Category: egypt

Freed to Follow – an exodus Journey Week 3

Sermon

Pentecost 12A

Series: Freed to Follow Week 3

Exodus 12:1-14
The Passover



We really jump ahead from that moment of God’s Call to Moses on the mountain way over on the Sinai Peninsular to being back in Egypt at the end of a long and difficult battle between God’s freedom and Pharaoh’s continued bondage.

As we go come to our Word for today, we bump into all this business about God’s judgement on Egypt. All this talk of plagues and God’s judgement seems pretty foreign to our experience of faith. God is described and seen acting as the Warrior God. This is not what we are used to. Maybe a bit of background can help us into the Word today.

God has picked a fight with Pharaoh and the goal is worship; rest and blessing in his presence. The reason Moses is to give Pharaoh for “letting my people go” is so that they can worship the Lord. God is forming a worshipping community. He is freeing a community of people with whom he can meet and teach and bless and through which he will bless and teach all humanity.

The fight with Pharaoh is going to take some extreme measures and the victory will need to be complete, lest God just becomes a mere god of many gods in the pantheon of ancient worship. So, what about how the battle is fought….?

The order of the 10 signs, and the various animals and material God uses all have their significance…….

As we said last week, in the pantheon of hundreds of gods, Amon Ra, the sun god, is chief and his son is the Pharaoh. Pharaoh actually is the son of god. Pharaoh has to fulfil his role to ensure that his father, Ra, (the sun) rises daily from the darkness of night (underworld). If Pharaoh does his job, then the seasons happen, the Nile River floods annually and crops grow – all is well. If Pharaoh is defeated or falls asleep on the job, then all returns to chaos and darkness.

You can see why Pharaoh really cannot allow belief in any other god – especially one who claims to trump Amon Ra, like Moses is suggesting.

In 9 signs, the Lord defeats the gods of the underworld (blood of the Nile, frogs, flies), the earth (mosquitoes/gnats, cattle plague and dust into boils)and then the sky (hail, locusts, darkness across the land). Then God strikes the killer blow by wiping out the first born male generation of human beings and animals in Egypt.

The Lord’s victory is almost complete. There will still be one final blow that will wipe out Pharaoh and his army completely too. That is for next week….

This is warrior stuff and hard for us to deal with. God the mighty Lord is a warrior who fights on behalf of his people. He knows the depths of human evil and the power of evil in his creation and he acts in merciless fashion to free his people from hard service to these things.

His goal however is good service in his presence. His goal is the eventual blessing of all nations and the welcoming of all nations into his gracious presence in worship. He has to make this fledgling slave community into a nation of blessing before he can bless the whole world through them as he promised.

We pause in the story to receive detailed instructions about the foundational event through which God freed his people and the special meal that is to be enacted annually for all time – the Passover.

Our text is the detailed instruction how to order the seasons (the year) and remember this act of freedom God gave to his people the night he saved them from continued hard labour and service to the gods of Egypt.

The details say that this saving event and this holy meal come from God and his authority and power alone. This meal is all about God’s authority and power from beginning to end. It is about complete dependence on God and his saving love.

This moment is to define everything in life after it. God re-orders the year. He makes a first month of the year; the month of Nisan (no, not a car!) or “Abid”. It is in early spring time in the northern hemisphere – very fitting. This is a new year, a new life, a new hope and way of living. It is around March/April – based on the lunar cycle (full moon).

This special meal is to be enacted by all people in all families. It is to be taught to the children over and over again, so important and foundational it is.

We hear a little later on……(Exodus 12:26-27)

When your children ask you what you mean by this observance, just tell them that we are remembering the night when Yahweh passed over all the Israelite houses. That’s when we became God’s liberated people.

It is a holy meal that deserves only the very best. Some time has to be spent selecting a year old lamb or kid. The animal sacrificed for the meal must be without any defects or spots or “blemish”: Only the best for a holy God of freedom. He demands our best – our first fruits not our second best. He is holy and invites us to share in his holiness and love. Only our best offering will be what is required in our relationship with the Lord.

Nothing at all is to be wasted. If there is not enough people in your own house to finish the whole lamb, then you need to invite the friends and family over. This is a holy meal that cannot be left for other purposes.

This holy event done solely by a holy God (no human power involved) which has a specially chosen animal to be sacrificed could so easily be abused if any of the holy sacrificed animal was left over. Human beings have an idol factory in their soul and God’s people are so prone to serve idols of their own making with anything that looks or sounds holy. No, nothing is to be left. The people can only serve one God – the Lord, I AM.

