Last Epiphany Sermon – Moses Liberates the People from the Highlighter of My Wonky Friend

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
Have you ever had your mind blown on a certain subject such that it alters your life and studies forever? Have you ever, years later tired to come back and see things the way they were before your mind was set free? That happened to me as I sat down to write this sermon. The problem I have found with abandoning the established lectionary for the subject of preaching is that it is essentially re-inventing the wheel. I am having to look for ways in which to break up the text to get the story. I am looking at the infamous elephant that one decides to eat and having to decide which areas to bite next in order to get the whole thing down.

As I am sitting down I have a plan and then things happen and plans change. Then I have to figure out the story again. So this particular time, I pick up my Bible, not my current Linus blanket, but the one before this one. This Bible was acquired from my dad, (a better term might be stolen as one steals tools from one’s dad, but we are in Exodus now in our journey and Exodus contains the 10 commandments, one of which is thou shalt not steal, they father’s bible, so acquired is a much better word). This Bible was the one I put all my notes in college, post-college, and my first year and a half of seminary. Opening it is seeing an old friend.

As I thumbed through this Bible because I know this was the Bible that I was using when my mind was opened that glorious day in seminary when I learned that the Bible is not just a collection of unrelated books that generally have to do with God and should be studied as one reads a magazine. Rather this was all one story from beginning to end, each building on what came before and expanding the story exponentially.

Well I didn’t take notes in my bible that day, it all came too fast and furious so I was forced to type. So in the spot I was looking for inspiration about our story today, was not what I was looking for, rather it was the old notes for the old mindset. There was notes that were the result of what is called “source theory.” You may have encountered this if you have studied the first five books of the Bible—the Pentateuch—and remember the J, E, D, P sources that show us what editors at what time period were responsible for which sentences on the page we see in our Bibles.

So In my bible are little notes as to which source wrote the section. I have seen bibles that have in them highlighted according to the source used. I wanted to do this myself, until I found out that some bibles have already done that for you. Ooooooo fancy. But now looking back, I realize that this is a distraction from the actual text on the page, not an enhancer. It gets you in the Bible, but you are concerned with the highlighter and not the actual words. “Well this source is obviously this group which has this bend to them and so this theology is at work. And moving to the next line, well this is a different source which has a different theology at work. Don’t forget this word here out of this third source but then it’s back to the second.” It distracts from the beauty of the text on the page and from what it is actually trying to say. It is like God is there on the page, screaming to be known by us, but we bind him with highlighter and tell him he can only speak to us a certain way.
So looking back at my Bible, yes it is still dear old friend, but I look back and realize that my friend might have been a little misguided. And I saw one word that sent me on this trip of the mind which I have now lead you on, and fittingly it was tevah the Hebrew word for “ark” that is only used in two places in the Bible. Obviously the first one is in Genesis, obviously dealing with Noah and the ark referring to a sealed nautical vessel daubed with pitch—a tar like substance used to waterproof. The other instance comes to us in Exodus which brings us to our story.

Now when we last visited Egypt at the end of Genesis, life was good, Joseph had just saved his whole family and all of Egypt and gotten the best of the land awarded to him for this. And Joseph’s family was fruitful and multiplied, and multiplied, and multiplied. When one day, a new pharaoh came into power who was not up to snuff in his history of Egypt o he knew nothing of Joseph, nor of the good works that he had done. All he saw was roughly 2 million people dwelling in the best of the land which were not native Egyptians and should a foreign army come in with a better arrangement for them, the Hebrews could switch sides. So he decided to get ahead of this, and enslave these people to break their fighting spirit. And in a fit of mad brilliance, Pharaoh had the idea to kill off all the male children of the Hebrews so the resulting overabundance of women in the land would be forced to marry Egyptian men thus eliminating the outsiders in a few generations.

And a young mother who did not want to see her son perish, made a tevah my text reads basket, and daubed it with pitch. The use of this word tevah is intentional because it is supposed to point back to the Genesis episode of Noah. The world had become corrupt and was going to be destroyed but God called Noah to make his giant tevah and salvation would emerge from that ark when the killing was finished. God selected his deliverer and placed him in the tevah and deliverance followed with Noah, and now we are meant to see the same theme with Moses. (But notice this interconnectivity—possible only because it a continuation of the same story.)

