This was originally given as a sermon at Ola/Plainview, Arkansas United Methodist Church.
What is your favorite Disney movie? You know the ones? Damsel in distress meets handsome Prince and after numerous obstacles, they fall in love, defeat the bad stepmother, and live happily ever after. Little girls love these movies. They buy the dolls, sing the songs, want the dresses, and dream about being a Disney Princess. But have you ever really thought about what those movies teach young girls (and boys) about marriage? About love? About what makes another person valuable?
Cinderella was transformed for the party from a poor servant girl to a beautiful princess by her fairy godmother. She was given a gorgeous dress, her hair was done, and she got a pimped out ride. Prince Charming fell madly in love with her the moment he saw her at the party. Her beauty is the thing to be cherished.
The Little Mermaid, Ariel, had the most beautiful voice that Prince Eric had ever heard. The moment he heard her sing, he fell in love with her. It is her beautiful voice that is to be cherished.
Pocahontas was a strong willed leader of her people. When John Smith met her, he was blown away by her free spirit and it is this devotion to her people that is to be cherished.
Snow White was actually in a coma when the handsome Prince first saw her. He fell madly in love just from looking at her, which means once again it is physical beauty that is most cherished.
Belle from Beauty and the Beast is cherished for her intellect. Jasmine from Aladdin is cherished for her spunk. Aurora from Sleeping Beauty won the Prince with a lovely dance.
In each of these movies, the Prince has a characteristic that is most important for them in choosing who their Princess will be.
That is exactly the scene that plays out in this week’s scripture. Just as God had promised, Abraham and Sarah had a son even though they were way too old for child-bearing. Their son, Isaac, is the hope not only for their future, but for the future of the nation which God had promised Abraham. When it was time to find Isaac a wife, Abraham was too old and feeble to do the traditional thing which was to go find the appropriate wife for his son. Sarah had already passed away, and so Abraham asks his most trusted servant, Eliezer, to travel five hundred miles back to Abraham’s homeland and search for a young woman who is worthy to not only marry his son, Isaac, but to be the matriarch of the new nation they will build.
Eliezer understood the magnitude of this important mission on which he was being sent and he didn’t take his responsibility lightly. He loaded ten camels and began the three week trip to Abraham’s homeland. On this journey he had plenty of time to think about what exactly he would be looking for. Should the young woman he brings back be beautiful? Intelligent? Talented? Rich? Of noble birth? There are so many options on which he could focus his search for the woman that will become the head of his household and their future nation.
At the end of this long journey, when the servant reached the homeland of Abraham’s relatives, he realized that this important task requires wisdom beyond his own. So he does the wisest thing he could possibly do…he begins to pray. And his prayer is pretty simple…”Send the right girl to this well to be Isaac’s wife. And so that I will know her when I see her, let her answer my request for a drink with not only a yes, but let her also offer to water my camels too.” Simple enough…he asked for a kind girl who is also kind to animals. That’s sweet.
There are two things I want you to see in this story. First of all, the job this servant is given is the most important job of his life. Abraham has been promised a great kingdom from his descendants, and Isaac will be the foundation of that kingdom. Therefore, the woman he marries will be the mother of that kingdom. On a more personal level, imagine being too old to bear children, believing you will die childless, and then being granted a son in your old age. I am certain Isaac wasn’t spoiled right?? Nothing could be more important for Abraham than making sure that his beloved son be settled into a happy, prosperous marriage, and in a culture where parents arrange marriages, it his Abraham’s duty to see that this is done. When he bestows that duty onto his trusted servant, it is like willing your child to someone else. It indicates how important this servant is to Abraham and the high position this person held in Abraham’s household. Abraham knew he was sending the very best. The nature of this assignment was as serious as it gets.
The second thing I want you to take from today’s scripture is what Eliezer asked for. He could have asked for the greatest beauty of the land. He could have asked for the wealthiest, most powerful man’s daughter. But instead, Eliezer asked God to send a girl with kindness. “Let her say yes to giving me a drink and then also give drink to my camels.” This is actually much more important a request than you might originally have thought.
You see, Eliezer’s camels had been on a very long journey. And camels that have not been watered in a while can drink up to 25 gallons of water at a time. I think when we read this story we picture a man and his camel sitting by a well where a kind girl offers him a drink and then offers the bucket of water to his camel. But, remember, Eliezer had brought ten camels. So this girl at the well, completely on her own and out of the kindness of her heart, offered to water ten camels that were as thirsty as a camel can get. She basically offered to draw approximately 250 gallons of water out of the well for Eliezer’s camels. This activity would probably take up the rest of her day, and it would be a huge feat of manual labor. Can you imagine offering to do that for a stranger??
Eliezer knew this. By asking God to show the chosen wife for Isaac by having her offer to water his camels, Eliezer did two things. Number one, it meant that there would be no question when it was the right girl. It isn’t like everyone who stopped by the well would make such an extravagant offer. If someone offered to water ten camels they would certainly have to have been sent by God.
Second, when Rebekkah offers to water the camels, this isn’t just an act of kindness. It is an act of self-sacrificing service that will take up all of her afternoon and be exhausting. And she would be offering to do this for a man she had never met. If God sent such a woman to the well, she would be a perfect wife for Isaac. A wife of service, kindness, and self-sacrifice. A wife who would be willing to work for her husband and the nation they would build. A wife who would be a partner of trust and dedication.
Eliezer could have requested anything of the girl that God would send him. But instead of beauty, wealth, power or even intellect, the one thing Eliezer knew was critical to a prosperous and successful marriage was service. Service that goes beyond our deepest expectations. Service that fills a need even before that need has been expressed.
Rebekkah displayed the only characteristic necessary to be chosen as the wife for Isaac…service. A heart of service that would reach out to everyone she met. This was the characteristic that mattered. No glass slipper or magical musical number would be needed. Just a girl who saw a need and worked to fill it, not out of desire for rewards, but out of desire to give.
How would that Disney movie look? What if the characteristic we valued most in one another was a heart of service? What if we taught our young people that more than beauty, cars, intellect, power, or money, the thing they should strive to do more than anything else…the thing they should value in each other more than anything else…the thing that was to be cherished in one another…was a heart of service?
‘Girl spends five hours watering strange man at the well’s 10 camels’ doesn’t seem like a great topic for a Disney movie, but it is the thing God cherishes in us most. When someone asks you for a kind word this week, when someone looks tired or broken, when there is someone new sitting on the side of the road, offer them a drink, and then water their camels.