This meal must be eaten on the run – literally. God is on the move during this meal. He is at work and his work is done for a people that are on the move – or soon will be – after this meal. The meal is for the run. The meal is strength for the journey. It is not a meal for being only settled and comfortable or to bask in too much. It is meal for life and change, and activity and the journey in which God’s people travel with him.

The blood of the Lamb is the centre of the meal, along with the bread that does not have yeast in it. There is no time to bake bread that rises. Again, this is a meal on the move.

The blood is to be used for something special – It is to be painted on the door frames of the house, as a sign of something. The blood is sign first to the people. God is freeing you through this meal. He is freeing you from more hard labour to other gods and idols. He is saving you from the darkness that surrounds human idolatry and sin. Through the blood of the Lamb he is winning this victory over chaos and evil “for you”.

Yes, those words, “for you” resound in our ears when we share a meal. “Given and shed for you” we hear……

The blood of the lamb is also a sign to God; a sign post to him to “Passover” and not exercise his judgement of sin on this family. It is a sign post to God to let this family live when it really deserves God’s judgement of death.

Can any of us really know what amazing gifts the Lord gives us in this simple meal we share if we don’t hear about this Passover meal? The depth of God’s power and grace shine as we hold this Passover night with “the night Jesus was betrayed…”.

Passover and Lord’s Supper

It was at a Passover celebration that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. This meal too means liberation for all who partake, freedom from sin, freedom from the world, and freedom from all demonic powers.

As the Lord’s own Supper, it is open to all the Lord invites, all the baptized, who remember that Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. The blood of the host at this banquet means that God will pass over the sins of all who partake in repentance and faith.

This meal says something. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. The infinite One meets us in the finite elements: bread and wine.

At the Old Testament Passover, the narrator said: When your children ask you what you mean by this observance, just tell them that we are remembering the night when Yahweh passed over all the Israelite houses (Exodus 12:26-27). That’s when we became God’s liberated people. And so at our Christian Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, we tell each other, especially our children, just why we celebrate this little banquet so frequently. It is not blood on our doorposts, but the bread and the wine, the body and blood of Jesus that says “You are free!” It’s so real you can taste it.

All the baptized are welcome here — every age, every class, every gender, every race, sinners included. In fact, sinners — long-time member sinners or new to the faith sinners — are invited to be first in line.

Our Eucharist (or “Meal of Thanksgiving”) catches us on the fly, between Saturday and Monday. Our meal in Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”, is a meal on the move. It is strength for the journey of faith and love. It is to be lived out, not hogged and kept for personal comfort only. It’s a communal meal for us all and those who don’t know the Lord yet.

Our stay at the table is short term. It is not once a year anymore but all the time now. Jesus has kind of sped things up and the Spirit quickens us regularly for our spiritual service to the Lord as we bear witness to his gifts of grace and love.

Our stay is short but often, and we are soon on our way back into our daily life where we live out our freedom, for others.

Praise the Lord for his passing over of our idolatry and hard hearts and his giving of life and freedom in their place – all in the body and blood of Jesus, the true Passover Lamb – the host of this holy meal and the meal itself – all God, from beginning to end.

Freed to Follow – an exodus Journey Week 2

BETWEEN THE TEXTS

• Remember, Exodus is all about two things – knowing God and vocation. Exodus is an account of knowing God through personal experience and how it is that God would call a nation to their vocation of being a blessing to the whole world.


• As we go through Exodus, we are following the Common Lectionary (or selection of Bible readings) that most mainline Christian denominations also follow. Hearing the Word as set down in the three year lectionary used globally, is one of the way we express Oneness (or the “catholic” – “universal” nature of God’s church. Our schedule of bible passages in Exodus has lots of bible texts in between each one! So it is an important to get what happens prior to our text each week.


• A very important thing happens before our text for this week begins. Read Ch 2:11-25.


• verse 11: Moses obviously grows up to be a young man. He grows up in the royal palace with all its privilege, and yet it seems that he has learnt or sensed that he is actually one of the ethnic minority population called “the Hebrews”. He is not an Egyptian.


• He does two things that show a certain passion and concern for the plight of his people. He first “watches” their “hard labour”. Moses is seeing what Pharaoh’s daughter saw and heard when she saw Moses in the ark and heard his crying and “was moved”.


• Both things Moses does are done in secret – at least he thinks they are. “He looks this way and that” checking to see if anyone is seeing him.


• The issue is really about authority. It is clear that when he kills the Egyptian slave master who is beating a Hebrew and then when he tries to settle a dispute between two of his countrymen, he has no authority. One of the two Hebrews who are beating each other up pop that authority question (verse “Who made you ruler and judge over us?” asks the Hebrew slave. And then in direct challenge to his actions, “Are you thinking of killing me like you did that Egyptian the other day?” Moses is found out and very scared.


