October 30, 2023
• Rev. Mindie Moore
The Blessed Life Week 1: A Meaningful Life
This week kicks off our annual Stewardship series. And a lot of times, this is the series that people can get a little uncomfortable with. Because it all leads up to a day called “Commitment Sunday”, which if you’ve not been with St. Luke’s in November before, is a day when we make financial pledges and commit to giving for the year ahead.
And so that translates to- yes, this is the time of year when we talk about money and giving and that can feel sort of weird for some of us, especially in the context of church.
But here’s what I want to say about Stewardship—I actually love it! And the reason I love this season in the church is because it IS about money...but it’s actually about so much more than that. You know, we talk about this every year on purpose. And a big reason for that is because doing this year after year lets us do a check in on ourselves. We get to see how we’re doing in so many areas of our lives.
It’s kind of like when you do your yearly physical and you always have to fill out the same paperwork every single year. You go through the check boxes, you answer the questions, and honestly, I do not love the paperwork part of the doctor’s visit! But what I can appreciate about it is that it makes me think about certain areas of my health that I’m really not paying that much attention to in my everyday life.
And so this is a chance to pay a little closer attention to what’s going on in our everyday spiritual lives. We’re calling this series, “The Blessed Life” and even though that term “blessed” can feel kind of cheap and trite, if we actually dig into it and ask honest questions and listen for where God wants to take us...that can let us create a really incredible life that’s worth living. That can be the type of life that doesn’t just benefit us, but it can really make an impact on our world.
So this week, we start by looking at what it means to create a meaningful life.
And I’m curious what kind of narratives you have heard or hold, about what makes a meaningful life? Does it revolve around status or money or your title or having a big family or traveling a lot? I grew up in a home where money was pretty tight all the time. And I’ll never forget, when I told one of my family members that I was going to seminary to be a pastor, their first reaction was, “Oh don’t do that. That doesn’t sound like you’ll make very much money at all!”
And that conversation really reflected the values that this person held and for what made a meaningful life for them. And so I want you to think about that as we look at this story of Rebekah in the book of Genesis. Because I think what is so challenging about this story is it really explores what creating something meaningful looks like. And it kind of shifts our focus away from what we can GET out of life to paying attention to what we’re able to GIVE.
Now we heard a little snippet of this story of Rebekah and the camels when Hazel read it for us, but I want to share the bigger picture with you before we unpack it. This is a very early part of the history of the Israelites. You might know that in this story, it really picks up with a man named Abraham- God comes to him when he is super old, thinks he is long past having any kind of descendants, and God says- surprise! I’ve got some big things for you. And God tells him- Abraham, you’re going to have more than you could have ever dreamed. You’re going to have a homeland, you’re going to have this great lineage, you’re going to have all these things you never thought were possible.
And it happens. And now when we get to THIS story, we’re at the time where Abraham’s son, Isaac, is ready to find a wife, to carry on that lineage. Now look- I am going to just name this right up front, this story is told through a cultural lens that most of us would not get down with today. It’s patriarchy, women are looked at as something to acquire- that was the state of things. So I want to name that because I don’t want us to get so hung up on those cultural nuances that we miss the point.
But so Isaac is looking for a wife, the family sends the servant to go find one. And that feels like a BIG task, the pressure is on here, so the servant stops and prays about it. And in his prayer, he asks something incredibly specific to God. He asks that he would KNOW that whatever woman he talks to would be the one, and he asks that he would know this because she will do something that’s really out of the ordinary. He prays that this
woman would offer him not just a drink for himself, but for his camels too. So this way, when this happens, there’s no doubt that this is who he is supposed to bring home to Isaac.
And then here comes Rebekah.
And Rebekah is just out here living her everyday life. That’s it. She’s walking to the outskirts of town, to get to the well and do her chore. She is literally just doing her job! She's not coming on the scene like, “oh I’m walking into the rest of my life, things are about to get really exciting for me,” none of that! It’s just like you’re walking to the copier in your office on a Tuesday. That’s how normal, mundane, and everyday this moment is for her.
And I think that is so key to understanding what happens next. Because when we’re thinking about creating a meaningful life, we have to remember (SLIDE) God can work in extraordinary ways even in the most ordinary places.
You know, this was a lesson I had to come back to over and over again when I worked for a short term missions organization in Chicago. How many of you have ever been on a mission trip? I know sometimes mission trips get a bad wrap- it's like that stereotypical picture of all the white people on the plane with matching t shirts, like I get that- but I really believe when they are done well and really submit to the people whose communities we are serving in, those can some of the MOST transformative experiences. I know that’s been a huge part of my faith story.