Moses is discovered in this vessel by Pharaoh’s daughter as she was bathing in a pool. Now this was no accident, Moses’ mom didn’t just place him in, kiss him on the forehead and wish him the best of luck. She had a plan, and she had spent days, maybe even weeks determining exactly where this vessel would rest to save her baby. Maybe she would get sticks and float them down river to see where she could sail her vessel that it would find a current to lead it to this bathing pool. And when she found it she placed her daughter Miriam there to suggest a wet nurse for the child.

When she discovered all this, she enacted her plan, and placed her child in the care of God as she sent him to be the child of another and the deliverer of her people. And her plan could not have gone better. The vessel landed exactly where it needed to go, and Pharaoh’s daughter saw the vessel and opened it. As she did, the sun came out from behind a cloud, lighting up her entire world. She fell in love with this obviously Hebrew baby. And she saw a local Hebrew girl, who just so happened to know of a wet nurse. And when Pharaoh’s daughter showed dad what she found, he said, “Put that thing back into the River, I have decreed that all Hebrew male babies should be drowned in the River.”

PD: “All Hebrew babies, except this one,” she said. And that was that, she named him Moses and brought her new wet nurse in to live at the palace and paid her as she raised the boy until he was weaned.

Moses is now set up perfectly to deliver the Israelites, for he was raised in the household of the pharaoh and though he could not actually rule, he would have enough power to be able to legally free his people if he just stays according to the plan. But Moses doesn’t. Moses is a man of action, not of words (we will see this happen many times in his life), and he has a bit of a temper.

One day he sees a fellow Hebrew being beaten, and though he has the power to stop the man with words, he strikes the man and kills him. But he is not very street –wise, and so he merely covers the body with some sand. Then next day there is this big pile of sand and when it was investigated, there was the guy he killed. Word got back to pharaoh and Moses had to flee, because now there was a warrant out for his arrest. Though he was now of the royal family, Egyptian society was very advanced and had laws to which even the royal family was subject.

So Moses fled as far away as he could think, just running into the desert. Moses landed into a family of the local priest in Midian. He married his daughter and settled down. And after Moses had wandered in the desert following his father-in-law’s sheep for 40 years, God decided, “Moses and I need a little face time.”

One day as Moses was sitting there watching his sheep, he saw a bush and all of the sudden the bush burst into flame. And as Moses stood looking at this bush, he noticed that it just kept burning and burning. And as He leaned in to investigate further, a voice came to Moses from the midst of the bush: “Moses. Moses.”

M: “Yes?”

God: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I have seen the affliction of my people and heard their cry, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and into a land flowing with milk and honey. And you Moses, are going to be my go between, and you are going to bring my people out.”

M: “Ok. Who are you again? Whom should I say sent me?”

For Moses the God of Joseph was remote (this was the end of 430 years of oppression). This would be asking Moses to go back and locate the cherry tree George Washington chopped down and about which he could not tell a lie. For Moses, this God he has obviously heard about, but is more of a tall tale than a reality. The Israelites have been in Egypt for over four centuries, in a land with a very strong religion of their own. So without it being reinforced, their religion transitioned into their heritage, and their God faded into the background for them.

So now God has to introduce himself to Moses and to the entire Israelite people. Say to them, “I am who I am.” Really this sentence is just a beginning—a subject and a verb—I am, and we don’t learn until much later the rest of the sentence. It is not until Jesus comes to that little town of Bethlehem that we learn that the name Jesus means “He who saves.” So with the revelation of Jesus, we learn that God is “I Am He Who Saves.”

Moses world has just been changed. He thought he knew who he was, and about what life was about (He is 80 years old at this point). But now God has just changed it. He is now going to go back into the world he abandoned to set his people free, from the bondage of Egypt and the bondage of the Egyptian world view. Through this encounter, God will set this people up as a witness to the world to bring the world to him.

But first Moses has to go through the hard task of getting the people to see past the highlighter on the page, and to see the salvation contained on the page itself. He has to get them to trust in something that they haven’t seen in their life and trust him as he takes them into the unknown. And they are going to have to trust God enough to follow even though they have no idea what is going on. So the question we will see in this book is will they or won’t they?
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.


Funeral Sermon for Ruth Karen Brown

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
The other day I was watching an interview with Stephen Fry, a British comedian who is now, seemingly, trying to become one of the leading voices in atheism. And someone asked him what he would say to God if it were all true and he meets God face to face in heaven? His response was very visceral and it centered on him blaming God for standing aside and allowing innocent people, especially children, to suffer and die. “How dare you,” says Fry to God. And I cannot blame him for his sentiment. I understand it, and actually this is a very reasonable response. However Fry’s atheism is what makes this a problem, not God who is the object of his ire.

