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Pentecost 8 Proper 14 August 7, 2011

Pentecost 8 Proper 14A RCL  August 7, 2011

 Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28
Psalm  105: 1-6. 16-22. 45b
Romans 10: 5-15
Matthew 14: 22-33

This morning we continue with the story of Jacob and his family. Rachel has died. As we know, Jacob, now Israel, loved Rachel dearly. She had had two children, Joseph and Benjamin. Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children.

Joseph is different. He has dreams.  Unfortunately, he tells these dreams to his brothers. One is that they are binding sheaves of grain in the field, Joseph’s sheaf rises upright and his brothers’ sheaves gather around Joseph’s sheaf and bow to it. Joseph’s brothers don’t like these dreams very much. To add to their ire, Jacob gives Joseph a beautiful long robe with sleeves. Now his brothers really hate him.

One day Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers as they tend the flocks. First they are going to kill Joseph, but Reuben, the eldest, persuades them to throw Joseph into a pit instead. He plans to go back later and rescue Joseph. Some traders come by, and the brothers decide that they will sell Joseph to them as a slave. The brothers then dip the amazing cloak into goat’s blood and take that to Jacob, who thinks Joseph has died and goes into deep mourning.

Meanwhile, the traders sell Joseph to a powerful man in Egypt, one of the Pharaoh’s chief assistants, Potiphar. Joseph is intelligent and capable. Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of everything. Joseph is also handsome. Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph, but he resists her repeated advances. In a scene which could only occur in the Old Testament, she grabs at his garment and he runs from the house, naked.  Potiphar comes home, his wife accuses Joseph of sexual misconduct, and Joseph ends up in prison.

In prison, he becomes the trusted assistant of the jailer. He is placed in charge of two servants of the Pharaoh who have been accused of misdeeds and face the death penalty. The Pharaoh’s chief baker and chief cup bearer tell Joseph their dreams, and he tells them that the cup bearer will return to his position with the Pharaoh and the baker will be executed. Sure enough, he is correct.

As time goes on, the Pharaoh becomes afflicted with bad dreams. He calls all his magicians and wise men and they cannot help him. The chief cupbearer, now back in the service of the Pharaoh, remembers Joseph’s gift of dream interpretation. He tells the Pharaoh of this young Hebrew who interpreted his and the chief baker’s dreams. and the Pharaoh asks for Joseph’s help. The Pharaoh has had a dream of seven fat cows grazing in the meadows by the Nile. Then seven cadaverous cows come and eat them up. Then the king dreams of corn, seven fat ears and seven lean ears. 

Joseph makes it clear that God is trying to tell the Pharaoh something and that Joseph’s gift of interpretation comes from God. Then he tells  the king the interpretation: there will be seven years of good crops and then seven years of famine. The king should store up as much food as possible during the good years. The upshot is that the king is deeply impressed with Joseph’s gift and with his wisdom and with Joseph’s God. He places Joseph in charge of everything.

 The next installment of the story will come next Sunday. Clearly, Joseph has come a long way His story illustrates a poster I like very much. It shoes a mountainside in early spring. The winter snow is melting and new life is about to burst forth. The caption reads,  “What we think is the end may really be a new beginning.”

Our psalm recounts the story of Joseph. Our epistle reminds us that we are all one in Christ and that our Lord is very near.

 In our gospel,  Jesus has just fed the five thousand families. He goes up to the mountain to pray. This reminds us to take time to be with God and restore the presence of the Spirit within. The disciples get into the boat; the storm comes up; they are terrified, and there he comes walking across the water. At first they think he is a ghost, but his words speak volumes, “Take heart; it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus says one word, “Come.” Peter starts out, but when he notices the strength of the wind, he gets scared and starts to sink. With our Lord’s help, we can do what he calls us to do, but, if we lose our focus on Jesus, we falter. If and or when we falter, his hand is there; his help is there.  “Be not afraid,” he tells us. He is so near we can touch him.  He is so near we can reach out to him, grab his hand, and get pulled out of the waves which threaten to overwhelm us.

All through his journey, Joseph is aware of the hand of God leading and guiding him. He never loses his faith. He proclaims his faith unabashedly as these powerful people keep entrusting him with more and more responsibility because of his wisdom, which both he and they attribute to God. Here is this young man, this alien stranger, earning the trust of the Pharaoh because he has the gift of speaking the truth. The Pharaoh says of Joseph, “Can we find anyone else like this, one in whom is the Spirit of God?” (Genesis 41: 37.) But the presence of the Spirit in Joseph will be even more fully revealed next week. Stay tuned.

What is God telling us today? Someone can be sold into slavery and, by the grace of God, end up second in command over an empire.  Joseph never forgets God. He speaks the truth as his gift reveals the truth. His ethics are of the highest caliber.

And God is telling us, “Do not be afraid. I am right here beside you. I am walking with you, I am swimming with you. I am very close. We will see the depth of Joseph’s spirituality next Sunday. Peter became a rock of the Faith. He may have had a bit of an impetuous and wobbly beginning, but, when the tough times came, he was faithful and wise and open to God’s leading.

But the main thing is, “Be not afraid. “ A few other favorite thoughts have been in my heart this week.  We have already talked about one: “Faith is fear that has said its prayers.” Another one we have talked about that bears repeating is, “Faith and fear are two sides of the same coin.” And another one which I really like is, “Fear not tomorrow—God is already there.”  With everything going on in the world and around us, let us be strong in our faith with God’s help. Let us jeep on keeping on. Let’s help our brothers and sisters who are suffering in Somalia and elsewhere. Let us persevere in hope. Let us reach out for that steady, strong hand that is always there, and let us share his love and grace with others.    Amen

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