Clevedon Presbyterian Church
Kawakawa Bay
Clevedon Kidz

Love in times of Famine

October 8, 2017
Martin Baker

The story that we hear today has it’s origins in chapter 37 of Genesis  which we heard a couple of weeks ago.  We learned that Israel (Jacob’s new name) loved Joseph more than all his children, because Joseph was the son of his old age, and Israel had made Joseph a spectacular coat.  His brother’s saw that their father loved Joseph more than all his brothers, and they hated Joseph, and couldn’t speak peaceably to him.

Joseph related a dream to his brothers, where they bowed down before him   and we are told that the brothers hated him all the more for his dreams and for his words

The brothers, had choices: They could have forgiven him and responded to the peace and reconciliation that Joseph was bringing.  But in their hatred, decided to kill Joseph. Reuben, one of the brothers, persuaded them to throw Joseph into a pit or dry well instead.

Judah, another brother, persuaded them to sell Joseph to the members of a passing caravan and to deceive their father into believing that Joseph was dead.   Then  the salve traders, the Midianites travelled down to Egypt and sold Joseph  to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, the captain of the guard.

Joseph became a  servant in the house of Potiphar. During that time he faced  trumped up charge of attempted seduction by Potiphar’s wife—a charge that resulted in Joseph’s imprisonment . “But God was with Joseph, and showed kindness (that heded word) to him, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. “

Two years later, Pharaoh dreamed about seven sleek and fat cows and seven ugly and thin cows as well as seven plump and good ears of grain and seven thin and blighted ears—Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams to mean that there would be seven plentiful years and seven years of famine. He advised Pharaoh to appoint a discerning governor over Egypt and overseers to gather food during the plenteous years so that they might be ready for the famine years.

“Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Because God has shown you all of this, there is none so discreet and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and according to your word will all my people be ruled. Only in the throne I will be greater than you” During the next seven years, Joseph gathered and stored great quantities of food for use during the famine.

As Joseph predicted, famine paralyzes the entire Middle East, and the brothers who sold Joseph into slavery are forced to go to Egypt seeking food. By some quirk of fate, it is Joseph whom they must ask for food. They do not recognise him. Was this due to the passing of the years, or the sheer impossibility of such an encounter? Joseph, however, knows them; after toying with them a while, he can restrain himself no longer and reveals his true identity

So what is going to happen next?




 Genesis 45:1-15

1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, "Send everyone away from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come closer to me." And they came closer. He said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler overall the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.' 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honoured in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here." 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Let us Pray.

May my words and our thoughts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and redeemer. AMEN

A couple of weeks ago we heard the story of Jacob giving his favoured youngest son Joseph a special coat. The coat became a kind of symbol of the resentment Joseph’s brothers felt toward him.

We don’t notice what anyone wears these days, do we? Have you ever worn your special coat to the wrong place? Have you ever been somewhere and not been dressed correctly?   When I was going to university at Otago in the early 1980s I lived for a period of time in a male only hall of residence. And old place. And at dinner each night we had to wear a collar and a tie. And if you weren’t wearing a collar and a tie then all the young men would stop eating and start stamping and banging their cutlery on the table until you realised your error, got up and left. Even if you were a visitor you would be dealt with in the same way. Very humiliating for someone who didn’t know the rules. Despite the consequences,  these were the rules. This was the tradition.  But there were always those who challenged the rules. One exhibitionist associate of mine didn’t break any rules but one day came in wearing his collar and tie, but that was almost all he had on.

When does the right thing become the wrong thing? What does it take to bring change in situations which do not have the resources to reform themselves? We can a sense of the answers in the Joseph story.  It takes frustration. An awareness that things are not as they should be. It takes vision some flickering sense of what it could be like. It takes courage. It takes creativity. A new and surprising action that is contrary to expectation.  In our scripture these forces of change are described not in terms of violence or manipulation but as acts of radical love and forgiveness.   Even when there is every reason not to love.  Even when we have every reason not to forgive. These are acts of grace. They change things. For us, the cross changes everything.  The power and finality of fear and death conquered forever and for all times.

