Friday, August 23, 2013

Sermon for August 25, 2013; Genesis 45:1-15, 25-28

Rev. George Miller
Genesis 45:1-15, 25-28
“Israel and the Son Who’s Alive”
August 25, 2013

As Christians, we are children of the Resurrection. Believers that God raised Christ from the grave; ecstatic over of the Easter message that life prevails.

From manger to cross to the empty tomb we proclaim that God, not death is the author of our journey.

While this message is certainly colorful and triumphant, it is not new to the biblical narrative. After all, Jesus told a story about a father with two sons and how one returns after a lifetime away.

For another glimpse of resurrection glory we can go back, way back, to the beginning. To the book of Genesis.

Genesis starts by telling us how God creates out of emptiness; God takes the chaos of nothingness and brings forth life- colors and sounds, wonderful and new.

Then we witness how creation responds: disobedient bites of forbidden fruit, brother killing brother, floods, rainbows, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chances.

How God calls a childless couple to bless all the families of the world. How that family fights, struggles, falls short, flounders.

Yet God never forgets them, desserts them or goes back on God’s promise of blessing.

The Joseph narrative brings the book of Genesis to a close. It’s a story about how God’s promise, God’s plan for the world is almost, almost blacked out because
-a father plays favorites
-a dreamer bragged and boasted
-and brothers revolted.

Let’s review: Joseph is 17 and living in the land of Canaan when the story begins. He is given a glorious coat by his father and tells his brothers that one day they’ll bow down to him.

His brothers conspire to kill him, cast him down into a waterless pit, and sell him into slavery. They tell their father that Joseph was killed by a wild animal, casting Dad into a pit of unending grief.

For 13 years Joseph survives as a slave and a prisoner, a dreamer locked away in an Egyptian dungeon.

Then at age 30 he is elevated to second most powerful person in Egypt when we predicts that 7 years of plenty will be followed by 7 years of famine.

Joseph’s prophecy comes true. During this time he adapts the Egyptian style and dress. He acquires an Egyptian wife, has Egyptian children.

But back in Canaan his family is struggling to survive. Famine has struck, the earth is dry, and resources have been used up.

Not to mention the terrible secret the brothers are hiding from their father. For 22 years they have kept up the charade that Joseph is dead. For 22 years they have held back the truth.

Imagine the turmoil and stress that would have created amongst them. Imagine the conflicts that such a secret would create. The hushed conversations they would have had; the shame at watching their bereaved father cry but not being able to honestly console him.

2 years into the famine, Israel sends his sons to Egypt for aid. There they come face to face with Joseph, although they do not recognize him. But he recognizes them.

How will Joseph respond?

How would you respond?

22 years ago his life was in their hands and they cast him into a waterless pit and sold him for a few pieces of silver. Now they come groveling for help.

Chapters 42-44 show us just what Joseph does. He’s no innocent; he’s no saint. He toys with them. He engages them the way a cat does with a rat.

He speaks harshly with them, he accuses them of being spies and locks them away for 3 days. He sets them free only to place money and a chalice in their luggage so it looks like they stole from him.

Then, but the end of chapter 44 Joseph is prepared to turn Benjamin, his youngest brother, into a slave…when Judah steps up and passionately explains that enslaving Benjamin would destroy their father, the grief would literally kill him.

Judah states “Take me instead. I would rather be a slave then to see my father suffer anymore…”

Chapter 45 tells us how Joseph responds. He who had been attacked, stripped, cast down, sold away, locked up.

He who now had all the power, he who could have destroyed every single one of them, he who could have stopped God’s promise to bless the entire world through this dysfunctional family…

…Joseph breaks down and he weeps. He weeps so loudly everyone can hear. He weeps for each and every year he struggled to survive, he weeps for all the lies that have been told, he weeps for all that had been lost…

I also believe he weeps for what will be gained.

He has the power to decimate and destroy and instead he chooses…to flourish, he chooses new life.

What Joseph does in this story is absolutely amazing.

Understandably, Joseph first responds out of a place of hurt, but then he finds a way to move into healing.

He reveals to them just who he really is and then takes everything that has happened and puts it into theological framework.

Although his brothers do not say “I am sorry” and although he does not say “I forgive you” Joseph finds a way to bestow grace upon them.

“Do not be distressed, do not be angry at yourself,” he tells them, being incredibly pastoral. “What is done is done.”

He kisses them, he hugs them, and he weeps some more.

He essentially tells them “What you did brought grey into my life, but God was able to take that grey and bring about goodness and color, rainbows and light.”

He then sends them back to Canaan so they can get their father and live out the rest of their life in security and blessedness.

When Israel is told the news, he proclaims “Enough! My son who was dead is still alive!”

A resurrection proclamation if there ever was one.

Thus, the family is restored; through God what was once a colorless nightmare has become a Technicolor dream…

What can this mean for us? What is one lesson we can learn?

What really strikes me here is not how Joseph’s decision affected him and his brothers, but how it creates a ripple effect that also reaches out to his father.

It gave Israel back his son. It reopens a chapter he thought long closed. It allowed for a relationship to be restarted.

This is resurrection, this is the cross moving into an empty grave, this is life prevailing over death

This story is about one person’s ability to let go and to let God. It’s about one person’s chance to make a decision out of hate or out of love, and love prevails…

For 22 years the entire family has been in some kind of colorless dungeon. Israel was in a dungeon of grief. The brothers in a dungeon of denial and deceit. Joseph in a dungeon of distance and disconnect.

And instead of keeping them all there, Joseph acts in a way that grants freedom and life. He works through the present moment, he looks beyond the wrongs of the past and he steps into the future and brings his family with him.

Joseph does so by not just focusing on self, but on God. By understanding and trusting that God can work through the people, events and places of his life to bring about transformation.

But as we see with Joseph, transformation does not happen immediately, nor it is a one-time event, but it requires time.

Time to weep, time to be angry, time to ponder and think and decide the right course of action. Time to grieve for what can never be and time to grieve for what cannot ever be undone.

Joseph could have allowed hate and vengeance to prevail and kill them all, but then he really would have been alone with no chance of reconciliation.

But instead, he chooses to act with grace and enlightenment. He puts the situation in the hands of God and chooses life.

The result: a son that was once dead is now alive, a family which was once broken is restored and given a new future full of possibilities, and an entire nation becomes blessed.

This is a story about the healing act of forgiveness, and the saving acts of compassion. Together they create new possibilities for God’s creative acts to shape and redefine what we think we know to be true.

This is a perfect example of how God can mysteriously move through moments of famine, survival and assured death to bring about enough, flourishing and life.

And in doing so relationships are restored, our cups run over and our turbulent oceans give way to islands of refuge…

We never know what paths our lives will take; we never know what journeys we’ll go on. Nor what kind of dungeons we find ourselves in.

But each of us will come to places again and again in which we get to decide what we want to leave behind and what we wish to carry with us.

And to remember that the promise God made a long, long time ago to our ancestors was to bring a blessing to all the families of the earth.

And though we may think we are small or insignificant, we all have a role to play in that blessing, just like Joseph, and we all have moments in which we can help make that blessing real.

For that to happen, what do we need to leave behind in the dungeon and what are the choices we can make that bring forth life, abundant, colorful and enough?

How do we let go of the nightmare to embrace the dream?

Amen and amen.

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