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.

 

 

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Parable of the Merchant

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:45-46.

When I was in elementary school a sure sign of summer was that my mother and aunt would pile my brother, my cousin, and me in the backseat of either the Oldsmobile or the Bonneville and we would head for the beach. Anna Maria was a family favorite; beach, shade, and a playground with a really fast slide.

Days at the beach included time in the water, walks in the sand, regimented slathering of sunscreen, exploring the playground and eating special beach foods – like Pringles and Fig Newtons…I did not know it was possible to eat these foods at other times than at the beach! But the activity I looked forward to most was hunting for seashells.

And not just any seashells – specifically corkscrew or auger shaped shells – once their snail inhabitant had vacated, of course!

These shells are not typically atop the sand. They are deep within the beach and must be unearthed, taking time and patience. Some days at the beach I would not find a single corkscrew; others I would come home with an entire cupful! Each find increased my delight and fed my hunger to find more. Though other shells were readily available on the beach – that was the one I wanted; that was the one I sought. I would disregard all others for that certain shell.

The merchant in our parable for this week is in search of fine pearls, but in finding one precious pearl, the focused and determined merchant sells everything to possess that one pearl.

Our lives are full of many pearls…or things that would like us to consider them pearls. But God sets before us the pearl – the Kingdom of God – for us to seek and take hold of and thereby not be distracted by other items, people, or activities. God places within us a desire to seek the Kingdom and some days we may see it and others wonder where, in fact, it is or if we are privy to participate in it. I assure you that we are in the midst of the Kingdom, even on the days when we feel we are in a fog or a haze. Says the writer of Hebrews, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Says the author of the Fourth Gospel, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29).

Some days we seek the pearl and other days it is in our grasp; as with the life of faith – it is about the journey as well as the destination.

Prayer: “Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne, Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own. Awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee, and hail him as thy matchless King through all eternity.”* Amen.

*“Crown Him With Many Crowns,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 327.

Seven Questions of Faith ~ Where Is God?

Sunday’s Scripture: John 1:1-5, 14

I have a theory about the intended purpose of dogs wearing collars with tags, and more specifically, my intended purpose for my dogs wearing collars with tags.

We call them necklaces in the Miller house.

Collars with tags, or necklaces, are helpful if the pups meet a new human friend. The collars and tags share their names and give evidence that they are currently vaccinated.

What is my intended purpose for the pups wearing their necklaces? Necklaces deactivate a pup’s stealth mode. The tags that dangle off a collar do not make much noise, but they make enough noise to reveal their location, reveal their current activity level at that location, and reveal if that location is changing from one to another.

Samson and Tala…I know where you are! And that brings me great comfort.

Sometimes I would like to put a necklace on God so that without a shadow of a doubt I would know where God is. Always knowing where God is would – can you imagine it!? When the world gets loud through shouts of violence, cries of pain, and weapons of words or machines preach a blaring gospel full of hate, what I would give for a sensory assurance of God’s presence.

Just to hear God say, “My children! I am over here!”

And that is when I need to remember that in the midst of all the noise, God is still speaking. God is still making Godself known. In the loud moments the change must happen in me. I must focus my eyes and tune my ears to recognize God’s presence. Finding God’s presence in what at first may have appeared an unlikely place encourages my assurance of God’s presence to move from knowledge in my brain to beating confidence in my heart.

God’s presence is revealed through helpers, comforters, and providers. God’s presence is revealed through a cup of cool water, a bowl of steaming soup, a pair of new socks, and a kind, welcoming word. God’s presence is revealed in Scripture, song, and sacrament. God’s presence is revealed in you and me.

So in us and because of us, what sort of divine presence do our neighbors experience?

Victor Hugo penned in Les Miserables,”to love another person is to see the face of God.” Where is God? God is in each of us. God is capable and yearning to take up residence in each one of us so that we can become God’s echoes in the world. In this way when people wonder where God is or wander in search of God, we can lend our voices to saying “God is here. Allow me to show you how. And, more importantly, allow me to show you why.

