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Pentecost 11 Proper 15A RCL August 20, 2017

Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: 21-28

As we reflect on our opening reading today, we need to recall that, in last Sunday’s lesson, Joseph’s brothers had planned to kill him and then threw him into a pit and then sold him to a group of human traffickers for twenty pieces of silver. Those twenty pieces of silver might make us think of the price Judas received for betraying our Lord—thirty pieces of silver.

The slave traders took Joseph to Egypt. After many trials and tribulations, some bizarre challenges that would have totally flummoxed most other people, and much help from God, Joseph has risen to a high position in a powerful kingdom. He is second only to the Pharaoh in the land of Egypt.

Famine is stalking the land, but Egypt has plenty of grain stored, thanks to Joseph’s wise planning. Joseph’s brothers have come to buy grain. This is their second visit to this great man, and they have done something he asked them to do on their first trip. They have brought their brother Benjamin with them.  They do not recognize Joseph. But he has recognized them. He sends everyone out of the room except himself and his family because he is not going to be able to control his tears.

He asks if his father is all right. They cannot answer him. They are speechless because they are so shocked that this great man is losing control of his emotions. Then he tells them who he is. And he also tells them that he holds no grudge against them because he feels that God has led him to this place so that he can help his people to survive. Joseph tells his brothers to bring the whole family to the land of Goshen, where there is plenty of food.  Then he gives a big hug to his beloved brother Benjamin, and they cry tears of joy because they thought they would never see each other again. Then they all have a good talk.

This is one of the great scenes of reconciliation in the Bible. Joseph had as much power as a king in one of the great kingdoms of that time. He could have killed or tortured all his brothers. But he used his great power for good. All those years he focused on love, not hate. He felt God had brought him to this point so that he could help his people, save then from famine, and preserve them for even greater things in the future.

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans focuses on God’s mercy to us.

In today’s gospel, we have one of the most extraordinary encounters in our Lord’s ministry. Jesus is in the coastlands of the Mediterranean Sea. He has gone into the territory of the Gentiles. This is unusual because he had said that he was here only to minister to his own people.

A woman calls to him for help. She is a Canaanite. She is not a Jew. She is not part of the flock he has felt called to minister to. But she has a dire need. Her daughter is tormented by a demon. In those days, this is the way people described certain illnesses, often mental illnesses or seizure disorders. This woman is desperate.

His disciples urge him to have nothing to do with her. She is a woman. Rabbis were not supposed to speak with women. And she is a Gentile, Rabbis were not supposed to speak to Gentiles. The disciples tell him to send her away.

So he tries to explain, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, I am supposed to minister only to my own people. You are not one of those people. That’s why I cannot help you. And we can picture him turning away and getting ready to leave.

But she comes and kneels before him. This is a position of supplication and respect. “Lord, help me, “ she pleads.

Something is stirring within Jesus. I think he is sensing that his whole vision is going to change in a major way, and I think he is upset by this. At any rate, his answer is shocking, almost angry, “It is not fair to take the children’s food—that is, the food intended for Jewish people, God’s chosen people—and throw it to the dogs.” The word “Dogs,” then as now, could be used as an insult.

Here she is, pleading for the health and life of her daughter, and Jesus throws this slur, implying that she is inferior. Most of us would have given up at that point. But not this courageous woman, this woman who can think on her feet at light speed, this woman who is about to expand Jesus’ vision of his mission by quantum leaps: “Yes, Lord,” she says, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Could you at least be like the master who lets us dogs eat the crumbs under the table? This Canaanite woman, this person who is not one of the chosen people, who is of the wrong gender, who is beyond the pale, who is at the bottom of the social ladder, who is an outsider if ever there was one, changes our Lord’s understanding of his ministry. Now he knows that he is called to minister to all of us. He has had inklings, but this woman suddenly becomes a theology professor.

This woman has the faith and feistiness to hang in there and get her point across and Jesus, the teacher, the rabbi, the eternal Word, God walking the face of the earth, has the humility, in his humanity, to be taught by a mere Gentile woman.

He sings her a hymn of praise, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed instantly.

