Genesis 27:1-4; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:23-23
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
August 9, 2020 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost
When I was a young attorney, a wise older partner at the firm told me to always be kind and fair with opposing counsel. Your clients might be at war with each other, but you are not at war with each other…and there is no such thing as a road without a turn in it.
That turned out to be as true as anything I learned practicing law. If a person was courteous and fair, people were courteous and fair with them. If a person was brutal and mean, it was very unlikely that they would receive sympathy or get a break from opposing counsel…or the judge…or the jury.
It’s like that old Ella Wheeler Wilcox poem says:
You never can tell what your thoughts will do,/In bringing you hate or love;/For thoughts are things, and their airy wings/Are swifter than carrier doves.
They follow the law of the universe Each thing must create its kind,
And they speed o'er the track to bring you back/Whatever went out from your mind.
Our lectionary is full of that lesson this morning. Joseph, who was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt gets to greet them when they come begging for food in the middle of a famine.
Joseph did very well as a servant once he got to Egypt. He was sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s palace guard. Potiphar was so impressed with Joseph’s work that he put him in charge of his household and all his property.
But good fortune did not come to stay for Joseph. His karma kept getting in the way. Potiphar’s wife likes him, too, and asks him to make love to her. Joseph refuses and she retaliates by telling her husband that it was Joseph who made a pass at her. Joseph goes to prison.
The jailer likes him so much that he puts Joseph in charge of the prison. Then Pharaoh’s wine taster and his cook get thrown into prison and Potiphar makes Joseph their servant.
One night they both have a dream and come to Joseph to interpret them. The wine taster dreams that he has a vine with three branches.
The branches blossom and bear grapes. The wine taster squeezes the grapes into a cup and Pharaoh drinks from it. Joseph tells him it means Pharaoh will pardon him in three days.
The cook dreams that he is carrying three bread baskets on his head and birds were eating the bread in the top basket. Joseph tells him that Pharaoh will have him executed in three days.
And it comes to pass. When the winetaster is leaving, Joseph asks him to remember him to Pharaoh …to put in a good word for him. The wine taster does not.
Two years later Pharaoh has a dream about seven fat cows eating on a riverbank when seven skinny cows come up and eat the fat cows. Pharaoh is distressed by this and summons his counselors…who cannot interpret the dream for him.
He sends out word that he wants to find someone who can. The wine taster says, “There was this guy in the prison that was pretty good at this.” Pharaoh sends for him.
Joseph tells him the dream means that there will be seven good years and then seven years of famine. So store up the surplus in the good years and all the world will come to you when the famine strikes and you can have anything you want. Pharaoh is so impressed he makes him his first minister in all of Egypt.
It all comes to pass. His father Jacob and his brothers are about to starve in the famine and Jacob sends his remaining sons to Egypt to beg for grain. That’s when we have the scene we read today.
Joseph was their father’s favorite and then he was sold in slavery. They are the sons of a successful man when famine strikes.
Time and chance happen to us all. We are in tall cotton one day and the boll weevils invade the next. We are about to starve one day and good fortune finds us the next.
You never can tell what your thoughts will do in bringing us hate or love. And Joseph…who could very well be bitter and deal with his brothers harshly…is full of love for them.
He instinctively knows what that wise old lawyer told me forty years ago in Billings. He sees beyond the incident long ago or the moment they have this morning and stitches it all together. And he forgives …understanding how they have all been blessed…by time and circumstance.
You meant it for evil but God is the one who sent me here ahead of you so I could save you all…and our father…when this famine came.
He was the outsider and they were the insiders, but then he was the insider and they found themselves standing on the outside. And our story ends as our Psalm in our Call to Worship puts it this morning: It is truly wonderful when relatives live together in peace.
This is a story Jesus would have known and I bet he would have identified with Joseph in it every time he heard it. Something not altogether different from that is going to happen to him…but with a different outcome…at first…and then he saves us all by being raised from the dead…as he was trying to raise Israel from the dead.
But things take a surprising turn for Jesus this morning, too. As he is trying to go away for a respite in Sidon and Tyre, a Canaanite woman bewails him to heal her daughter who is possessed by demons.
He tells her his mission is to the lost sheep of Israel not to outsiders. She doesn’t stop and so he says it is not right to take the food from the children and give it to the dogs.
She could be offended but she smashes through all of the prejudices of her day…and ours: the sexism, the tribal clannishness, the racism and the prejudices against foreigners…with her humility.
She admits she is an outsider, entitled to expect no kindness. She has called to him as the Lord, the Son of David…something the Jewish authorities dispute and contest.
But the thing that shows her complete surrender to everything because of her love for her daughter is when Jesus compares her to a dog. She does not contest that. She just says that even dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs under the table.
Like Joseph, she is completely humbled by her lot, but she still believes in the goodness of God and asks his favor not for herself but only for one she loves.
Paul points out for us that it is because the Jews rejected Jesus that he came even to the Gentiles… outsiders like…us.
We might identify with Joseph in the Hebrew Bible reading. We might identify with the disciples in the Gospel, but there is no such thing as a road without a turn in it.
One day, we will find ourselves the outsiders. One day, we will be the ones begging for help with our troubles. This is one of those days …with a pandemic on the loose and our economy teetering on the brink and people offended by everyone they see as ‘the other.’
Our problems are not them. Our political leaders are what they are and where they are because we put them there. The more mean things we say about them, it turns out, the meaner they get. Our thoughts speed over the track and bring us back whatever went out from our mind.
The more mean things we say about anyone, the meaner they get. The more mean things people say about us the meaner we get. The more mean things we say about each other, the meaner the world gets.
So what is the way out of this? How do we move forward from here? Like the Canaanite woman we meet today, we refuse to take offense…or give it. We ask humbly for help: “Lord, show me the way.”
We remember that others are not the problem. We love our neighbors and our neighborhood so much that we find a way to say only kind things about our place and the people we meet there, remembering that there is no such thing as a road without a turn in it.
We do have a lot of problems, but we step back and see that we have been called to go through a pandemic with running water, electricity, cars that can take us as far as we can drive in a day and Zoom.
Those who lived through the 1918 pandemic went from day to day without any of those things. We can reach out in worship via YouTube…most Sundays…and stay together on Zoom.
In 1918 people had none of what we have, but they weren’t burdened either with the overwhelming sense of entitlement that burdens us as we think of all we have lost or all we have not received. The fact is that we have received plenty.
So let us become the peacemakers of this day. Let us speak the first kind word. Let us share the blessings we enjoy with those who have little or lost much.
Let us be happy with the opportunity to be as gracious as Joseph. Let us be as humble as the Canaanite woman with a sick daughter. Let us give thanks for the opportunity to beg for healing for those we love.
Let us do the next right thing… because of the mercy that has been shown to us. Let us be brothers and sisters to all we meet and show others the power that humility… that faith… and that love that has blessed us…and still blesses us in all days at all places…now and forever.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us…through me…this day? Amen.