Pentecost 9A, Sunday August 14, 2011.
My spirit revived!
WHAT I NOTICED IN THE TEXT
This is the final scene in a long story of pain for a family and a father. The author takes heaps of time to tell the story and builds to this final scene of reconciliation and summary of all that has happened to this family and this fledgling nation, Israel.
There is huge emotion on display in this text – long held hopes for true reconciliation with those who have hurt you bring that out.
Hindsight – being able to survey the past and what has happened and see how God has shaped your life and actually used the troubling and testing events and even the great wrongs that have been done to you. Joseph says that it was God that actually sent him to Egypt to save a nation, not a band of jealous, angry brothers bent on destruction. God triumphs over destruction of life and turns it around for the preservation of life.
Walking backwards into the future. That is the way the Hebrew mind evident in the Old testament works, as we see it here very clearly. The only indication of the future is the less than clear world of dreams. Joseph had dreams, the prison mates had dreams and Pharaoh had dreams – even when interpreted by Joseph, they are vague at best. But there is absolute clarity about God’s promise to Abraham, what has happened to Isaac and Jacob, and now Joseph. “Gods meant it for good” concludes Joseph. He always does it seems.
Reconciliation: Reconciliation is an opportunity to bring glory to God ad here Joseph gives God all the glory. Reconciliation demands that we get the log out of our own eye. The brothers seemed to have done this as they lived with the guilt of what they done and were now ready to enter reconciliation because they had admitted their wrong. The two waring parties were now ready to be gently (or not so gently!) restored and to then go and live in this newly restored relationship.
What a scene this bible text reveals! It is the scene of a family restored, a father revived and a hope rising up again. It is a scene of forgiveness triumphing over all of that harmful stuff we have mentioned in these weeks as we have followed the story of Jacob – the “winning struggler” and God’s promise of blessing through him.
This emotional reconciliation account is the crescendo to a beautifully told story which explains how it is that the promise to Abraham to be the head of a large nation of descendants blessed by God came to be. Joseph’s story is the last of four great stories of four great people in the book of Genesis – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and now within Jacob’s story – Joseph, his favoured son. Prayer: O Jesus, every moment in my heart and my ear, speak to us in this word that we hear. So much has happened to get to this great scene of brothers reconciling after years of hatred, jealousy, lies and guilt. Let’s do a quick catch up….
Jacob favoured this young son, Joseph and that brought into being it inevitable result – jealousy, hatred and physical and emotional harm to the favourite among his 11 brothers. Last week we heard how they took their opportunity to get rid of the young “dreamer” who had these dreams about being the dominant and blessed one among all his brothers. They throw him into a dark pit, but eventually then sell him as a slave to travelling traders who head to Egypt.
Jacob, now called “Israel” by God, the “struggling winner”, is inconsolable with grief and loss. Joseph, the blessed one of God, ends up in Egypt, and is bought from the spice traders who bought him from the 11 brothers by a man named Potiphar. This man is a royal official of some type. So, Joseph land on his feet, really. This is God’s doing it says. “The Lord was with Joseph….” we hear at various intervals in this wonderfully told story of God’s blessing.
Potiphar could see that Joseph was a blessed and gifted man of some divine god, so he hands over the running of his own substantial household to Joseph. Potiphar’s wife notices Joseph is a good catch and makes a pass at him! Joseph has some character and some integrity about him. He rejects the offer and keeps on doing so for some time. Eventually the jilted woman sets Joseph up. Potiphar gets Joseph thrown in prison.
It must have been a tricky thing to serve Pharaoh wine and bake his bread because for some minor mistake, the cupbearer and the baker to the King end up in prison with Joseph! This puts a new spin on Masterchef!!
In time Joseph also proves himself to be an excellent prison administrator! He ends up being given that role. He is a blessed and talented man of faith.
Joseph, the dreamer, actually is a dream interpreter. He can see things others can’t. Not only does he impress his inmates with his special sight into dreams, but also then by twist of fate, Pharaoh himself. By seeing that Pharaoh’s dreams are a warning about a devastating 7 year drought and famine coming, Joseph is again restored to the palace.
Just as Jacob favoured him right from the beginning, and as Potiphar and also his in-mates in prison favoured him, now even Pharaoh himself makes Joseph “the man in charge of all Egypt” – in other words, Prime Minister under the King himself. 23 years after he was thrown into the pit by the brothers that hated him and his dreaming of favoured status, at the age of 30, he is Prime Minister in the super-power nation of the day.
He sets about drought and famine-proofing Egypt. Of course, people from surrounding tribes and groups would also benefit from Egypt’s food supply in severe famine. Some of those non-Egyptian surrounding people are his own family – his brothers who after some years of drought and extreme hardship come down to Egypt to buy grain and goods to survive.
From here Joseph is the architect of this great scene we have heard. By careful manipulation of events and direct conversation with these brothers who left him for dead out of jealousy and hatred, he manoeuvres them around to find out a few things.
Is Dad still alive? Yes. Are these brothers of mine still full of hatred for me? Not so much hate now, but guilt and fear. “God is punishing us what we did to our brother” they admit to the PM of Egypt. (Gen 42:12).
