navigate to this site The Sunday Sermon: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 28, 2016
his comment is here Breaking the Cycle
August in Genesis: Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel. Jacob and Esau. And beneath them all – in fact, beneath, behind, in front, and all around them all – the mysterious reality we call “God.” As much a “what” as a “who” in these foundational stories of creation, this God we know so well, but can never quite figure out.
We’ve been trying this month, though. We’ve been trying to figure out, trying to reveal, what, how, and who God is by exploring the stories in Genesis that reveal who we are. We are created “in the image of God” our scripture says, Genesis 1:27. Understanding who we are, then, or who we were created to be, will help us understand who God is. That’s a “high anthropology,” but we’ve been exploring the cycle of our lives to better understand our place in creation. After our Original Blessing:
Refusal, removal, wrestling. (The three “R’s!”)
If this cycle, this sequence of events, has meaning for you, well, then you’ve been here (and been paying attention!) for the last four weeks. If it doesn’t mean much to you, either because you haven’t been with us this past month or because you have been, but you haven’t really been listening to the sermon portion of our time together (!), then hit the website this afternoon and find the sermons from July 31st to today and read or listen again. After our Original Blessing:
Refusal, removal wrestling.
Pray with me …
Today is the last Sunday in our August mini-series from the book of Genesis, the last sermon. I, rather unimaginatively, titled this sermon Reconciliation II, for the bulletin, building on last week. But, I changed it in my own notes and for future reference to Breaking the Cycle. (You can write that in your bulletin, if you’re keeping track.) Breaking the cycle is what Joseph does in our scripture story for this morning, our final story from the very end of the book we’ve been so deeply immersed in, Genesis, chapter fifty.
Now, before we read and explain all that: I’ve shared this personal story a time or to with many of you, but one of the earliest questions I remember having to respond to in my early ministry preparation was “Which verse or verses of scripture sum up most completely your experience of God? If, in the all the revelatory writings in the first and second testament of the Christian bible, you had to choose one passage to reveal the God you have come to know in your Christian life, which would it be?”
I thought for a while, some twenty years ago, having some sense that it really should be a verse in the New Testament, and better yet from one of the Gospels, a saying or a teaching attributed to Jesus. But finally and ever since, the passage I chose (or the one that chose me) was Genesis, chapter fifty, verses nineteen and twenty.
Listen for the Word of God beginning with verse fifteen of chapter fifty of the book of Genesis … Read Genesis 50:15-21 … This is the Word of God …
Do not be afraid … you intended to do harm … But God intends it for good … as God is doing today.
And that’s it. After these words, the Book of Genesis ends, the end of our beginning, the summation of some of the most wonderful formative stories we have ever read or had read to us. (I know there are five more verses in our bible, but they are the epilogue. This is the “Amen.”)
As these words end the book as whole, they also conclude the Joseph narrative, which began way back in chapter thirty-seven. Joseph’s father Jacob, who wrestled mightily with … who? God, his brother, himself? All of those and more, last week … Jacob had twelve sons, eleven older than Joseph and one, Benjamin, younger. Joseph’s story included a coat of many colors, dream interpretations, a pit, a slaving caravan, Egypt and Potiphar (the chief steward), Potiphar’s wife, prison and Pharaohs; you remember most of it, I know. The story includes falls from grace and rises to power, divine intentions and divine interactions, and the providence of God in the midst of all we do to harm and divide one from another. It is a story of ups and downs and twists and turns where only one thing is constant: The presence of transforming Love, of a Divine intention for all the characters in the story. I don’t’ like the word “intervention” (as in Divine intervention), because that suggests that “God,” or the presence “transforming Love” is only around once in a while, “intervening” in our lives. I choose rather to speak of the Divine intention, a constant presence that is always with us, if we are open to receiving that love and responding to that intention.
It’s a tricky thing to respond to God, the Holy … Sacred, at work in our lives. This God meets the world, meets us, in every moment “where it is / where we are.” If I walk past a man on the road who had just been beaten by robbers, refusing to be open to the Love that is trying to get me to respond, then “God” needs to meet me in my new reality and try again, try something different. We make choices that change our lives, and so God has to change tactics to meet us in every moment anew. (Deep stuff: that’s called the Consequent nature of God in progressive theologies, for those of you who want to know more!). let me try a more folksy approach …
There’s a tale told from the Buddhist tradition that shares some of the twists and turns that happen in this world, that we all face, and the need, then, for God to engage in new ways with us every day and for us to remain open to what comes next:
An old farmer who had worked his crop for many years with his trusted horse, lost that horse when it ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said to the man sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
For, the next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed to the farmer.