And all of our walls, of status, education, race, gender, sexuality, education, politics, economics, religion, all of our walls come tumbling down.

He is Lord of all, and we are all part of his family.  Amen.

Pentecost 10 Proper 14A RCL August 13, 2017

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

Last Sunday, we had an interesting and unusual event in our lectionary. When a feast of our Lord, such as the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, or, the Transfiguration of our Lord, comes on a Sunday, that feast supersedes the normal lectionary. This past Sunday, in reading the lessons for the Transfiguration, we skipped the lessons for the ninth Sunday of Pentecost.

So I am going to fill in just a little of the story of Jacob and his family. Last Sunday’s readings described Jacob sending his two wives, their two maids, his eleven children and all his possessions to go ahead of him so that, when they got to his brother Esau and Esau asked them whom they belonged to, they would say, “Jacob,” and Esau would know that his brother was returning home. It was Jacob’s sincere prayer that seeing his possessions and wives and children might inspire mercy on the part of Esau and prevent him from killing Jacob.

Meanwhile, Jacob stayed back and had his wrestling match with God. This left him with a dislocated hip and a new name, Israel. Esau did indeed have mercy on Jacob, and now we see how large the family of Jacob, now Israel, has  become.

But that old sin of envy and jealousy is running rampant. Envy is defined by my mentor David Brown as, “The inability to rejoice in the blessings and good fortune of others.” Joseph is loved by his father. He has a special cloak, that coat of many colors, that “amazing technicolor dreamboat.” He has a special place in his father’s heart, and his brothers want to kill him. Fortunately, Reuben persuades them to throw Joseph into a pit and at least leave him alive. Then, when the Midianite traders come by, Judah comes up with the bright idea of selling their brother to them for twenty pieces of silver. Thus Joseph is taken into Egypt.

In our epistle, Paul is quoting Scripture, specifically Deuteronomy 30:11-14. We do not have to go to great lengths to find Christ. We do not have to bring him down from heaven, and we do not have to bring him up from hell, where he descended to share his love with everyone and every part of the creation so that no one will be separated from him. The writer of Deuteronomy was referring to the law when he said, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” But Paul is extending that wisdom to our understanding of our Lord. He is near us. We do not have to go far to find him. He has come to earth to find us and to heal us and forgive us and give us grace to continue on our journey to him, and he is walking with us every step of the way.

Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. God has come to be with us. God loves us so much that God would come to be one of us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus has just fed the five thousand. He tells the disciples to get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake while he dismisses the crowds. And then, what does he do? He goes up to the mountain to pray. He goes to be with God, his heavenly Father. Jesus did this whenever he could. He went to God for guidance, sustenance. He went to his divine Father for feeding, refreshment, true peace, true direction. This is something we need to do each and every day, several times a day. The great moral theologian Kenneth Kirk said that this habit, recollection, going into the presence of God and reordering our hearts and lives, is the practice of the presence of God, and he said that recollection is “the habit of referring all questions to God.” That is what Jesus did so often, and that is what he is doing at the beginning of this gospel. He is so deep in prayer that by the time he comes back to what we are pleased to call reality, the boat is way out in the lake, the waves are high, and the boat is being battered by wind and waves.

Early in the morning, Jesus comes walking across the water, and they think he is a ghost. You know how the mist can sit on the water early in the morning. Everything can seem quite other-worldly, ghostly. They cry out in fear.

And he says those words that we can carry like treasure in our hearts: “Take heart; it is I; do not be afraid.”

Dear impetuous Peter imposes a bit of a test,”Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus says, “Come.” So Peter jumps out of the boat into the water and he is doing just great until he notices how very strong that wind really is, and, just like that, he sinks like a rock. But he calls out to Jesus and Jesus reaches out his hand and grips him in that strong loving handclasp, asking him why he doubts. And they all know who Jesus really is.

This gospel has at least two very powerful messages for us. The first is that we need to spend time with God. We need to make time in our busy days to “be still and know that God is God.” We need to bask in God’s presence and let God’s love and healing seep into the depths of our being.

