10th after Pentecost
August 13th = Rev’d Diana McHardy …
Readings: Genesis 37:2-4,18-28 Matthew 14:23-33
The biblical book of Genesis continues to be a good read. The individual chapters are page turners as we read on to discover what happens to the main characters.
Back in 1993 I went to the theatre where an amazing musical was just playing out its magnificent conclusion, when “lo and behold”, there was the great Donny Osmond, flying out over the audience. The chorus was singing “Any Dream Will Do”. Yes, it was “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dream-Coat”, lifted right out of the bible, with super scenery and the wonderful music of Andrew Lloyd Weber.
Linked in, this morning’s Old Testament reading is about Jacob’s son, Joseph. Now, when you heard this reading: How did you respond? With whom did you identify? Here is another discomforting scripture of sibling rivalry, hate, deception, death, grief and loss. [And, referring again to my great-grandfather, the Anglican priest, he did not mark this passage as a sermon in his huge lectern bible way back in the 1870s… maybe he didn’t want to look at it, who knows.]
So here we are in Canaan. Jacob who dreamed of the ladder to heaven and heard the words of God, is now a sheep farmer. Jacob, who wrestled with a stranger and saw God face to face, is now the father of many sons.
Time passes. Joseph the favourite son is seventeen years old, and Jacob gives his most loved son a beautiful coat with long sleeves. The brothers are more than jealous. It seems that Joseph is a dreamer, who dreams of being a great and revered leader. The brothers are more than threatened, scared that Joseph will control them, demanding obedience and subservience. They talk it over among themselves, and plot to kill him. Reuben doesn’t want to feel guilty and has a plan, saying no, “Throw him in the empty pit”. They do. Reuben hopes to rescue Joseph later, but it doesn’t work out that way. A camel train is sighted coming down the road, and even better for the brothers, they don’t have to let him die. Rather, they sell him off. He will be out of their lives. In the words of Andrew Lloyd Weber, “poor, poor Joseph” is sold off as a slave, and is on the way to Egypt. When Jacob sees the robe, he believes the worst.
Jacob lives in grief. The brothers live the lie. Life goes on in Canaan. Life goes on in Egypt. We are left not knowing. At least we can say for Joseph’s sake, “Where’s there’s life there’s hope”. And if we trust God to have a hand in redemption, read on. in Genesis.
Today’s reading, however, stands alone. God did not save Joseph. God did not redeem the situation at the time. As a child I couldn’t understand the dynamics. How could this happen. I still don’t understand, although I know “life happens”. The life journey of Jacob’s family went wrong. It was certainly not a good situation, and today would probably have hit the media, posted on my computer in one of those “hot news windows”. What happened? Was God absent? Were compassion and love hung out to dry? Was hope a shadow of its former self?
I found myself reflecting on the Jacob and Joseph story, and how, in spiritual principle, they might help us reflect on our own responses to “life happens”. Their story raises the big topic “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”. Some years back, Rabbi Kushner wrote a book called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, arising out of a personal tragedy around the life of his son. Trying to make sense of it for himself, and to help others in their troubles, he wrestled with reality. There were lots of questions. There were no solutions. Rather it was about living into the questions. An editorial review from The Library Journal says, “This book is more of a work of spirituality.” Norman Vincent Peale (author of the power of positive thinking) notes that the book explores the painful events of life, and reflects on how to stand up to them creatively. A couple of weeks ago, out of curiosity, I did a Google search of the topic. “Yahoo Answer Results” noted 5751 attempts to find an answer, and the few I read didn’t have an answer. Theologians, struggling for definition around all the sadness and suffering in personal lives and in the world came up with the term “human condition”. A “catch-all phrase to be sure, but it provides a container to box our problems. I call it “Life Happens”.
Here we are, a community of faith. Let’s springboard to the reality stories of the Gospel.
God’s Dream Story is to be present among us in the Jesus story so that the Holy Spirit can touch our minds, hearts and spirits in such a way that we can find the sacred in the midst of “life happens”. This we encounter in the powerful account of Peter and Jesus walking on the water. Meeting Jesus and Peter asks us to assume a spiritual perspective of trust, a new normal.
To reflect on weaving life journeys and spiritual journeys together, here’s a wonderful small book called “Walking the Sacred Path”. Written by Dan Schutte, (composer of the music to the hymn “Here I Am, Lord”), it is simple to read, with scripture passages, prayer reflections and “spiritual things” to consider at the end of each chapter. It tells of God’s unconditional love. It enables us to take a long loving look at the real; and to remember the consolations of God’s love to support us on the way. The rest of the content is about companioning and journeying with Jesus.
To bring this reflection to a conclusion we need to notice the commonality of God’s consolations echoing through the Jesus story, the Jacob story, and the Joseph story. Jesus said to Peter: “Have faith”. God said to Jacob at Bethel: “Know that I am with you. I will keep you wherever you go…I will not leave you…I am blessing you”. Jacob perceived in the depths of his being that he had seen God face to face at Peniel. To look ahead to Joseph: there is a happy ending. Joseph sees his life from a God’s-eye view, and says to his brothers: “Even though you intended to harm me, God worked it out for good.”
The last word: God is present. Compassion and love are more than evident. There is always hope. Redemption is alive and well. Trust the journey.