Clevedon Presbyterian Church
Kawakawa Bay
Clevedon Kidz

Chaos and Weeping, forgiveness and new creation

October 15, 2017
Martin Baker

Over these last few months we have been following the main stories and themes in the book of Genesis.We start off with the great stories of creation. Creation out of chaos, out of the dark stormy matter. The word is spoken,  the spirit that moves.  All the good things that are part of the Garden of Eden.  Animals, and man, woman created in God’s image.  A conversation between a woman and a snake. Both created by God remember. Talking about the beauty of the fruit a conversation filled with curiosity and questions. But also a conversation about boundaries. A boundary is crossed, gifts and blessings are misused and  we discover when this boundary is crossed there can be no going back.As a consequence of disobedience to God’s good intentions a wave of damage injury pain and sin radiated outwards. And so the created world descends back into the primordial chaos. And finally the waters cover the earth and there is just this remnant of the first creation that is saved, just Noah and his family and the animals. And we are back again to those first days of creation.Is creation, is new creation possible when all we see about us is chaos?  A promise is given.  And we hear again; God lifts the world out of the waters of chaos.  The waters retreat and the land and humans rise again. The mastery of new technologies that enable a great tower to be built in Babel. The scattering of people all speaking different languages. And we come to this new point.  Not Adam and Eve, not Noah and his family, but now Abraham and Sarah will be the mother and father of a new generation. Their progeny are promised to be as numerous as the stars of heaven. Their identity will be formed through the blessing they bring to others. Though Abraham has a son Ishmael with Hagar, we follow though the miracle of Abraham and Sarah and the miraculous birth of Isaac. The testing of Abraham’s faith. Isaac meeting Rebecca and the introduction of,  hesed,  the loving kindness, the grace which identifies both God’s presence and the acts of human beings when they are at their best and most faithful.Their son Jacob born into conflict with his twin brother Esau. We descend again. Down again into the chaos of deceit and malice and violence the water rise. But then finally in a night time encounter with God on the banks of the Jabbok  river. Jacob is injured in this encounter with God  but comes away  a new name and a new future. Israel.So Jacob or Israel has 12 sons,  including Joseph. And we descend again.  Hated by his brothers, almost killed by them, sold into slavery.  He becomes a high ranking officer in Egypt when finally he comes face to face with his brothers.  He interprets all that has happened in the past not with malice revenge and anger but a commitment to forgive and reconcile, to love, to bring peace and safety to his family.  It could have gone either way, but new creation and life and a future is once again lifted from the chaos. 

