Sermon: The Divine Marriage: Seeking Oneness by the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Bridgewater, Massachusetts, November 21, 2004
Sermons on Audio

Genesis 24:10-28 Abraham servant finds Rebekah

Then the servant took ten of his master's camels and left, taking with him all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor. He made the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was towards evening, the time the women go out to draw water.

Then he prayed, "O Lord, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a girl, 'Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,' and she says, 'Drink, and I'll water your camels too'--let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master."

Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, who was the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor. The girl was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever lain with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar, and came up again.

The servant hurried to meet her and said, "Please give me a little water from your jar."

"Drink, my lord," she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink.

After she had given him a drink, she said, "I'll draw water for your camels too, until they have finished drinking." So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels. Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.

When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a half shekel and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels. Then he asked, "Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father's house for us to spend the night?"

She answered him, "I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milcah bore to Nahor." And she added, "We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night."

Then the man bowed down and worshipped the Lord, saying, "Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master's relatives."

The girl ran and told her mother's household about these things.

Luke 6:43-45 A tree and its fruit

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from briers. A good person brings good things out of the good stored up the heart, and an evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up in the heart. For the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart.

Arcana Coelestia #3080 Beauty from within

All beauty comes from goodness that has innocence within it. When it flows from our inner self to our outer self, goodness itself is what is beautiful; goodness is the source of all human beauty. We can recognize this from the fact that it is not a person's face, but the love shining out from the face that stirs feelings in another person. With those who love goodness, it is the love of goodness seen in someone's face that moves them; and it moves them just as much as there is innocence behind the goodness that they love. So it is the spiritual reality within the material surface that stir their love, not the material apart from the spiritual.

Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. . . . The girl was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever lain with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar, and came up again. (Genesis 24:15, 16)

Today's story, the second in our four-part series on Genesis 24, is a story of seeking oneness. It is a story of seeking a wife for Isaac, who would become one flesh with him. In last week's story, Abraham commanded his head servant to travel to his relatives at Haran, in the northern part of the fertile crescent, and find a wife for Isaac. He was very specific in saying that Isaac should not marry one of the Canaanites from the surrounding lands, who were pagans, and were not of the same mind with the Hebrews. The servant was to go back to Abraham's own people and find a wife for Isaac there.

In today's story Abraham's servant goes with great faithfulness to do what his master has asked of him. And we can see by the servant's actions why Abraham chose him to do this most precious task of finding a wife for his son Isaac. He is a God-fearing man who prays to the Lord and does what his master commands with a lot of heart and a lot of intelligence. Today we will go through the different parts of the story, and then use it as a metaphor not only for the Lord's inner process and our parallel inner process, as we have in previous sermons, but also for what we go through in seeking an eternal life partner for marriage.

The first thing the servant does is to get ready. He takes ten of his master's camels, and loads them with many good things. He also takes other servants with him to help him on the journey. Then he sets out for Haran, to seek a wife for Isaac.

After he reaches his destination, the first thing he does, after settling his camels down, is to kneel down near the well and pray to the Lord for success. In his prayer, he proposes a test to help him recognize the right woman: Let the one God has chosen for Isaac be the one who, when I ask for a drink, not only gives me a drink, but also offers to draw water for my camels. This was not an arbitrary test. A young woman who did this would be a woman of good character. She would be a woman who was eager to help and serve others, who was thoughtful and put out the extra effort, and who had personal grace and a respect for visitors. This was the kind of woman the servant would want to find for his master's son.

Rebekah beautifully fulfills the test of character. There is some suspense in the story as we read along. When he first asks for a drink of water, she lowers the jar and says, "Drink, my lord." She does not immediately say she will water his camels also. And we can imagine the servant waiting and wondering to see if the Lord has given him success. But as soon as the servant has finished drinking, she says, "I'll draw water for your camels too."

Then the servant does something very important: he follows through. Rebekah has taken the initiative and shown that she is a good and thoughtful woman. Now the servant follows through, giving her gifts: a golden nose ring and bracelets. And he asks for an invitation: "Is there room in your father's house for us to spend the night?" And she says, "We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night." The whole exchange is about mutual agreement; about proposing and accepting.

