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.   


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fear and Faith

Matthew 14: 22-33
White Caps on the Sea of Galilee by Dina

It was a dark and stormy night…you know the kind I mean.  You’re lying in bed asleep in the stillness of the night when you’re awakened by the wrestling of the leaves from a wind that is starting to pick up.  You roll out of bed and amble to the window to see the shadows of the trees bending freely back and forth.

You hear the distant roll of thunder and see a slightly illuminated sky to the west.  Within no time the lightning dances across the sky and the thunder is sitting right on top of you and the room is momentarily lit up inside from the flash of the lightning outside.  The rain begins to pelt the sidewalk and the roof and it’s so loud…too much….your body tenses in expectation of the next barrage of chaotic and random thunder and lightning.  Violent storms like these induce fear.

It was a dark and stormy night THAT night on the Sea of Galilee when the wooden fishing boat that the disciples were on was battered by the waves and beaten by the wind.  The Sea is not big, 13 miles long and 7 miles wide, fed by rainfall and the Jordan River.  When it’s not stormy it’s quite beautiful, as the rabbi’s say, “Although God has created seven seas, yet he has chosen this one as his special delight.”[i]
Winds at the Sea of Galilee by Dina

However the Sea of Galilee can kick up a very violent storm with winds blowing through the east-west corridor of the hill country and winds that come off of the all too close the Golan Heights.[ii]  And so it was THAT night.

Jesus and his disciples were heavy into ministry by now teaching, preaching, curing and healing.  It’s no wonder that Jesus’ reputation had spread so quickly spread throughout the Galilean countryside.  It’s also no wonder that crowds surrounded him and his disciples everywhere they went.  After a weary day of feeding 5,000 people Jesus puts his diciples on a wooden fishing boat to go ahead of him to the other side of the Sea. 

Ahh, alone, now’s the chance to relax for Jesus, an opportunity for him to kick off his sandals and dust off his feet and to sit his weary bones down and be alone to pray.  He spends the night in prayer.
In the wee hours of the morning he sets foot on the water.  The disciples who had just spent a dark and stormy night at sea cry out in fear.  Out of the extremity of their fear they believe Jesus to be a ghost.  But he reassures them.

Peter, the rock upon which the church is built says to Jesus, “If it really is you let me walk on the water and come out to you”.   He doubts.  So Peter disembarks and walks toward Jesus.  The winds kick up a bit and Peter, the rock upon whom the church is built cries out, “Lord, save me”.  He is fearful.  His faith wavers.  Jesus stretches out his hand and catches a sinking Peter and when they got to the boat the winds ceased, the Sea becomes calm.  Jesus subdues and overcomes chaos, that of Peter’s and of the Sea.  Peter’s faith is restored and strengthened.
This is an all too familiar story.  It plays itself out in our lives in a variety of ways.  Who among us has not been caught in a violent storm without shelter or has felt miserably abandoned in a boat that is thrashing about on the sea of uncertainty like the disciples?  The people of Joplin, Missouri probably felt that way when the tornado was ripping through their town.  The traders on Wall Street this past week probably felt that way too when the DJIA sank rapidly closing over 500 points down.  A family who receives news that their child has an incurable disease, the suicidal teenager whose reputation has been defamed because of cyber bullying. 

Storms are real no matter the guise.  So is fear that stems out of these storms.  Fear can impair you and leave you immobile.  It also has the ability to move you to a deeper level of faith.  Fear and faith.  The two are remarkably linked together for if we did not experience fear in life, we may not know the depth of our faith.  Fear is not a test of our faith but a facet of our lives by which our faith gets us through those dark and stormy nights.  Crying out is not a lack of faith but an act of faith. 

And God is mindful of us and our fears. 

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tells a story of fear in his sermon, “Antidotes to Fear” from his book, “Strength to Love”.  He says, “On a particular Monday evening, following a tension-packed week which included being arrested and receiving numerous threatening telephone calls, I spoke at a mass meeting.  I attempted to convey an overt impression of strength and courage, although I was inwardly depressed and fear-stricken.

At the end of the meeting, Mother Pollard came to the front of the church and said, “Come here, son.”  I immediately went to her and hugged her affectionately.  “Something is wrong with you,” she said.  “You didn’t talk strong tonight.”  Seeking further to disguise my fears, I retorted, “Oh no, Mother Pollard, nothing is wrong.  I am feeling fine as ever.”

But her insight was discerning. “Now you can’t fool me,” she said.  “I knows something is wrong.  Is it that we ain’t doing things to please you?”  Before I could respond, she looked directly into my eyes and said, “I don told you we is with you all the way.”  Then her face became radiant and she said in words of quiet certainty, “But even if we ain’t with you, God’s gonna take care of you.”[iii] 

God’s gonna take care of you.  Mother Pollard reached out her hand, a perfect extension of God’s love and lifted King from sinking further into his sea of fear.  Amazing how God’s care and concern for our fears can manifest itself in the presence of others.  Just as Jesus extended his hand to Peter, God will extend the divine arm of hope to lift you up too because “God’s gonna take care of you.” 

There will be storms…that, my friends, is a fact of life.   God’s gonna take care of you.
You will feel abandoned in a boat thrashing about on the sea.  God’s gonna take care of you.
It was a dark and stormy night.  But God’s gonna take care of you.


Jesus Walks on Water by Laura James, 1998

[i]Bolen, Todd. The Sea of Galilee from
[iii] King Jr., Martin Luther.  “Strength to Love”. Fortress Press, 1963, page 125.