The other message is about fear. It is important to remember that fear is not always a bad thing. If we start to climb up a sheer mountainside with sharp drops on all sides and we feel afraid, that could be a helpful message that perhaps we are not quite up to that level of mountain climbing. So, on the positive side, sometimes the feeling of fear can be a helpful warning on behalf of our self-care.  

Then there is the other aspect of fear, and that is that fear can get in the way of our faith. Wise people have said that faith is the other side of the coin of fear and that faith is fear that has said its prayers. For me this means that sometimes we forget the message of our epistle and gospel today. We forget how close God is. All we have to do is reach out and the loving and steadying hand of Jesus will be there.

There are many scary things in this life and in this world, but we can’t let them stop us in our tracks. We are here to help God build God’s shalom, and we have to be about that work. Sometimes it can feel like a storm with ten foot waves and winds of fifty miles an hour out on the lake. But God is always with us. Amen.

Pentecost 10 Proper 15A RCL August 17, 2014

Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

Last Sunday we began reading the story of Joseph. Joseph is Jacob’s favorite son. He is a dreamer. He also has visions. One of his visions indicates that he is going to be more powerful than his brothers. This does not exactly make him popular with them. On top of that, Joseph has been given a very special coat of many colors. or, as one musical puts it, his “amazing technicolor dream coat.” His brothers do not like that at all.

One thing leads to another, and they talk about killing Joseph. Reuben convinces them not to do that. Finally, they throw him into a pit and sell him to some traders. The brothers dip his many-colored coat in goat’s blood and tell their father that Joseph is dead. The traders take Joseph to Egypt.

After some ups and downs, Joseph rises to a position second only to the pharaoh. There is a famine all over the area, and, under Joseph’s guidance, Egypt has carefully stockpiled food for seven years in order to be prepared for the seven years of famine which Joseph had predicted from the pharaoh’s dream of seven fat cows and seven lean cows.

After many more dramatic events, Joseph’s brothers, including his beloved brother Benjamin, have come to buy food to take home to the family in Canaan. The brothers have no idea that this powerful man, with whom they have already had some dealings, is their own brother Joseph, but Joseph is now overcome with feelings.

Joseph weeps loudly and tells his brothers who he really is. He tells them that he forgives them for what they did many years ago, and he says that God sent him ahead of them to provide for them and their families. He tells them to go home and get their father and all the family and bring them back to Egypt and he will take care of them.

Then Joseph and Benjamin, both sons of Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel, hug each other and cry, and kiss each other. These biblical stories can be grisly, but they can also be tender and moving. Here we have a tale of sibling rivalry gone to extremes and forgiveness in return. What a powerful example Joseph sets for us. After all his brothers did to him, he sees the hand of God in every step of the journey and he is also able to stand on the side of love and forgive his brothers.

Our gospel for today is one of the most compelling stories in the ministry of our Lord. Jesus and the disciples are in the district of Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile area. also called Phoenicia. A woman from the area, a Gentile, starts to shout, “Have mercy on me, Lord. My daughter is sick. Please cure her.”

Jesus does not answer. He thinks his ministry is only to people of his own faith. This is getting embarrassing because she continues to shout. The disciples want him to send her away. So Jesus tells the woman that he has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. She is persistent in her need. She comes and kneels in front of him, beseeching. “Lord, help me.”

And then he says that line which makes us wince. “It is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” He thinks his mission is not to her people. But she is so desperate, and she sees something that our Lord himself does not yet see, She knows that he has come to help and welcome everyone. So she says those words that change Jesus’ understanding of his ministry: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Think of this. This woman helps Jesus to a clearer understanding of his ministry, Jesus has the humility to listen to her, to hear what she is saying.

That is why he tells her that her faith is great. Her daughter is healed that instant. Jesus comes to an entirely new understanding of his ministry in this encounter with a mother who is desperate to have her child healed.

This woman realizes that the new faith is for the whole world., that Jesus’ love and healing are for everyone. As Archbishop Tutu says, God’s family is a very big family indeed, and this Canaanite woman is one of the first people in the gospels to recognize that fact.

