2014-10-12 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
Echo the Story #6 of 36: JOSEPH
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Fleece-fest”
Today we come to the grand finale of Genesis…a 14-chapter story, the longest sustained narrative in the book of Genesis and wow is it ever a doozy!
Jealousy. Hatred. Intrigue. Seduction. Sex. Prostitutes. Money. Death-threats. Curses. Deceit. Torture. Lies. Knivery. Kidnapping. Human Trafficking. Bloody garments. Family favourites, sinister secrets….and that’s just in Chapter 37!
But it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in the previous 36 chapters is it not?
Why? Why all this R-rated drama in a family-friendly story book (that’s supposed to be read as children’s bedtime stories?)
Here’s what we quoted a few weeks ago from Peter Enns:
The biblical writers were storytellers.
Writing about the past was never simply about understanding the past for its own sake, but about shaping, molding, and creating the past to speak to the present. “Getting the past right” wasn’t the driving issue. “Who are we now?” was.
And this past Tuesday @ Theology & Culture, we talked about a growing, evolving understanding as we look at our sacred text, our scriptures (some of this related to Peter Enns insights). This isn’t about getting things right…like the age of the earth, or whether every word was perfectly translated into today’s Bible that we have…..the biblical writers were storytellers.
And it’s being more and more accepted that the First Testament…the old testament stories, weren’t written 6000 years ago during the time of Moses…but were probably written during Israel’s time of Exile, circa 580 BCE.
God’s people had lost their way…they had lost their land, they had lost their traditions, they had lost their freedom…and now they were in exile…living under a harsh empire in Babylon.
And it was in this oppressive and hostile environment that they felt compelled to write down their story. To tell the story of their origins. So that they would stay in touch with their IDENTITY (who we are) and know of their DESTINY (whose we are).
And thus we are left with these stories. And we’re not supposed to go at them with a ginsu knife, slicing and dicing them to pieces, making sure they formulaically add up and pan out…(strapping a poem to a chair and torturing a confession out of it, beating it with a hose to find out what it really means– a quote by Billy Collins “Introduction to Poetry”). Instead, we are to listen to these stories.
The GodStory has been shaped and moulded in the past in order to speak to the present.
“Getting the past right” isn’t the issue. “Who are we now” is the issue.
And it was for the POG (people of God) in 580 BCE…so it is for us.
So…look at the front of your bulletin…let’s look at the story arc so far…
CREATION REBELLION FLOOD…..this is the cosmic stuff. These are not necessarily, literal, young earth stories. These are mythical stories (myths *best sense* can be defined as stories of origin…stories of how the world came to be…sacred histories).
…Stories that the Israelites wrote to describe their origins. Thus, we can dare to ask: “Do we need a literal Adam & Eve?” to make the whole GodStory “work”?
Or were they simply the “first humans” as the Israelites could best understand first humans.
Do we need a literal Cain & Abel in a nuclear family of 4, then 3? (Who did Cain marry and why were there people who would notice him when he was sent away?)
Do we need to make sure our flood chronologically matches up with a flood in the Ancient Near East circa 5000 BCE?
Or is it enough to say that this is a story about God’s frustration and love for his creation?
And there’s a promise…that after the flood, God was going to put his “bow” in the sky and say “never again…”
And then things go from the cosmic to the focused. From 30000 feet in the air 5 feet in the air…to 1 person…who will become 1 nation….with a destiny to bless ALL the earth…and ALL of creation.
Genesis 1-12 is cosmic, but then from Gen. 13-50 it’s about persons and a people (Israel).
So Genesis 12 leads us to…
PROMISE * JACOB & ESAU…. God promises to Abraham and Sara that their descendents will be as numerous as the stars in the sky…it’s beautiful…and sweet, but we quickly realize that if it involves family (and it does!) then it’s gonna be messy….and so last week we wrestled with the story of family favouritism and how that often plays out in the real world…and yet, God keeps on keeping his “bow” in the sky doesn’t he? As much as God might be tempted to scrap the whole project like a collapsing piece of art, we read that God’s heart for creation and humankind is always bent towards kindness, grace and mercy…
Let’s allow ourselves to be found in this story…in our vision statement here at church we’ve been talking about being “moved” by this story as well…allowing it to animate our lives – –
But what to do with these 14 chapters of drama?
We can’t cover it all…obviously…but you have the 2nd reading in your hands…and I’d also urge you to keep your Bible open to Gen. 45:1-5…
We’ve got 4 significant words helping to create an arc for us…
JEALOUSY – HATRED – – – – FAVOUR – FORGIVENESS
If you take the tact of believing that these are stories written in Exile in 580 BCE, then it makes sense that the captive people of God are so shored up and caught up in this story…these words “breathe life” into their very existence…
Because captive Israel is just like Joseph are they not?
And while one is captive, don’t you need a story of hopefulness and freedom to keep you hanging on in the midst of oppression and despair?
Captive Israel feels like they’ve been thrown in a cistern.
Captive Israel feels like they’ve been sold to slave traders.
Captive Israel feels like they’ve been wrongfully charged and thrown in prison.
Captive Israel feels like they’ve been forgotten…left to grieve in isolation – – their hands & feet in chains…
Captive Israel feels like they’ve been estranged from their homeland,
their traditions, their customs and culture.
Psalm 137 is one of the most famous (and grisly) lament psalms written during their exile…
By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the LORD’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
And what of us?
Is Israel’s story not our story?
And so too, Joseph’s story is our story?
Do we find ourselves in places of exile…raising our fists against the oppression of Empire?
Do we feel like life hurls us into cisterns? Do we feel like slaves…in chains to the ways of power, money, consumerism & greed?
Do we feel double-crossed? Forgotten? Far away from home and life-giving relationships?
Oh Israel…hope in the Lord.
Oh Christian…beloved daughter, beloved son…hope in the Lord.
Press into the promise and presence of this story:
“The LORD was with Joseph” (39:2)
“But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (39:21)
“It is not I…God will give…” (41:16)
“In this one is the spirit of God!” (41:37)
“God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes” (41:52)
“DO NOT BE AFRAID…even though others intended harm, God intended it for good” (50:19)
→ “Joseph was handsome and good-looking” (39:6) Ha ha!
– – A 7-word Good News Story…write it down…and draw strength from it this week!
Buechner quote: [lest we think Joseph was flawless…]
[He was a brat! He had it coming! (and so do we?) And when he got the upper hand he was cruel, ruthless, terror-inducing and cunning! Revenge felt so sweet…for a season]
Almost as much as it is the story of how Israel was saved from famine and extinction, (this) is the story of how Joseph was saved as a human being.
It would be interesting to know which of the two achievements cost God the greater effort and which was the one he was prouder of.
Ry’s 7 word examples:
– Bratty Brother Saves Israel, Saves Own Humanity
– Evil Intentions Turned to Blessings through YHWH
– In Ups & Downs, We Are Not Alone
– Privileged Brother, Powerful Pawn, Comes to His Senses
– God’s Specialty: Favouring Slave and Nomads
THIS…is the story we find ourselves in…may it encourage us, grant us strength…and animate the way we live & move in the world.