Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | August 28, 2011

2011.08.28 Joseph, of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Part 2 – Genesis 45: 1 – 15

Central United Methodist Church

Joseph, of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Part 2

Pastor David L. Haley

Genesis 45: 1 – 15

August 28, 2011

It was 1982. The Chicago
Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church had a new Archbishop, whom few people
knew and even fewer had met. He was succeeding John Cardinal Cody, who had led
the archdiocese since 1965, a conservative and authoritarian leader. Who was
this new Archbishop, and what would his style be?  No one will ever forget it when Joseph – soon
to be Cardinal Bernardin – made his entrance and addressed those gathered with
the words of Joseph, in the Bible:  “I am
Joseph, your Brother.”

It was, on Cardinal Bernardin’s
part, a stroke of brilliance.  With that
quote, not only did he introduce himself, not only did he set the style of his
leadership until his death of cancer in 1996, but with it he imported the
virtue, the empathy, and the compassion of Joseph in the Bible.

This Joseph, of the
Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, we left last week stripped of his beautiful
coat, languishing in Egypt in Pharaoh’s dungeon, forgotten by all but God.

As we saw last week, perhaps what
was most amazing about Joseph was not his coat of many colors, but the “Joseph”
touch. The “Joseph touch” is the ability to rise up out of whatever pit life has
thrown us into, to surmount the circumstances, difficulties and wayward
temptations of life, to become the kind of person God calls us to be, and to
accomplish God’s purpose in the world.

It began when Joseph’s own brothers,
due to jealousy and hatred, stripped him of his multicolored robe, threw him
into a pit, and then sold him into off as a slave to Egypt.  Once in Egypt, the “Joseph touch” prevailed,
and Joseph rose from slavery to a position of responsibility in the house of
Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. Alas, Mrs. Potiphar had other designs on
Joseph, and for the second time he finds himself stripped of his garments and
thrown into a pit, this time the pit of Pharaoh’s dungeon. (In this story, Joseph’s
clothing seems to be a subtheme: you can always tell how he’s doing by how much
clothing he has on.)

Two years later, Pharaoh has a
restless night, troubled by dreams none of his advisors could interpret.  Pharaoh’s butler remembers Joseph, and his
ability to interpret dreams. Pharaoh calls for Joseph, and Joseph is scrubbed,
shaved, dressed, and brought before him. Demonstrating the “Joseph touch” yet
again, Joseph is appointed Pharaoh’s governor over grain, and by his
preparation and marshalling of grain through seven years of plenty, Joseph steers
Egypt through seven years of famine.

Meanwhile, far away in Canaan, word
reaches Joseph’s father and his brothers that Egypt is eating well, such that
the sons are dispatched there.  The stage
is set for what no one ever thought would happen: the reunion of Joseph with
his brothers, and eventually his father.

The scenes that follow are some of
the most powerful, not only in the Bible, but in all of literature. The story
deals with some of the most difficult and important issues of life, the first
being forgiveness, and the second being the mystery of fate, or what we
Christians call providence.

One of the first things you notice about
Joseph in these chapters is how much he has matured over the Joseph of the
earlier chapters. The young Joseph, though gifted, was naïve and insensitive,
as when he shared his dreams of domination with his brothers. The Joseph of
these chapters, educated by his experiences, is able to read people with a glance.
The young Joseph dreams of the day when his brothers will bow down to him; now,
when that day arrives, he can hardly keep from weeping, and does so, four times.
The young Joseph may have been terrified by what had happened to him, possibly
considering it the worst that could happen; the Joseph in these chapters has
come to understand that – as bad as it was – God has used it to bring about good,
not only to him, but to Egypt, to his father and brothers, and the nation of
Israel who would come from them.

This might be a good time to ask
ourselves, how are we doing? As we get older, both shaped and scarred by our
experiences, are we maturing? Have the pits and peaks of our lives made us less
sensitive or more sensitive to others? Do we have an emotional and spiritual
depth that was not present when we were in our teens, our twenties, our
thirties? Because, if there’s any warning about aging that we want to avoid,
it’s that “There’s no fool like an old fool.” Beauty may be vain, but wisdom is
becoming at every age.

The rabbis tell a story about Joseph
as he goes back to Canaan, carrying Jacob’s bones, to bury his father there. On
the way, they say, Joseph passes the very pit into which his brothers had
thrown him, and stops to say a blessing over it, as the place that saved and
redeemed his life. Ultimately, the question becomes: Can Egypt (Mitzrayim in
Hebrew, which means “the narrow places”) – can the narrow places of our lives,
where we feel persecuted and alone, become birth canals through which we are
reborn?

Sometimes the pits of our lives may
be people. In the book, Genesis: A Living Conversation, which
accompanied the 1996 PBS series by Bill Moyers, one of the participants, P. K.
McCary, said, “Well, I do this thing called “a blessing party.” I bless those
people who make me feel the angriest because I feel that if I bless them, maybe
things will change for the better between us.” How about a blessing party for
some people we know?