Let’s go back to the story. Joseph’s brother’s  had sold Joseph into slavery. And now in our story Joseph has moved from being a poor young slave to become one of Pharaoh’s most powerful people.  Years have passed. But things have not gone so well for Joseph's brothers. The weather has been hard, they have lost a lot. The brothers, we might call them climate refugees now,  migrate with their families to Egypt because they hear things are going well there. They have no idea that the person they are now talking to is their brother Joseph the dreamer. Someone you have ill-treated, thought about killing, sold into slavery, has the power now to make decisions about your future.

Now the one who the brothers thought was dead says to them, I am Joseph. So this dead son is alive. And that changes everything.

Overtone of the resurrection.

Joseph’s brothers have lived a life being governed by particular principles and actions, but what we see here is an act which breaks with the past. Which says that the future can be opened.  That there is now a new possibility which doesn't come from anything you had planned or worked for. There is something new and it is a gift.

And what Joseph says, even though they are regal words, they are not the words of a powerful Egyptian court official, they are the words of passion, hesed, the words of a brother. He doesn’t  say you are okay because I am powerful,  he says you are safe because I love you.

And for the first time in the whole story since Josephs brother had sold him as slavery, Joseph says something else. Through all the acts of revenge and grief and guilt, all those powerful things that were there, Joseph says, God has sent me before you to preserve life.  A choice about how we see God working in our lives.  

He looks back and sees God at work in all the sordidness that has gone before. And I think that we have to really listen to that message because this whole story is affirming again and again that the arena of human choice is precisely where God's saving work is done.

We have choices to make about how we read the stories. 

The shootings this week in Las Vegas.

The wrestling like we heard with Jacob a few weeks ago, that will go on for weeks and months and years around the questions of why and how but a wrestling too about how we see the world around us.   

With or without the analysis we can choose to take almost opposite views . To ascribe blame in the midst of chaos or to speak of God’s presence.  The hesed,  the loving kindness that our ancient brothers and sisters in faith, would see running through these stories.  

We can decide.

The world is a fearful and dangerous place and we must protect ourselves because of the threats that are always present, hide ourselves away build bigger and bigger fences. More fearful of the stranger.  Find solace in the artificial self-edited  world of the people and communities we find  in Facebook or Instagram.

Or we can find a message that was actually the dominant message that came from the victims of the shooting. Someone protected me. And we can say, Praise God.  Someone gave their life that I could live. And we say, Praise God. While there might be a few insane hate filled people,  what we discover is that the world is full of ordinary people who will die saving another, rescuing another, healing another.

Slavery and fear or peace and reconciliation. Those are the choices that have run through the stories that we have been hearing over these weeks from scripture.  What did Joseph say today. The words that echo through this drama. Despite all that has gone on before Joseph says God sent me before you to preserve life.

American Old testament professor James Newsome said of these texts.

“It is as difficult for modern people as it was for ancient people to believe that God is at work even in the dark and destructive moments of life. One of the great obstacles to faith is that, no matter how hard one tries, it simply is not possible to identify grace or redemption in so many human experiences. And it is easy—some would say, compelling—to extrapolate from that, that God is never present in human suffering and defeat. But the Joseph stories lead us to a different conclusion, which is that, in spite of the awful tragedies from which God seems irretrievably absent, the Ruler of the universe is a caring friend and will ultimately have a friend’s way”

What does it take to bring some new reality into being?

There is this message of faith here that says, that as long as life as lived as a gift then surprise will always remain a possibility. We find in these ancient stories  a God  who is celebrated in acts of grace and loving kindness who always  wills life for people, a God who is remarkable resourceful against every threat of death. The horizons of our own creation will always limit our view.  But this is the gift that is given.

 As resurrection people.  Two things.  In the midst of change and upheaval. The power to give life to others.  To be a blessing.  And the second thing is a faith. A faith that we are people of new creation.  Never accepting that slavery and hopelessness defines our future.  Insisting always that life peace and hope   are the ways of Jesus and his followers.  AMEN