The Joseph Saga: Final Act of Forgiveness

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 50:15-21.

It is said that the Bible declares the message “Do not be afraid” 365 times – one declaration for each day of the year. In Genesis 50 these words draw the dialogue between Joseph and his brothers to a close. In fact, Joseph doubly shares this message of assurance – “Do not be afraid…have no fear” (Gen 50:19, 21).

Sometimes I catch myself living in a world where I am waiting for the other shoe to drop – and they are not always fabulous stilettos. (Life would be so much better if they were!) I feel like I am walking on eggshells around people, around relationships, around responsibilities. Rather than greet the day with anticipation, I greet the day with anxiety. And my friends, that is no way to go about this great life God gifts us. In fact, if the behavior I just described is our primary modus operandi, then I would argue that is not really living at all.

Regularly appointments take me away from the Church Office during office hours and when I leave I encourage the office volunteers to lock themselves in as an extra measure of precaution. And each time I offer this recommendation to one sweet office volunteer, the response is always the same, “Pastor Sarah, I have too much to live for to be afraid.” Some might hear these words and find them reckless, but from their speaker, they are words from a heart brimming with great assurance and peace.

Consider: If Joseph remained fearful of his brothers because of their troubled history, he would have never reunited with his family. If Joseph’s brothers had not bravely stepped into Egypt for help, they would have starved.

Both Joseph and his brothers took risks. Fear often accompanies risk. Risk necessarily involves change – sometimes subtle and other times radical. Often we do not know the result of our venture before we take a risk, before we face our fears. Reason and rationality only bring us so far – and when it comes to risk and fear – reason and rationality typically scream abort abort! The only way, then, for us to move forward, to change, to grow, to truly live as people invested in God’s assurance and the peace it gives, is to take the leap of faith.

What risk are you currently facing? What change? What decision? How are you navigating the fear associated with it? What is your discernment about your upcoming decisions and actions? Are you taking small steps? Are you ready to leap? Are you immobile? Our God says to us again and again, “Do not be afraid…have no fear.”

God is with us. God is bringing all things together for our good. God brings good out of horrific circumstances. I encourage you to take on the posture of our dedicated office volunteer – we have too much to live for to be afraid. May you know that assurance and feel that peace as you take on risks and face your fears this day.

Prayer: “Something beautiful, something good; all my confusion he understood; all I had to offer him was brokenness and strife, but he made something beautiful of my life.”* Amen.

*”Something Beautiful,” The United Methodist Hymnal 394.




The Joseph Saga: The Truth Comes Out

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 45:1-14.

This has been a trying week for me at Tuskawilla UMC. On Monday we experienced a large scale water leak in the Sanctuary. On Tuesday we had a pipe burst at the parsonage. A friend of mine texted me saying, “Sarah, this is not what you needed following a hurricane!”

Yeah…I am over water at this point. It is necessary and needful…and I like it a whole lot more when it stays where it is supposed to be – offshore away from land, secured by valves, and contained within pipes.

What a week…and we are only halfway!

These water emergencies have thrown off the groove of my typical week. So as I sat down this morning to begin my study on this week’s Scripture text, God brought order to the chaos with these words: “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5b).

Joseph speaks these words to his brothers, affirming that God sent him ahead of his family into Egypt so he would be in a position to help his family – even though they did him harm. I read these words and they resonated deeply in my heart this week in relationship to our church family. God sent our church family ahead of me to preserve life.

Now our water woes this week are certainly not a matter of life or death. Many of our brothers and sisters across Florida, Texas, and especially the Caribbean are facing matters of life and death because of water – they remain in our prayers and a focus of our mission efforts with the creation of hygiene kits and offerings through the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Our water woes were a crisis. We did not want to waste anymore water than what was already leaked. We did not want any additional damage to be incurred on our buildings. And we – because of dedicated church family members showing up after a desperate appeal for help – dedicated church family members that God saw and sees fit to draw into relationship and community in this place – preserved life – for our safety, our assets, and our ministries.

I am so very grateful for the students, adults, and families that dropped what they were doing Monday afternoon to come clean up the church, to reorganize materials brought out of closets, and to help me make decisions. I am so very grateful to Wayne Wright and his work to continue cleaning our facility through the night so that hopefully all will be dry before worship gatherings this weekend. I am so very grateful for the resources of our church to rent equipment to clean the church campus and support the repairs at the parsonage. None of this would be possible without YOU, church family. “God sent me [you – each one of you!] before you [me] to preserve life.”

Thank you, my dear church family, for all the ways you have cared for me, my growing family, and your church family this week. Melissa Martin said it best on Sunday afternoon – it takes a village. I am thankful to be one member of yours. See you in worship on Sunday.

Prayer: “Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine with ten thousand beside! Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 140.


The True Scope of Forgiveness

Sunday’s Scriptures ~ Matthew 18:21-35 and Genesis 42:1-16.

This Sunday Andrew and I will pulpit swap for our 11 o’clock worship services. I will lead our Morningsong Service at 8:30am and offer a message entitled “The True Scope of Forgiveness”. I will then travel to Azalea Park UMC to preach their 11 o’clock service. Andrew will join the TUMC family for our 11 o’clock service and continue our Joseph Saga series with a message entitled “More Brothers, More Problems.” He is very much looking forward to worshiping with you.

