Monthly Archives: August 2017

Forgive and Forget?

45 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him. (Genesis 45:1-15 NRSV)

He was a spoiled, entitled “little brother.” Worst of all, Dad loved him best.

He was bright, but he wasn’t very savvy.  He was an immature seventeen-year-old when he shared with his brothers some of his dreams.

“It was an awesome dream.  We were all binding sheaves in the field when my sheaf stood tall and all your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed to it.”  (Genesis 37:7)

“I had another dream,” he announced a few days later.  “The sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

Everyone knew the meaning of these dreams.  Joseph believed that some day his brothers would bow down to him; that he would rule over them.  Outrageous!  His father rebuked him strongly. As far as his brothers were concerned, it was too little too late.

His brothers planned to kill him.  Through a series of incidents they ended up selling him to a band of Ishmaelites who were traveling to Egypt from Gilead, the producer of balm.  They made a deal with the caravan drivers and then reported back to their father that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

Joseph served in the house of Potiphar, the captain of the Egyptian guard.  Joseph rose in stature in the general’s home and served him well.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Potiphar found Joseph to be handsome and tried to seduce him.  Joseph would have none of it, so she accused him of attempted rape.  Joseph was thrown in jail.

His fellow prisoners discovered his gift of interpreting dreams.  Pharaoh’s cup bearer was one of these, having been put in jail under Pharaoh’s orders.  Joseph accurately interpreted his dreams and assured him he would be returned to service.  When the cup bearer was, indeed, returned to service, he heard that Pharaoh had dreams of his own.  Eventually, he remembered Joseph and recommended him to Pharaoh.  And now we come to the heart of the Joseph “novella.”

Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and also provided a solution to what would become a national disaster.  For seven years, the land would enjoy bumper crops of grain.  But, then there would be seven years of famine.  The solution Joseph suggested was ingenious and simple: find someone whom you trust and have him oversee the collection of the crops.  Every year, one-fifth of the harvest should be held in silos until the famine strikes.  Then there will be enough for everyone.

Pharaoh not only approved the plan, he appointed Joseph to oversee the project.  Joseph successfully saved Egypt from starvation and disaster.  He rose to power quickly, becoming Pharaoh’s second in command.

Now the scene is set.  God has been at work.  Joseph’s plight has been used to carry out God’s plan to save Jacob’s family in Canaan.  By the second year of famine, Canaan has also come up against hard times and Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to purchase grain.  Joseph recognizes them immediately; all they see is an Egyptian ruler.

Joseph toys with them and holds them for a few days.  Eventually, he concocts a plan to get them to go back for their youngest brother, Benjamin.  Joseph and Benjamin had been close as children, and he longed to see him.  He also knew that his father, Jacob, would be reluctant to let Benjamin go since he was his new favorite son.

Eventually, the time comes for Joseph to reveal himself.  And this is the twist in the story.  He could have had his brothers imprisoned, even killed.  He could have sold them into slavery like they had done to him.  He could have refused to sell them grain.  He had the power to act out his pain any way he desired.

He chose to forgive them.

Forgiveness isn’t forgetting.  It isn’t saying that it’s okay.  Selling Joseph into slavery wasn’t okay.  It was a horrible thing to do.  It hurt Joseph; it nearly killed their father.  They mistreated a beloved creation of God.

I believe it was Lily Tomlin who said, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”  She’s right.  When we hold onto the hurt, we’re allowing the chains of pain to encircle us and choke us off.  We become bitter and hateful and hate-filled.  We fail to be the authentic person God intends us to be.

Forgiveness is a process.  When the shooter of nine people at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC was brought before a judge, an amazing thing happened.  One by one, members of the church confronted him.  They described their pain and what he had done to change their lives and their families forever.  And to a person, each one said, “I forgive you.”

They weren’t saying, “Oh, it’s okay.  You’re in a bad place.”  They also didn’t say, “May you rot in hell!”  They didn’t get through their pain that day.  What they said was, “You and evil will not win today.”

That Sunday in worship, they sang, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my savior all the day long.” Over and over and over again, they sang it.  They would not allow evil to rule the day.  They would not allow anger and hate to wrap them in its grip and change them.  They clearly understood themselves to be children of God and followers of Christ.  They would get through this with God’s help.  And the first step was forgiving.

Joseph not only forgave, he began the steps to reconciliation.  Notice that he stated clearly what the brothers had done to him: selling him into slavery.  Joseph looked back on how his life had played out and saw God at work.  Because of his being sent to Egypt, Joseph was able to save his family and provide a place for them to grow and thrive.

