August 14, 2011: Chance or Providence?

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/steveteague1-150×150.jpg” alt=”” width=”150″ height=”150″ />Sermon
The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Two different worlds are about to collide. In Jacob’s word, a famine bears down on the land. He hears Egypt has storehouses aplenty and loaded with food; plus no national debt, and AAA+ rated Egyptian treasury notes. Since their economy booms, Jacob sends his sons for help. Keep in mind this is not a run to the corner grocery store for milk and eggs. It’s long and treacherous journey. They’ll need more than food for a week – food for children, children’s children, flocks and servants.

In the other world of Egypt sits Joseph, alive and thriving, unbeknownst back home, the son reported killed, and out of mind to his brothers. Joseph’s star rises quickly. He’s gone from slave to prisoner, to dream interpreter and now has been made Vice-Pharaoh, second in command over all of Egypt.

The brothers finally arrive in Egypt and go see the man in charge. Joseph recognizes these beggars as his brothers. They, on the other hand, have no idea the Vice-Pharaoh is their little, done-away-with, brother. Joseph sells them food, but holds one brother as collateral and says, “When you come back, bring your father’s youngest with you.” The brothers get home, explain the situation to dad. Jacob has not gotten over the loss of Joseph and is not about to put this boy at risk by sending him off, as he had with Joseph. At first Jacob says, “No way,” but finally relents. They return to Egypt, and call on the Vice-Pharaoh, bowing before him. Déjà vu – some dreams come true – remember this one that really set the family off?

Joseph asks about their family – meets Benjamin and is so overcome with emotion, he excuses himself. The brothers start home the next day fresh with supplies, and a little surprise. Joseph has secretly plants a valuable silver cup in Benjamin’s duffle bag. On the trek home, soldiers of Egypt overtake them. The boys swear they know nothing: “If you find the cup, the thief should be killed, and we’ll remain with you as slaves.” Of course, they find the cup with Ben. Joseph gives them a break – he’ll just keep Benjamin as a slave, and let the rest go home. Brother Judah pleads their father will stroke out and go directly to Sheol if Benjamin doesn’t come home safely.

Can you feel the story’s tension building? “Come on Joseph, tell them! Don’t keep us all hanging!” Joseph clears the room of Egyptians, and drops his mask, tells them who is, starts weeping and carrying on so loudly the guys down the street hear him. The brothers are stunned, speechless, and now uber-scared to death. Who wouldn’t be? Joseph – sold into slavery by these brothers, reported dead to his dad, now holds their lives in his hands. They never figured on this nightmare. No wonder they’re stunned speechless. With one hand wave, Joseph can have them killed or imprisoned. He could have reminded them of his coat and dreams. But no – Joseph pleads: “Come closer. Look, I am the brother you sold into Egypt. God used you to get me here so I could save you from starvation, and keep a promise alive through us. Now go home and tell dad. You, your families, all you have – pack up – you’re moving to Egypt to be near me, so I can get you through five more years of famine.” Joseph and Benjamin embrace, weeping on each other. Joseph kisses the others, and they weep all over each other, too. Fear melts, the brothers’ guilt is broken, and now they can speak to their brother.

Over the years, Joseph has learned he’s not in charge and that this mysterious God is continually with him – whether in a pit or in prisons or on a throne. The evil the brothers intend, God turns to good. It’s a hard lesson for any of us to trust at the time, especially when others sip margaritas, enjoy the sun and breeze, and watch boats sail by.

Life tends to move back and forth. We’re in sunshine or in a storm’s grip – dark and alone. Sometimes we are moving from one place to the other, even daily. If the sun shines on us – is this chance, God’s providence, or our good decisions? If we are in the throes of the storm – did we cause our pain? Is this bad luck, or did God send us here as punishment? That’s what the brothers now figure – Someone is getting even for what they have done to Joseph. Do you think you might be here today by the providence of God’s unseen hand? To say everything that happens is God’s doing may be extreme. Through years of ministry and being invited into many people’s lives, I believe God is guiding us. How and what that is, I don’t know. But when this truth hits you – you realize God’s been there all along, as Dan Wakefield humorously says: “like the Bourgeois Gentleman in Moliere’s play who is thrilled to discover all his life he’s been speaking prose![i]

Always remember God overcomes our misdeeds, mistakes, and screw-ups – maybe not in every little circumstance, but when it counts. When the dust settles and life is done – God awaits us with a smile and open arms. We’ll find gifts of grace, longing and forgiveness we couldn’t earn, like Joseph’s brothers find from the God he’s learned to trust. We’ll look back over the journey and know in what felt so terrible or wrong at the time God has been there ahead of us. Don’t ever give up. God keeps His dreams and the promise. It’s alive in us. And my friends, that is the Gospel.

[i] Spiritually Incorrect, by Dan Wakefield; Skylight Paths Publishing: Woodstock, Vermont, 2004.


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