Joseph could have been bitter, He could have been cruel to his brothers. He could have put them all in prison. He could have done terrible things to them, But he did not. He may have been a dreamer, but he was also very gifted and deeply spiritual, He rooted himself in God’s compassion and extended that compassion to his brothers.

This Canaanite woman had a vision of what God was doing on earth. God was reaching out to all people. Jesus had the wisdom and humility and openness to listen to someone who was not highly respected in his culture. Women were at the bottom of the scale.Gentiles were in the same position. But Jesus listened.

Gracious God, grant us the gifts of compassion, faith, persistence, humility, and wisdom. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 9 Proper 14A RCL August 10, 2014

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

In our first reading, we are continuing the story of Jacob, who has become Israel. Israel now has twelve sons. His beloved wife, Rachel, the mother of Joseph and of Benjamin, their youngest son, has died. Joseph is Israel’s favorite son. He helps his brothers to tend the flocks, and he has just given Israel some negative feedback on the work and behavior of his brothers.

Joseph is a dreamer. He also has visions. Some of those visions indicate that he is going to be more powerful than his brothers. As we can imagine, this does not exactly make him popular among them. On top of that, Joseph has been given what a later musical called his “amazing technicolor dream coat.” His brothers do not like that at all.

Israel sends Joseph out to see how things are going with his brothers, and, as they say, the rest is history. They want to kill him, but Ruben prevents that. Finally, they throw him into a pit and sell him to some traders. They dip his wonderful coat of many colors in goat’s blood and tell their father that Joseph is dead. The traders take Joseph to Egypt, where he reaches the highest position in the land. He becomes the chief assistant to the pharaoh. We will pick up the story next Sunday.

These stories, which go back so far in history, are fascinating because we know about these family dynamics, and they are timeless. Younger brother takes on airs and ambitions, seems to want to lord it over older brothers. Older brothers get mad and do something awful to him. Sibling rivalry is alive and well, and people don’t always behave the way God wants us to. We will tune in next Sunday for the amazing way in which Joseph deals with his brothers.

In our gospel, Jesus has just fed the five thousand. He makes the disciples get into the boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which, as we know, is a big fresh water lake. We can think of Lake Champlain or maybe Missisquoi Bay. When the winds and storms come up, the Sea of Galilee, like Lake Champlain, can be a terrifying and treacherous place.

Jesus dismisses the crowds and goes up the mountain to pray. What a wonderful model for us. He has been working hard. He has been ministering to these people, healing them, feeding them. Loving them. He knows that he needs to spend time with God. He needs to renew his energy. As the song implies, we cannot be a light to others unless we keep putting oil in our lamp. Jesus constantly turns to God in prayer.

Meanwhile, out on the lake, the wind has come up, and the boat is being battered by the waves. They are far from the land and the wind is against them. Jesus comes walking on the water. What is their response? They are so scared that they do not even recognize him. Have you ever been so afraid that you couldn’t even recognize God, or recognize the help that was coming to you? Sometimes, when a person is drowning and a rescuer comes to save the person, he or she will flail about and fight the rescuer. As strange as it may seem, sometimes we do not recognize God’s presence and God’s willingness to help us. They actually think Jesus is a ghost. They scream in fear.

And then Jesus speaks those words, the words we so need to hear: “Take heart; it is I; do not be afraid.” How many times have we gotten caught in heavy seas and called upon Jesus to rescue us? How many times have we felt overwhelmed with problems and scared out of our wits. We struggle and struggle and finally we remember to pray. Always that strong arm is there. Always that loving face is there. Our Lord is always with us to help us.

That is the point of our epistle today. God is always near us. On our lips and in our hearts. God is Lord of all. If we feel that the boat is sinking, Jesus is right there with us, calming the storm.

Today’s readings are a call to renewed faith, especially in the face of things that we know are beyond our control, things that are terrifying. Like the situations in the Middle East and in Ukraine, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the suffering of so many people around the world, and the pain and suffering of those close to us. We can pray, and there is help. Our loving God does care about these situations and these people.

Loving God, help us to remember that we are all in the same boat, and you are in the boat with us. Give us the grace to pray, to recognize you, to seek your will, and to help you to build your shalom of peace and
harmony. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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