Updated: Jan 30
The Old Testament reading today is about marriage, like it was in the days of Abraham. Some gold jewelry was given as a way of announcing the engagement of Rebekah to Isaac, albeit the gifts were given by the father of the groom’s slave – Laban.
Ladies … raise your hand if you received a nice golden nose ring from you husband, before you got married.
<Look for raised hands>
Some translations say Rebekah had an earring put on her face, but the word for “face” also means “nose” or “nostril.” Besides, ears are on the head, but not the face. So, a nose ring was the gift put on the face.
The nose ring was half a shekel in gold weight. That is less than a fifth (.1826) of an ounce. She also got two bracelets, which were a total of ten shekels in gold weight. That is over 3 1/2 (3.646) ounces of gold. So, the ring for the nose was much smaller than the bracelets.
One would think it must have been a clip-on nose ring, since Laban put it on Rebekah. I doubt he had the tools to pierce her nose.
The giving of gifts was an official act of marriage proposal. The set of engagement rings is then later followed by Rebekah seeing Isaac for the first time and pulling a veil over her head.
This reading from the Book of Genesis is at the core of the Jewish marriage ceremony. It is why engagement rings are worn before a marriage and why brides wear veils still, to this day. Regardless of the fact that nobody can adequately explain the symbolism behind nose rings and veils, as to what the reasoning was behind the ancient people of Abraham doing that, we still carry on the same tradition.
Following along with this marriage theme in Genesis is the lovey-dovey language of the Psalm. It sings of the “daughter” and her “beauty” and how that face will give “pleasure” to the “king.” It speaks of the “princess” and her “bridesmaids” in a marriage “procession.”
An optional reading for today is from the Song of Solomon, which is about the passion between two lovers, especially that love expressed in the marriage tent. That was where Isaac took Rebekah … to consummate their marriage.
So, a strong vision of marriage is established today, but not only from a focus on love, but the willingness of a bride to serve her husband as her master. The submission of a wife to her husband is unspoken by Laban, but it is why Rebekah was asked by her family, “Will you go with this man?”
Knowing she would leave her family behind, to travel to a place she had never been, to meet some man she had never met, and to serve that man as his wife …
Rebekah said, “I will.”
Sounds a lot like “I do” doesn’t it? More tradition carried on today.
With a strong marriage theme established, it then can become confusing when we turn to Paul’s letter to the Romans, where sin and death are talked about. Paul even says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” What does that have to do with marriage?
Then, we see Jesus talking to a crowd about people calling him a glutton and a drunkard. He thanks God for hiding things from the wise and intelligent.
Are we on the same page here?
It can seem to be mixed signals, but in reality all of the readings are focusing on marriage … just not that between a man and a woman. It is more than a physical bond and sensory delights.
I’m talking about a marriage to God.
When I was preparing to write today’s sermon my mind quickly went to nuns. I had heard that Catholic nuns were married to Jesus.
When we were in seminary at Sewanee, one of the “tourist attractions” there ( at least a place where we would take visitors there to see) was a convent of Episcopal nuns on the side of the mountain. It is Saint Mary’s Convent. Before going to Sewanee, I had no idea there were nuns other than Catholic nuns.
Saint Mary’s Convent, Sewanee, TN
According to Wikipedia, there are 2,500 “monks and nuns” in orders established by the Anglican-Episcopal Church.
Episcopal nuns are like Catholic nuns in that they are married to God. They wear a ring that symbolizes that commitment.
In short, being married to God is not expected to be a walk in the park or an automatic membership to an exclusive club. Expect a lot of hard work.
Raise your hand if you are married and never had to work at maintaining that relationship.
<Look for raised hands.>
There are requirements for being a Catholic nun: A woman over 18 must be single; and a woman must be physically fit (healthy).
Widows are considered single, but the health issue puts an upper age limit that is “40-ish.” You can be a nun who has children, but they must be old enough to care for themselves (non-dependent).
Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
In other words, Jesus asked us to accept his nose ring and bracelet.
He asked, “Will you marry me?”
Nuns and monks have gone through this process, where the “engagement” period is a discernment of years. It is sort of like “living with Jesus” to see if you really want to get married.
The problem with nuns and monks marrying Christ, through cloistering and confinement, is that it makes it seem that Jesus is only to be the husband of a few.
A bride wears a veil to hide her face from other suitors. Only her husband will see her true beauty shine. Nuns wear habits. Monks wear robes with hoods. They are trying to keep others from being attracted to them because they are taken.
