The One who sings the song of Rehoboth
By Pastor Young Ghil Lee
This theological reflection was prepared for the Pastor Theologian consultation held in October 20-22, 2010, Colorado Springs, sponsored by the Office of Theology and Worship. This particular consultation invited 13 Korean American pastors representing generations and gender. The theological engagement focused on the event at the 219th General Assembly held in Minneapolis that led to the defeat of the motion to create another Korean language presbytery.
Young was born and raised in South Korea and lived there until immigrated to the States early 80s. Before he came to the States he earned M.D. degree from Seoul National Univ. He did not continue to pursue medical career in the States. Instead having received God’s call, he began to study theology in the States. Eventually he was ordained by the Korean Presbytery in California.
Young has now been pastor of the Korean Church of Boston for 15years, after serving Korean United Church of Philadelphia for 8 years as an assistant pastor and lay-preacher while studying at Princeton Theological Seminary for Th. M and at Westminster Theological Seminary for M. Div. As a member of Boston Presbytery he has served for CPM. Now he serves as convener for Immigration Ministry Task Force. He is currently a writer of Korean Present Word.
In order to investigate the psychology of children, a scholar by the name of Robert Coles visited the Hopi Indian tribe. He had a conversation with a 10 year old girl.
The girl said,
"The sky protects us and listens to our words. Also, it speaks to us and waits for our reply. Our God is the sky. Wherever the sky is, our God is. Our God is the sun and the moon; our God is the Hopi tribe.
"And have you told this to your teacher?" Of course, the teacher is white.
"Because the white teacher thinks that God is a person. If I tell the teacher my thoughts, the teacher will only smile."
"What kind of smile?"
"The meaning of that smile is… you're cute…a bit silly and odd. However, your thoughts are wrong."
"But why didn't you explain yourself more clearly?"
"I've tried long time ago. We've said all we can to the white men. But they don't even want to listen to what we have to say. They only listen to their own words. My father told me that he is always listening to them. My grandmother said, 'The white man live to take over the sky. We live to pray to the sky. There is nothing you can say to those who want to conquer the sky. We can only pray for them.' And so, we always smile. We always say 'yes' to them. And we pray for them"
After saying these words, the girl looks up to the sky. It was as if the girl was praying for the white men.
The white men conquer the sky, but the girl looks to the sky….the sky who she considers her god. She prays for the white men. This is what is happening in 21st century America. Of course, nowadays, children akin to this girl have decreased in number. I don't think anyone can deny that there is a deep conflict between this girl and the white men who conquers the sky. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that everyone living in America, whether they feel it or not, live in the midst of this type of conflict.
In this land, in which conflict and the will to conquer is in a stand-off, came a new wave of immigration. Many non-white immigrants began to arrive in this conflict-ridden land. You can say the third wave of immigrants arrived. Then why would God send the third group of immigrants to this land of conflict? Of course, politically, it is true that the Caucasians opened their doors to supply people to the labor force. What was God's will? Wouldn't it be God's vision that we are now living and studying here in the United States? Someone may ask: 'God has no purpose here. I just came here to live the good life. Or others may say,"I came to the U. S. to study; I just haven't been able to return to Korea, yet. But I will, one day soon. I've just waited for 30 years" We must then ask why God made you wait these past 30 years.
Today's text explains clearly to those who have this question. If you look at the beginning and end of today's text, you can grasp the reason.
The text begins with "Isaac leaves this place' Where is 'this place'? Let's investigate together. Genesis 26verse 1 will help explain the text clearly.
"Now there was a famine in the land besides the earlier famine of Abraham's time and Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines in Gerar."
Isaac immigrated to where the Philistines were living. But in that land, God blessed him. Verse 13 states, "The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy." But, the Philistines became envious and stopped up the wells. What is the use if you become very rich? If there is no water to drink, you must move once again. So the place he moved to was called Gerar as stated in verse 17.
He again digs his well. It's the same well that Abraham dug before him. However, the herdsmen of Gerar come and quarrel over the well. however, He names the well Esek (dispute) and leaves it. He doesn't just give up. He digs another well. However, the natives again come to argue. He names the second well Sitnah (opposition) and leaves that one also. He gives this well up as well.
He then moves once again, and digs another well. However, this time, no one quarrels over it. And he names this well, Rehoboth. 'Rehoboth' means Room. Let me read you verse 22. He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, "Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land."
'Rehoboth', This word completely explains the beautiful core of Isaac's faith. 'Room'. Isaac confesses that, as an immigrant, he had to give up two wells that he dug, and after he dug the third one, he was enjoying a tentative peace.
'Rehoboth'. Perhaps this time around, the Philistines chose to let Isaac be. "That man has to live somehow. Let me just leave him alone since this is his third well." But, wondrously, Isaac begins to sing. "Rehoboth" The Philistines start snickering, thinking to themselves, "He doesn't even realize that we let him alone…."
