August 17, 2014 – Family Reunion

Romans 12:1-2

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Genesis 42:1-25

When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you keep looking at one another? I have heard,” he said, “that there is grain in Egypt; go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he feared that harm might come to him. Thus the sons of Israel were among the other people who came to buy grain, for the famine had reached the land of Canaan. Now Joseph was governor over the land; it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground.

When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” Although Joseph had recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Joseph also remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them. He said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land!” They said to him, “No, my lord; your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man; we are honest men; your servants have never been spies.” But he said to them, “No, you have come to see the nakedness of the land!” They said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of a certain man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however, is now with our father, and one is no more.” But Joseph said to them, “It is just as I have said to you; you are spies! Here is how you shall be tested: as Pharaoh lives, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here! Let one of you go and bring your brother, while the rest of you remain in prison, in order that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you; or else, as Pharaoh lives, surely you are spies.” And he put them all together in prison for three days. On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here where you are imprisoned. The rest of you shall go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. Thus your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they agreed to do so.

They said to one another, “Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us.” Then Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood them, since he spoke with them through an interpreter. He turned away from them and wept; then he returned and spoke to them. And he picked out Simeon and had him bound before their eyes. Joseph then gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to return every man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. This was done for them.

Genesis 44:18-45:5, 14-15

Then Judah stepped up to him and said, “O my lord, let your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are like Pharaoh himself. My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead; he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, so that I may set my eyes on him.’ We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’ When we went back to your servant my father we told him the words of my lord. And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’ we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother goes with us, will we go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; one left me, and I said, Surely he has been torn to pieces; and I have never seen him since. If you take this one also from me, and harm comes to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to Sheol.’ Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die; and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. For your servant became surety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I will bear the blame in the sight of my father all my life.’ Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.”

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. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 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. 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. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life….”

Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

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Pentecost 10   August 17, 2014   Romans 12:1-2, Genesis 42:1-25, Genesis 44:18-45:5, 14-15   Family Reunion

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Family reunions can be a dream come true. Or a nightmare…

We’ve been studying the first family of Genesis…We’ve mentioned a previous family reunion recently – patriarch Jacob’s homecoming after twenty years away… Anticipating his meeting with brother Esau, who threatened to kill him before he left home. Esau was now on the way to meet him with four hundred armed men. Long-story-short – Jacob spends the night wrestling an angel of God and an angel of family destiny at a place called Peniel, meaning Face-of-God. Next day, Jacob and Esau meet and Esau gives Jacob a bear-hug and brothers weep together and Jacob tells his brother ‘seeing you is like seeing the face of God’… (If only it always worked out so nicely…)

Now we’re having another family reunion a generation later, this one also happening after twenty years apart. (Guess this must be a family pattern…)

Last week (remember) the ten older brothers of Joseph, angry and jealous, sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt… Where, because of his talents and skills, he becomes Chief-Servant-in-charge in the house of his master, Captain of the Egyptian National Guard. When Joseph refuses to be seduced by his boss’ wife, she grabs the garment off his back and yells and claims attempted rape. (More of our Genesis family pattern of deception by means of clothing that we’ve seen at least four times previously in the story…)

And we tune-in again for today’s episode of As The Church Turns

***

Because of his boss’ wife’s false accusation, young Joseph’s thrown in prison… Where he rises quickly again, now to be Chief-prisoner-in-charge, second-in-command to the Warden. He interprets dreams for two top officials of Pharaoh’s court, who are doing time for getting on the wrong side of the king. Joseph discerns the meanings of their dreams – one will be restored to his job, the other hung. So it happens. And the one who gets his job back promises to help Joe, but forgets.

Two years go by. The king of Egypt has a pair of dreams in which seven fat cows are consumed by seven scrawny cows, and seven fat ears of grain are consumed by seven skinny sickly ears. Pharaoh calls on all the wise men and magicians of Egypt. But none can interpret his dreams. Then the court official whose dream Joseph interpreted finally remembers Joseph – who is now quickly brought out of jail and brought before Pharaoh, where he immediately interprets the king’s dream. The seven fat cows and ears of grain are seven years of abundant harvests. The seven lean cows and lean ears of grain are years of famine. Therefore, Joseph says, ‘let Pharaoh appoint someone wise to serve as chief steward over the land. Store up grain in the fat years, so there’ll be food in the lean years.”