Where Fry fails is the part where he attributes tragedies to God’s intent and event desire. What Fry disbelieves in is the God of the Deist—the remote Watchmaker who created the watch wound it and walked away. Fry and I are in perfect agreement here because I disbelieve in this god as well. This god that Fry does not believe in lacks depth and is cold and distant. But that is not the God in which we believe.

It’s not supposed to happen like this. Not with children. 18 days is far too short to be with such a blessing of a child. Now, I must admit, I never got the chance to meet Ruthie, in fact, I just got the paper work for her emergency Baptism in the mail yesterday. But I have been praying for this child ever since she was born, as has our church. We rejoiced at her birth, the long awaited daughter in a family full of wonderful boys. We prayed for the complications, so many for such a little girl. And our hearts broke when we got word that she died on Monday. 18 days is far too short of a time.

But those 18 days were so full of life. In talking with the family as we were planning the funeral, I got to hear stories of Ruthie’s life. Lives have been changed forever, all the better because she was in them. Her parents are forever changed, as is the rest of her family—their lives are all the brighter for having met young Ruthie. In 18 days, she was able to accomplish what takes others 80 or 90 years, some never do. It is a shame that not all of us got to meet her.

God created us to live forever with him. That was the plan. However he also gave us the ability to choose not to obey his commands, so sin entered into the world he created, and sin separates—God from us and us from God. But rather than simply squash the world as a potter squashes a malformed pot on the wheel, God chose then to take steps to redeem his creation, even as he is chastising them for having broken it. God knows that his is the more difficult way, but he knows that it is now the necessary way. And He knows that it will require the death of His Son, united with humanity to make things right again.

And in the Revelation reading today, we see what it looks like in the end when sin is completely undone and we are presented as a bride for her husband. Now God’s dwelling is again with us and us with him. The hard part will then be passed and from that point on, we will never again be separated from him, and all will be right.

But until then, tragedies will still happen, and we will still wonder where God is in the midst of them. But rather than the Deist God that Stephen Fry doesn’t believe in, God is with us in tragedy. Take Jacob, one of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament. Jacob’s story is a twisty-turny story of deception and lies. And in that story, Jacob’s name is changed from Jacob (which means “he cheats” essentially) to Israel (he who strives with God). But during his story proper, he is only called by this new name twice even though his name is changed. The two instances happen in the same scene.

Jacob has one true love in his life, and her name is Rachel. Rachel dies on the side of the road giving birth to their second son Benjamin. And Jacob’s world is turned upside down with grief for her. It is here that Jacob is called Israel for as he strives with God, God is there with him in his grief. It is extremely subtle in the text, but this is because God works subtly, but this shows us that when we need him most, God is there right beside us, going through the tragedy with us, not witnessing it from afar, laughing because of the chaos he created.

And so, today we remember Ruthie. We are thankful for the gift of 18 days. These we 18 days that were a roller coaster of emotions, but 18 days that were full to the brim with love. But also remember this, we may have been cheated of a life time of this love continually poured out, but in the midst of our sorrow over this, God is there with us to guide and comfort us, and to remind us that there will be a day of reunion, and what a day that will be—together forever, in the presence of God for eternity.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Epiphany 5 Sermon – Joseph’s “Revenge”

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

As a society, we love vengeance. We love movies where Liam Neeson uses his dark, scary, wrath-of-God voice, and then goes out and rescues what has been taken from him and kills everyone in the way. That is something we understand and has become so ingrained in us that when people don’t try to settle the score, we see it as out of the ordinary and weird. And this is evident every time we turn on the news. But what happens when someone doesn’t seek vengeance and instead seeks a different route?

Joseph’s revenge was ready-made. His brothers sent him off to slavery in Egypt, most likely to die in a mine or a quarry, but God has other plans for Joseph. After a series of interesting events, Joseph finds himself the number two man in all of Egypt, enacting a plan that will result in its deliverance from a severe famine. And when Egypt needs protection from a famine, you know things are bad for the rest of the Middle East.

