Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Mike Turgeon “Summer of prayer: “Journey” August 14, 2011
Our prayer focus today shifts back to the bigger picture again, spiritual journey. As Jim Markus said when he preached in July, each step of the journey with Christ is a blessing, sometimes direct, sometimes indirect, and sometimes a mixed blessing. An active prayer life keeps us in touch with these blessings, staying aware and open to God’s presence.
We are all on a spiritual journey. In fact, we like to say here at Windsor UMC that wherever you are on your journey you are welcome here. More than you might imagine, that phrase has opened a door back into the church for some folks. And not only back into the church, but back into community of any kind. Who among us has not run into a closed door somewhere when we wanted to come in and find a seat at the table? And that closed door may keep us from ever knocking on any door, ever again.
Who among us has not closed a door on others who wanted in? Never underestimate the power of radical hospitality.
Like in the TV show, “Cheers” we all seek that place where ‘everybody knows your name.’ When I am hospitable, I take the time to learn your name. When I am radically hospitable, I go out of my way to invite you in to Christ’s banquet. Invitation is part of the spiritual journey.
Today’s Biblical tale of Joseph and his brothers from Genesis, the first book of the Bible, deeply illustrates how spiritual journey is not the easy road in life, but it is the transforming way. Joseph travelled quite a ways, geographically and in other ways before he got to forgiveness and reconciliation, but he did get there.
Joseph had a dream. When he told it to his brothers, they hated him.
He said, "Listen to this dream I had. We were all out in the field gathering bundles of wheat. All of a sudden my bundle stood straight up and your bundles circled around it and bowed down to mine."
His brothers said, "So! You're going to rule us? You're going to boss us around?" And they hated him more than ever because of his dreams and the way he talked.
He had another dream and told this one also to his brothers:
"I dreamed another dream—the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to me!"
When he told it to his father and brothers, his father reprimanded him: "What's with all this dreaming? Am I and your mother and your brothers all supposed to bow down to you?" Now his brothers were really jealous.
His brothers had gone off to Shechem where they were pasturing their father's flocks. Israel, Joseph’s father, said to Joseph, "Your brothers are with flocks in Shechem. Come, I want to send you to them."
Joseph said, "I'm ready."
He said, "Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are doing and bring me back a report." He sent him off from the valley of Hebron to Shechem.
They spotted him off in the distance. By the time he got to them they had cooked up a plot to kill him. The brothers were saying, "Here comes that dreamer. Let's kill him and throw him into one of these old pits; we can say that a vicious animal ate him up. We'll see what his dreams amount to." from Genesis 37
Summer of prayer: Journey
Remember, folks, in Joseph and his brothers, it’s the journey of the Israelites, God’s people. This is the Book of Genesis, only 37 chapters into the Bible, and already it looks like a dead-end. How did it get to be a train wreck so soon? Well, it began as it often does, with bad family dynamics, vicious sibling rivalry in this case. But to fuel the fire, Joseph’s father, Jacob, the one whose name God changed to Israel, Jacob chose Joseph as his favorite son. Even gave him a special coat.
“Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he was the child of his old age. And he made him an elaborately embroidered coat.
When his brothers realized that their father loved him more than them, they grew to hate him—they wouldn't even speak to him. Genesis 37:3-4
Jacob had enough kids and step-kids to field a football team, but this is what he did; picked one out and pretty much put a target on his back. You see, Jacob himself was a favorite son. Jacob’s mother, Rebekkah favored Jacob and conspired with him to trick Jacob’s brother, Esau, into giving up the family blessing that should have been his; they tricked him with a bowl of soup, you may remember. Was Esau the sharpest knife in the drawer? Not by a long shot. But to lose his birthright?
Part of the richness of the Bible is it’s capacity to offer our own lives reflected back to us. And that conspiracy, trickery part sure reminded me of dinnertime at my house growing up.
So Jacob and his mother played fast and loose with family rules, and made a stranger out of Esau. Estranged him, we say. You may have heard me say before that family is the great laboratory of life. You always get a choice to pass on the good stuff and put an end to the bad stuff. Jacob chose to go the other way. By elevating Joseph in his own eyes, he made it easy for his brothers to hate him. Now, that ain’t right, but you can kind of see where they’re coming from, huh?
The Bible is a magnifying glass, and we all show up in it somewhere.
And wouldn’t you agree that just to be human means that you will endure, or you have survived, or are even now part of a broken relationship on your spiritual journey?
We might want to re-work the American Express commercial here: “Broken relationships, you don’t leave home without them.” But sometimes it is brokenness that causes us to leave.
For Joseph here, the decision was made for him, his brothers made sure of that.