All the while, Joseph hides his identity from his brothers. He has to be sure they have changed. He is after reconciliation and must know that it has a fair chance of winning over what used to be hatred. If it doesn’t he will have no choice but further pain and sorrow. He obviously hoped for reconciliation intently because several times in the various encounters over a couple of years he gets very emotional about it all and has to duck out of the room to keep his identity from them!
Eventually we get to this scene where the 11 brothers and the dreamer they hated are in one room and Joseph knows that they are ready to lose their hatred and guilt and receive his olive branch of reconciliation.
This is the last time he will hide his identity. “Every one get out!” he commands as the emotion wells up inside him. He finally tells them who he is. He does this by loud wailing and weeping in a forceful show of raw emotion – so much so that all the people out of the room hear the weeping and Pharaoh hears it too!
His brothers are speechless – dumbfounded! They can’t get a word out. They are so shocked and full of fear. Surely the day of judgement on their terrible sin is here. Pay day is here. We are going to cop it. We deserve it. We did it. He is alive and has all the cards in his favour.
The blessed man of God who knows what it is to be hated and abandoned and mistreated, as well as what it is to be loved and blessed by the Lord and to serve the Lord for the good of a whole nation in pain, pours out God’s mercy and blessing on these men. There is such an emotional scene of reconciliation – genuine reconciliation – not just conflict resolution or agreeing to disagree, but gut wrenching repentance, owning up, pouring out of guilt and fear and the undeserved gift of mercy – grace really.
It’s a scene for any of us who are guilty or wrong and fearful of punishment – from others and especially from God.
It’s a scene for any of us who have been hated and abandoned by a brother, sister parent or friend. It is a scene for anyone who has been the one who has done the hurting the hating and the abandoning.
It’s a scene for any Christian who has forgotten what our overall task is with others – we have this ministry of reconciliation (1 Cor 5:16-20) 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20
With God’s promise of future, blessing, hope and life, and only with his promise, this kind of reconciliation is possible and given freely to any sinner, anytime, anywhere.
How do we receive this kind of healing? How do we give this kind of olive branch to enemies? How do we find the peace and the purpose that this kind of complete forgiveness brings – forgiveness with each other and with God?
We have to be weak and let God be strong. There is no beginning of this reconciliation without weakness and vulnerability and great risk – before our enemy and before the Lord. There is no other way to a scene like this.
We either trust the Lord and rest in his promises and blessing and presence in us and take the risk and be weak in the struggle or we keep up the charade that we are always right, justified in our rights and in charge of forgiveness. We are not. This Joseph account shows that it is only the God Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who has the grace, the mercy and the power to create this kind of healing and new hope.
We are about to embark on a great journey of how this God of hope, who “hears the cries of his people and their struggle in slavery” will make the first move in making sure his promise of community, name and land to Abraham will come to be.
We will see how he creates a nation of blessing – how he will take this undefined community and baptise them and free them in his promise and power and shape them by hard struggle and mistakes, but then constant leading and restoration to be the nation through which the whole world would be blessed. I reckon that in this great account of the beginning of a nation’s place and role in the world, called Exodus”, the ‘way out’ we will find God with us in our faith journey here.
We are a community created by God in a wider human community, just as the descendants of Jacob and his 12 sons were a community within a wider community. We need God to show us our particular place and role – our vocation, as his community in the human community, as the Hebrews would discover as they became the nation of Israel.
We will see that our meaning and purpose as defined and given by the Lord happens on the move, in the desert places, when we are tired, hungry and thirsty and longing for the good old days when things were easier.
We will also find that our purpose and hope for now and the future as God’s people takes shape when we are on the mountain in the glory cloud of God’s presence, eating and drinking together with the Lord in all his glory and grace.
So, we pray that the Spirit of Jesus will revive us and restore us as we begin this little journey of “the way out” with the Lord – our exodus with the Lord from whatever is enslaving us.
We pray to or heavenly Father – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, now revealed in Jesus of Nazareth as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that we will get something out of this together for our lives now – for our jobs, our families, our church, our school, our mission.
We seek with confidence because this is no mere children’s story or even just a story – it is the witness of Jesus to us in the power of his Holy Spirit and will divide us, cut us, call us, heal us and be good for us.
Our end of the deal is to seek with the heart. He will show us and shape us in his way.
Jesus, you are the great teacher and revealer of God to us and we need your revelation now. In these days ahead and this account of the mighty works of the Lord and the very human responses of Israel, speak to us and shape us your community in this wonder human community. Amen.
THINGS TO REFLECT ON
Who do I need to be reconciled with and am I and that person ready. Can I see my wrong and admit it and go from there?
What does hindsight of your experiences tell you about God? Did he really mean it all for good and has he been at work all along? Pick a good and a bad experience and ponder them from Joseph’s point of view…..
What can you see of the future? Is it true that like the Hebrews, we can only really walk backwards into our future – keeping our eyes on Jesus and what has already done in our lives so that we stay with him and his Word and let him take care of what behind (or actually in front of us) in our future?