Sunday, August 07, 2011

Pentecost 8A

Where does your life and faith connect? Is your faith something that you reflect upon only at church? Is your religious activity limited only to these four walls? How does what we do “here” impact what you do out “there?” Or even, more to the point, where is God’s best work being done?

In this story, known as the “Joseph saga” (Most of you know it as “Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”) the line between the earthly world and God’s world mists over to the point of being indistinguishable. God seems freer than what we might previously have thought. Which makes me wonder where God best work is actually being done.

On the surface this looks like a story of hard work paying off, with a little forgiveness and reconciliation thrown in to jerk a few theological tears. The stuff of good movies and snappy musicals.

But we have to look deeply into the details to see what God might be saying to us.

It starts with Joseph.

Joseph was the guy you hated in high school. You know the one I mean. The Golden Boy, the Favoured One, who was good at everything. He was captain of the football team and he dated the head cheerleader.

He won math awards, edited the school newspaper, played Hamlet in community theatre, sang solos at Christmas, and couldn’t decide whether he’d be a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist when he grew up, so he decided to do both. And you just knew he could pull it off.

You couldn’t stand him. Not just because he was better at everything than you were. You didn’t like him because he liked himself so much. His arrogance was breathtaking.

And he enjoyed showing off. But his Emotional I.Q. hovered around Charlie Sheen levels.

Joseph was oblivious to his brothers’ scowls. He didn’t notice their clenched jaws and furrowed brows. He simply didn’t see how badly his arrogance made his brothers wanted to smack that arrogant smug right off his conceited mug.

It’s no wonder that his brothers wanted to get rid of him. Joseph made them look bad. Really bad. And he flashed his egotistical white teeth while doing so.

You couldn’t accuse Joseph of putting on a show. He knew himself. He knew he was talented. He knew that he could succeed at anything he put his mind to.

Even his fantastical dreams stroked his ego. Some said his dreams were God’s dreams that lived inside him. Others believed he simply dreamt what he wanted his life to be. Maybe it was both.

But Joseph also knew what his values were. He may have been a conceited jerk but he knew what was expected of him.

When his brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery, he worked hard in his master’s house, being promoted again and again until he ran the whole household, landing a fancy-schmancy new royal suit to wear. As far as slaves went, he reached the top.

But he knew that success in an imperial household meant less than the values his parents taught him about God.

So, when his master’s wife tried to seduce him, trying to use her power to fulfill her lustful desire, she can only grab his royal clothes, ripping them from his body, but leaving empty-handed. The clothes do not make this man. It is God’s dream living inside him that makes him who he is. And no earthly power can take that from him.

When he’s thrown in jail on the trumped-up charge of adultery he takes charge of the prison, tending to other prisoners’ needs, telling them God’s future for their lives. Good and ill.

And when Pharaoh’s nightmares taunted him, displaying a vision of both abundance and famine, his own imperial priests are stymied.

So Pharaoh was forced to turn to the prisoner Joseph to tell him God’s future. Joseph told Pharaoh what the dream meant: that there would be seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine.

Apparently, Pharaoh was impressed. The criminal becomes the ruler. Second in command. Only Pharaoh is greater. He is no longer Joseph. His name is now Zaphenath – paneah meaning “revealer of secrets” Or some say it means “God speaks: he lives!”

Zaphenath – paneah gets a shiny new chariot and a wife out of the deal. Not to mention a really cool job: saving the world’s only remaining superpower from starving to death.

This is where the line between God’s people and others blurs. Joseph doesn’t just get a great job with excellent benefits. He joins the inner-circle of the power elite.

He exchanges his Hebrew name for an pagan Egyptian one. And to keep his job he at least needs to pay lip service or ceremonial tribute to Pharaoh being some kind of divine being, if not a god. A definite no-no he learned in Canaanite Sunday School.

When Pharaoh’s dream comes true, and the economy goes south because of a famine, Joseph’s brothers come looking for food. Those who’ve seen the musical know what happens next.

