Sermons That Work

Seeking, Searching, Joseph Went…, Proper 14 (A) – 2008

August 10, 2008

“And Joseph went looking for his brothers.”

Seeking, searching, Joseph went looking for his brothers. In today’s reading from Genesis, the meaning in Hebrew of Jacob’s command to Joseph is, “See how your brothers are,” with the meaning of “Seek the peacefulness and integrity of your brothers.” Joseph’s search for his brothers, God’s search for us, our search of one another, is more than just to seek and search for another, but to seek and search for the other’s peace, wholeness, and well being.

As God goes searching, looking for us, so we must look and search for God and for one another, for our brothers and sisters. As Joseph went looking for his brothers, so must we.

There is a stranger in the story – Hebrew interpretation often takes this to be an angel of God – who asks Jacob, “What are you looking for?” Joseph did not seek on his own but with divine guidance. If this stranger’s brief encounter had not happened, would Joseph ever have found his brothers so that God’s providence could unfold in salvation history? Are we ever a chance encounter for another to find their way to God’s will? Do we listen if God as the stranger places guidance in our own paths?

The Joseph saga is a story of hatred, prejudice, blinding jealousy. It does not begin as a pretty picture. Joseph’s brothers want to kill the favored, beloved brother and destroy the heart of their father as well as the son. It is a violent story: first to murder, then to hide the deed, to throw the beloved down a well, and finally in a cruel compromise, to sell him into slavery.

Yet this story is far more than a tale of family dysfunction, hatred, division. It is a story of God’s working in the lives of humans, even humans that falter, fail, and sin despicably and abhorrently. It is a story of divine intervention, salvation history, and God’s provision.

The brothers, of course, had no idea that their actions would lead to their own provision and survival. Their deeds were simply evil. Yet God, even through the evil of the world, works good and wonder. God is the Restorer, the one who takes death and transforms it into resurrection.

Joseph became and instrument in God’s plan of love and provision. It was because Joseph had become successful in Egypt, ensconced in position and power, that he was able to help his entire family when famine came. It was the kind of help that transcends knowing or understanding but is contained in love and forgiveness and mercy.

God’s help came through human hands, human love, human forgiveness. Jacob was able to overcome the human tendency to judge or reject those who had harmed him.

Fear is the predominate obstacle to God’s using us in this world. Fear is the predominate obstacle to our own ability to have faith and trust in God’s providential love in the midst of hardships. Our world is inundated by fear right now. It controls our hearts and minds. Fear is seen in the crisis with oil and the price of gas, with the cost and loss of housing, with every row of goods in the grocery store as we see the prices rise before our eyes, with global terror, nuclear threats, illness of those we love or ourselves, the very word “cancer” and a myriad of broken relationships.

The psalmist cries out in Psalm 69:

“Save me O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
“I sink in deep mire where there is no foothold;
“I have come into deep waters and the flood sweeps over me.”

In today’s gospel, we hear the tale of Peter trying to walk on water. The disciples were alone in the boat, a terrible storm had arisen, Jesus was walking toward them across the water like an apparition or ghost, and they were filled with fear. The storm was very, very real, and in that small boat they had good reason to be afraid. To see their beloved Jesus walking across the lake in the dark, in the violence of the storm, doing what was humanly impossible, must have been frightening. To try to do what is humanly impossible by ourselves, without God, is always frightening.

Peter listens to Jesus say simply, “Come,” and he gets out of the boat in a response that defies all logic. Our boats are symbols of false security, often reflected in our bank accounts, our materialism, our huge and unnecessary houses. What is the boat in your life that you are afraid to get out of? What is the boat in your life that prevents you from following God’s call to come? What is the fear that imprisons you?

Peter could not walk on that water for one reason: fear. He looked around at the worldly reality of the storm, the physics of the water, the incomprehensibility of the situation, the absurdity of it all, and fear overwhelmed Peter. He began to sink. And then Peter did what we must all do. Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Lord save us. Lord save us all.

The epistle in Romans today gives us the directions for what we must do to receive that salvation of Jesus. We must ask. We must cry out, “Jesus save me!” We must believe in our hearts – really believe – that it is Jesus who gives us life, forever eternal life. And we cry out. We proclaim with our lips. We believe, proclaim out loud, “Jesus is Lord.”

And then we too can walk on water, the water that tries to drown us, the water of fear that we can rise above. Jesus save me.

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Christopher Sikkema


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