“Maybe,” he replied, again.
For the following day his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Such bad luck,” they said to the farmer.
“Maybe,” he answered.
For, on the day after the accident, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on well things had turned out. “What good fortune!” they exclaimed.
This story reveals how we so desperately want to control or lives. But we’re not the only ones in our own story. As others, including Creator and creation, act in our lives, we must be open to “what comes next.” Full disclosure: This tale doesn’t end so neatly, actually. I left out the last sentence. After the military officials leave, leaving the son at home with his father, prompting the neighbors to say, once again, “What good fortune!” The Farmer replies … (anyone?!) … “Maybe.” So life goes on!
So, what does any of this have to do with our story of Joseph?! Well, the joseph narrative takes these realities to dizzying heights: Joseph is his father’s favorite – great! But his brothers are jealous of him and throw him into a pit – not so great. A caravan comes so his brothers pull him out – wonderful! But the caravan is a slave train going to Egypt – not so wonderful. He’s sold to a high Egyptian official, the captain of the guards, in whose house he finds favor and is made overseer of the house and put in charge – yeah! But Potiphar’s wife “cast her eyes upon him” and when Joseph would not do as he was asked, she lied about his intentions toward her and Joseph was thrown into the prison – not so “yeah.” But Joseph interpreted some of the other prisoner’s dreams who recommended him to the Pharaoh who, upon satisfactorily interpreting his dreams, “sets him over all the land of Egypt,” securing his position and the deliverance of Egypt through the oncoming famine.
As we get to the very end of this story, in the passage we just read, Joseph comes face-to-face for the first time since they sold him to the slavers, with his brothers. There lives, too, have been full of ups-and-downs, if not quite as dramatic as Joseph’s. They are, of course in one of the down cycles, perhaps the deepest “down” of all. With their father dead, they stand before the brother they wronged so thoroughly so many years ago, asking for help. The brothers know that the most probably response from Joseph would be to “pay them back in full for all the wrong that they did to him.”
But he doesn’t do that …
From somewhere far down, planted more deeply than all that is wrong in this world and in our lives, Joseph responds to God – to transformational Love, to the Divine intention at work in all our lives – and Joseph breaks the cycle of refusal and removal and wrestling with God and with humans. Jacob did it in his own way last week on the banks of the Jabbok river. Joseph does it this morning in the throne room of Pharaoh. As Jacob finished wrestling and look up last week, and as Joseph lets go and looks beyond his own anger and desire for revenge this week, a fourth “r” is place into our God and one another:
Refusal, removal, wrestle, and reconciliation.
In all things, good and bad, even in the midst of intentional evil, God – whatever, whoever, however “God” is – God is working for good. Not just beyond us, and certainly not without us. But within us and through us, actively engaging all that we have done and all that we are doing, so that ultimately our deeds are redemptive rather than destructive, and reconcile us to ourselves, to one another, and to all creation. We must be open to that reconciliation every moment of every day, because, like life itself, God’s transforming Love – the Divine intention for all our lives – is not found in a moment of time. It is found in every moment, described in the long arc of the moral universe. In the same way that God brings about the redemption of Joseph and his brothers, through continual, constant, engagement with the world and a refusal to allow evil to have the last word, God is also reconciling our own shattered families, and crushed dreams, and devastated lives. The Love of God, our destiny, is constantly and continually imputing goodness in the midst of all the intentional and unintentional harm we do. We … must … be open … to it. We must break the cycle of selfishness and suspicion and hate and be reconciled to ourselves, to our brothers and sisters, to the world, and to our God.
It’s a tricky thing to do, Reconciliation. We will not always be open to the opportunities before us. But here’s our promise: What we intend for evil, God intends for good and God will provide us with opportunities every moment of every day for the rest of our lives to rejoin in the creation.
So … The End. Of our stories and of our summer. And another beginning in our lives together with a God is everywhere and always with us. Let’s sing together …
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / August 28, 2016