Sunday, October 2, 2011

Coat of Many Colors

Coat of Many Colors: GENESIS 50:20
Reflections by Pastor Penny
I’m inviting you to join me reading The Story!   It’s an unusual opportunity to move through the Bible in a condensed, chronological manner.   I always find myself in the stories-- for who among us doesn’t struggle with temptation, forgiveness, and the challenge of loss?  If you haven’t gotten your book yet, pick one up at church.  If you haven’t quite started, just jump in. This week we’re on chapter 3, “Joseph: From Slave to Deputy Pharaoh.”
As we move from creation in the Garden of Eden, through the life of Abraham and Sarah, we now get to sit around the family table of Jacob and his twelve sons.  Believe me, this is one lively group!  I’ve begun to hear people say how surprised they are that these old stories are ringing true for our time.  That’s how I find the Bible – it resounds with deep truth and shines light on my path.  It also makes me laugh, shake my head with questions, and wonder.
I laughed when I saw the October 3rd Time magazine cover: “Why Mom Liked You Best: The Science of Favoritism.”  There’s Jacob and the 12 – with Joseph standing tall in his beautiful robe.  I can assure you that my sister and brother always thought I got that shining center spot.  All of us deal with the very same issues that these early families of our faith tell us about. 
And the same God who helps them helps us!  As you read along, talk in a conversation group Sunday morning or during the week, or listen to the audio CDs, you’ll be interested in what God’s Spirit draws you to.  That’s what we are promised as we listen; God comes and helps us know how to live.
                One of the key themes in the life of Joseph is found in Genesis 50:20, “Even though you intended to harm me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve numerous people, as he is doing today.”  Just how does that possibly work?  In a way, it sounds like God manipulating jealousy, lust, scheming for murder, lying, ETC! to make something good come in the end.  But I know that’s not in the character of God, so I like the translation in The Common English Bible:  “But God made it turn out for the best, so that he could save all these people, as he is now doing.”  Imagine the heart of God, making it turn out for the best!
                We are invited to imagine that because the whole Bible tells us more and more about the heart of God and how God acts.  1 John 1:5 says: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”  So we know that God is not using or manipulating darkness to make light.  But, in God’s own way, God “turns” the situation to make good for us – for us at St. Paul’s UMC.  I think of this way of understanding as living in the world seeing only the back side of a beautiful tapestry; it looks tangled, a little knotted up here and there, pattern not always clear.  God sees the front side of the tapestry of our lives, which have pattern, clarity, and beauty.
                The Story helps us really see Joseph. The more I look at Joseph’s life, the more impressed I am.  Maybe you had the sense that he was a puffed up kid bragging about his future possibilities, as he interpreted his dreams to his irritated brothers.  But as we read the whole story he stands tall, a man of honor following the God he must have learned about at his father Jacob’s tent and mother Rebecca’s knee.   
                Joseph is a favored child and his jealous brothers find a devious way to get rid of him.  As he is dragged off to Egypt, things look grim.  But God turns what looks like a death sentence into a chance to be useful; in slave-Joseph’s care, the household flourishes.  Terrible trouble comes when the wife of the Egyptian master tempts Joseph. His answer to temptation is: “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Genesis 39:9 
Joseph’s behavior opens him up to God’s best.  He puts himself in the stream of God’s grace and receives a jail sentence.  What?  How does that happen?  For his good behavior, Joseph is thrown into jail.  God moves through Joseph’s life in jail.  God turns this for good.  BIG NOTE:  Good behavior does not guarantee any kind of stress-free life.  There are no Free Passes through the challenges or troubles of life.  But what we do know, and see in Joseph’s story, is that God is always with us, always working to ‘turn’ any situation for good.
            Joseph’s life is full: 2 years in jail, dream interpretation, leading a nation in a challenging time, and reconnecting with the devious brothers and, finally, a happy ending.  Joseph speaks the words of forgiveness and grace to his brothers – you intended harm but God turned it to good.
                So what?  As we read, listen, think, question, and move forward with our own lives, what does the Joseph story have to do with us?  It could be just an old story with forgotten possibilities or a new opening to deep truth and new possibilities.  New possibilities for how we live as families, as we see Joseph centered on offering lavish forgiveness. 
                I’m always intrigued by the new! This week I got a New poetry book by Shell Silverstein, the poems were found years after his death in 1999.  Our grandchildren are enchanted with poems and drawings.  One of our favorites shows the possible outcome of a hairdryer working backward -- beware the foot left sticking out.  Very funny! New science offered Time magazine.  “Faster than Light.  A new study may upend Einstein.” The discussion unfolded:   “A finding about subatomic particles that may be moving over the speed of light…” The finding is enough to overturn a century of firmly established physics and rewrite the textbooks.”
New church!  Well, why not?  God is always inviting to new, to fresh possibilities.  What if the life of our congregation is only just beginning?  Let us find ways to believe that God will turn our present situation and do deep, lasting, permanent good.  For us and for our world.  May it be so!
                Does this story leave you with a question?
                Are You left with an answer?
                An invitation?
                What will you DO about that?
Next week:  Moses and Freedom! Chapter 4, page 43, “Deliverance”

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