Year C; 7 Epiphany; 2.24.2019
Genesis 45:3-11-15, Luke 6:27-38
Did you notice the bright sunshine AND the clear blue sky Friday and Saturday? I was so hopeful that warmer weather was just around the corner that I ventured out with Sophie yesterday morning to walk our usual summer trek around the neighborhood. No, it wasn’t summer at all, and soon, of course, we ran into that awful, irregular ice all over the sidewalks – that unpredictability of the patterns of melted snow and refrozen water-black ice mostly. I spent our entire walk looking down at my feet being alert to any patch of ice that could send me flying.
As Sophie and I turned the corner onto Boody Street, the last leg of our walk, I began to talk to God. Not really complaining. I just asked God to lift the “winter sludge” from my soul and give me the spirit of joy. After all, I shared with God, how grateful I was that the sun was shining and the sky was clear. Still, I did complain, “God, you’ve got to get rid of this ice. “And I continued to look down at the ground keeping my footing as sure as possible as I walked.
But as I drew near to my house, I heard the distinct sound of cardinals singing. Really? No one can hear a clear song like that and not look up. The cardinals’ song in a major key caused me to look up! Immediately, at the top of the crabapple tree in my own yard, was a bright red cardinal singing away in the sunshine! The winter sludge of my soul immediately left me and I delighted in this sign of God’s goodness and mercy for our neighborhood as we grind toward March.
On another day, I might have responded to God with an edgy comment like, “It’s about time.” You know, like God owes me the song of a cardinal after enduring a Maine winter. But I had been reading the dramatic story of Joseph and the reconciliation of his brothers, and it too was a sign of God’s goodness and mercy for a very broken family. Such a profound story of reconciliation gives me the longing to be on the receiving end of such loving, forgiving, saving love. Joseph and his brothers separated for decades, fall into each other’s arms weeping tears of joy for the deepest reconciliation a human can offer. Surely, it was born of God!
The story of Joseph and his brothers covers a good bit of the Book of Genesis – some 13 chapters! It’s a dramatic story of parental favoritism, jealousy, cockiness, attempted murder and lying. Jacob’s out-of-control favoritism of his young son Joseph was at the expense of his older brothers. Joseph was treated as a prince. His father even gave him a royal outer robe which is known to many of us in modern times as “Joseph and His Technicolor Dream Coat” of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical fame. Joseph was allowed to lord his special standing over the older brothers.
Joseph was known as a dreamer. One of his dreams and its interpretation was the final blow to his relationship with his brothers. The dream included tall wheat sheaves that Joseph interpreted as representing his brothers. These wheat sheaves bowed down in obedience to Joseph’s one wheat sheaf.
The brothers had had enough of his impudence and conspired to kill him. They took him on a trip in the desert, threw him in a deep pit to die, put animal blood on his coat and went to Jacob their father to tell him Joseph had been mauled by a wild beast.
The only problem was that he hadn’t died in that pit. Egyptian traders found him, took him with them to Egypt and over the years Joseph became Pharaoh’s right hand man – like his Chief of Staff, or Chief Operating Officer or Chief Financial Officer. In any case, he continued to have great dreams that he interpreted. He was smart and was able to manage the storehouses so Joseph was the first to know when a famine was on the horizon. This is when Joseph saw an opportunity to reconcile with his brothers.
He called his brothers to Egypt from the land of Canaan. They did not know who he was. They did not recognize him. Joseph had spent his adult life in Egypt and had clearly worked through his anger and resentment toward his brothers. He created the conditions for a reunion and a reconciliation.
What is so important in his “reveal” to his brothers is that he shared the truth of God’s hand in all that had happened, the bad and the good, in order to reach this point. 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;…” And then he shared that the circumstances of his life was no other plan, but God’s plan. He said, “…God sent me before you to preserve life…” God sent me to save you and your posterity.
REALLY?? A reconciliation after an attempted murder? I can’t help but think that a normal human response would have been retribution. How many human stories do we know in which the wronged person stews in anger, plotting revenge?
Our culture dictates that we pay someone back lots of hurt for their wrongful action toward us. Our culture dictates that we cut them out of our lives. Our culture dictates that we can up the ante and create even more damage in their lives. Sue them for damages! Our culture dictates that we can hold and harbor the resentment that comes from being wronged.
But what if we take the Joseph model and embrace the idea that God is the reconciler and through God all things are brought to their fulfillment? I remember a movie starring Gregory Peck who played an Irish Cardinal working in the Vatican during WWII. He was a kind of spy saving thousands of Jews and refugees under the safe cover of the Vatican. The SS officer for Rome played by Christopher Plummer was the antagonist whose job it was to catch the cardinal before he could hide those he was saving.
The SS officer hated the cardinal. Time and again he threatened to throw him in prison if he caught him saving Jews and refugees. Eventually, though, when it was clear that the Allies were going to take Rome, the SS officer came to the cardinal asking him to help his wife and children to escape. The cardinal refused knowing all the atrocities the SS officer had committed. Finally, at the point the SS officer was taken prisoner by the Allies, word came to him that his family was safely smuggled out of Italy. God’s work of forgiveness even transcended arch enemies.
During worship and in our prayers we pray the Confession, asking forgiveness for the wrongs we have made knowingly and unknowingly. And the priest pronounces the Absolution, the promise of God that we are indeed forgiven. We then go to the Table for the nourishment in God’s promise of forgiveness. Jesus gave this meal to his followers just before his followers betrayed him; just before he was innocently put to death. It was an act of reconciliation. Even on the cross Jesus was calling for forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, for the do not know what they are doing.”
One of the greatest acts we do each week as a community of God is being reconciled with God-God wants to be reconciled with us, and wants us to pass it on.
“Now send us forth…that we may proclaim your love to the world…”