The brothers and Joseph probably spent years reconciling what had been done and understanding how God had used it for good.  It would be years before the brothers would seek forgiveness from Joseph and he would give it.  “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”  (Genesis 50:20 NRSV)

What does forgiveness look like today?  It looks like an adult son of an abusive father finally facing and acknowledging the physical and emotional pain and saying, “I forgive him.  I don’t know what pain he was suffering, but I refuse to let it ruin my life.  I forgive him.”

It looks like an employee forgiving a boss stealing his ideas to make himself look good.  He moves on to use his newly recognized gifts with an employer who values his contributions.

It looks like a support group for parents of murdered children who acknowledge their pain and suffering and use it to help others in similar circumstances while working to strengthen laws that make their community safer.

It looks like a group of people who realize their white privilege.  They acknowledge it and forgive themselves.  Then they work with others to understand and eliminate racist laws and attitudes.  They refuse to hate.  They choose to stand with and for others who are hurt and sidelined.

That spoiled and entitled little brother has a lot to teach us about forgiveness.  He had to  learn who he was and how he had hurt others.  He lived out a value system that refused to take advantage of others, but chose to help others understand themselves.

He learned to use his gifts of discernment and organization to save his adopted nation and his birth family.

As I study white privilege I am appalled and ashamed.  I have lived a good life, having worked hard to get where I am today.  Yet, I now realize that there are many who worked harder than I did and didn’t get as far, not because of anything to do with their failings, but because of the color of their skin.

We have a choice.  Ignore it and the growing hatred in our nation.  Understand it and live in shame.

Or.  We can learn and understand and forgive ourselves.  Then step forward with others to stem this tide of bigotry and hate, not to make ourselves feel better or to make atonement.  But, because we recognize injustice for what it is and that God created us to live in peace and harmony with our neighbor, regardless of race or ethnicity or disability or anything else that threatens to separate us.

I choose forgiveness.  I pray for discernment to move into a place of reconciliation with my neighbor.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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Lonely the Boat

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,[a] for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Jesus is tired.  Physically and emotionally exhausted.  Spiritually depleted.  A trip home that should have been filled with joy ended in shambles as the townspeople utterly rejected him.  And then word arrived that his close friend, John the Baptizer was killed by Herod as a result of drunken party and young woman’s erotic dance.

He went off for rest only to discover that crowds of people followed him.  5,000 plus women and children.  People energize Jesus.  And when he saw them, he couldn’t not take care of them.  He healed.  He cured.  He fed.  He created community.  And as we stepped back from the scene, we caught a glimpse of God’s kingdom: a place where everyone is accepted, agape love abounds and all are fed until they’re full.

If Jesus was tired before this, he’s thoroughly exhausted now.  He needs time to pray and grieve and rest.  It’s time for the crowd to pack up and return home.  He and the disciples watch as they begin to gather their meager belongings.  Mothers gather their children.  Father’s shake hands with new-found friends.  Jesus turns to the twelve.

“Get in the boat and head to the other side.  I’ll join you later.”

They try to argue with him.  Why don’t you come with us?  A couple of us will stay with you.  How will you travel to join us?

“Just go.  I’ll be okay.”

He turns back to the crowd and provides a final blessing and benediction.  The crowd begins their journey while the twelve get in the boat.

Quiet settles slowly.  Peace and quiet.  Jesus can finally have that alone time he needs.  Slowly he walks the narrow path up the mountain where he can be closer to God.  The next several hours are spent in prayer, rest and sleep.  More prayer.  Perhaps some weeping.  So much evil in the world.  So much to do.  Not enough time to get it all done.

Prayer.  Rest. Sleep. Repeat.  God’s shalom surrounds him.  Pray. Rest. Sleep.  The brokenness and hostility of the world drop away to be replaced with God’s wholeness, completeness, fullness and balance.  Peace and shalom surrounds Jesus as he prays and rests and sleeps throughout the night.

Meanwhile, a storm is brewing.  Storms develop quickly on the Sea of Galilee.  The winds sweep down the mountains and toss the sea around like a bowl of water.  The fishermen on the boat call out orders to the novices.  (What do tax collectors and political zealots know about boats and angry seas?)

They hold on to the the ropes while wiping water from their eyes with their upper arms.  This storm is bad.  Can they survive it?  Fear has them in its grip.  Just when it couldn’t get worse, it does.  A ghost appears, walking directly toward their wind-tossed boat.

Oh, great! a demon, perhaps?  We’re surely doomed, now.

Then they hear his voice.  Calm, steady, piercing the sound of the wind.  “It’s okay.  It’s me.  Don’t be afraid.”