Then the servant prays once again--a prayer of thanks to the Lord for giving him success on the journey. He is not yet certain that he has gained success, but he knows that so far the Lord is making it come out just right, and he thanks the Lord for that gift.

Those are the steps the servant goes through in finding Rebekah.

Now let's look at the story on three levels: the Lord's inner life, our inner life, and our relationship with a life partner. These correlate with the three levels of deeper meaning in the Bible: the highest, "heavenly" meaning, which is about the Lord; the second, "spiritual" meaning, which is about our inner life and spiritual growth; and third, "internal historical" meaning, which involves our relations with one another as human beings.

Let's look first at the highest level of meaning: the heavenly level, about the Lord.

Marriage is not an arbitrary thing; it comes from God. In the beginning God created humans male and female; both were created in the image and likeness of God, and they were created to be joined together in marriage. Throughout the Bible we find the metaphor of the divine marriage--and that is where our marriages come from.

What is this divine marriage in God? As we look the divine marriage expressed in the life of Jesus, it is the union between the Lord's heart--his deep love for humanity--and his rational mind--his understanding, intelligence, and wisdom. It is the union between the outpouring divine love that he felt within him and the guidance of the divine truth.

Jesus went through a definite process to achieve that inner marriage of head and heart. And he achieved it through the very same steps that take place in today's story.

First, Jesus accepted the inner call to move toward a higher and deeper union within himself. He heard God from within, represented by Abraham, calling him to find a deeper union--one from "his own people," meaning one from the Divine itself.

Like the servant in the story, Jesus also continually prayed to the Divine within for help and guidance. In Gospel story we find Jesus on many occasions praying to God--which was really to his own inner divine soul--for the help and strength he needed.

He also turned to Scripture and to the inner guidance of divine truth. In the story, the servant found Rebekah at a well. A well is source of water--which is a universal symbol for truth. At that inner, divine well Jesus found not only living water to satisfy his mind's thirst for truth, but also divine love in his heart, represented by the woman, Rebekah. These are the bride and groom of inner marriage.

Jesus moved very consciously toward that marriage--toward a oneness of heart and mind in which he would never say or do anything that did not come from the heart. How many of us can say that we always speak and act from the heart? We often say superficial things and do careless things. The Lord was always moving to a state in which everything he thought, said, and did came from the heart of divine love, and was shaped by the mind of divine truth. This was the marriage represented in the story of the servant seeking a wife for Isaac--seeking to unite male and female.

And Jesus did achieve that inner marriage. After he had gone through his life on earth, and through his final, terrible temptation on the cross, he rose to full union with the Divine within, so that there was a complete marriage between the head and the heart of God, and between the inner and the outer levels of God. Now in Jesus we see God fully and seamlessly represented--and as fully present with each of us as we are able to receive. And the Lord achieved this by a process corresponding to our story of seeking a wife for Isaac.

Moving to the spiritual level, the level of our inner spiritual life, we also are always seeking union between heart and head.

For example, we tend to look for a career that we not only have the knowledge and skills for, but that we also love. How many of us enjoy a job that we are good at, but that we don't love? And if we want to go into some career, but the knowledge and skills required are beyond us, it can be very frustrating. We want a job that we both love and understand.

Turning to the deeper spiritual levels represented by the story, we first hear a call from God to move to a higher union: a union of our deeper loves and our higher thoughts. This is the call that Abraham gives to the servant in us. Then, if we wish to fulfill that call, we need to spend time praying to God to give us the heart and the guidance we need to follow this spiritual path. And if we do pray sincerely, God will show us the way.

We also need to turn to Scripture, while listening to the inner guidance that we get from God in prayer. We go to the "well" of God's truth to gain insights that will guide us toward a deeper life. That inner guidance becomes the standard by which we do everything.

For example, if we are in the business world, making money will no longer be the most important thing for us. Yes, making money is important in the business world, and we will still recognize that. But for us, the most important thing will be serving our customers well, and always doing what is right. We will then be moving forward spiritually while following our material profession. We will be acting from higher and deeper motives--from a sense of the mission that God has given us to carry out on this earth.