Joseph may not have known
it, but he is on the way to a “blessing party.” Before it can begin, there is a
painful passage to be negotiated, that of forgiveness.  Not recognizing him, Joseph’s brothers appear
before him, bowing, just as he had once dreamed. If you were Joseph, what would
you do?  After all, how would it feel to
face his brothers, the ones who had stolen his robe, threatened to murder him,
thrown him into a pit, and then sold him into slavery far away from his father,
like an animal? Wouldn’t you be seething in anger and bitterness and revenge,
slowly simmered through the lost years of his life?

We Christians often talk
glibly about forgiveness, but in reality it is a very difficult thing, much
more difficult than the more natural reflex of revenge. For example, as the 10th
anniversary of 9/11/2011 approaches, as far as I know, the possibility of forgiveness
is not yet on the table; it’s way too early for that, especially for the
families and loved ones of the fallen. On the contrary, for ten years now, we
have been engaged in endless war, which has taken the lives of even more of America’s
sons and daughters, and, in reality, has almost bankrupted our nation.  As the old saying goes, if you are going to
hate someone, you better dig two graves, one for them and one for you. I fear
that unless we can find another, better, and more constructive way to respond,
the American Empire will remain in decline.

Perhaps, in the wisdom born of experience,
Joseph pondered this, the toll that revenge would exact upon himself and his
family. And so he comes up with an alternate plan and an alternate ending. Through
a series of ruses and tests, Joseph examines his brothers, to see if they have
changed. Will they stand for their younger brother Benjamin, to protect him,
offering themselves in his place, if need be? Do they care what it would do to
their father Jacob, now only a shadow of the man he used to be? Now, more
mature also, his brothers prove themselves.
And Joseph begins to weep, until he can stand it no longer, and reveals
himself to his brothers, with the very words Joseph Cardinal Bernardin quoted: “I
am Joseph, your brother.”

It was Dr. King who said, “We must
learn to live together as brothers
or we shall perish together as fools,” words perhaps even more prophetic
than they were when he spoke them. Who will stand up, like Joseph, in courage
and compassion, to break the endless cycles of hatred and retribution, in our lives,
in our families, among nations?

The final consideration of the
Joseph story is the mystery of fate, the mysterious working of God’s providence
in our lives. Because if the Joseph story teaches us anything, it teaches us that
we should not always be too quick to call the good things GOOD, and bad things BAD.

There is an old Chinese story that poses
this question, “Who knows what is good and bad?”  There was a farmer
whose horse ran away. His neighbor commiserated, only to be told, “Who knows
what’s good or bad?” The next day the horse returned, bringing a drove of wild
horses it had befriended. The neighbor reappeared, with congratulations for the
windfall. He received the same response:
“Who knows what’s good or bad?”  Again
this proved true, for the next day the farmer’s son tried to mount one of the
wild horses and fell, breaking his leg. More commiserations from the neighbor,
which elicited the question:  “Who knows
what is good or bad?” And for a fourth time the farmer’s point prevailed, for
the following day soldiers came by commandeering for the army, and the son was
exempted because of his injury.  Who
knows what is good or bad?

This is – of course – a
conclusion we can only make cautiously, and only for ourselves, never for
others. The story of Joseph, for example, would be wrongly interpreted to say
that because good came from it, slavery or human trafficking of any kind is ever
good, in any way.

Which is not to say,
that sometimes, in our own lives, we may – like Joseph – be enabled to look
back upon a miserable and painful experience we endured to see that it brought
us a wisdom we did not have before, or accomplished a good to ourselves or
others that might have come about in no other way. This was what Joseph concluded
about what his brothers had done to him, which enabled his forgiveness for them.
As he told them, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. For it was
to save life that God sent me on before you, to keep you alive.”  Sometimes that all it takes to make the
suffering in our lives not only endurable, but redemptive, to see it in a transcendent
way: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

But then, as we come to the end of the
Joseph story, we confront a final irony, further demonstrating the difficulty
of finally judging what is good and what it bad. And it is this: Joseph’s
success in Egypt ultimately leads to the enslavement of his people. Because of
Joseph, Egypt has food; because Egypt has food, his family comes to Egypt,
because his family comes to Egypt, the children of Israel wind up in slavery.  And so the book of
Genesis, which begins in a garden in Eden, ends with Joseph “in a coffin in
Egypt.”

And so it is, that “In
our downfall lies our blessings,” but sometimes also, “In our blessings lies
our downfall.” As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and all
that has followed, I suggest to you that as a nation and as individuals, we are
still trying to figure exactly which is which?

Where are you, Joseph?

We need you today.

Where are you, Joseph?

Show us the way.

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