Sermon, Year A Proper 14, August 14, 2011
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber, 2011
Focus Scripture: Genesis 37 (Joseph dreams and is sold into slavery by his brothers), and Matthew 14:22-33 (Peter walks on water)(Listen to the sermon while reading.)
Once there were two merchants. They were fierce competitors. Fierce competitors. They had stalls across from each other in the marketplace, and whenever one would sell something to a customer they would call out and insult the other. They measured their success not by their own profit, not by thier own ability to sell and make a living or keep the business going, but they measured their success solely on whether they did better than the other guy. Not so different than a lot of businesses today, really. Or politicians or political debate. Or even amongst churches, unfortunately. Anyway, these two merchants competed with one another fiercely, year in and year out they waged this economic battle with each other. Then one day, God sent an angel to one of the merchants. The angel said, “God Almighty has sent me to you to bestow on you a gift. a gift of your choosing. Whatever you want. Whatever you want, ask for it, and God will give to you. Ask whatever you desire: riches, fame, long life, children, better health, more customers, the sky’s the limit. Ask for an island or a nation. Ask for whatever you want.” The angel made it clear the man could truly ask for anything. Anything his heart desires.
What would you ask for if God sent an angel to you with such a gift? Money? Things? Something for a loved one— better health, and end to suffering, or a long life. Or something for yourself? An end to pain? Think about that for a moment. What would you ask for? [Pause here while thinking] Did you come up with something that you would ask for in that situation? Now, let me ask—what would God have you ask for? What would God want you to request? And is that different from what you chose? Did your imagination come up with something more extravagant once God entered your thoughts? If you can have anything your heart desires, why ask for healing for a loved one when you can ask for healing for everyone in the world for eternity? Why ask for riches for yourself when you can ask that the world no longer have rich and poor people but everyone has enough and that we all be content with that? I also wonder, in this hypothetical situation, how may of us entertained the thought of simply asking for greater faithfulness?
So the angel tells the merchant he can have anything—anything his heart desires. The man’s face goes from confused, not really sure this is real and he decides that it is and his face changes into a broad smile as his mind grasps the magnitude of this opportunity put before, and he’s just about ready to speak when the angel says, “But! But, there’s one condition”, and the guy’s hopes are dashed. The angel says, “Whatever you ask for, whatever you receive, your competitor gets twice. If you ask for wealth, he’ll be twice as wealthy. If you ask for fame, he’ll be twice as famous. Whatever it is you ask for, you will get twice as much. This is God’s way of teaching you a lesson.” I can’t imagine it is ever a good thing when an angel shows up and says that God wants to teach you a lesson. The man thinks about for a moment again. His face lit up and he smiled. he asks, “Anything?” The angel says, “Absolutely anything.” And he says, “Good! Then strike me blind in one eye.”
In this Joseph story, we see a level of hate we have not seen before and don’t see again in scripture. There is a lot of hate here. The word is used many times. Joseph’s brothers hate him. Jacob loves him, but his brothers hate him. And with good cause, one could reason. Jacob clearly favors him. And favors him in front of the others. He’s a tattle-tale. Seems to be either lazy, or, more likely, his father simply exempts him from labor to keep him at home. And he has that robe. That robe with the long sleeves or the many colors, it can be translated either way. The Hebrew word for it is not the regular word for clothing, but is used only in one other place: In 2 Samuel to describe the clothing of a Princess. This is a robe for a princess. Which could mean that Joseph was perhaps effeminate, or his dad was trying to make him that – not sure if we can go that far, but certainly it means that Joseph is pampered. The lush, plush beautiful robe with the long sleeves. You don’t wear long sleeves if you are working. His brothers see all of that, and they respond to it with hatred. They plot to kill him, but instead they sell him. Sell him for some silver, which Judas also did. Apparently, the price of betrayal suffered no inflation for 2000 years.
Then the brothers lie to their father that Joseph was killed by showing him a bloody robe that of course Jacob recognizes as Joseph’s special robe, the one he had given to Joseph before. As I have mentioned before in the weeks we have been reading through this, this is a really dysfunctional family. There is... there’s just almost nothing good amongst these people. They lie and they cheat each other and their extended family.
Joseph is sold and he is taken to Egypt as a slave. This human-engineered tragedy that’s gone on for a couple generations finally takes its most tragic turn. Joseph is gone. His dad thinks he is dead. The brothers are happy he is gone and they are richer with some silver. And Joseph is off alone. But God—rarely mentioned for the next ten or so chapters, God doesn’t play a big role in the text, but God is active—active to turn these acts of hate and evil into redemption for the very people who committed them. Joseph sees it later in life. After being sold into slavery, through some dream interpretation and other things he becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man, put in charge of just about everything. He saves Egypt from a famine that he seems coming. he knows there will be a seven year famine coming, and has Egypt store up grain during the years before it so the people can survive. And by saving Egypt, he saves his brothers and his father who are also suffering from the drought and famine, when they come to Egypt to get grain, because they have none.
They come to Egypt and are shocked to find Joseph working for Pharaoh, and he is the one in charge of selling the grain. And Joseph is in a great position here to blind them not just in one eye, but in both. Joseph can do whatever he wants to them. He holds absolute power of life and death, pain, torture, vengeance. Now who wouldn’t take advantage of that situation? he’d be stupid to help them out, after all that they had done. But Joseph tells them that even though you meant evil by your actions, God has turned it into good. “God had all that happen so I could be here in your time of need to save you.” He gives them food and he gives them life. And so offers them the only remedy for hate, which is forgiveness. Pharaoh finds out that Joseph’s family is there, and he says to them to come and live here. Come to my country, you don’t have any food where you are from. Stay here, live with us, you will be my people. And so they are saved. God turned their hate and their evil and turned it into something good and salvific through the forgiveness of the person they hurt the most. Joseph, by his willingness to state the truth of what they did, and to release his tormentors from their offenses, ended the long cycle of hurt and dysfunction that was in this family. If you want to walk on water, live in forgiveness. That’s the miracle. “Do not make me blind in one eye, but make my enemy as prosperous as you have made me so we may live as brothers and sisters.” Amen.
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