(I will return to Tuskawilla by 12:30pm…my sources tell me there is some kind of celebration happening…*wink*)

During my senior year at Florida Southern College I registered for a cross-listed philosophy and political science course entitled “The Politics of Terrorism and Insurgency.” Impressive, right? On the first day of class our professor – who also had my mother as a student – clarified the focus for the course. He said, “This semester we will study proposed methods and applications of conflict resolution from philosophers and political scientists through the ages beginning with the Ancient Greeks and culminating in the present day. The course has the name it does because I was doubtful anyone would register for a class dully named “Methods and Applications of Conflict Resolution.”

He was probably right.

The first topic on the syllabus was a review of Hammurabi’s Code – the ruling religious, political, and philosophical thought in the Ancient World (and, in some contexts. still today). “An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.” Sound familiar?

Hammurabi’s Code focuses on fairness. Its use created a “tit for tat” society and normalized “tit for tat” behavior as part of the human condition. Jesus’ intent was to normalize radical role reversals and counter-cultural behaviors into the human condition. This was his method for fulfilling both the Law and the prophets.

The Torah contains impressions of Hammurabi’s Code and Jesus quotes a number of those passages in his Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Mt 5:38-42).

Jesus does not promote retaliation in these verses – a significant counter-cultural and radical role reversal move! These words of Jesus become the foundation for our text for today.

While Hammurabi’s main focus was on fairness, Jesus’ main focus is on forgiveness.

The practice of forgiveness brings separated, estranged, and embattled community members back to one another – so that what once was broken may be fixed, may be healed. The act of repeated forgiveness – seventy-seven times – over and over – holds communities together.

Temptation can lead to sin. Sin leads to separation – from God and from one another. Like a shepherd that seeks out a sheep gone astray, so we are to seek out those we are separated from because of sin. Jesus affirms, “It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (Mt 18:14). Through forgiveness we are found. Through forgiveness we make our way home.

When did you last experience forgiveness – either giving or receiving? How did you find that experience? Needful? Extraneous? Powerful? Casual? What lessons has forgiveness taught you? How has forgiveness changed you into more of  a Kingdom resident than a resident of the world?

Prayer: “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that thou art – thou my best thought, by day or by night; waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.”* Amen. 

*”Be Thou My Vision,” The United Methodist Hymnal 451.

The Joseph Saga: Shawls and Shenanigans

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 37:1-4, 39:1-18.

Clothes are an essential in life. Beyond the beach and being under the age of two shirts, shorts, and shoes are required wherever we go.

We have clothes for different activities. I do not work in the yard in the same clothes in which I lead worship. I do not do yoga in skinny jeans…usually… We have work clothes, casual clothes, and work out clothes. We have date night, comfy night, and team night clothes. The changing of clothes signifies moving from one activity to another. The changing of clothes signifies moving from one life stage to another.

There is a lot of movement with clothes in my life presently. I have a whole closet of clothes (and *sniff* shoes *sniff*) that do not fit right now. I have a section of clothes that fit – and for that I am so grateful – because they represent the change happening in my family, the change happening in me. It seems like we receive new clothes or new-to-us clothes everyday for Baby Miller. He will be the most styling kid ever! These clothes represent our being taken under the wings of many, represent support and love for our growing family, and represent the beautiful breadth and depth of our family.

In our Scripture lessons for this week Joseph receives clothes, changes clothes, and flees without clothes! The coat he receives from his father represents his father’s love for him. His brothers strip that same coat from Joseph’s shoulders and sell him into slavery. Potiphar purchases Joseph from the Ishmaelites and gives him clothes to signify his belonging to Potiphar’s household. And Joseph leaves Potiphar’s clothes behind as he flees from his master’s chamber. Regardless of what he wears…or does not wear…Joseph remains a person of integrity. He is treated poorly by his family. He is misrepresented by his employer’s wife. Nevertheless, Joseph’s integrity does not waver. Who he is in God and because of God does not change…and if it does change…it is only to strengthen

Through all the changes we experience in life – changing clothes, changing life stages, changing life experiences, and more – it is my hope and I believe it is God’s hope – that who we are in God and because of God does not change – and if it does change – it is only to strengthen. As a community of faith we are charged to be our sisters’ and brothers’ keeper, to support and love our ever growing, ever expanding family. Change is constant. Change is inevitable. Change is how we grow and adapt. Change is how we not only survive but thrive. And change is eased, managed, and navigated well when we are surrounded by folks that love us when we are wearing our best clothes and when we wear clothes showing time in life’s trenches.

What change are you currently experiencing? How are you being supported? And how is God calling you to support a neighbor, a fellow family member in faith, during his or her time of change? This is the life to which God calls us. May we respond in ways that strengthen our individual integrities and strengthen the fellowship of believers.

Prayer: “Open now the crystal fountain, whence the healing stream doth flow; let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through. Strong deliverer, strong deliverer, be thou still my strength and shield; be thou still my strength and shield.”* Amen.

*”Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” The United Methodist Hymnal 127.