Having prayed to God, and having sought out the well of divine guidance, we move consciously toward a union with the love that comes from within. As we move along in life, we have to make decisions about what we will devote our lives to. My decision was to devote my life to working in the church. Yours will probably be something else. But if we wish to have a truly fulfilled life, at some point in our lives we must make a decision about the direction we will go, and what we will devote our life to. With God's help, we can make our life into something "very good." To do this, we move consciously toward uniting our heart with our head; we move toward uniting the love that we feel from within with the understanding we have gained in our life's journey.

And God promises us that if we make this decision and this commitment, he will give us success. It may not be material success; we may not become wealthy. But we will have spiritual success. We will become good people, and we will also come into good relationships with those around us because we are acting out of love for God and love for our neighbor.

Moving on to the third level of meaning, what does this story, and our explanation of it so far, have to do with the kind of marriage that we seek with a life partner?

As we set out toward marriage, just as the servant went to seek a wife for Isaac, we must go with a belief in marriage, and pledge ourselves to seek not just a physical and social connection, but an inner, spiritual connection with another human being.

Following our Bible story once more, if we truly want to have a spiritual union, we must spend time praying to God and saying, "Please send me the person who will be the right one for me. But especially, please make me the person who can be in loving relationship with my life partner!"

What is the connection between the inner marriage we spoke of earlier and our outer marriage with another person? It is this: If we are not moving toward a marriage of head and heart within ourselves, we will never experience true marriage with another person outside of ourselves. To be ready for marriage with another person, we must have love in our hearts, and we must have definite values and beliefs, based on our inner love, to guide our lives. Only then we can be of one mind, knowing who we are and where we are going. And only then can we seek out a person who loves what we love, who values and believes what we value and believe, and who can therefore be of one mind with us. This is why we must continually pray to God for help and guidance not only in finding our life partner, but in becoming an inwardly "married" person who can be in a loving marriage relationship.

And of course, when we do seek out a partner, it would be foolish to simply look at the exterior, and make our choice based on how good the other person looks. Beauty and good looks are fine. After all, God created human beauty for us to enjoy. But as our reading from Swedenborg points out, true beauty is not on the surface; it comes from within. We know that this is true. We can look at a face and see that it is very beautiful, yet find it cold and uninviting because there is no love shining through. But when we see a face that has love shining through it, that face becomes very beautiful, and attracts us to the person behind it.

It is the inner character, the inner love, that truly makes a person beautiful. I am sure we all have dearly loved family members and friends that we think of as beautiful even if they would never get their photo in a fashion magazine. My father tells a story from his youth about his minister, a man whom he loved and admired. One time someone said to my father, "He's a wonderful man; too bad he's crippled." My father was taken aback: "Crippled! He's not crippled!" Physically he was, in fact, crippled. But my father never thought of him that way. He only saw the beauty of his minister's character. In the things that count most, in his inner character, he was a strong and whole person--one who had love in his heart and the guidance of God's truth in his mind.

As we seek someone for marriage, we are not merely seeking someone who is good-looking outwardly, but someone who has a good inner character--just as the servant sought a woman of good character as a wife for Isaac. And we are seeking to become a person of good character ourselves, so that we can be united with that person.

We also have to take conscious steps to make the connection. We can't just sit back and let marriage come to us. We have to make a decision and a commitment. We have to propose and accept. We have to reach out to the person, just as the servant reached out to Rebekah. It says that he ran to her and spoke to her. We run in spirit to the other person to speak to him or her--and to find out whether God has sent us our eternal partner.

And this is not only for those who are seeking a partner, but for those of us who are already married, and seek a deeper oneness with our partner. God promises that if we will prepare ourselves, pray to the Lord, seek an inner union of head and heart, and then reach out in love and thoughtfulness, seeking to find and unite with another, we will find true love, whether in this world or in the next. Amen.

Graphic: Stained Glass Window at Trinity Church, Roslyn, New York
Music: At the Wishing Well
Bruce DeBoer
Used with Permission

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