It matters not that the Philistines may have snickered at Isaac. It seems as though God was quite touched by Isaac's heartfelt testimony. The Lord appears before Isaac one evening and says, in verse 24: That night the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham."
I am sure God was surprised by Isaac's confession. 'Rehoboth'. Let's think about this. He digs a well on a small hill but it gets taken away from him. The second well he digs also has the same fate. He digs a third well. No one takes that away from him. However, he doesn't know when someone might take it from him. Such is his predicament, but Isaac chooses that moment to sing to his Lord, a song of 'Rehoboth'.
After the third well was dug, the narrow space seemed wider than before…extremely roomy. It seemed to have no boundaries. He felt God's infinite blessings through this small well. That is why he testified. That is why he sang. 'Rehoboth'
But he didn't remain long at 'Rehoboth'. He moves away immediately. He moves to Beersheba. And it is there, in fact, that God promises him a great blessing. The blessing of Rehoboth comes to fruition at Beersheba.
There is no way to know how long he stayed by the Rehoboth well; probably only a little while... He named a well that he knew he was only going to use temporarily 'Rehoboth.' He named it this even when he didn't receive God's blessing.
Of course, he receives it once he is in Beersheba, but he had no way of knowing that. What a challenge it is to us to see someone with such faith!
Dearest Brethren, how long have you been managing your businesses? How long have you been working at your current company? What kind of attitude do you have towards your business or workplace? Have you ever thought of it as Esek (dispute) or Sitnah (opposition)?
Isaac names the well 'Rehoboth' when he doesn't even use it for that long. And he becomes the source of great blessing.
Speaking of Rehoboth (room), the story I told you 2 years ago about the tree that grew on a rocky ledge come to mind.
Let me share with you this story again.
"The Story of a Rock and a Tree by a ledge"
Unable to withstand extreme weather, the rock cracks and bits of it fall off.
One day… a green sprout grows in the crack.
(Sprout): Can I live here?
(Rock): It's dangerous…. This isn't the place for you…
(Sprout): It's too late. I've already grown roots.
(Rock): Why did you choose this place when there are far better places in the world?
(Sprout): It's destiny. The wind brought me here.
In that small crack, the tree grows and grows.
(Tree): Am I pretty?
(Rock): Yes, you are….
Every time the rock looked at the tree, he worried.
(Rock): You would have become such a great tree had you grown your roots somewhere else..
(Tree): Don't say that…I like it here the best.
He said the words…but the tree was in pain. As time passed by, he was in too much pain.
He was in need of more water.
(Rock): Try to reach out with your roots… deeper…
The Rock itself was in pain as well.
As the tree spread its roots, the further it reached, its condition got worse.
The rock and tree lived like this for many decades… and finally, the end approached them.
(Rock): Dear Tree, I don't think I can't withstand it anymore…
(Rock): I lived here millions of years. I now know why…
I waited to meet you those all those years…
(Rock): I was nothing before you came. I realized what happiness was after you arrived.
(Tree): Me too….
I was never sad living here with you…
That night, there was a severe storm.
The tree and the rock hugged each other tightly and awaited their fates together.
I got this story from a friend in Korea, and when I want to introduce the life of immigrants, I often begin with this story. One time, I spoke in front of Americans, and I told this story as well.
We tend to see ourselves in the tree's shoes. Oftentimes, the life of an immigrant is like living in a narrow crack in a rock.
Would you say that Isaac's immigrant life was any different from ours? Things would have been more crowded, if anything, not roomy at all. Isaac surely suffered… the locals stopped up two of his wells already. He had no idea whether they would do the same thing to the third well. In a moment of respite, Isaac praised God. 'Rehoboth'. Rehoboth served as a key that brought blessings from Heaven.
I wanted us to think about this question together.
'What was God's Vision in bringing another immigrant group into this country that already had conflict between the natives and the Caucasians?' Today's text, I think, answers this question fully.
The answer that today's text give us is 'Rehoboth'. It matters not whether we live here for one day or one year, or ten to thirty years, He wants us to live a life of 'Rehoboth' that is essentially why he led us to this land of conflict. Don't you think He called us here so that we may live the life Isaac led, one in which we become a source of blessing to our community?
It is true that although I mentioned 'turmoil,' from the beginning, the turmoil between white community and the natives don't concern us directly. Let me talk more about a turmoil that is a bit closer to home.
Mark Griffin and Theron Walker explain the turmoil in America so that we can better understand it. They explain it as McWorld vs. Ghetto. What starts with Mc? McWorld signifies... When I first came to the States, the first thing that caught my eye was the Yellow M sign, the symbol for McDonald's. McDonald starts with Mc. The other word that starts with the same letters is McKintosh, signifying the computer revolution. They combined McDonald, which symbolizes modern capitalism with Mackintosh.
