Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Rev. Ha Na Park
I am so happy to be with you here today! As some of you know, my family took a 15-day-long road trip across western Canada from Chemainus to get here – it was fantastic. The weather was very cooperative; we had only one or two rainy days near Riding Mountain National Park, last Sunday night. The journey was beautiful, from the magnificent Rocky mountains to the pristine prairie landscapes; even the pouring, stormy rain we encountered at Riding Mountain was awesome – our first Manitoba storm was very impressive. Anyway, on most days, we enjoyed perfectly clear skies including the prairie’s open and endless BIG SKY, and the plains and prairies were GORGEOUS. I was never tired of looking at them all, all the way here. The vast territory of Canada that the West coast people succinctly sum up with one word, “Flat” is so much more than that; I learned the beauty of a prairie landscape on my way here.
When I was told that the United Church in Meadowood would love to welcome me as their minister, last April, I was over the rainbow for the news, and I couldn’t wait to share it with my congregation and my friends. But it didn’t take long to learn that I would get a mixed response to my news – rather than simple congratulations, the other person most likely would make a suspicious face and say, “WHY?” Before long, I began to collect a lot of stories related to “Winterpeg”: potholes and mosquitoes, black flies and horse flies, winter blizzards so strong they had to tie ropes at downtown crosswalks to keep people from flying away. So, at some point I stopped telling people my family were moving to Winnipeg unless I knew them well or could trust that they were able to understand what a sense of CALLING means.
I wrote in my Facebook on July 1st, one day after my family arrived in Winnipeg, “I sense that there is every reason why I am here in Winnipeg.”
I have followed a profound calling that comes from the depth of everything here – the sky, the plains, the prairies, the river, the people, the human and geological history – and the wind. I would love to say that my family was first initiated by the stormy rain and the wind. I feel a strong sense of calling to be here; the untamed everything has been calling me. I am humbled by everything that occupies this corner of the planet – fellow human beings and nature alike. I may lose this fresh sensation and sense of this inspiring place, as I taste how harsh the winter can be, how hard the blackflies bite. I may become one of those who complain about floods, winds, mosquitoes, flies, snow, whatever unwelcome condition we find ourselves in. However what I see, and hope to see and experience and encounter in all of these is the Creator God, who is pantheistic – “God is in all, and all is in God”. The Natural God, God in nature.
I felt this way when I was here for the interview in March. More accurately, I was enraptured by it. I still feel that rapture now; I would even say the sense of calling I feel is mystical. It assures me that there is a level of presence and activity in our universe that goes beyond and above our physical existence on the earth and our everyday consciousness. There is a spiritual presence and activity that we call God or God’s presence or God’s providence that is biased toward justice and integration of all life. I can feel that tilt towards justice, that integration, when I let myself be touched by the grace of this place. I feel a very strong spiritual gravity, an affinity that pulls me to here. I see you, this inspiring community of faith, The United Church in Meadowood, and I am assured that we are here together to center ourselves in relationship with the Creator God who leads us all in a remarkable journey. When we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit, the journey becomes a remarkable one, a transformative one for every one of us.
I see that this community has already determined to grow to become an experimental community that exercises and expands the effective and strategically strong ministry for church growth and to implement God’s Word in the world. When we determine to be led by the Spirit, the awe, the inspiration that nurtures our hearts and minds and souls, this communal journey will not only transform ourselves but also the way we make relationships with others, especially with those who hold less power, less privilege, those who find themselves in the margins. One amazing thing about being led by the Spirit is that the Spirit creates and recreates a distinctively different community that has no margins.
In today’s reading, we meet an extraordinary woman. Rebekah stands in the middle of all the complex social markers that indicate where she stood in ancient Israel in terms of social locations. This story tells us that Rebekah was not a slave; she left her father’s home by choice, which means she was not bound by slavery. Yet, her days were strongly regulated by the patriarchal order. She was expected to subordinate herself, belonging to her father and then, after marriage, her husband, and then her sons if her husband dies. Her journey toward Canaan from where Abraham sent the slave to find a suitable young woman for his son, Isaac, was not the same kind of journey that a young person takes nowadays, hoping to experience new cultures and to explore their own freedom. Rebekah’s journey’s end was destined for marriage and her duty to ensure Abraham’s household’s longevity by giving birth to the next generation. She, like Abraham before her, left home and family to travel to a land she had never seen, and she did so of her own will. That does not, however, mean that we should only praise her generosity, strength and courage while not mentioning the social restrictions she had to bear in her life.
I like that Rebekah made a choice. And I like to see her in the bigger picture of where she was in her hierarchical, patriarchal society, marked by many social, economic, and political boundaries such as race, slavery, whether a woman was a high-status wife or low-status handmaiden. In the story, the slave who found her for his master Abraham praised God, “The thing comes from the Lord,” and we don’t hear in this story how Rebekah related God’s grace in this life-changing event that affects her life’s course. Reading the story from a contemporary perspective, we see that the reality in which she lived was never free of injustices, and was marked by restrictive social boundaries. Even knowing that, I am moved by this story; even in the middle of struggling human realities, God’s grace surfaces and establishes God’s will. In time, Rebekah becomes the mother of Jacob; by doing so, she becomes part of the root from which the history of Israel begins.
This is my question. This is my moment of wonder for today’s story. What did Rebekah see on the road as she headed to the land she had never seen? What did people tell her before she embarked upon her journey heading to her new home, Canaan? Whatever she saw, whatever she might have heard, my imagination calls me to think that she walked her new path with the Creator God who is present everywhere: in the wind, in the storm, in the human mind, in hopes and in anticipation. I wonder whether she ever felt, on her way, that the Creator God was so close to her, more so than in times of peace and stability. One of my friends wisely told me, “Every time in transition is a sacred time.”
So my prayer for us today is that we may embark on a new, transformative journey that is led by Spirit-given awe and inspiration, trusting that God creates, and we are invited to join in the creating and recreating process for a world that needs us to be agents to nurture all around us to be more inclusive, just and hospitable. Amen.