For every year Mount Kilimanjaro sheds its wintery blanket of snow, which feeds into the Nile River which floods the Nile River, which ends in Egypt. It was like clockwork (I say was because it is dammed now and doesn’t flood in Egypt anymore). And all this flooding brings in plenty of fresh fertile silt and the land is green most of the time. Egypt was known as the bread basket of the world because of its ability to grow food as a result of this annual flooding. So when Egypt is expecting a famine—watch out world. But Joseph knew that this was going to be preceded by seven years of plenty, so he gathered 1/5 of all the produce and put it away each year, so when the famine hit, there was plenty for all and plenty even to sell.

Enter Joseph’s brothers. They come from the land of Canaan to buy grain. And the first thing they do when it is their turn in line to buy is bow their faces low to the ground to the governor—Joseph. Instantly Joseph’s mind flashes back to the dream he had as a kid when he was holding a handful of wheat as were his brothers, and his wheat stood tall as his brothers’ wheat all bowed to his. But now Joseph looks and acts like an Egyptian, and his brothers do not recognize him (nor actually do they think he is alive). But Joseph recognizes them. And now the opportunity for his vengeance presents itself.

Joseph decides to test his brothers to see if they have learned the lesson of their youth (it has been a little over 20 years since they sold Joseph). He is going to see what is in their hearts. So as they come to buy, Joseph smiles in himself and enacts his plan, blindsiding his brothers. “No, you are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land. Arrest those men.”

As they are having the handcuffs slapped on them: “No my Lord, we are not spies. We are your servants. We are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in Canaan, and the youngest is this day with our father and one is no more.”

“Nope, you are spies. But if you are not spies, bring the youngest here that your words may be tested.” And to think about it, and to get back at them a little, he threw them in jail for three days.

Now here is the thinking of Joseph: he knows that his father plays favorites—he himself was his father’s favorite until he “died.” And he knows that Benjamin, the youngest and Joseph’s only full brother, will now hold the mantle as the favorite, since he too was born of Rachel. He knows they cannot refuse this request, 1) because he has the power over their lives, and 2) because the land of Canaan will not support them, and they will be forced to come back to get food.

And this is exactly how it plays out. They go back, but their father Jacob refuses to let them return because he fears for the life of his son. But the land cannot support them so they are forced to return to Egypt and have no other choice but to return with Benjamin. But when they return, Joseph throws a dinner party for them. (The brothers must be thinking to themselves, “Well this is a strange play.” But to me it seems very brotherly, keep them off balance—our lives could possibly be in danger, yet we are eating dinner with our accuser? A very brotherly thing to do.) At dinner, Joseph can barely keep it together, in fact, he has to run out of the room to have himself a good cry upon seeing Benjamin. But he steeled himself and washed his face, because now it was time for Phase Two of his plan—time to turn up the heat.

Joseph makes them think all is well, and sends them home with more grain as much as they could carry (sorry for that whole thinking you were spies thing), but as he is having their bags filled, he tells his steward to set up Benjamin as a thief, and then sends them on their way. The trap has been set, now it is time to see what his brothers will do when the life of Benjamin is in danger. Will they come to his aid, or will they abandon him and save their own skins?

Joseph then sends the steward after them. When Benjamin is discovered as the thief, he is clapped in irons and brought back to the palace to be executed. The brothers follow. They are not willing to sacrifice another of their brothers for their own happiness—not again. They have learned their lesson.

As Benjamin is standing before Joseph, bound hand and foot, preparing for death, his brother Judah steps forth: “Please let me stay instead of the boy as a servant to you my lord, and let the boy go back to his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”

Judah has just done something that sets him apart from all of his brothers. He has offered himself as a substitution for his brother. Go back and read Genesis chapter 38 which deals with Judah. And from that chapter we learn that Judah is not necessarily the best role model. Yet here he is stepping up and offering his life that his brother may go free.

Many years later one of Judah’s sons will do this again, only this time on a much grander scale. The whole world stands condemned to death, and Judah’s son follows in his ancestor’s footsteps and offers his life that they may be saved. That son’s name is Jesus. Now one would expect Jesus’ lineage to go through Joseph, because look what a great person Joseph was, but because Judah stepped up and offered himself as a subtitutiary sacrifice, Jesus’ line goes through him.

Now Joseph can no longer hold it in. He dismisses all the people in the room except for his brothers. And he stands before them weeping such that all of the house of Pharaoh heard him, and he reveals himself to his brothers: “I am Joseph.” At this revelation, his brothers think these tears to be tears of vengeance denied for twenty years. But Joseph says, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into slavery. And do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” And Joseph fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and they both wept. And then the rest fell upon the two of them and they all wept.