• Pharaoh quickly turns on this adopted son of his daughter. But, as will become more and more apparent, Pharaoh’s attempts to deal with these Hebrews and their God will become less and less effective!


• Everything speeds up and is compressed together. Moses flees across the huge desert, somehow survived on the land way over in Midian and sits down by a well” (verse 15).


• Verse 19: This “one who was drawn from the water” now “draws water for some women at the well.


• He helps some women at the well (wells are always places of meeting in the desert communities). he meets a man who seems to have two names. here he is called “Reuel” and in other places he is called Jethro. He agrees to arranged marriage with one of Jethro’s seven daughters, Zipporah.


• “Zipporah” in Hebrew means “one who tweets”. Maybe she was a frequent Tweeter user!


• They have a son, Gershom, which means “alien there”. Maybe Moses is no getting as far away as he can from his Egyptian upbringing. After all, the king did try to kill him!


• Verse: 23-25: Again we hear of this crying out and now God seeing and hearing and “being concerned” about them. he is about to show his concern and do something about it…….


WEEK 2 Exodus 3:1-15 (TNIV)


The Calling of Moses (1 numbers relate to THOUGHTS – the bullet points below)
1 Now Moses was tending the flock 1of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness 2and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire3 from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see 4this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”



4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”


And Moses said, “Here I am.”

5 5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.


7 The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt 6. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 7


12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship8 God on this mountain.”


13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ 9Then what shall I tell them?”


14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. 10 This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”



15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation. 11
THOUGHTS
1. It is important to note that Moses is a shepherd. This is his vocation at the time of his calling. He will continue to be a shepherd – not of sheep, but of God’s people. The word “Pastor” come from the Latin word meaning “shepherd. Pastors are essentially shepherds of congregations.

2. The location of this burning bush (Mount Horeb or Sinai) moment is not known for sure, but is seems that it might have been on the western side of the Sinai Peninsular.


3. Flames: This is a very common way that the biblical writers try and give a visual picture of God’s presence. It happens again in Exod 19:18 when the glory/presence of God descends upon the same mountain and gives the 10 commandments. Later on in the desert journey, a pillar of fire will guide the community at night time. We New Testament people make a link with Pentecost Sunday and the “tongues of fire”.


4. Moses has “seen” God’s people in pain and now he wants to “see” this great sight. He will see the fire and see some other things as well! Note that God then “sees” Moses coming up the mountain. Interesting that the man who wants to discover something has now become the discovered one by God! This self-appointed shepherd who lacked authority to fulfil his calling will now receive God’s authority and power for the humanly impossible calling he will no be given!


5. Now we have the famous moment of God’s call and giving of the most precious gift he ever gave his people. Moses is given his commission to shepherd Israel in three ways;


o God is present: Moses is made aware of this (take off the sandals on holy ground)


o He is informed that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – God is a known God with a history of promises to and blessing of and saving people.


o God announced his intentions. Moses hears what God is wanting to do through him – save his people.


6. Again we hear for the third time since Exodus began that God has seen and understands the plight of his suffering people (they are “crying out” – like Moses in the ark). He is now going to “come down” with one intention – RESCUE. Pharaoh’s daughter was indeed a sign of God’s rescue when she found Moses.


7. Moses does not receive his calling well. He objects – three times in all. He knows he needs God’s authority and power to do this humanly impossible thing called shepherding God’s people! First he asks “Who am I” for this task. Answer: A nobody! God responds with a promise of assurance. “I will be with you”.


8. This calling and this giving of God’s name is all about Worship. Who will God’s people serve/worship? They are doing “hard service/labour” to pharaoh and the gods of Egypt and it is killing them. God is going to act to gather them into his presence in a new way so that they can serve/worship him. The service of God will be rest, not slavery. God does the giving and the blessing and the healing in worship p- not the people. They attend to worship not to appease the Lord, but to receive from him the good things he promises. in this way they “rest in his presence” as he rested from his labour on the seventh day.


9. Moses does not seem convinced! He asks the obvious question of God. Moses has asked, “Who am I”. Now he asks, “Who are you”!


