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Redemption

Today's sermon, on Joseph reuniting with his brothers. Mostly a manuscript sermon, although the end I never wrote up... I just sort of riffed on the Romans passage.

Genesis 45:1-28 (note to self: trim this next time? ;) )
Romans 8:14-17

I love that the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs were so very, very human, with all of the foibles and troubles which come with being a human being. They were well loved by God -- they were our forefathers and foremothers in the faith -- and the Bible tells us stories of how they walked with God and struggled with God -- in Jacob's case quite literally -- and of how God walked with them and worked through them.

The Bible also tells us stories of their weaknesses. I'm immensely grateful for this, because as a fellow human being, I'm all too aware that I've got just a few weaknesses myself. I can be angry or unkind or unwise or covetous. (For months now I've been coveting an iPad, which I can't afford, and really really don't need!) Too often, as Paul says, I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.

So I'm grateful for this history of God working in and through all sorts of people, people who have likewise been unwise or unkind or angry or covetous, because that assures me that God can work in me -- can work in us -- too.
............
As a young man, Jacob -- with his mother Rebekah's help -- was a trickster and a rascal. Rebekah played favourites -- she loved her younger son Jacob better than her older son Esau -- and she helped Jacob trick her blind husband Isaac into giving away Esau's birthright. Esau was so angry that Jacob felt the need to flee to his uncle Laban's lands, where Laban tricked him in turn, replacing one veiled bride with another, so that Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah.

With family dynamics like that, it's no wonder that Jacob himself played favourites within his own family. As he had preferred his wife Rachel to his first wife, Leah, so he openly favoured Rachel's two children, Joseph and Benjamin, over his other ten sons. The Bible tells us that Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children. He sent the ten out into the field with the sheep, but he dressed his son Joseph in a fine city coat with long sleeves, (and depending on your translation, perhaps many colors,) not the sort of thing one wears to tend sheep! Jacob set Joseph apart from his brothers. He's not really doing him any favours, treating him differently, but such was the history of this family back through the generations, parents openly preferring one child over the others.

Seventeen-year-old Joseph doesn't handle it very well. We're told that he tattles on his brothers: he brings bad reports of them to his father, and generally exacerbates their jealousy and their anger. He's a teenager acting poorly, unwisely.

But no matter how poorly he acted, his older brothers' reaction is entirely out of proportion to Joseph's behaviour.
............
Most of us have been blessed with moments when we have felt well-loved, comforted, safe. Most of us have also known grief, and fear, and darkness. It's a part of being human: if we live long enough, our life's circumstances change; if we live even longer, they change again. Who we are is not determined by our circumstances, by whether our family is whole or broken, by whether we are at home or in exile, by whether we have the work we expected to have. Our circumstances do not define us; rather we define ourselves by how we respond to those conditions. Do we respond by opening ourselves to God's love and God's promise and God's will and God's peace? Or do we react from a place of anger, or fear, or greed?
............
Joseph's brothers stripped him and beat him and threw him into a pit, from where they sold him to Ishmaelite slavers for 20 pieces of silver. In the blink of an eye he went from favourite son of a wealthy landowner to a bruised, exiled, destitute slave. Gone was his long-sleeved cloak; gone was the father who loved him so intensely; gone was the future he had imagined for himself.

The Ishmaelites sold him to an Egyptian guard captain, Potiphar. Potiphar's wife first assaulted him, and then lied about him, bore false witness against him, and poor young Joseph was consigned to pharaoh's prison.

What intrigues me most about today's passage is how we get from this moment of deep darkness to the moment of forgiveness and redemption which we read about in this morning's scripture. How do we get from horribly wronged victim to tears of joyful reunion and expansive forgiveness?
............
All too often when I am hurt, I *rehearse* that moment of hurt in my mind, going over and over it. I was wronged, I think, I was mistreated, how could that other person have behaved so poorly?! I have done this for big hurts and real pain, but I can even do this for little hurts. With some practice and a whole lot of intentionality I'm getting better, but I'm still capable of rehearsing something as small as the actions of an inconsiderate driver: "Can you believe how he cut me off? What a jerk! Man, that guy's a jerk! He cut me off!"

[insert neighbour/meditation story here!]

What stories do you repeat to yourself when you're alone, alone in the car or alone in the shower or before you go to sleep at night? Do you remember how hurt you are, or how angry, or how afraid?

Biologically, what we're doing when we rehearse a thought is to cause more neurons to fire, strengthening the synapse. We make things worse. By repeating the thought we are strengthening it, spiritually, yes, but also in a very real, concrete way, physically, in our brain. The stories we repeat affect who we become. The more we tell ourselves we're angry, the more likely we are to respond in anger the next time. The more we tell ourselves that we are hurt, the more likely we are to dwell in that space of hurt, to react from it. The more we tell ourselves that we are God's children, born of God's promise, the more likely we are to live as if we *know* that we are God's children, and to reflect His love and peace and joy to those around us.
............
The Bible doesn't tell us how the seventeen-year-old Joseph initially reacted to his plight, beyond his pleading with his brothers while they ignored his cries. Perhaps during his journey south with the Ishmaelite traders, he did indulge in a bit of completely justified self pity. What we do know is that by the time he arrived in Egypt, Joseph has put his head on straight: he knows who he is, and most importantly he knows whose he is, and he throws himself fully into seeking God's will for his life.

In today's passage, we clearly see a man who has not been dwelling on his justifiable pain or on his righteous anger. Joseph has not sat around during his time in Egypt thinking, "I'm a victim, I've been mistreated," although of course he had been mistreated, and badly so.

I'm very much taken with Andrew Lloyd Webber's vision of Joseph in his most awful moments, a slave in pharaoh's prison cell, seemingly cut off from all hope and all comfort.

Close every door to me; Hide all the world from me;
Bar all the windows and shut out the light...
Close every door to me; Keep those I love from me:
Children of Israel are never alone.


Children of Israel are never alone. Cut off from homeland and from family and even from light, Joseph opened himself to God, and God was there. No matter the circumstances, God is with us, seeking to work in us and through us.
............
The story of Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers is long and complicated; we're only reading the end of it in Genesis 45. It involves a fair bit of trickery, which isn't surprising in a family which has been rehearsing its trickery throughout the generations, in Jacob and Rebekah and Laban and beyond. We've also not gotten beyond favouritism: To each one of [his brothers, Joseph] gave a set of garments; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five sets of garments. Three hundred pieces of silver, fifteen times that for which Joseph had been sold so many years before, given to Benjamin, whom -- in Joseph's absence -- Jacob clearly loves best.

Trickery and favouritism, yes, but the story also ends in restoration and redemption. Redemption for Reuben and for Judah and the other brothers, restoration of the whole family together in good rich lands in Egypt. Jacob kissed all his brothers and wept upon them, and showered them with gifts, and forgave them. And from these twelve sons, the children of Israel, spring the twelve tribes of Israel, and the history of our faith.
............
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

We are children of the promise, not slaves to circumstance. We are children of God.
............
[riff as needed... preach some good news... prayer]

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