Without revealing his identity, Joseph accuses his brothers of spying and stealing. He demands to see his younger brother. Whom they produce.

When Joseph reveals finally himself to his brothers, it’s interesting what he DOESN’T say. He doesn’t say “I am Zaphenath – paneah. The prince formerly known as Joseph.” He doesn’t say, I used to be one of you puny little people. Now look at me. You’ll suffer for what you did to me.”

Joseph isn’t hung up on titles or royalty. He knows who he REALLY is. And royalty means nothing to him. He’s bigger than that.

To identify himself he simply uses his plain, bare, Hebrew name. “I am Joseph,” he says. They thought he was dead. But he’s alive and saving the world through his work in Egypt.

His brothers were surprised. Not just because their brother is alive and successful in Egypt. But because of what God allowed to happen in order to keep the world from starving to death.

God wasn’t afraid to use Joseph to help save pagan Egypt from famine, and through Egypt, the whole world known to them. God wasn’t afraid to let Joseph become everything God despised in order to make it happen.

God wasn’t afraid of the cruelty of betrayal or the injustice of false imprisonment.

God wasn’t afraid of the pompousness of royalty, or the abuses of empire, or the idolatry of the Egyptian religions.

God’s only priority was rescuing people from being destroyed. And God trusted Joseph to do the rescuing because that’s who God chose to do that job.

God chose Joseph even if Joseph blurred the lines between faithful obedience and rank idolatry. God chose Joseph to help save a people who would not recognize God as God, a people who still maintained their own idolatrous religious practices, a people who ignored the massive miracle that God worked among them.

God chose Joseph because God trusted Joseph to use his gifts for God’s saving purposes.

And God trusts YOU. God trusts YOU to use YOUR gifts for God’s saving purposes.

When you are at work, at school, at Tim Horton’s, at the board meeting, on the soccer field or hockey rink, or at church, God trusts that YOU know who YOU are, and that you’ll be able to use your gifts for the life of the world.

God trusts that God’s dream lives inside of YOU, and you will live God’s dream with a joy and passion that can only come from God.

In your everyday, moment-by-moment encounters with life; at work, at school, with friends, among family, God trusts that YOU will use your gifts and live your faith in all that you do.

Even when others don’t recognize it. Even when you fail. God trusts you enough to pick you back up and use your failures for God’s gracious purposes, to minister to others in every corner of your life.

Me, I’ve got it easy. I can always hide behind my collar and people know what to expect from me. Whenever I’m tempted by the world I can simply put on my church clothes as a shield against those things that threaten to diminish me as a Christian. I can clothe myself with the institution, and hide within the safety of the church’s four walls.

You don’t have that option. You are Joseph. Yours is the greater witness. You’ve got the hard job. You have to walk the fine line between working with culture and not letting it define who you are. You have to work in a “me-first” world without submitting to its selfish temptations.

And it’s not easy. Because sometimes that misty line between God and world disappears completely.

But while you have to live in the tension between God’s world and our world, you also get to see where God is doing things, you get to see where life, joy, beauty, justice, and compassion are lived and celebrated. You get to see where the free and active God is working outside the safety of church walls.

You get to see what God is up to because you are making it happen. You are God’s hands, feet, voice, and heart,

Your life is your Christian mission. Your ministry starts just as soon as you walk out the door and into the rest of the world. We gather here together to remember who we are, to remember our story, so we can live that story in our lives.

Some say that we should be doing more - as a church - to engage the world, to be more active in outreach to our community, to be a larger Christian presence in a broken and hurting world.

And in many ways, those who say that are right. Being a Christian community means working as a group to share God’s love and mercy with those who desperately need it.

But I think that you’re already living your Christian mission. In your everyday encounters. In the way you use your gifts to enhance the life of those around you. In the small occasions of grace where words of hope and healing are heard and received.

That’s YOUR mission. That’s where God’s best work is being done.

May this be so among us. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home