10. Now comes the giving of the greatest gift that God ever gave to human beings besides their very existence. “I AM WHO I AM”, or “I AM WHO I WILL BE” is God’s personal name (YHWH: in English)


o It has never been uttered before and by giving Moses his personal name, God ushers in a whole new era of relationship intimacy with humanity.


o God has many names in Old Testament: El Elyon – God Most High, El Roi – God who sees me, El Shaddai – God Almighty, El Olam – God Everlasting,


o By this personal name (YHWH – Yahweh), Moses and human being will have unprecedented access to his presence and being.


o This name is really as mystery. It reveals God in a new personal way, but it also conceals God. God is still God but closer. It is untranslatable and in Hebrew it is unpronounceable. It has four letters and has been called the “Tetragrammaton” (four letters). It would become the holiest and most guarded name and the name to only be used under very strict ritual/worship conditions for Jewish people.


o This is a huge risk for God. Once his gives his personal name he is open to more personal abuse. It is like us giving our name to a stranger. Once it is done, we are more known – and open to our name being abused. Same with God.


o By this name Moses will have authority to save and shepherd God’s chosen and blessed people.


o In most English translation bible, this name, in English “Yahweh”, is usually printed “LORD”.


o Moses still objects a little after our text. Moses says he cannot speak well enough. God fixes this my telling him have his brother, Aaron, as a spokesman for him in his calling (Exod 4:1ff). God also gives him the first part of the program of “sign and wonders” that Gods will employ to begin the battle Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt.


11. God will never withdraw this special name, no matter how much it is abused. he will never deny personal access to his presence for his faithful people. In New Testament terms, the name YHWH is translated “Kyrios” (my Lord). This is name by which people address Jesus. “Lord, have mercy on me”, (“Kyrie, eleison”). In John’s gospel, jesus says the seven great “IAM” statements – I AM the God Shepherd, I AM the gate for the sheep, I AM the Brad of Life, I AM the way the truth and the life…..

REFLECTIONS
• We are drawn out of the water in baptism. Baptism is our commissioning as God’s shepherds for others – all with different vocations, families and communities in which to be God’s name bearers for others.



• We are all priests in the sense that we have access to God’s very presence by his grace and mercy. We pray for people to God on their behalf. This is why on Sunday we pray ”The Prayer of the Church”. Here we actually perform a public service in praying for the world in God’s gracious presence.


• Worship of any god other than YHWH – or Jesus Christ the LORD, kills people, enslaves people and destroys relationship with God and each other.


• Worship is primarily an act of the Lord to which we respond in prayer, thanks and praise – not the other way around. “Liturgy” is a word the New Testament writers chose from their culture to express what they believed was going on when we gathered in God’s presence around the Word and the Holy Meal. “Liturgy” means “public work”, or “work of the people”. We respond to God’s good gifts of forgiveness, life, teaching, guidance, and healing by doing our public work – never only for ourselves but for the whole world and for others present.


• With this biblical view of worship, worship can then become what it was established to be by God – REST!


• It is no merely human thing to be called and commissioned by the Lord for service in his church or his world. Moses objects three times. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Jonah, and Jesus himself asked for their calling to be taken from them. Someone once said that anyone who willingly wants to lead God’s people is either full of themselves or just plain unaware of what God is asking them to do!


• But God promises to be with the ones he calls. He gives them his own personal name, which means access to his blessing, power, wisdom and hope to fulfil their calling.


Are you resisting God’s call to serve at the moment? What are your fears? What are your excuses?


Are you resting in God’s personal presence in worship or are you labouring in some kind of slavery in worship? Why?

When you come to worship, is it more about how well you do stuff for God, or more about letting God give you what he wants to give you?

How are you representing the needs of your family and friends before the Lord and seeking his blessing and healing for them in prayer – in worship and through the day? You are a priest like Moses by faith in Jesus and by virtue of your baptism – your commissioning day. What might it mean to be a member of the “priesthood of all believers – practically?


My spirit revived!

Sermon

Pentecost 9A, Sunday August 14, 2011.
Ocean Forest


My spirit revived!

WHAT I NOTICED IN THE TEXT

This is the final scene in a long story of pain for a family and a father. The author takes heaps of time to tell the story and builds to this final scene of reconciliation and summary of all that has happened to this family and this fledgling nation, Israel.

There is huge emotion on display in this text – long held hopes for true reconciliation with those who have hurt you bring that out.

Hindsight – being able to survey the past and what has happened and see how God has shaped your life and actually used the troubling and testing events and even the great wrongs that have been done to you. Joseph says that it was God that actually sent him to Egypt to save a nation, not a band of jealous, angry brothers bent on destruction. God triumphs over destruction of life and turns it around for the preservation of life.

Walking backwards into the future. That is the way the Hebrew mind evident in the Old testament works, as we see it here very clearly. The only indication of the future is the less than clear world of dreams. Joseph had dreams, the prison mates had dreams and Pharaoh had dreams – even when interpreted by Joseph, they are vague at best. But there is absolute clarity about God’s promise to Abraham, what has happened to Isaac and Jacob, and now Joseph. “Gods meant it for good” concludes Joseph. He always does it seems.

