Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Do Over

Genesis 45: 1-15
The saga of Joseph in the book of Genesis spans a whopping thirteen chapters and brings the entire book of Genesis to a close with the words, “And Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.” (Gen 50:26)  Some saga this was!  What a life he lived. 

If you remember way back when from your Sunday School days, Joseph was despised by his brothers because his father made him a special coat out of many beautiful and bright colors.  Then, he dreamed that one day these same brothers would bow down to him.  I’m sure that went over like a lead balloon seeing as how their jealous cackles were already being heard in throughout the land of Canaan.   

They tossed him into a pit but then sold him to the Midianites who, in turn sold him to Egypt.  Slavery lived on in the land of the Egyptian sun.   A man named Potipher brought Joseph into his household only to be sexually harassed by Potipher’s wife and erroneously tossed into prison where he, again, had a chance to interpret some dreams.  But this time the dreams were that of the great Pharaohs. 

You remember Joseph’s rise to power in the house of Pharaoh.  His interpretations pleased Pharaoh very much, and his dreams came true. There were seven years of plenty and then seven years of famine and it is during this famine that Joseph’s brothers resurfaced.  Figures!  How often do long lost relatives appear when you’ve hit the jackpot, won the lottery, come into good fortune? 

But this was all part of the plan.  The brothers come looking for grain to take back to their father because the famine was severe in Canaan and they had heard that Egypt had been prudent with their crops and were giving out sacks full of grain to deserving families.

Then comes the literary climax.  They arrive at the palace and Joseph recognizes them.  Then Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and his life story, that began as a story of jealousy and betrayal unfolds as a story of joy, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  He forgives them.  They do nothing; in fact it says that they were dismayed. 

There is a good scene in “City Slickers”, the Ron Howard film about a man, plagued with a mid-life crisis that goes out to a cattle ranch for a little renewal.  Mitch, played by Billy Chrystal, reminded Phil of when they were kids and a ball would get stuck up in a tree they would call out ‘do over’ and they would have a second chance at doing it again.  Mitch had had a break down saying that in 40 years of his life he had accomplished nothing and his life was a waste.  This pivotal moment in his life at the cattle ranch marked a ‘do over’.

So too, Joseph’s brothers, all eleven of them received a ‘do over’ that day in the palace of Pharaoh. 

Funny really, all we need to say to God is ‘do over’ and our lives can be transformed, that’s the gift of grace.  But, in all actuality, ‘do over’ is a little more complicated than that.  A lot more complicated in fact.  To just say ‘do over’ and accept the forgiveness of God is a form of “cheap grace” that Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about in his book, ‘The Cost of Discipleship”, it is “….the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline.” 

Do over is soul-searching, truth-telling work.  The work of ‘do over’ is acknowledgement that indeed you have erred, repentance and contrition for your actions, the asking of forgiveness and then, for us as Christians, it is to join in the discipleship of following Jesus Christ which as we know is not an easy road to traverse. 

We can’t seek true life changing forgiveness and grace unless we are willing to acknowledge that we have done something wrong or that we have hurt someone or ourselves.  For without self examination why would we need forgiveness?  When you pick up that mirror you may not like what you see.  But to pick up a mirror and reflect upon the crevices of sin, hatred, mistrust that have carved a permanent place on our faces is the beginning of a lasting forgiveness that will unlock one’s heart.  It is sincerity and honesty about our actions and our thoughts that must arrive first. 

These brothers of Joseph, they got off way to easy for they did not admit their past deeds or the cruelty that they extended to Joseph.  The hurt, the betrayal, the sibling rivalry all goes unspoken.  They did not show contrite hearts; they didn’t even seem to regret that they threw Joseph in a pit or that they stripped him of his coat and sold him to some foreigners who happened to be caravanning by at least in this passage.  There was no repentance that we know of.   It’s all Joseph’s actions that bring about this reconciliation. 

In Hebrew the word for repentance is ‘Teshuvah’.  It’s based on the word ‘shuv’ which means to turn back or in essence to return to the condition of the situation before the action occurred.  It is to turn your ways around and stop what you are doing!  If a child steals candy from the store, tells the shopkeeper that she is sorry and then the next day goes in and swipes another handful of Raisinets what good is saying you are sorry?  The child has not repented of her thievery.  She has not changed her ways.  And what a pity because that child has just lost an opportunity to become a more decent human being.  Repentance is just as much for the person that you have sinned against as it is for yourself.

To acknowledge your deeds, to speak your repentance and the ways in which you will turn back and to ask for forgiveness…well now begins the road to freedom.  It doesn’t matter how many times you may have to go down the road before you get it right, the very important thing is that you go down it, that you get a ‘do over’. 

Portia Nelson, author, singer-songwriter penned a wonderful poem entitled, ‘There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk.’
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in… it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street."

She sums up what it is as a human being who is in constant need of forgiveness.  We are human. We fall into the same holes, often sometimes.  But then, one day, without even realizing it we begin to see that we don’t have to fall into that hole, that we have choices, we have grace, forgiveness and the opportunity to change our lives. 

Joseph jumps to forgiveness and reconciliation.  He’s a good guy but so much richer the story if Joseph and his brothers really did the important, soul wrenching work of forgiveness.  That work frees us up to live more fully in the moment and to follow the Christ who knows all too well about forgiveness.   


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