Peter drops his ropes and makes his way to that side of the boat.  “It’s him!  He’s walking toward us.  On the water!”

“Lord, order me to come out and join you.  Let me try it.”

“Okay, Peter.  Come on out.”  And he gestures with his arm.

Eagerly, but but not without a tiny bit of trepidation, Peter climbs over the side of the boat and lowers himself onto the water.  He did it.  He’s standing on the water!  Now, he takes a step.  He gazes on Jesus and sees his encouraging smile.  Water sloshes around his toes as he takes steps toward the Master.

He’d forgotten all about the storm.  Suddenly, a gale slaps him across the face and he drops his attention from Jesus.  Fear and doubt settle in; he drops into the water like a rock.

“What was I thinking?  What a stupid thing to do.  I’ve let everyone down, especially Jesus.  Some disciple I am!

Just then he feels strong hands reach around him and lift him out of the water.  “You did good, Peter.  Why did you doubt?”

And then the peace.  That shalom that Jesus brings with him.  That wholeness; completeness; balance.  Peace settles the storm and the disciples fall to their knees.  Tired, worn; awe-filled and trembling.

Once again they realize what they’ve known all along.  “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

It’s a lovely narrative.  Lots of scenery and color and movement.  Peace and fear; miracle and failure; most of all, a happy ending.

What scares you?  Really scares you.  I’m talking about paralyzing fear that engulfs you like that storm on the Sea of Galilee.

How badly our churches want to enter into the mission field.  They want to reach out to help those who are holding on tight while poverty or illness engulfs them.  They want to make broken lives better; offer healing from abuse; reach out to the children so desperately in need of shalom.

But, we’re paralyzed with fear.  We don’t know where to begin.  We don’t have enough people.  Money is at an all-time low.  Do we pay the electric bill or fund that new mission?

We try.  We step out and try and when we don’t see the immediate return, we feel like failures.  We did something wrong.  God wasn’t with us.  We’re failures and the whole world has witnessed us making fools of ourselves.  We’ve let God down.

And we step back into the church and close the doors against the howling storms of a broken world.

Here’s the good news:  it’s not about us.

God calls us to be faithful, not successful.  That’s God’s job.

Several years ago I  met a minister from New England.  He pastored a church located in the worst part of the inner city.  He shared with me their ministry.

It was litany of one success after another.  They cleaned out the old basement and have a food pantry and offer classes to the neighborhood to help them get a job.  The members spent days going out into the neighborhood picking up trash (including spent needles and condoms.)  For several minutes my new friend waxed eloquently about everything his congregation was doing to meet needs.  He was excited and grateful.

The more he talked, the quieter I became.  Finally, I asked him a question.  “How long have you been doing this?  How long did it take to figure out your call?”

He paused for a thoughtful moment and studied my face.  I think he saw my fear and disappointment at my own meager attempts.  It turns out that he knew what I was feeling.  He’d been in my shoes.

“It took years,” he finally replied.  “It took years to get to the point in our ministry where we could see the next opportunity.  Not everything worked and not everything works today.  In fact, we had several starts in the beginning.”

We talked a bit longer.  About false starts and lack of clear vision and disappointment.  His parting words to me were, “Keep moving forward.  Step out in faith.  Remember that Jesus only had twelve disciples and one of them was the devil!”

Stepping out is hard.  We want to.  We so desperately want to.  We hear that call to offer healing and food.  But, we’re held back by scarcity.  We need more money and time and people.  We forget that Jesus is in charge and will provide all that we need.

What we need is a miracle.  The miracle of Jesus’ calm voice saying, “Little Believers, you won’t let me down.  Your tiny mustard seed faith is all I need from you.  Whatever happens, I’ll never ever be disappointed in you.

“Little Believers, that boat is filled with fear and scarcity.  Step out in prayer.  And keep stepping out.  Sometimes you’ll sink like a rock; other times you’ll soar with the eagles.

“Little Believers, step out.  Don’t worry about what others are thinking.  That’s what takes your eyes off of me.  Don’t worry about pleasing some high expectations you think I have.  That’s the rain slashing across your face.

“Little Believers.  Step out.  I’ve got you and I’ll provide what’s missing: energy, time, people, money.”

Do we dare do it?  Do we dare to step out of that lonely, fear-washed boat?  Someone needs you to offer them Jesus’ healing and shalom.

Are you the one he’s calling?

If so, listen to him say,

“Come on Little Believer.  Let’s get to work.  That’s it.  Step out of that boat.

“Yes!  I knew you could do it!”

After all.  Is anything impossible with God?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 


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