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Youth Service Sermon 2014 – Father

Date: 06/07/2014/Speaker: Chong Lip

Good morning church, I am Chong Lip and I’ll be sharing the word. I’d like to acknowledge and thank these people, Cynthia, AJ, Miguel and John, who gave me the inspiration and ideas in this message. And to God, for sustaining me in this trying time.

Let us open with prayer. God of the moon and stars, God of the greatest and the least, God of the old and the young, God of those grieving and rejoicing, we come to you as we are. We invite you to be with us as we explore your word. Amen.

The main bulk of my message comes from a few verses in Genesis Chapter 24. Let me just give you a summary of the chapter as I’m not going to read the whole thing.

So Abraham was getting old. He wanted descendants. So he asked his trusted servant to find a wife for Isaac as at this time, he was 40 and still single. So the servant went forth with 10 camels and a bunch of men with lots of fancy stuff to the neighbouring country to find a suitable girl for him. The girl, Rebekah was found and swiftly brought back to meet Isaac. Rebekah at a distance, saw his future husband, put on a veil and met him. After seeing and inspecting her, Isaac was happy and for the first time, got married, fell in love, was comforted after his mum’s death and lived happily ever after.

So that’s the summary, let me read the key verses, from 62 onwards.

Genesis 24:62-67 24:62 Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb.

24:63 Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming.

24:64 And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel,

24:65 and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself.

24:66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done.

24:67 Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

At first glance, there is nothing extraordinary about it. Boy meets girl, they fall in love. Boy is comforted after mom’s death. What struck me was how long he took to grieve for his mum Sarah and move on. That’s 3 years since she passed away. It is natural to grieve, to mourn and in various traditions this can take 13 days up to a year.

After that, though we may still be sad and miss the person emotionally, we know that life has to go on.

Isaac however, was unable to move on. So before he met Rebekah, in those 2 years, he was stuck, trapped in an extended period of mourning. It’s ironic for a person whose name in Hebrew means Laughter?

So how does he spend his day? Not much is said, but he takes solitary walks in the evening, when the rest of the people return back to their homes. He seems oblivious to what is happening around him too. He didn’t even know that his father has sent a servant to look for a wife on his behalf in verse 66. It’s a very isolated existence.

The second reason why I think he couldn’t snap out of depression, for ack a better word, was his anger, disappointment and hurt at his father. You are free to disagree with me on this but let me explain.

In verse 62, Isaac has moved into a new place, Negeb, isolating himself from Isaac. Whilst Sarah was around, it was still possible for them to live together under one roof. But when she passed away, the cracks surfaced and whatever feeble relationship Isaac had with Abraham snapped.

We often see Abraham as the man of faith, for his willingness to even kill his young son Isaac on the mountain Genesis chapter 22. But have we considered this episode in Isaac’s point of view.

On the way to the mountain, Isaac had already felt something was amiss and he asked Abraham “where is the lamb for the burnt offering.” Abraham lied and said God will provide. As they began the ascent, with nothing more than the two of them, Isaac would have put two and two together and realize that he is the sacrifice. What a realization, to find himself in a plight no different from the child sacrifice rituals that the Gentiles practiced to please their gods. We know in hindsight, there’s a happy ending. But as Isaac, a young child, after
going through such a traumatic experience, will he see his ‘loving’ dad, in the same way again? No. He no longer sees him as how we see Abraham now, the Father of all nations, a God fearing man, a man praised for his faith. But as a liar and a dangerous, old loony.

Like Isaac, many of us have strained relationships with the people around us. For me, it is my dad. I harbour so much disappointment and anger over the bad decisions he has made. They scar me, even though it happened so many years ago and I do see in his own ways, attempts to atone for these mistakes. It is not easy to let go of these hurts and pains, of these betrayals that happen, I really struggle. I don’t ever think that Isaac reconciled with Abraham or even forgiven, but in death, I believe they were re-united again. Together with Ishmael, Isaac buried Abraham next to Sarah, and in a symbolic sense, buried the hatchet. I know for myself, that I don’t want to wait for the great unifier, death to come to either of us, before our relationship is restored. In the bible, there were no signs or evidence of Isaac speaking or interacting with Abraham until his death. Let’s not learn from him, but be proactive in mending our broken relationships if they mean something to us. It begins with small steps. If you don’t do anything about it, nothing will happen. For those of you who are still following Rev Miak’s daily challenge of how you have loved God and others, consider including these group of people.

So far we have seen how grief comes to us- through the loss of loved ones, through disappointments and hurt from others. I’ll like to explore a third one. Another source of grief stems from our desire for intimacy and connection with others, which is increasingly absent in this hyper connected but superficial world. And we grieve, because it is so difficult to experience this deep connection because we don’t dare to take the first step to be vulnerable.

In FCC, before or after service, a few people will approach me and ask how I am doing. Usually my answer will be “I’m fine, ok, been busy. You know internship and then studies etc”. I don’t know why I stick to the safe answers, but I still do. I want to go deep but I don’t. I want to be vulnerable, but the clock is ticking away and I think the person wants to go for lunch. There are so many activities happening that I want to join, so many different groups I want to be part of and individuals around that I want to speak to. But you know, in the end I always gravitate towards those I am familiar with – YOUnique, and increasingly so, just by myself, when deep inside I know that I want to interact with so many other people.

