August 16, 2020, Scripture Readings and Sermon
Rev. George Porter, Live on zoom today
Rev. Dr. Richard M. Simpson, Sermon
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. 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. 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.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 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.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant--
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
[Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”]
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Sermon: The Rev. Dr. Richard M Simpson
Joseph and His Brothers
The Rev. Dr. Richard M. Simpson
There are two different Old Testament tracks available to us during these summer months, so I know that some of you have not been reading from Genesis since Trinity Sunday. That’s ok. I’m still going to preach on Genesis 45:1-15 today, which I’m fairly confident most of you are familiar with. It’s about the reunion between Joseph and his brothers.
The sordid saga of Joseph and his brothers began back in the 37th chapter of Genesis. There we saw Joseph as a seventeen-year old spoiled brat whose most favorite thing in the world is to report back to daddy whenever his shepherd brothers screwed up! So Joseph’s brothers are not very fond of him. In fact the Bible uses a word that most of us who are parents forbid our kids to use. It says his brothers “hated” him. In fact, that they hated him enough to want to kill him. This is sibling rivalry on steroids. In the end, they settle for throwing him into a pit and selling him off as a slave to some foreigner traders. Still, this is bad stuff.
So if you are on the track that has been reading Genesis, you know that this is where we left Joseph last weekend: sold to those Midianite traders for twenty pieces of silver. (Genesis 37:28). The brothers return home and tell their father that a wild animal has killed their brother. As evidence of Joseph’s death, in a world before DNA testing, they present Jacob with that “amazing technicolor dreamcoat” smeared in animal blood. Jacob is a mess, as any parent who loses a child naturally would be. Except that in this case, it is all an elaborate and horrible lie. Joseph is not really dead.
The narrator takes us to Egypt, where Joseph has been sold to a man named Potiphar, a captain in Pharaoh’s guard. The two get along quite well. The narrator tells us that Joseph was “handsome and good-looking.” (Genesis 39:6b) (To be honest I am not certain what the difference is between “handsome” and “good looking”—it sounds a little redundant to me. But maybe that’s the point.) Joseph is easy on the eyes.
I’ll let you read up on what happens from there; it’s rated R material and this is a family show and besides I was asked to keep it brief today. But I do need to jump ahead to when Joseph is asked by Pharaoh to interpret a very strange dream about seven fat cows and seven skinny cows and another one about and seven full ears of corn and then seven skinny ears. No one seems to be able to understand what it all means, except for Joseph, the dreamer and the dream interpreter. It comes easily to him, but to be honest, this particular dream is more about sound economic policy than an advanced course in Karl Jung. The dream means that there will be seven years of good crops followed by seven years of an economic downturn. So if Egypt is smart they will save up during the good years in order to be prepared for the lean ones. Joseph is promoted to become Secretary of Agriculture under Pharaoh to oversee that process and that is what they do.
In the meantime, Jacob and sons move on with their lives, as best they can. But they have now hit upon tough times back in Canaan because it’s the seven lean years and no one told them to save up during the seven fat years. So Jacob sends his sons to Egypt looking to see if there is an economic stimulus package in the works coming out of Cairo. And that brings us to where we are today.
Joseph recognizes his brothers immediately. But remember that when they last saw him he was just a kid. Now he is a successful and powerful political appointee in the Egyptian cabinet, and they simply do not recognize the man before them as their brother. If he has harbored bitter resentments toward them for all these years, now is his chance to get his pound of flesh. Now is his opportunity to have them thrown into a dark pit and left for dead and see how they like it. But he doesn’t do that. Instead he weeps so loudly that Pharaoh’s whole household hears him. And then he embraces his brothers. Forgiveness. Can you imagine?
Walter Brueggemann says that this story is about the challenge to live our lives “between the hint of the dream, and the doxology of disclosure.” When someone suffers a trauma, as Joseph did, it’s easy to understand how that person’s nightmares win out, and a person is left embittered and blaming the world. But if one is able to live “between the hint of the dream, and the doxology of disclosure,” one is seeing that the story doesn’t need to end in that pit. The process of claiming new life, for Joseph, began long before that day his brothers appeared before him.
As Andy Dufrasne puts it in The Shawshank Redemption, “you can get busy living or get busy dying.”
Joseph has gotten busy living and because of that, he has let go of the need to seek revenge on his brothers or for that matter to let them live rent free in his head. He wants to hug them. He wants to find out how his father his. He wants to get busy living. So this Joseph story is an Easter story. It is about redemption and healing and new life and just as importantly it is about trusting that God is with us in the pit or a prison cell and in the depths of our deepest fears and pain, and even unto death on a cross on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
We, too, are living between the hint of the dream and the doxology of disclosure. As St. Paul did, when he was sitting in a prison cell nearly two thousand years ago, yet hardly able to contain himself, and yet he wrote to the Church in Philippi:
I thank God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now…I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel. (Philippians 1:3,4,12)
From prison, Paul writes that! He faced that same choice that Joseph faced: to get busy living or to get busy dying. He chose life. He chose to see God at work in his life and to live between the hint of the dream and toward the doxology of disclosure.
You and I are invited to follow that good example. Praising God always leads to love of neighbor. Even those who have so terribly hurt us. I think of Don Henley’s words from “The Heart of the Matter.” I won’t sing them, but perhaps you know them and you can sing them at home:
I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets week and my thoughts seem to scatter. But I think it’s about forgiveness. Forgiveness.
And of course I think of Eliza Hamilton, when it’s quiet uptown and she has been so hurt by Alexander’s infidelity and by the death of their son, Philip. And yet, she also chooses to live between the hint of the dream and the doxology of disclosure. And it leads here, too, to forgiveness. Can you imagine?
By God’s grace, it happens in our lives from time to time and when it does, it unleashes the power of God and it opens up grace upon grace and new possibilities. We need these old Bible stories because in our very real lives, we too live somewhere “between the hint of the dream, and the doxology of disclosure.”
So here is the thing I want to say to you today, friends across this diocese of Western Massachusetts: trusting that hint of the dream is what makes the doxology of disclosure possible. Acting on the hints and guesses that lead us to risk healing and reconciliation opens up, again and again, chances for us to see the living God at work in our lives. All will be well. Praise God. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise God, all creatures here below. Praise God the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer. Amen.