The aspect of a veil is not only for women. Moses had to wear a veil, after he talked with God, before he could talk to the Israelites. They would not be distracted by the bright glow that surrounded his face, so they could listen to what God had to say to them; but at the same time, seeing the veil meant Moses was all “lit up” by his relationship with God. His marriage to God required a veil.
In a way, God put a celestial “earring” on Moses’ face. He wore a flashy gold piece right on the nose. The veil signaled that union. In art, they depict a golden ring over a saint’s head – a halo. The same thing can be read into that.
In the Genesis story, Abraham had sent Laban, his servant, on a quest to find his son Isaac a bride. Valuable gifts were to be given to the bride-to-be as an “engagement” to the son, sight unseen. The bride-to-be would wear a veil before consummating the marriage to the son, the bridegroom. Once consummated, the two became husband and wife, forever married.
In the story of Jesus in the New Testament, God sends Apostles, His servants, on a quest to find the Son of God, Christ Jesus, many brides. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are to be given to the brides-to-be as an “engagement” to the Son, sight unseen. The brides-to-be cannot show these gifts before consummating the marriage to the Son, the bridegroom. Once consummated, the two become heart and soul, forever married as one.
Jesus thanked the Father by saying, “You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent.” You have placed a veil over the face of those filled with the Holy Spirit, so big-brained people cannot understand them by the physical senses.
Jesus said, “You have revealed them (the gifts of the Holy Spirit) to infants.” An infant is a newborn. The gifts of the Holy Spirit have been revealed to those who have been Reborn anew, as infants who represent the Resurrection of Christ. They become newborns in a marriage of spirit and body.
The problem comes when we do not go to the well, as did Rebekah, with a commitment to serve anyone other than ourselves. If someone is there, like Laban, do you offer to not only get him a drink, but also water all the camels that come along with this stranger?
Are you going to the well like the Samaritan woman – regardless of what sex you are – having had five previous commitments that failed, so that now you are living with someone … in case that fails too? Are you living a life of self-fulfilling prophecies of failure?
Do you resent having to go to the well? Would you answer, “I will,” to the question, “Will you go with this man” if you knew it were Jesus? Do you have to hear him say he has living water that never needs re-dipping to quench your thirst?
Everyone sitting here today has a proposal from Christ. “Will you marry him?”
Christ is the husband. You are the wife.
For all males in the congregation, that is the only value of same sex marriage … without any focus being on the physical union of two. A marriage to Christ is always a spiritual union.
There is no need for procreation in Heaven, so sex organs need not apply.
Paul was speaking of those who could not make a commitment … those who could not say, “I will.”
He lamented as one who is non-committal, when he said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
You want to commit. You like the idea of special gifts being given to you. You like the idea of marriage to God; but then you think, “I don’t want to be a nun.” Or, “I don’t want to be a monk.”
I like to have fun!
But … after you have “fun!” you hate yourself. You feel guilty. You feel dirty. You feel ashamed. “Fun” is like a 45-record … after 3 minutes it is over. What then?
Being married to Christ means you have to stay within the law. That means you can no longer “play the field.” You have to maintain fidelity. You are an adult that likes to play adult games; but marriage means no more “adultery.” No more SIN! No more FUN!
Being left at the altar is a lonely feeling.
Paul wrote, “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.”
You cannot force yourself into marriage. You have to want it. If you have Christianity forced upon you, then “evil lies close at hand.”
You imagine how being true to the LORD is too much hard work, with no real reward … only promise.
Jesus compared his generation, where it is irrelevant when one reads his words, such that it is always “this generation” that he is referring to. Jesus said, “It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, but you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
“Children” means not being a mature adult.
“Sitting” means doing nothing of merit – idleness – all while the mind is filled with imaginative thoughts.
The “marketplace” is the mall, the ads on television, the ads on the Internet. It is all the distractions of a “gimme, gimme, gimme” world.
“Calling to one another” means staying in a child’s world, only talking with other children. That does not mean actual children, but anyone. In today’s age of hand attachments, called smart phones, are you not always “calling to one another?”
When we “play the flute” and people don’t “dance,” we want things to go our way, but we do not get it. That makes it become tantrum time.
When we “wail,” we want people to feel sorry for us. We want people to be conditioned to please us or rue our tears. That is a child’s way of acting.
The message today is “Grow up and be an adult. A marriage proposal awaits your approval.”
A favorite band of mine is Tears For Fears. A song they did back in the 80’s is named “Advice for the Young at Heart.”
The lyrics to that song speak to the child in us all.
The song goes:
“Soon we will be older
When we gonna make it work?
Love is promise
Love is a souvenir
Never forgotten, never let it disappear
This could be our last chance
When we gonna make it work ?”
Jesus said, “You will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus wants to know when are we gonna say, “I will?”
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