A spiritual journey of a thousand miles may begin with one step, but it may also begin with a thousand angry words. The Genesis journey that began with Abraham on the move toward the Promised Land, ends with Joseph in a foreign land. But, as we’ll learn, though Joseph is far from home, he is never far from his roots.
Thomas Wolfe famously wrote, “You can’t go home again.” That is good literature, but it is only a partial picture. God has a say in the matter, too. And as long as we are willing to invite the grace of the Holy Spirit to have its way with us, we need not end up stuck in a dead end on some lonely road far from home. Joseph was thrown into a pit by his own kin, then sold into slavery on his journey, but he never closed his eyes to God’s purposes. His journey ended with forgiveness and reconciliation. Maybe there is hope for you and me.
Joseph’s story...in 2 minutes.
In the middle of the murder plot, Joseph’s brother, Reuben, came to his senses. “Let’s not kill our brother, he is our flesh and blood after all, let’s just throw him into this dry pit. No wait, let’s sell him into slavery, it will be pure profit.” But we’d better cook up a good story for our father, Jacob. They convinced Jacob that Joseph had been killed in the field by an animal. They showed him Joseph’s bloody coat.
As luck would have it, Potiphar, the right hand man of Pharaoh won the Joseph sweepstakes. Potiphar could see that Joseph was paying attention to God’s purpose, so he put him in charge of his household. Joseph kept his eye on God, which was good because Potiphar’s wife had her eye on Joseph. Joseph would not be unfaithful with her, so she got him thrown in jail.
Jail is a rough patch in anyone’s journey, but Joseph did not give up on God. Joseph became head dream interpreter, for dreams were considered signs but not easy to read signs. Well, it wasn’t long before Pharaoh himself had disturbing dreams, dreams of good times and dreams of bad times. Joseph appealed to God for guidance to understand these dreams and Pharaoh was impressed. Before long, Joseph was Pharaoh’s number one man in all of Egypt.
When the bad times did come and food became scarce, Joseph had prepared well and all the surrounding countries were coming to Egypt looking for food. Joseph’s own brothers came because their father, Jacob, ordered them, but Jacob only sent 10 of his sons, he kept back Benjamin in case the others never came back, leaving him only one son. That’s how dire and dangerous the situation was. Jacob still grieved, thinking that his beloved Joseph was dead.
When Joseph’s brothers showed up on his doorstep, they didn’t recognize Joseph,they weren’t even sure he was still alive, but Joseph recognized them right away, and thanked God they were standing before him.
But being human, Joseph couldn’t resist jerking his brothers around, testing them and making them go around in circles, trying to determine whether they had really changed since their last encounter. Once he had had his fun, when he could see some indication of humility, Joseph opened himself once again to God’s urgings. He made the first move to forgive them for how he was treated by their hand.
Joseph couldn't hold himself in any longer, keeping up a front before all his attendants. He cried out, "I am Joseph. But his brothers couldn't say a word. They were speechless—they couldn't believe that it was their brother.
"Come closer to me," Joseph said. "I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt. But don't feel badly, don't blame yourselves for selling me. God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives. There has been a famine in the land now for two years;—neither plowing nor harvesting.
God sent me on ahead to pave the way to save lives, even your lives. It wasn't you who sent me here but God. I was put in charge of the Pharaoh’s personal affairs, he made me ruler of all Egypt.
"Hurry back to my father. Tell him, 'Your son Joseph is alive and the master of all Egypt. Get him here as fast as you can. I'll give you all a place to live, where you'll be close to me—you, your children, your grandchildren, your flocks, your herds. I'll take care of you there. I'll make sure all your needs are taken care of, you and everyone connected with you—you won't want for a thing.'
Then Joseph threw himself on his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He then kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Only then were his brothers able to talk with him; only then were they able to reconcile.
Joseph could have easily enslaved, tortured, and executed his brothers; he had the power. But Joseph himself was still in exile, cast out by his own blood. Anyone who has a yearning for the spirit feels like an exile in this world, no matter how much you serve it. On our spiritual journey’s it is only our actions toward forgiveness that have the power to redeem us.
“...as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Mt 6:12b
Do you see your journey in life as cursed, as negative, do you sense that you have been victimized by life? I suggest you take a closer look at Joseph’s path. Even at the bottom of that pit, he never lost faith.
In the rabbinic literature, writings that took place in the 2-300 years after the Gospels, there is one commentary that has Joseph journeying back to see his father, Jacob, once more before he dies. But in this text, he takes a detour, he stops at the very pit into which he was thrown...and he blesses it. He prays over it in gratitude that his life was spared because of it.
What detours must we make, what prayers of blessing need be said on our journeys?