And now today as we reach the end of Genesis, the story of God’s saving purposes and providence. Are we heading once again back into the stormy waters? We hear that Jacob dies, guilt leads to fear. Perhaps Joseph only sustained his brothers for the sake of their father?  The powerful Joseph might now seek vengeance for their crimes.  Is it to be vengeance and destruction or is new hope and creation possible?Genesis 50:15-2115 Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph's brothers said, "What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?" 16 So they approached Joseph, saying, "your father gave this instruction before he died, 17 Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.' Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, "We are here as your slaves." 19 But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones." In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.Let us Pray. May my words and our thoughts be acceptable in your sight, O God our strength and redeemer. AMENWe were driving to the ferry at Pine Harbour last Monday. Just heading up the hill toward the Maraetai shops.  We were heading into Auckland. And even though the ferry is more expensive than the train, a 35 minute boat trip across the edge of the Hauraki Gul f is always a treat. Anyway, we’re driving up the hill and the car all of a sudden veers to the left and I just know that I have a flat tyre. The front left hand side.So I pull up and start getting the jack out, the car has got one of those little space saver temporary spare tyres.And I start jacking up the car. And someone is walking by. I would guess his age to be in his 70’s. Slightly unconvential looking, bearded long hair. Jandals.   And he says can I help?  And I say no I think I’ll be fine thanks. And he wanders on.  And then I’m still turning the handle of the jack and a  4 wheel drive does a u turn on the road and pulls up behind my car. And this younger guy, 20 something , tats, he says it’s okay mate I’ll sort this out for you. His name is Dave from Murawai and he was over visiting his parents.And sure enough I end up standing there and he basically does the work. And then the first man who’s now walking back down the road turns up again and he says, well you know I did offer to help. And he stops and chats while Dave changes the tyre. We shake hands and I thank him. And drive back to Clevedon to get the tyre fixed.So, the question today.  Lovely day on Monday, harbour looking wonderful – was that good luck – or chance?The tyre gets a nail through it. Bad luck? Chance. AccidentA man on the footpath stops to help. Good luck? ChanceDave from Murawai insists on changing the tyre Good Luck? Chance?We miss the ferry -  bad luck chance? Fate? The world came into being good luck bad luck chance accident?Your mother and father met.You were born. Good luck bad luck chance accident?You and I are here today?Scripture never uses the word good luck bad luck.  Very occasionally the words chance and fate are used but never to designate arbitrary things that happen outside the power and providence of God.There is always causes, reason, always purpose. We might feel helpless and shocked when terrible things happen – like the carnage on our roads over the last weeks.  But those involved in road safety urge us not to think in terms of bad luck, not to use the word accident because it implies that something bad happened without a cause. If we assign words like chance fate or luck , we take away the need to find reason, cause purpose and meaning. They are not accidents. They are crashes and we need to reflect on all the factors involved, including our culture and mind-set that causes such carnage. Blaise Pascal the 17th century French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and theologian, noted that while science shows that there is “probability,” there is nothing in nature that could be called chance. Chance – luck – is only what appears when we observe circumstances at close range. But with observation over time, we discern probability. Flip a coin a hundred times, it will not be by luck that half the time it will come up heads and half it will come up tails.  So our story today as all the stories through Genesis ask, the ancient congregation and the modern one, how do we speak about God’s presence in the moments of glory and in the moments of corruption?Joseph rises from slavery to mastery over all Egypt, where he saves countless lives, including his family's. But when Jacob dies we see guilt and fear flowing into the conversation.The brothers voice their anxiety. "What if Joseph...pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?"  Are the brothers thinking that some sort of punishment will make things right? Their next action again signals something out of joint: their bid for forgiveness begins not with a confession, nor even a request, but with a kind of command . They say to Joseph , "Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17' Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.So the brothers have distanced themselves from Joseph. They do not make a personal claim on him as our brother . In their guilt they take refuge behind the dead father whose testament, they say, commanded his brothers to seek forgiveness and asked Joseph to give it. As the speech continues the brothers retreat still further away from Joseph. They beg forgiveness for "the crime of the servants of the God of your father." They do not name themselves. They do not call themselves his brothers. They do not invoke their common bond by the language of "our father" or even "our God." They describe themselves not as brothers but as servants, or slaves, of the God of Joseph's father.Fear prevents these ten brothers from coming face to face with their crimes and face to face with the one brother they have wronged. Their appeal for forgiveness is awkward and complicated. They do not fully own their confession. It is not "our crime."  Joseph weeps, as he has done so many times before. What do these tears signal? As we move backward into the story of Genesis, we witness Esau's tears at the loss of his father's blessing ,  and again at his reunion with the brother he had forgiven . We hear Hagar's weeping for Ishmael, when she is sure he will die, and Jacob's wailing when he believes Joseph has already died. He weeps when he is reunited with Jacob  and when he embraces his father on his deathbed.At each moment a loss - loss of a relationship, a dream for the future, a loved one--is overwhelming. The brothers fall weeping before Joseph and declare themselves his slaves, what grace is needed to move from this abusive cycle to the place of true forgiveness? Joseph's words pave the way: "Do not fear" Fear has been the obstacle to confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, and freedom.Finally, Joseph says that he is not in the place of God , it is not his role to punish. He points to God's will and ability to transform evil into good. God's plans for good and for life overwhelm the plots of fearful and wounded hearts. God's grace creates the space for forgiveness that will break the cycle of retaliation and abuse, setting slaves and prisoners free. This is what he says: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me; BUT GOD intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”These words echo down through time and history to the point where we hear Peter say of Jesus. In the book of Acts, as the spirit moved forming the first church.  22 "You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.So we look back today on these ancient stories. Iron Age stories. Relating to times and events 1000 years before the time of Jesus. There is creation and new creation. Despite the chaos. There is purpose direction. There is the discernment about the way we look at what has happened, and celebration of God in acts of hesed loving kindness and grace.  It’s not clouds with silver linings. Or bad things come in threes.  It’s not luck or fate or chance.Our ancient scriptures ponder the question of why sometimes the bad prosper and the good suffer. In Romans 8:28, Paul says, "We know "in all things God works for good …"  Bad things happen, and crash inspectors, science, and maths, and medicine and psychologists  can tell us, often why they happen.  But they can’t tell us about the ‘but God event.’  How God can still bring resurrection out of death,  new creation out of chaos.  Sandy and I have been watching a documentary series on the Vietnam War.  It has just come out . A largely pointless war of unimaginable tragedy and suffering. More than 2 million Vietnamese died.  And one of the veterans of the war  talks about coming to the Vietnam war memorial  that long black granite wall in Washington with the names of the more than 58 000 thousand  Americans who also died.  He tells of his weeping, when he saw the monument. Weeping he says over the loss . Like Hagar and Ishmael and Esau and Jacob and Joseph. Weeping at the loss.  But also weeping that finally those who suffered and died were named. Weeping too that finally a monument of that nature would be reminder for all time of the cost and suffering of war and so, in reminding us, could prevent the death of more young men and women for the future.When we look at our own lives Augustine described it this way: when you first consider your life, it looks like nothing but a bunch of chicken tracks in the mud of a barnyard, going this way and that. But through the eyes of faith, we begin to discern pattern, meaning, and direction.Discerning God’s presence in even the most difficult times. Celebrating the goodness and selflessness of those who save, forgive, give, help, rescue, teach. Even fix a stranger’s tyre.  Celebrating the loving-kindness that gives us all hope. Do not be afraid, Joseph says and the future is opened. Do not be afraid,  Jesus says to his disciples and the future is filled with hope. Moving from here with the assurance that we find through scripture and proclaimed by John. That the light shines in the darkness and darkness has never overcome  it. Amen