And then Pharaoh finally got word of the commotion and stuck in his head. “Joseph, can I see you for a sec?” And when Joseph caught him up to date, Pharaoh was pleased. “Send your brothers back and bring your father and his entire household, and I will give them the best of the land of Egypt.”

So Joseph send his brothers with essentially a fleet of limos back to Canaan to fetch dad and the rest of the household. “Califorey is the place you outta be. And they loaded up the trucks and they head to Beverly.” They must have looked like the Beverly hillbillies, because they are sheepherders, well off by shepherd standards, but smelly nonetheless. So down they go, Leah riding in the rocking chair on top of the car with the shotgun.

Once they get there, they are given land in Goshen—nice land, but out of sight of the normal folk and upwind as well, because Egyptians don’t like shepherds, they smell funny but they also killed, eat, and offer as sacrifice the animals which the Egyptians considered gods.

And then we have my favorite scene: Jacob brings dad to meet Pharaoh. And in walks Jacob old and decrepit and he wanders over and blesses Pharaoh. After awkwardly receiving his blessing (normally the lesser does not bless the great, but that is obviously not how Jacob sees this—plus he’s really old). Pharaoh looks at him quizzically and says, “How old are you?”

Jacob: “The years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil are the years of my life, and they have no attained to the days of my fathers in their sojourning.” And then Jacob walks over and blesses Pharaoh again and walks out of the room. (It just goes to show you that no matter how powerful you become, your parents always have the ability to embarrass you.)

And they settle in the land that Pharaoh gave them and there they flourish. And they will dwell there happily until a new pharaoh arises that does not know of Joseph and the great things he did for Egypt, but that is a new story.

Beloved, Joseph had every opportunity to get even with his brothers—in fact, he could have gone above and beyond and ruined the entire family. But he saw in it God’s plan and said to himself, “God has brought me this far, and though evil things have happened, God has used them for good. Maybe, just maybe, God will have worked on my brothers as well and the sins of their youth will have been left behind and we can move forward together.”

Imagine what salvation history would have looked like had Joseph concerned himself with vengeance rather than salvation—the path would have been much more bloody. Violence is all-consuming. And if it is constantly pursued, it cancels out everything around it, cheating the person of a life filled with God.

But Joseph’s story is a story of the blessing that follows once we stop “kicking against the goads” as St. Paul was accused of, and start listening to God’s plan first—once we allow the vengeance to fade and allow everything else comes into focus. Then thin

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Epiphany 4 – The Brat That Grew Up

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
Being the oldest child is awesome. There are so many things that you get to get away with simply because you are your parents’ guinea pig—things that the next child gets caught because the parents are now aware of. You are ahead in school so there are plenty of things that you know that your younger sibling does not. Being the firstborn has all sorts of perks. (I say all this in hopes that my younger sister will see this later.) So a first child is supposed to be cocky, because there was a time when the other sibling was not and in that time you have learned all there is to hold it over them while you grow up. This holds true no matter your birth ranking so long as you are not the baby of the family—if you have an older sibling they are going to boss you around and if you have a younger sibling, you are going to boss them around.

Now, do you remember that time when your younger sibling got tired of their lot in life and decided to try to boss you around? It happens in every family, because eventually they are going to catch up and maybe even surpass you, so you try to keep them under your thumb as long as possible, because being the oldest, you learn of this reality first—one day your reign ends. Your job as older sibling is to hold this day off for as long as possible.

So imagine the hostility present when the next to youngest of 12 brothers starts telling his brothers that they will one day all bow down to him—acknowledging him as their superior. Not on my watch junior. This ambitious kid was named Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob, and the oldest son of Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel.
If you will recall, Jacob, Joseph’s father, tried to marry Rachel, but was tricked into marrying her sister Leah, and each was given a servant, and all four women had children with Jacob and all women were had full knowledge of the others. I mean, not even Jerry Springer could make this up! So needless to say, Joseph’s family was a bit dysfunctional. But Joseph was the son that was supposed to be, so Jacob favored him above all the others. His father would dote on him and give him gifts that he didn’t give the others. Like one time Jacob gave Joseph a coat that signified his love for him above all his brothers. His brothers hated him.

And it was probably easy for them to do so. Joseph’s mother died giving birth to Jacob’s youngest son Benjamin, and so Joseph didn’t have someone to sit him aside and tell him not to rub it into his brothers’ faces. Joseph was a dreamer. He had a dream, maybe it confused him or maybe it was just a good dream and he told all his brothers about it around the breakfast table the next morning.