Reconciliation: Reconciliation is an opportunity to bring glory to God ad here Joseph gives God all the glory. Reconciliation demands that we get the log out of our own eye. The brothers seemed to have done this as they lived with the guilt of what they done and were now ready to enter reconciliation because they had admitted their wrong. The two waring parties were now ready to be gently (or not so gently!) restored and to then go and live in this newly restored relationship.

WORD
What a scene this bible text reveals! It is the scene of a family restored, a father revived and a hope rising up again. It is a scene of forgiveness triumphing over all of that harmful stuff we have mentioned in these weeks as we have followed the story of Jacob – the “winning struggler” and God’s promise of blessing through him.

This emotional reconciliation account is the crescendo to a beautifully told story which explains how it is that the promise to Abraham to be the head of a large nation of descendants blessed by God came to be. Joseph’s story is the last of four great stories of four great people in the book of Genesis – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and now within Jacob’s story – Joseph, his favoured son.


Prayer: O Jesus, every moment in my heart and my ear, speak to us in this word that we hear.


So much has happened to get to this great scene of brothers reconciling after years of hatred, jealousy, lies and guilt. Let’s do a quick catch up….


Jacob favoured this young son, Joseph and that brought into being it inevitable result – jealousy, hatred and physical and emotional harm to the favourite among his 11 brothers. Last week we heard how they took their opportunity to get rid of the young “dreamer” who had these dreams about being the dominant and blessed one among all his brothers. They throw him into a dark pit, but eventually then sell him as a slave to travelling traders who head to Egypt.


Jacob, now called “Israel” by God, the “struggling winner”, is inconsolable with grief and loss. Joseph, the blessed one of God, ends up in Egypt, and is bought from the spice traders who bought him from the 11 brothers by a man named Potiphar. This man is a royal official of some type. So, Joseph land on his feet, really. This is God’s doing it says. “The Lord was with Joseph….” we hear at various intervals in this wonderfully told story of God’s blessing.

Potiphar could see that Joseph was a blessed and gifted man of some divine god, so he hands over the running of his own substantial household to Joseph. Potiphar’s wife notices Joseph is a good catch and makes a pass at him! Joseph has some character and some integrity about him. He rejects the offer and keeps on doing so for some time. Eventually the jilted woman sets Joseph up. Potiphar gets Joseph thrown in prison.

It must have been a tricky thing to serve Pharaoh wine and bake his bread because for some minor mistake, the cupbearer and the baker to the King end up in prison with Joseph! This puts a new spin on Masterchef!!

In time Joseph also proves himself to be an excellent prison administrator! He ends up being given that role. He is a blessed and talented man of faith.

Joseph, the dreamer, actually is a dream interpreter. He can see things others can’t. Not only does he impress his inmates with his special sight into dreams, but also then by twist of fate, Pharaoh himself. By seeing that Pharaoh’s dreams are a warning about a devastating 7 year drought and famine coming, Joseph is again restored to the palace.


Just as Jacob favoured him right from the beginning, and as Potiphar and also his in-mates in prison favoured him, now even Pharaoh himself makes Joseph “the man in charge of all Egypt” – in other words, Prime Minister under the King himself. 23 years after he was thrown into the pit by the brothers that hated him and his dreaming of favoured status, at the age of 30, he is Prime Minister in the super-power nation of the day.


He sets about drought and famine-proofing Egypt. Of course, people from surrounding tribes and groups would also benefit from Egypt’s food supply in severe famine. Some of those non-Egyptian surrounding people are his own family – his brothers who after some years of drought and extreme hardship come down to Egypt to buy grain and goods to survive.


From here Joseph is the architect of this great scene we have heard. By careful manipulation of events and direct conversation with these brothers who left him for dead out of jealousy and hatred, he manoeuvres them around to find out a few things.

Is Dad still alive? Yes. Are these brothers of mine still full of hatred for me? Not so much hate now, but guilt and fear. “God is punishing us what we did to our brother” they admit to the PM of Egypt. (Gen 42:12).

All the while, Joseph hides his identity from his brothers. He has to be sure they have changed. He is after reconciliation and must know that it has a fair chance of winning over what used to be hatred. If it doesn’t he will have no choice but further pain and sorrow. He obviously hoped for reconciliation intently because several times in the various encounters over a couple of years he gets very emotional about it all and has to duck out of the room to keep his identity from them!


Eventually we get to this scene where the 11 brothers and the dreamer they hated are in one room and Joseph knows that they are ready to lose their hatred and guilt and receive his olive branch of reconciliation.

This is the last time he will hide his identity. “Every one get out!” he commands as the emotion wells up inside him. He finally tells them who he is. He does this by loud wailing and weeping in a forceful show of raw emotion – so much so that all the people out of the room hear the weeping and Pharaoh hears it too!