Prayer: “Emmanuel, Emmanuel, his name is called Emmanuel. God with us, revealed in us, his name is called Emmanuel.”* Amen.

“Emmanuel, Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 204.

Alpha, Omega, and Everything In Between: Squabbling

Scriptures for Sunday ~ Judges 2:1-5, 17:6; I Samuel 8:19-22; and II Kings 24:20

Our focus word for this week is Squabbling – something that happens very regularly in Scripture.  Folks bicker with one another; more often than not they bicker with God.  And the bickering leads to a fissure in the relationship that can either be healed or lead to further brokenness.

As I reflect on the bickering – the squabbling – I am reminded of how my brother and I used to act on car rides to our grandparents’ house when we were children.  We had your typical “brother and sister” relationship – as in the line drawn down the middle of the backseat to indicate my side and his side and don’t you dare even flick an eyelash into my territory typical “brother and sister” relationship.  We would fight, we would bicker, and then we would get into trouble because of our fighting and bickering all because we didn’t handle the adjustment of sharing the same space, or neighboring space, in the car.

(We’re better now…I promise…mainly because we are hardly ever in the same car…haha.)

What I just described is a “growing pain” – an adjustment period were folks are getting used to one another because of a new circumstance, be it a new relationship, new house, new job, new schedule, new school, new whatever.  Growing pains can take awhile to resolve or they can resolve very quickly.  I believe what hastens the resolution is the effort we (humanity) put forward to bring about the resolution.

In our Scripture passages this week God’s people are experiencing growing pains in their relationship with God.  They are discovering it is not so easy to live as partners with God in this covenant community.  There are rules – lots of rules – and it turns out that God wants them obeyed all the time because these rules outfit the covenant shared between God and the people.

This covenant model was foreign to the neighbors and neighboring faiths of God’s people in the Promised Land.  Whereas the Canaanites had a human-hierarchical structure of leadership, God’s people were called to declare and recognize God’s sovereignty alone.  God would be their Lord as well as their guide.  But this idea of human-hierarchical structure was too tempting.  God’s people wanted to be like their neighbors.  Conformity became their priority and soon God’s people strayed from the covenant relationship that brought them up from Egypt and into the Promised Land.

Their straying led to squabbling – squabbling led to major sinning – and major sinning led to physical and spiritual exile.

In I Samuel 8:5b the people say, “Appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like the other nations.”  But God didn’t want God’s people to be like other nations.  God set us apart for great and mighty things.  If God’s plan for us could have been completed without God setting us apart, why would God have intervened?  And why if God made this special movement to set us apart would humanity want to slap a “return to sender” sticker on that precious gift so we could go it alone?

Later in I Samuel 8:20 the people say they want a king not only for governance but so the king  can “go out before us and fight our battles.”  Since sin came into our lives, God has been going before us and fighting our battles.  No earthly king – no human being – could ever do for us what God has done, is doing, and has yet to do.

What we must remember is that God works in mysterious ways that we don’t always understand and that don’t always fit our timelines.  We can become impatient in our waiting.  We can experience growing pains in our relationship with God, which places us in a fragile position.  We can either

(A) Act impulsively to fix them, which may lead us further away from God

OR

(B) Attend diligently to seeking God’s will in the growing pains.

(I’ll give you a hint…go with B!!!)

I believe as we seek God’s will in the growing pains we find peace.  This peace is the gift of assurance in our relationship with God.  This peace reveals that God has set us apart for great and mighty things and that God will make a way – in God’s time – for their accomplishment.

Prayer: O God how thankful we are that you have set us apart as your people and that you invite us into covenant relationship.  Forgive us when we neglect that relationship, seeking conformity with the world rather than seeking your will.  Forgive us O God when our straying leads us to squabbling with you and our neighbors.  Help us experience your peace and assurance amidst our growing pains.  Help us grow closer to you.  In your name, which is above all names, we pray.  Amen.