“You know last night I had a dream. We were all picking up grain at the harvest, and as we were coming together to make the bundle the strangest thing happened. My handful stood up straight while all your handfuls all bowed down to it.”

As you can imagine, this caused his brothers to hate him even more, because now, not only was their father favoring him above them, but now he is having delusions of grandeur. Then he has ANOTHER dream along the same lines, only this time not only is he at the center, and his brothers all around, but Jacob and Leah are included as well–and even THEY are bowing down to the little twerp. When he told his father about his, even Jacob thought his boy had gotten a little big for his britches.

Shortly thereafter, all the older boys went off to go pasture their father’s flocks. Joseph, being younger, had to stay home. But he was old enough that he could drive, so when the Jacob wondered what how the sheep were doing, and maybe to give himself a bit of peace from his son, he sent Joseph to go check on how things were going. So off he goes, and maybe because he was cold, or maybe just to rub it in, he brings his coat.

Now this coat must have been very distinctive, some bibles say that it was a coat of many colors, others say that it had long sleeves, but whatever the style of coat it was easy to spot from a distance. Either all of a sudden there was an eyesore in the distance, or here is some idiot wearing inappropriate attire for being around a bunch of smelly sheep.

So picture this, rolling hills of green, and the boys sitting there, scanning the horizon or any sign of predator, when all of the sudden, this thing appears. “Hey look. Look at that. That idiot brought that coat. I wonder what he is going to say to us now? Ugh. You know out here accidents happen. A lion could come up out of nowhere and take out poor Joseph–especially and that coat. And if the lions don’t get him, maybe when he gets here, maybe we do it anyway and blame it on the lions.”

Then Reuben, the oldest, who knows he will be blamed, and maybe even because he feels bad about a certain indiscretion with one of his Bilhah, his father’s servant, changes the plan: “No let’s not kill him, but let’s at least scare him. Remember that cistern we saw a bit ago, let’s drop him in there, let him sweat it for awhile, and then pull him out a bit more humble, and a bit more respectful.” And when they agree, Reuben sets them to it and takes the flock in the opposite direction. And when Joseph got there, they took off that stupid robe, and tossed him down in the cistern and closed the lid.

Now when I was young and would frustrate my father, he used to say, “Boy, I’m gonna sell you to the gypsies.” Jacob must have said this to his boys too because as they were sitting down to lunch, off in the distance they see a band of Ishmaelites bound to sell their wares in Egypt. But this gives Judah an idea: “Let’s actually sell Joseph to the gypsies! If we kill him, then we make no money, but if we SELL him, then he is still gone and we have a bit more pocket change.” So they sell Joseph to the gypsies–Ishameites–and as far as they are concerned are done with him forever. Little do they know that he will one day be their salvation, but first ol’ Joseph has a bit of growing up to do.

When I went back to my ten year high school reunion, I was freshly ordained a priest–the oil had barely dried from my hands where the bishop consecrated them. So of course I went in clericals. (I probably still would because it is just easier, but then it was mainly because I could). And when I walked in the room I got a number of stares, and comments because the person I was in high school would never become a priest. I guess I just needed to grow up a bit before my true vocation.

The same was true for Joseph. As the caravan went away with Joseph in chains to prevent him from running away, Joseph started his new life. He had left his childhood there in the cistern–he could no longer rely on the protection and favor of his father for his survival. If he was going to make it, he was going to have to rely on God and quick wits.

Now his first encounter as an adult didn’t go as planned. He was bought by a man named Potiphar who saw something in Joseph that made him trust him and pace him in charge of his whole household. He did this because every task he gave Joseph was blessed by the God of Joseph, so why not give him the whole thing that the whole thing may be blessed.

But Potiphar was not the only person to see something in young Joseph. Potiphar’s wife also saw something in him, but it was not God. Potiphar’s wife saw a young hansom foreigner and desired him for herself. But Joseph refused her advances. But we all know that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, so she concocted a plan that got Joseph thrown into prison. Actually her plan should have gotten Joseph killed (adultery is punishable by death), but this probably was not the first time this thing had happened between Potiphar and his wife, and Joseph had found favor in Potiphar’s eyes, but to keep the peace, Joseph goes to prison. But don’t feel too bad for Joseph, this is all leading somewhere.

