Rev. George Miller
“Joseph and the Waterless Pit”
August 11, 2013
Last week I went to Vero Beach. Not wanting to go by myself I invited my friend, Sully Ann, and her two children, Mark and Maykala, to go with me.
Mark was Young Patrick in the local production of “Auntie Mame” and I played his Uncle Beau. Since then, “Uncle Beau” is how he, his sister and mother refer to me.
Sully was busy that day but said I could take the kids, so I did, and away we went, eating at an ocean side restaurant, swimming in the surf, skipping stones, and having ice cream.
On the way to and from Vero Beach we drove through the part of Florida known as the Lake Wales Ridge, a unique eco-system composed of plant and animal life you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
Lake Wales Ridge is about 10 feet wide; over 100 miles long, made up of ancient islands that existed back when the ice-caps melted and flooded the FL peninsula.
The Ridge is the highest part of our state, 300 feet above sea level. Over the course of nearly a million years the waters would rise and recede over FL but the islands of Lake Wales Ridge remained, and with it an ecosystem that was undisturbed and has remained virtually unchanged.
So when you journey through parts of Polk and Highlands County, you come across these ancient islands, except now they are part of the land, appearing as peaks and valleys along the way.
For fun, when Mark, Maykala and I drove back from Vero Beach and came across the Lake Wales Ridge, we made comments as we traveled uphill: “Now we are on an island!” As we went downhill: “Now we are in the ocean!”
Uphill: “Now we are on an island!” Downhill: “Now we are in the ocean!”
It was cool to see central FL from that point of view, thinking that at times we were driving where there was once water and prehistoric sea creatures: alligators, sharks, dinosaurs. Then knowing we were where island refuges used to be.
We are fortunate to live where we are in FL because we are so high up, and with all the rain we’ve had, although it has been wet, things are not as bad as they could be.
While we get to happily watch Lake Jackson Lake fill in, there are those south-west of us and in Lake Placid who are not so happy.
Right now Highway 66 is forming large bodies of water on the south and north side of the road where pastures and trees were. A 1st time driver to Zolfo Springs would think what they’re seeing is an actual lake, not a field.
Then there is Lake Placid. If you’ve ever noticed while driving there, Lake Placid is actually downhill of us and is much flatter. The lay of the land which allows their caladiums to flourish has also caused havoc in some peoples’ lives.
For the last two services you’ve heard me pray for the folk of Lake Placid. The reason is that there are homes that are flooded and each day it rains they go further underwater.
There are streets so covered with rainwater it is unwise to drive a car through. There are yards that have gone from having a puddle to becoming marsh-like to a mini-lake.
Every day it rains things get worse; one family has permanently moved to Orlando, another had to abandon their home just a few days ago.
So water has been as issue for the past few weeks, although it is the absence of water which ends today’s reading.
This morning we begin a 3-week sermon series about the Joseph narrative. Today we have the set up.
As the author states, this is a story about Jacob’s family. Jacob is the grandson of Abraham. If you recall, God made a covenant with Abraham to bless all the families of the world through his family.
But as we see, no one in Abraham’s family tree is free from flaws. None of them are perfect and each of them play their own role in what will happen.
We have Joseph, the next-to-last-born of the family. He has the gift of dreams but Joseph is also cocky, uncouth and a straight-up tattle-tale.
We have his brothers who are jealous, conniving, violent and easily intimidated.
And then there is their father Jacob (also known as Israel). He of all people should know about the dangers of sibling rivalry. We can look at his part of the story and say that he should have known better than giving one son a special gift; or… was he purposely egging the sibling rivalry on?
At best Jacob was unaware of what could happen, at worst he was willfully causing chaos.
Either way, all the people in today’s story act like those prehistoric sea creatures in Lake Wales Ridge. Alligators, sharks, dinosaurs: all of them. They are all imperfect people in an imperfect family…
…and yet this is the family that God is going to bless all of creation through.
This is the family in which God is going to work overtime to bring forth Boaz and King David, Solomon and eventually Jesus Christ.
Theologically speaking, God is going to work through this family to take us from being in a waterless pit to experiencing the gifts of Living Water.
But for now, today’s story ends with Joseph in the wilderness, stripped of his robe, abused by his own brothers, left for dead in the bottom of an empty well.
That can happen when people are left to their own devises. That is what can happen when people live in a me-me-me-world or find themselves stuck in survival mode.
People get hurt, things become torn, friction takes over, and dreams become shattered.
Though today’s story ends on a negative chord, it reminds me of another story, this time a positive one that takes place in the Gospel of John, chapter 4.
Perhaps you know this story: it’s when Jesus comes to a well in Samaria, a well that had been built by Jacob. Once there he meets a woman and asks for something to drink.
They engage in a lengthy conversation in which he tells her about a kind of water that gives eternal life, a spiritual resource which he refers to as Living Water.
At first the woman thinks he is talking about real, drinkable H2O until she realizes he is talking about something else, something greater; something more- so much more.
Today’s story reminds us of what happens when we take God for granted and allow too much negativity, too much competition, and too much jealousy into our lives.
But what we have in Jesus, what we receive in him, is so much different.
Because what the world has to offer us is one thing, but what Jesus offers us is beyond amazing Technicolor dream-coats.
What Jesus has to offer us is beyond power, beyond battles royale, beyond being daddy’s favorite.
What Jesus has to offer us is life, eternal life, abundant life, flourishing life.
Joseph wants to boast to his brothers that they will bow down to him.
But in Jesus we get to boast that no one is better than the other.
Joseph’s brothers would rather attack and kill him then work things out.
But in Jesus we are called to rectify disputes and find ways to discover a middle ground.
Joseph’s father wanted to show love to one causing disharmony among the others.
But in Jesus we discover our Heavenly Father has equal love for us all, ready to bestow grace and abundance, justification and islands of refuge
And when we realize this, when we embrace these truths for ourselves, and for others, we begin to understand we don’t need a special coat, nor do we need to cast others down a well.
But through Christ, we get the chance to become the hands of compassion to those who are swimming with alligators and dinosaurs; we get to be the hands of Christ to those whose lives are flooded and underwater; and we get to become the hands of Christ to those cast down in waterless pits and thirsty for that Living Water.
That’s why we are preparing for Global Missions Fair, that’s why we are going to reach out to those as far as Oklahoma and as close as Lake Placid, that’s why we are coming together to help this family in need.
So today, if you are feeling like you’re swimming in an ocean full of prehistoric creatures, know that Jesus will be your island refuge with scrub jays and purple flowers.
Today, if you are feeling like your life is quickly going underwater, know that Jesus will find a way to stop the rain.
And today, if like Joseph, you find yourself in the bottom of a waterless pit, know that you will be delivered; know that you will be lifted up and out; and know that Jesus will become your Living Water.
Let us give thanks to God for being so good, for the Holy Spirit that leads us to dry land and for Jesus who quenches our thirst.
Amen and amen.