BUT- what I found when working with this organization, hosting group after group of people from primarily small towns or rural areas coming to a really big city, was that there was this major false belief that the groups would bring with them. They would say things like, “we’re coming from Oklahoma because we want to serve in ways we can’t serve at home.” And I always had to challenge that. Because, sure, they were going LEARN things in Chicago that they probably wouldn’t be able to learn in OK. They were going to experience different cultures and issues, that was all true. But I always push these groups, especially as they got ready to go home, that you don’t actually have to drive 15 hours to go find a place to serve. I might even argue that most of us don’t have to drive 15 minutes. It might look different, it might seem simple, but I absolutely believe that wherever God has placed us- in the most boring, ordinary circumstances we find ourselves in—THAT is where we’re called to serve. That is where we’re called to live generously. That is where showing up and saying yes can really make an incredible difference and creating this amazingly meaningful life.
And that’s what we see with Rebekah. She just shows up. And not only does she show up, she uses what she has to act in an incredibly generous way.
And she has two primary things in this story. She’s got her ability to draw water from the well, and she has a generous spirit.
And...I don’t know...those things sound kind of basic. They’re simple things! But without those two, simple things, the whole rest of this story does not happen. So they might be simple, but they matter so much. (SLIDE) The simple things we give can make the biggest difference.
Because this servant shows up to the well, and he sits right next to it, but if he doesn't have anything to get the water out with, he’s just going to be a thirsty guy watching everyone else get something to drink. He is completely dependent on someone else having the tools he needs in order to access that water.
And he also needs someone to be willing to give it to him. He needs someone to be willing to talk to a stranger and give up some time and effort to help out someone they don’t know. He needs someone to just have a little bit of generosity in their heart, or he’s walking away thirsty, without a wife for Isaac, and with a pack of angry camels.
My guess is that Rebekah didn’t know she had these things that this person really desperately needed. And I’d guess that a lot of the time, we don’t know that about ourselves. We discount the things we bring to the table, we discount the fact that we have certain gifts that are unique to who we are. The fact that you notice what people are going through, the fact that you show up with baked goods or homemade blankets, the fact that you are willing to make eye contact, or say yes to move heavy things when asked—we think, “That’s just who I am” and we write that stuff off.
But what if (SLIDE) God wants to use exactly who you are to be a blessing to this world?
Because you just don’t know what God can do...when you take the thing you have, and you show up where you are, and you decide to act in a generous way.
Probably at its core, this is a story about the state of Rebekah’s heart. Because again—she did NOT know what was happening behind the scenes here. She didn’t know who this guy was and what he was doing, she just knew he was thirsty. And the thing that is so wild about her ability to be generous is that she goes beyond just caring for this one man, but she cares for his pack of camels too.
Because it would not in any way have been expected that she pay attention to these camels. They weren’t hers. Camels aren’t nice! Personal opinion- they aren’t cute! (SLIDE) They are grouchy utility animals, especially back in that time.
And when she says, (SLIDE) “I will draw for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” Genesis 24:19, we need to understand that this is a ridiculous amount of work that she’s offering to do. It is over the top generous.
Because do you know how water a camel drinks? An average thirsty camel drinks 53 gallons in about 3 minutes. So this is a gallon of water. It’s not light. Imagine multiplying this by 53 and she’s not just doing this for one camel.
The servant has 10 of these water guzzlers!! 10!
So that’s 530 gallons of water. This is excessive! It’s ridiculous. And it absolutely blows Abraham’s servant away. Because he’s just been looking for someone to OFFER a drink to him and the camels. But what Rebekah does is so far beyond that. She takes initiative when she sees there’s a need, and it seems like that’s just part of who she is. Her willingness to be generous, her spirit to use what she has to bless someone else...it meets a need and it also creates new meaning for her. Her life is going to be on a totally different course than it was that morning when she woke up. Her future is now going to include new people, new stories, new legacies...the whole landscape changes for her because she was willing to show up and give what she could.
And that sounds so epic. I mean, it’s in the Bible. Rebekah is considered one of the great matriarchs of our faith. But here’s what I want to make sure you hear loud and clear, maybe more important than anything else I will say today: (SLIDE)
Everyday people can create an exceptionally meaningful life.
Normal people, like you and me, when we show up, when we use what we have, when we approach wherever we find ourselves with a spirit of openness and generosity...God is going to use that. God is going to use that to open the door to new relationships, new opportunities, new ways of experiencing what really matters.
And we never know what is going to happen when we just show up.
Today you have a chance to think about where YOU want to show up and use your gifts to serve. Right as you walk out of this room is our Ministry Showcase. There are ALL kinds of ways you’ll find to show up exactly as you are, where you are, and find that meaning that comes through serving.
And the Ministry Showcase played an important role in our new Minister of Visitation’s life. Bryan Smith has been part of St. Luke’s for 20 years and he is an amazing human- I've known Bryan and his family for many years here at St. Luke’s. And you know, some of the most vivid memories I have of Bryan are from when he would usher at the North Indy Campus. He is a person who I have seen just show up and be open and use his gifts- so I want you to hear his story of how God has used that willingness to create something really exciting:
VIDEO OF BRYAN SMITH
So I’ll ask you again—what does a meaningful life mean to you? How will you use your gifts? And what will God do in you and through you when you show up?