Remember Joseph’s dreams as a kid–the ones that got him in trouble with his brothers? Well now, God uses Joseph’s dreams and his ability to interpret them to get him out of this situation. Two men were in prison with Joseph and each had a dream. One man who was cup-bearer to the king (a very influential position mind you) had somehow gotten crossways with the Pharaoh, and in prison he has a dream about a grape vine with three branches, and the branches budded and its blossoms were pollinated and became grapes which he turned into wine for Pharaoh. To which Joseph interpreted that in three days Pharaoh’s anger with him would subside and he would be returned to his position.

There was also a baker, who had a very similar dream, but rather than ending with nice grapes that he turned into wine for Pharaoh, his dream ended with birds eating the bread he baked for the king out of a basket on his head. This told Joseph that Pharaoh’s anger for the baker would not subside and in three days he would put the baker to death.

Three days later, the cup-bearer is restored, and the baker is hanged. The cup-bearer to Joseph that he would never forget the good news that Joseph had given him, and he would use his influence with the Pharaoh to get Joseph released, but in his elation, the cup-bearer forgot poor Joseph. And Joseph remained in prison two years until a situation arose that required the not-so-young-but-but-infinitely-more-humble Joseph.

Pharaoh too had a strange dream: seven cows emerged out of the Nile. These cows were plump and juicy, you could just see the steaks on these cows were going to melt in your mouth, and there they fed on the grass on the riverbank. And while they were feeding, seven other cows, all skin and bones rose up out of the river. And all of the sudden these horrible cows sprouted gruesome teeth and there they fed not on the grass, but on the beautiful cows that came before them. It was so gruesome that the Pharaoh started awake and called in his diviners to interpret the dream. And as he was explaining it to them he ordered a glass of wine for his nerves, and the royal cup-bearer tasted the wine for him to have a drink.

Pharaoh then looked too his diviners of the interpretation, only to have his cup-bearer lean over and say, “I know a guy.” And he explained about his dream in prison and how this Hebrew guy interpreted his dream. “Bring this man here.”

Joseph gets the summons, but first he shaves and has clothes brought to him that he may appear before Pharaoh and appear as an Egyptian. Egyptians were very clean people, shaving and bathing daily, but Joseph had been in prison for a while and probably stunk and had a big offensive beard. Joseph has become wise in his prison stay and figures this is his one shot at getting out and he is not going to offend Pharaoh and get thrown back in here after he interprets his dream.
Joseph appears before Pharaoh and correctly interprets the dream. There will be seven fat years–years in which the and will produce plenty of food. These years of plenty will be followed by seven years of famine in the land that will consume all the resources of the land. Your dreams tell me that God has called this to be so. What you should do is during the years of plenty, gather all you can into granaries, and store it up for the years of famine and you will have plenty for all the land.

This pleased Pharaoh, who then placed Joseph in charge of making this happen. And not only did Pharaoh put him in charge of carrying out this plan, he, like Potiphar before him, placed him over his entire household, making him the number two person in all of Egypt. And Joseph starts his new life in Egypt. He marries a woman Anesath, daughter of Potiphera. (I can only image we get Joseph’s father-in-law’s name because he was related to Potiphar–I can’t prove it, but wouldn’t THAT make for awkward family Thanksgivings?) Anesath and Joseph have two son Manasseh, whose name means “making to forget”, for “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house; and Ephraim, whose name means “making fruitful”, for “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

So here we leave Joseph until next time, Beloved, as we part with Joseph, remember this: No one likes a brat. Joseph has just fulfilled the dreams of his youth, and next time we will see him save his brothers and they will indeed bow down to him. But having the right knowledge and being humble are two different things. If you go back and read the text (Genesis 37-41) you will notice that God is not mentioned until Joseph is humbled and sent to Egypt.

Jesus says in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth.” There is a reason for this, for how can one convince the world of anything else, if one is constantly trying to convince their world of their own personal greatness? True greatness speaks for itself and allows other things to be the topic of conversation. It is in humility that our plans align with God’s. Joseph didn’t send himself to Egypt, but he sure didn’t prevent it by rubbing his brothers’ faces in his favored status. Humility, taking the low place at the table gives the opportunity to be called higher. Arrogance, taking the best seat at the table, only offers being sent lower as an option. Joseph learned this the hard way, but now that he has learned it, God will save the entire house of Israel, furthering the plan of salvation that will eventually lead to our salvation.

In the name of the F, S, and HS.