His brothers are speechless – dumbfounded! They can’t get a word out. They are so shocked and full of fear. Surely the day of judgement on their terrible sin is here. Pay day is here. We are going to cop it. We deserve it. We did it. He is alive and has all the cards in his favour.

The blessed man of God who knows what it is to be hated and abandoned and mistreated, as well as what it is to be loved and blessed by the Lord and to serve the Lord for the good of a whole nation in pain, pours out God’s mercy and blessing on these men. There is such an emotional scene of reconciliation – genuine reconciliation – not just conflict resolution or agreeing to disagree, but gut wrenching repentance, owning up, pouring out of guilt and fear and the undeserved gift of mercy – grace really.

It’s a scene for any of us who are guilty or wrong and fearful of punishment – from others and especially from God.

It’s a scene for any of us who have been hated and abandoned by a brother, sister parent or friend.


It is a scene for anyone who has been the one who has done the hurting the hating and the abandoning.

It’s a scene for any Christian who has forgotten what our overall task is with others – we have this ministry of reconciliation (1 Cor 5:16-20)


16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20


With God’s promise of future, blessing, hope and life, and only with his promise, this kind of reconciliation is possible and given freely to any sinner, anytime, anywhere.

How do we receive this kind of healing? How do we give this kind of olive branch to enemies? How do we find the peace and the purpose that this kind of complete forgiveness brings – forgiveness with each other and with God?


We have to be weak and let God be strong. There is no beginning of this reconciliation without weakness and vulnerability and great risk – before our enemy and before the Lord. There is no other way to a scene like this.

We either trust the Lord and rest in his promises and blessing and presence in us and take the risk and be weak in the struggle or we keep up the charade that we are always right, justified in our rights and in charge of forgiveness. We are not. This Joseph account shows that it is only the God Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who has the grace, the mercy and the power to create this kind of healing and new hope.
We are about to embark on a great journey of how this God of hope, who “hears the cries of his people and their struggle in slavery” will make the first move in making sure his promise of community, name and land to Abraham will come to be.

We will see how he creates a nation of blessing – how he will take this undefined community and baptise them and free them in his promise and power and shape them by hard struggle and mistakes, but then constant leading and restoration to be the nation through which the whole world would be blessed.


I reckon that in this great account of the beginning of a nation’s place and role in the world, called Exodus”, the ‘way out’ we will find God with us in our faith journey here.

We are a community created by God in a wider human community, just as the descendants of Jacob and his 12 sons were a community within a wider community. We need God to show us our particular place and role – our vocation, as his community in the human community, as the Hebrews would discover as they became the nation of Israel.

We will see that our meaning and purpose as defined and given by the Lord happens on the move, in the desert places, when we are tired, hungry and thirsty and longing for the good old days when things were easier.

We will also find that our purpose and hope for now and the future as God’s people takes shape when we are on the mountain in the glory cloud of God’s presence, eating and drinking together with the Lord in all his glory and grace.

So, we pray that the Spirit of Jesus will revive us and restore us as we begin this little journey of “the way out” with the Lord – our exodus with the Lord from whatever is enslaving us.

We pray to or heavenly Father – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, now revealed in Jesus of Nazareth as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that we will get something out of this together for our lives now – for our jobs, our families, our church, our school, our mission.

We seek with confidence because this is no mere children’s story or even just a story – it is the witness of Jesus to us in the power of his Holy Spirit and will divide us, cut us, call us, heal us and be good for us.


Our end of the deal is to seek with the heart. He will show us and shape us in his way.

Prayer:

Jesus, you are the great teacher and revealer of God to us and we need your revelation now. In these days ahead and this account of the mighty works of the Lord and the very human responses of Israel, speak to us and shape us your community in this wonder human community. Amen.


THINGS TO REFLECT ON

Who do I need to be reconciled with and am I and that person ready. Can I see my wrong and admit it and go from there?

What does hindsight of your experiences tell you about God? Did he really mean it all for good and has he been at work all along? Pick a good and a bad experience and ponder them from Joseph’s point of view…..

What can you see of the future? Is it true that like the Hebrews, we can only really walk backwards into our future – keeping our eyes on Jesus and what has already done in our lives so that we stay with him and his Word and let him take care of what behind (or actually in front of us) in our future?

Blessing in Hopelessness

Sermon:

Pentecost 8A, Sunday August 7, 2011.