The tension or turmoil in the McWorld vs. Ghetto is the difference in lifestyle of those who live the privileged life of modern capitalism contrasted to the lives of the victims of capitalism. This, they consider to be the modern-day societal tension.
America has become what she is today due to the conflict between the have's and the have-not’s. A society carved out of conflict and turmoil that is America. And, these two scholars see that today's immigrants are stuck somewhere in the middle. Today's immigrants fall into the middle, what they call the border section of society. They continue to explain how important immigrants' lives are in their book. The exact word that they use is not border, but Borderland.
When talking with those who own their own businesses, I feel as though where we live, is, in fact, a borderland of sorts.
Those who work in a predominantly white neighborhood, say that their everyday interaction with their customers is exhausting. They find their clients' extremely argumentative and penny-pinching attitude annoying. On the other hand, those who have businesses in a predominately African-American neighborhood, say that there is some matter of security, but they work with relative ease. Does this mean that African Americans are more lax? Ultimately the conclusion is that as immigrants, we are stuck in the middle, the Borderland, between these two races.
You all have heard of the LA Riots that occurred about 15 years ago. When the riots occurred, numerous Korean businesses were targeted. The reason for the violence is quite simple. Immigrants, who should have remained in the Borderland, began to live and act as though they were part of the McWorld. They left their duties in Borderland in order to try to fit into McWorld. When they leave their duties in Borderland, immigrants suffer as they become sacrificial lambs so that the societal balance can be restored. This, we have learned, is a high price to pay.
Fellow Believers, we live in a narrow border area such as this, but we have the secret of Rehoboth. When we sing the song of Rehoboth, the narrow borderland that we exist in transforms into an infinite land of blessing. While living on a narrow ledge, if we live a life full of praise, God will bless us with Rehoboth.
Therefore, even though we have little land, a small house, and low income, we must live a life testifying to our Lord's omnipotent love. We may come across limits in our lives, but there are only possibilities in God's will. Let's bless our lives with Rehoboth. To the small business, and when you bring home your paycheck... Rehoboth miraculously changes the small space into a land of God's blessing.
So when we live the life of Rehoboth, and in turn, are blessed, will our neighbors envy us? If you look at today's text, those who live in the McWorld approach Isaac, who is living in the Borderland. Let me recite verses 28 and 29. They answered, "We saw clearly that the LORD was with you; so we said, 'There ought to be a sworn agreement between us'-between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not molest you but always treated you well and sent you away in peace. And now you are blessed by the LORD."
Abimelech, king of the Philistines, who represent McWorld has come to meet Rehoboth's Isaac. They search for blessings to give each other. There is peace. Not only did Rehoboth help Isaac live a wealthy life, but it helped him share his blessing with his neighbors. Blessings taken without the song of Rehoboth causes envy. On the other hand, the song of Rehoboth let you share you blessing with your neighbors.
Dear Believers, there is a common trait of those who live in the McWorld as well as those who live in the Ghetto. They both hunger for something. They are not hungry for bread or material goods. Their spirits hunger for something that neither bread nor things can fulfill. They know not what it is. That is the reason they attempt to shop their way to fulfillment. The more they fill themselves, the emptier they feel. We all know the illness of the wealthy, do we not? It is always "a little bit more". But their 'a little bit more' mentality does not fill their void.
They all want to see the glory of Rehoboth. They want to see the praise of Rehoboth from a small house. Say Rehoboth with a small item in your hand. Sing songs of thanksgiving. Who will sing this praise?
Ronald Rolheiser once said, "The modern man cannot find the crack in the rock." He is describing people who live in the McWorld. He describes them as not being able to find the crack in the rock so they die a slow, solitary death. Immigrants are at least able to find the littlest crack and grow their roots. When you sing the song of Rehoboth, you can help them open their spirits.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, let's sing the song of Rehoboth together. When we sing the song of Rehoboth, the land that we live in changes into the God's Promise land. Moreover, you can spiritually empower the residents of McWorld and Ghetto. This is the blessing given to Immigrants, it is your calling.
However we have witnessed so many times that Korean churches lose this privilege and become the arena of disrespect and remorse and schism. But it is not surprising. When we lose our calling we are prone to fight each other due to the lack of space.
Although we live in the crack of the rock being very diverse in various ways, we can turn our conflicts into such a chance to sing a song of Rehoboth. If we lose this opportunity, we become the most unfortunate people in the world.
I pray that those who failed to have their own language Presbytery may take a time and sing a song of Rehoboth realizing that they are still serving the Lord in a crack of the rock. The song will prevail in the end bringing peace to the world.
Let us be men and women of Rehoboth. Let's experience the limitless possibilities within our small blessings. And let's praise the Lord. The people of the world are waiting for our song of Rehoboth. If you tire while singing the song of Rehoboth, look to Christ on the cross. Christ also sang the song of Rehoboth on the ever-shrinking cross. But then, He enriched the lives of all mankind.
The Bible says,
He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, "Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land."