of course, we need to grow, and go deeper, richer, and more deeply in our prayer life. Again, this topic—discovering and living out a vibrant devotional life with God—can be, and should be a sermon series or Bible study all to itself. This morning, we’ll just discuss the essentials.
We should all devote some sacred space and holy time, just for God, everyday. I know, I know. You are saying to yourself, Self, that is easy for a pastor—a man of the clothe, a man of God, a man who lives in the church—to say. But I live in the real world. I live in the real world of busy schedules and a hectic routine. Sacred space and holy time, indeed! I understand those thoughts. Really, I do.
Added to our difficulty in 2017, we are all “plugged-in,” twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I can be sitting in my chair at home, reading a book, nearly dozing off, and I can be awakened by a news alert coming in from The New York Times on my phone. Some people have the ESPN app, and when they get alerts, it sounds like “Sports Center” is coming on right there in your midst, right there in the middle of your conversation. Its both cute, and annoying.
We have a great challenge today in finding, giving God sacred space and holy time, because with our phones and tablets, the world can crash- in on us any second, any moment.
Not to mention those of you who have children…
Not to mention those of you who have ill loved ones you care for…
I may be a pastor, but I don’t consider myself an expert, or a guru, on maintaining a vibrant devotional life with God. Mostly, I am a pilgrim. Mostly, I am a pioneer, an explorer, just trying to find the way home.
As a pilgrim, as a pioneer, as an explorer on the great frontier of discovering and living-out a vibrant devotional life, I have discovered this: I am more at peace with God, with myself, and with others, when I am maintaining at least a consistent, if not “vibrant” devotional life. I have also discovered that I know more order, and feel less chaos in my heart when I am reading my Bible, and praying everyday. I have also experienced this: I live-out God’s way more fully, and I sin an awful lot less, when I devote myself to even just a few moments of prayer and Bible reading, daily.
And that brings us, quite circuitously, to today’s scripture lesson from Genesis 24. When he discovered Rebecca at the well, and she did exactly what Abraham’s servant expected a worthy bride for Abraham’s son to say and do, Abraham’s nameless, but important, servant said, “As for me, the Lord has led me.” The servant knew that the Lord had lead him to Abraham’s kin, to the young woman God destined to be Isaac’s wife.
For Abraham, Isaac’s marriage wasn’t simply a matter of a dad wanting his son to be happy. Isaac’s marriage—to the right lady, the lady of God’s choosing—was fundamental to the covenant of God living on, in this family of God’s choosing.
Abraham told his servant that Isaac’s wife needed to come from his people, back home in Ur. Isaac couldn’t marry a woman from the land of Canaan, where the immediate family now lived. She had to be “in the family,” one of Abraham’s own. In fact, Rebecca’s father and Abraham were brothers, making Isaac and Rebecca very very much related. Now, we can get all tied-up in our concern against incest and racism. Our concern in standing up against incest and racism are incredibly righteous and justified. Abraham’s decrees here were not at all incestuous, or racist, though.
Ladies who already lived in Canaan during this time, the folks who already lived in that land when Abraham and his family came pouring in, would have been polytheists, not monotheists, like Abraham. They would have believed in many different gods. In the ancient world, the mothers and not the fathers, taught the children about God, and faith. Therefore, if Isaac had married a Canaanite girlfriend, more than likely her faith would have been belief in many different gods, not the one true God, and she would have taught any children of her and Isaac’s to have faith in her gods, not Isaac’s God, the one true God. In other words, if Isaac had married someone outside the family, his child would not receive the beautiful faith in God, or the sacred covenant God chose to give to Abraham and all his family.
Abraham needed to make sure Isaac married in the family in order to keep the faith, the covenant with God alive!
This unnamed servant of Abraham was a person of tremendous faith. Throughout this passage, the servant worships God, and praises God for leading him, the humble servant, to young lady destined to marry Isaac. In fact, the word the servant used to describe how God lead him to Rebecca is nahah. Nahah is the exact word the Psalmist used in the Twenty-Third Psalm, “God leads me beside the still waters…God leads me in right paths.” God leads gently, like a shepherd. God leads naturally, like leaves dancing in the wind. God leads lovingly, in only the truly full, perfect way that only God can.
As I alluded to earlier, Rebecca says all the right words, and she does all the right deeds to prove to Abraham’s servant that she is the one God has lead him to. Rebecca addresses Abraham’s servant humbly, like a servant herself. She gives him water from her own jug. She waters all of his livestock. Rebecca speaks and acts humbly, lovingly, hospitably, in a very godly way.
Through Abraham’s servant, God gives Rebecca the right to decide for herself whether or not she will go with the servant and marry Isaac. Her brother Laban, and her momma want her to stay home, at least ten more days. “No,” Rebecca said, “I’m ready to go.” She’s ready for a new adventure. She’s ready to be a pilgrim, a pioneer, an explorer of faith in God.
Abraham’s faithful, nameless servant makes all of this happen because he allowed God to direct him by the right way, by God’s right way. And that, my dear sisters and brothers, is where this story intersects with Wesley’s third General Rule, Stay in love with God.
God shows us God’s right path for us, for our families, for our church, when we are in-tune with God; when we are communing with God; when we discover and live a vibrant devotional life with God.
Some people may raise their eyebrows at old Reuben Job. He changed “Obey the ordinances of God” to “Stay in love with God.” What a radical change! No. Not really.
As human beings, we know that is easy to fall in love. It is easy for someone to catch our eye; it is natural for our hearts to become captivated by someone. When life happens, though…When dating becomes marriage; when marriage becomes family; when family becomes taking care of loved ones when they are down, and living unselfishly, selflessly giving to the Other because they are family and we love them, then staying in love requires something more than blushes on the face, twinkles in the eye, and butterflies in the belly. When life happens, staying in love requires dedication, faith, and love.
Staying in love requires remembering the moment or moments you fell in love in the first place. It requires remembering first glances, and first touches. It requires intentionality: date night with no cell phones, conversations purposefully open and honest; quiet walks and holding hands.
Sometimes, our love for God begins in a way not unlike our love for another person. It begins as a crush, really: a moment of tearful epiphany, a prayer at the altar, a dramatic moment in time which we will never forget. The crush has to grow up and evolve into a real relationship, though. That’s what staying in love with God means. Staying in love means that we get up from bowing at the altar, and we dedicate ourselves to growing in grace, surrendering ourselves to Jesus’ loving leading. Staying in love with God means you try, you try, each and every day, to give God what God deserves: you—Your heart, your soul, your life, lived out in God’s loving service. It begins with a few moments set aside in prayer, with a Bible cracked open, and a faith-filled expectation that like Abraham’s servant, God will lead you by the right way!
Let us pray.