Ocean Forest
Joseph in the pits
STARTERS:
  • If you could name a few of the greatest blessings God has ever given you – what would they be?
  • What has God promised you, both in the Bible and in your personal experiences?
  • What do you think happens to God’s blessing when you are in the pits?
  • Have you ever been the favourite in class, or in the team or in the family? How as that?
  • Has there been favouritism in your family. If so, what has it done to your family?
THINGS I NOTICE ABOUT THE TEXT
  • There is grief, sorrow, jealousy, favouritism, pain, injustice, abuse, lies and just about every bad human behavior on show here from various people and yet God’s blessing endures. it is a very, very human account of people and God’s promises intersecting
  • It is a long way from the Hebron Valley up to Dothan in the north of the country. They are out on the edge of their territory – a great place to “lose” their troublesome young brother.
  • Joseph was definitely not worldly wise in the world of family politics. He was only 17 and he showed it by sharing his dreams of dominance with his 11 other brothers.
  • Jacob even sees that it will not go for his favourite son, Joseph, if the lad keeps sharing these “dominating” dreams with his brothers 9v10). But Jacob does nothing except notice this dynamic. Why didn’t he act to teach his young son something about life?!
WORD
From last Sunday, we now take up Jacob’s story some years after that wrestling for God’s blessing in Jabbok River when he has had his twelve sons, one of whom is Joseph. In anyone’s book, Jacob has been blessed! Twelve children is a good number! God’s promised blessing to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, way back in Genesis 12, of a whole nation of descendants, a great name among the nations and land in which to live a blessed life – so that this nation could be the bringers of God’s blessing to all nations, is taking shape.

But, as is always the case, imperfect human beings seem unable to live in God’s promised blessing. We forget God’s promises, doubt his faithfulness and play god ourselves – trying to determine their own dreams for the future. Our text today is about the seeming end of a dream; the end of God’s promises and blessing.

 

I don’t know what it would be like to be one of 12 brothers, but I know what it is to be the youngest. I might know what it is like to be regarded by my siblings as the favourite. That’s what my sisters always said about me when it came to escaping the wrath of my dad. I was, after all the youngest and the only son he had. But unlike Joseph, I was not hated by my siblings. My sisters never ganged up on me and threw me into a pit!

 

In our text we see that awful string of things that destroys a family; favouritism, jealousy, hatred and physical and emotional harm. The seed of the trouble is favouritism by a father to one child. For old man Jacob, Joseph was a special sign of God’s blessing in his life (and maybe a source of pride in his virility!).

For 17 years in this large family, Joseph was treated with more focus and favour than all the rest. Joseph even got a specially made coloured coat for his 17th birthday. The others never got that. Favouritism bred the seeds of discontent and family feuding.

Fuel was added to the fire when this young kid started unwisely sharing his dreams of world domination with his 11 older brothers! – saying in several ways that they all would bow down to him sometime in the future! The text just says…”and they (the brothers) hated Joseph all the more”.

Of course, they were not only hating Joseph, but actually, God’s blessing. These dreams of Joseph being dominant among the 12 brothers were signs of God’s continued presence and promise. But no one in this family could hear it or believe it. They were locked into established patterns of dislike. Human brokenness again begins to destroy God’s blessing for a family and the world.

 

It goes to show that once we give up on God’s faithfulness to his promises in our own lives and settle for only what is in front of us we can find ourselves anywhere. Here, we are in the territory of all out hatred. Anything is possible.

 

One day the 11 brothers see an opportunity to get rid of this young favourite, coloured coated dreamer. There is disagreement about how brutal and final to be. Some want to just murder him. Most want to just get rid of him by less excessive means.

The only reason they decide not to murder their brother is so that they don’t have to be cursed for the rest of their lives by the guilt – not out of even one ounce of compassion or kindness to a family member. How complete is this hatred?! If this word today is anything, it is a stern warning from the Lord about the horrible consequences of playing favourites in family or in life.

 

The passing traders purchase Joseph from the 11 brothers for their spice trade journey to Egypt. The brothers cover up their hatred and its consequences. Sin is always like that. We have to cover it up if we don’t repent of it before God.

 

They spin a yarn to the old man, Jacob, about beloved Joseph being taken by a bear and they produce the much hated coloured coat with some goat blood on it for “proof”. The old man is distraught for weeks. No one can console him in his loss and grief.

 

What looked so good is now diminished. God’s blessing is diminished and damaged. That is what it looks like to Jacob and to those of us hearing this Word.

We have darkness here. We have a young man in a pit of darkness. It is a pit of hatred, mistreatment, betrayal and all of this from those who are closest – family.

 
We have hatred on show. We have thuggery, gang-land behaviour, underbelly stuff. We have cover up, deception, trickery. We have unfettered grief and loss; a Dad distraught at the loss of a loved child. Where is God in all of this? Where is this dream of a future of blessing? What was looking good now seems to be falling apart.