I’m in no way saying that I don’t love my cell group, but that I’m grown comfortable with them. I know they love me so much and I really want to tell them I love them a lot too.

I have chosen to be safe than to take the risk, to be with my chums, than to reach out to others outside this circle. I make halfhearted attempts to meet new people. It’s tough, tiring to sustain and maintain these relationships, and you never know if it’s worth the while. What if they leave after you’ve known them? A part of you dies with them leaving too, and you wonder too if you didn’t do enough? So I keep to my chums, they are a safe choice, at least I know they will always be there for me.

I think that’s when cliques form, when we become too comfortable. By itself, it’s not a bad thing. But when barriers of entry are raised so high that others find hard to fit in. We need to reflect. My cell group or your cell group is not the church, but everyone else here in the church. Aren’t we ONE body, ONE commonwealth-where difference is not tolerated but our diversity is celebrated?

Is that why I feel that I’m slowly losing connection to the church even as I fully believe and participate in the work FCC does. Is it strange to say that in FCC, as much as I know it’s a loving environment, that everyone loves you, you can still feel isolated? Is that why some flee immediately once service ends (barring legitimate reasons), to escape all these trappings altogether.

This is what grieves me, hinders my growth, and chokes me.

Let us return to the passage, to the point when Rebekah saw Isaac for the first time.

In verse 65, it says she quickly slipped off the camel as she saw a man in the distance. And after finding out from the servant that it was indeed Isaac in verse 66, she put on a veil to cover herself. It is significant that she put the veil on, as she didn’t do so when she met the servant. Maybe in her time, it was a sign of respect or modesty.

In our interactions with others, be it families, friends or in FCC, we do too good a job of veiling ourselves. Our first instinct when we meet someone for the first time, like Rebekah, is to veil ourselves. There is nothing wrong in covering our blemishes, insecurities and our dark sides. It’s our natural tendencies to want to protect ourselves

But up to a point, that veil has to be uncovered in order for intimacy to happen. As Rebekah inched step by step to meet her fiancé, one thing will definitely pop up in her mind. Will he accept me as I am, or reject me? Bear in mind then that a man can divorce his wife at his whim for no reason at all. She may have been assured by the servant that she is the chosen one and that God is on her side because of all the signs and promises, but until she meets him face to face, she will never know what Isaac will do. Every step closer to Isaac leads to a higher risk of disappointment and rejection. Finally both of them meet.

This is the climax-Isaac has to make a decision- whether to accept her or not as bride material. As Rebekah plucks up her courage and unveilsherself, Isaac explores her from hair to toe, absorbing her beauty but also her flaws and finally, and didn’t reject her.

It doesn’t end there. Isaac didn’t immediately ‘fall in love’ with her, there was one last step. In verse 67 Isaac reciprocated to Rebekah’s unveiling by bringing her to his Mother’s tent. I don’t know if he was testing her but it was a strange place for a first date. Relics of Sarah’s clothes, make up and her personal belongings were scattered around. Probably her faint scent lingered in the tent. Sarah meant so much to Isaac. And to Isaac, he was allowing Rebekah to enter this space he held so dearly, this very intimate aspect of his life.
Kudos to Rebekah for not freaking out, but to stay with Isaac in the tent, to be still with him, and to perhaps, listen to him share his cherished memories with his mom. It was then, I believed that Isaac took her as his wife, and began to love another person, for the first time in 3 years, and was able to be comforted from his mom’s death and move on.

What I learnt from their interaction is that, we will remain as hi bye acquaintances unless we take the risk of walking closer to each other and let each other into our lives. We may not be so lucky like Rebekah and Isaac, who nailed a favourable response from each other all the time. Yes there will be mistakes made. And I’ve been burnt a few times. But let not a few rotten apples rob you of taking the effort to make potentially more worthwhile connections. And let’s not limit ourselves and choose only those who “have” it, look at Isaac. Before
meeting Rebekah, he was in a deep shithole. Let us give the Isaacs’ of our lives a chance to see the wholeness of who we are.

We hope you see my point that it is each other that we find healing. It is through our personal healing that we find love. And the whole cycle repeats itself.

So tear down those veils, see in each other that we are all equally broken, equally grieving and in need of each others’ healing touch. There are many instances of miracles in the bible, of the lame who can walk again, of the dead who are raised up to life, of captives being set free from prisons, but I don’t remember coming across God supernaturally healing us of our broken relationships, of our grief deep within, of our lack of intimacy with others. This is something God cannot, or will not or does not want to do for us. God is always
with us, through it all, but it is us, both you and I, who have to dirty our hands, take courage and do this work of healing ourselves and each other, together. Will you take the first step with me?

Let us pray.

God, we look forward to the day when we can declare, so beautiful described in Song of Solomon 2:11-13 ‘For now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.’

But meanwhile, as we grieve, we also anticipate the new life that you bring, and we bring to each other. Grant us the courage to accept ourselves as broken beings, and minister to each other, just as how Rebekah and Isaac accepted each other, were vulnerable with each other and loved each other.