Friends, this story is problematic at every turn. It starts with the first verse: “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children…” What kind of a parent makes sure all the kids know which of them is his or her favorite?!...and gives that child stuff to boot -- the coat of many colors, in this case (context: took hours to make, incredibly special).
Great set-up though, right? Then Joseph has the guts (or perhaps the lack of brains) to tell his brothers that he had this dream where they were all bowing down to him!
Little do we know that that’s a foreshadowing of reconciliation [pause] -- that through a strange series of events, and many years, Joseph would in fact be a ruler in a foreign country, that they would come in need, and a great re-cognition, re-conciliation, and re-union would take place.
God was there all along, working even and especially the tragedies and evil things we chose to inflict on one another...for good. Have you every experienced -- in the long run -- any good that comes out of bad? Was there any good that came out of September 11? Was there any good that came out of your sister’s cancer? Did any good come out your “wild years”? Any good come out of the death of a loved one? In the long run. Have you, like Joseph and his brothers ever looked back, and said: “Man, I really messed up back then -- I was really in danger back then -- I was so depressed back then -- and I never realized it back then, but God was right there through all of that. And look what came out of it.”
Friends, this story (perhaps like your story) is problematic at every turn. And yet, God is there -- not stopping the bullets, not zapping the cancer, not speaking in booming baritones, not bringing our dearly departed back. But God. Is. There...making a way out of no way -- a steady theme through the Old Testament.
When we did our HS backpacking trip to Colorado, back in 2014...the day we set off on the trail there were these two dogs at the trail head who started following us. When we told them to go back they just looked at us all cute (Welsh Corgis) and kept following us. By dinner on the first day, we had named them: Jeffrey and Oreo. As we shared our “God moments” at the end of each day (where’d you see God today), Jeffrey and Oreo always seemed to make the list. Everyone in the group started to fall in love with these two dogs...except me (until Wednesday). I tried to hold out and refused to pet them -- I was a non-believer, I was suspect...until Wednesday, when I cratered. Oreo knew I was a hold-out too: we had made these little dry spots for them in the porch of our tent, and Oreo would sleep right next to me, just on the outside of the tent -- I could feel his little warm and calm body, just on the other side of the tent wall. We even started rationing our food -- which had been carefully packed just for the number in our group -- “but the dogs needed to eat too,” we were convinced. There were moments on the trail when Jeffrey and Oreo would disappear, they’d either run way ahead or fall way back, or go running out into the woods. And we’d call for them, and even get concerned, but in a short time, they’d just reappear, and it’d turn out they were actually there all along.
What?! They hike with all kinds of backpackers? The metaphor continues: God’s love and presence isn’t just for us. It’s for everyone. And it goes with you too, sisters and brothers in Christ.
We don’t always see it. It’s not always how we want it to be. And we definitely can’t take it home and keep it all to ourselves. But God is working in and through our lives, our bad (and sometimes even evil) decisions, our tragedies, our imprisonments, and working it for good.
I suppose this brings me to stewardship -- a theme for us at this time of the year. I’m excited, we’re going to have a stewardship talk from 3 of our stewardship gurus in a bit, but let me just say this: God stays with us as we make sacrifices (financially), as we endure tough times (financially), as we break our bread and share it in joyful thanksgiving. That image of us high up in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Colorado sharing with these two strange dogs is a poignant one: we really couldn’t see ourselves not sharing with them. It’s simply what we did. It wasn’t a huge discussion; it just flowed, naturally. And it was fun!
This is life in God’s arms! “Living is giving,” as my dad likes to say. We couldn’t see it any other way. I had lunch with Pastor Eric two weeks ago, and so much fun to partner here for all kinds of reasons…
talking about stewardship this season, and he said, “You know, I’ve just gotten to the point in my ministry of saying to folks, ‘If I’m not asking you to give, I’m depriving you of the very best stuff of faith and spirituality.’”
Just like God is there as we make mistakes, commit sad acts of violence and betrayal, like Joseph’s brothers...or brag and gloat in our success like young Joseph….just like God is there through all of that. So is God present with us as we make sacrifices, and perhaps take new risks, bumping our giving up a percentage or two, switching to making our offering to the work of the church the first check we write for the month, rather than the last -- that is, biblical “first fruits” giving. The top of the basket, the best fruit, rather than the bruised up leftovers.
And it’s even fun, joy-filled. Like being with Oreo and Jeffery, and feeding them and sheltering them, it’s even fun. Talking to generous givers I’ve known, tithers, in fact, it’s always amazing: they’re never angry or bitter or begrudging in making their pledge, it’s a no brainer for them. “Just move the decimal, sing a hymn, and say a prayer of thanks,” my mentor once told me. It’s natural, the free-flow of grace -- into our lives and then through us to bless the lives of others.
Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, for beginning and continuing this free-flow of grace and reconciliation in our lives and in our world, this day and into eternity. AMEN.