I had a recent experience of feeling this kind of deflation while on R&R leave. I went bush for a week. I drove our van right out into the heart of the Gascoyne region. I had been looking forward to getting isolated, sleeping in a swag, not seeing people for a while, seeing the bush in full bloom after the rains, seeing that big blue sky and that red, red dirt – and finally viewing the largest rock ion the world – My Augustus – 1200km NE of Perth.

 
My spirits were up as I hit the first dirt road and beautiful river crossing….. However, I made the mistake of having reasonably well-worn tires and only one spare. I had two punctures along the way. The first was in a safe place and was sorted out easily. The second was “the end of the dream”. I left Mt Augustus station with one spare tyre, a puncture repair kit and 340km’s of gnarly dirt road with hundreds of washouts, creek crossings, corrugated parts, cattle grids and dust before me. It was not a good drive. The enjoyment I was seeking in just being out there in the beautiful inland was out of reach. I was on tender hooks.

I made it to 170kms (half way), stopped, checked the tyres; all good. Within 5 minutes of that stop I went over a cattle grid and heard the sound of metal on metal. My heart sunk even further. I stopped. Sure enough; a blowout. A 40cm gash in the side wall of the tire. There was no way of fixing it. So I had 170km’s to go with no spare.

 

I had only seen one car so far this day and only three cars on the road for the last 2 days. If I got a flat, I would be waiting a long time. Even though I had plenty of water and food and sleeping gear, it was still scary. My mind was engulfed in doubt and fear.

I pulled into a homestead to try and fix the spare. There was no one around. I still had 80km’s to go. Sitting in the car trying to decide what to do – stay at the homestead and wait until someone turns up (which could a whole day, or keep going, I heard something in the soul. A strong direction and even a voice…”Trust me”.

I wonder whether that is what the God of promise and blessing says to his people in the pit. Is that what Joseph heard in the pit? Is that what the grieving Dad heard in his loss? Is that what we hear?

I hear this simple direction not only about a 3 hour moment on a dirt road. The moment I heard it I knew it was for me here and you here. I don’t know if we are in the pit with Joseph, but the promise that was right before our eyes only 4 years ago is hard to identify now in some ways. We have been through some hard times these last 4 years.

We begun about this size and shape, and God blessed us with kids, parents, baptisms, confirmations, 1st Communions, activity, numerical growth, financial blessing and we were “living the dream’ as a congregation and college of the Lutheran Church of Australia.

For anyone of us here who has worried about this place, given our heart to this place, served shoulder-to-shoulder with each other in this place and seen these interesting times curtail in some way those earlier signs of God’s blessing in Jesus seem like they have diminished, this word is word for you.

Being in the pit was not the end of God’s blessing for Joseph. A family lost in jealousy and hatred was not the end of God’s presence and promise for that family.
• The mistake of playing favourites was not the end for a mistaken parent.
• Painful loss and grief was not the end of life and hope for an old Father and grand-father.
• The despising of God’s word and the signs he sends was not the end for a fledgling community who would
   still become a nation of struggling winners under God.

 
Same for us…..

Going through hard times and seeing things be trimmed back a bit, and experiencing the concern and worry about what seems lost is not the end of our present in God’s promise. God is in the pit and many steps ahead – as he was for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

 

Any jealousy, dislike, unresolved conflict or friction between others is not the end of God’s community and his plans for his people to be a blessing to each other.

  

Any mistakes we make as parents or educators of children or colleagues and partners – any moment when we have fallen into playing favourites is not the end of God’s favour toward us through his loved Son, Jesus, our brother and friend “to the end of the age”. His mercies are new every morning and anyone who calls on his mercy and his promised will receive.

 

Loss and grief and the heavy sorrow they bring does not snuff out God’s enduring promise to conquer death in our lives and bring joy after the sorrow, rain after the drought, peace after the turmoil, as he did for those followers in the boat in the storm.

 

We are always fledglings in life and in community and God’s blessing promises to sustain us and make us prosper in God’s way and timing. He is calling us to simple trust him with our life – all of it.

 

We will hear of the magnificent way in which Joseph and his brothers and his father and a whole community are brought to hope in God’s promises again as we carry on with Joseph next week. Trust the Lord. His blessing is upon us and working through us as we put our faith in Jesus. Amen

 
WEEK THOUGHTS
  • What is God calling you to do in remembering how he has blessed you?
  • Is there a way to undo favouritism in your life?
  • What would be the blessing you need from God at the moment.
  • What do you think about Ocean Forest at the moment and God’s blessing among us?
  • Things have diminished in various ways and we have shared some tough times. Is God calling us to trust him a new ways? How?