“You’re the man,” Pharaoh says. And dream-come-true – Joseph rises up out of prison to be Prime Minister and Secretary of Agriculture. Pharaoh gives him royal power, and a priest’s daughter in marriage. Now every knee in Egypt (except King Pharaoh’s) must bow before Joseph… Who has power over life and death in the land…

Seven years of abundance come and go quickly. Joseph has two sons by his Egyptian wife, Asenath… He names them Manasseh, meaning “making to forget” and Ephraim, meaning “fruitful”… He’s forgotten his past. He’s fruitful in Egypt.

Now the famine years begin… Father Jacob sends his ten oldest sons to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph recognizes them all immediately. But dressed in Egyptian royal clothing, hair and beard done Egyptian style, speaking only Egyptian, with a translator…His brothers don’t recognize Joseph at all.

The brothers of Joseph bow down low before him. Just as he dreamed two decades ago as a teenager. And Joseph pretends he doesn’t know them. He claims they’re spies, and puts them in jail for three days. When he finally lets them out, he keeps one bound as a hostage, sending the rest home with strict orders to return with brother Benjamin, the youngest, if they want to be able to buy grain again. (Benjamin is the other and much younger son born to Rachel, Joseph’s mother, Jacob’s favorite wife, who died giving birth to Benjamin…) And Joseph lays down his ultimatum: Bring Benjamin – or don’t come back.

***

Now this family reunion is looking a little like an extreme version of a Demoulas of Market Basket-fame family reunion. Meaning we can’t understand who’s who or why it’s all happening unless we go back a few decades and review family history… And when we listen to all sides, we’re still left pondering what’s really going on?

Is Joseph now milking his power over his brothers for all it’s worth? Is he glad his dreams finally came true, and now those nasty brothers are all having to bow down before him? Is he savoring sweet revenge? Bible scholar John Holbert looks at the story from this angle, concluding, “yes, revenge is sweet – but like all sweet things, in the end – not very good for you.” (And Joseph’s only human if some thought of getting back at brothers is going through his mind…)

But might not this also be a case of Joseph, justifiably suspicious of his brothers, based on past performance – putting them to a legitimate test? Insisting on seeing brother Benjamin, to make sure the older brothers haven’t done to his baby brother as they did to him? (Bible scholar Bill Arnold looks at the story mostly from this angle…and I tend to agree…) And we can never be entirely sure of all that was going on. But we do know –

Joseph turns aside and weeps as he overhears his brothers at last saying, “alas, we’re paying the price for what we did to our brother. When we saw his anguish – when he pleaded with us – we didn’t listen. That’s why this trouble’s coming to us now…”

Joseph weeps out of sight, as he overhears… But he still needs to know if Benjamin’s really alive, and if his father’s alive. He needs to know the truth about the rest of the family he hasn’t seen yet. He doesn’t have any reason to believe his brothers when they say “we’re honest men.”

“That’s sure not how I remember it,” he’s got to be thinking. Even if maybe he’s found a way to forgive his brothers, by grace… Still there’s more he needs to know… before he can welcome them back into his life as brothers. And Joseph orders Simeon to be held in jail as he sends the other brothers home, under orders to bring back Benjamin, or don’t come back at all…

Back in Canaan, even as the famine gets worse, still father Jacob refuses to even think of sending beloved Benjamin back to Egypt…. Only as it becomes really obvious the family will starve if they don’t go back and buy food… does papa Jacob relent… and send Benjamin with his brothers…

***

The brothers come to Joseph in Egypt for a second time now, Benjamin with them. Joseph invites them into a royal dining hall, where a grand banquet is served them. Joseph still sits apart with the Egyptians. Benjamin is given five times as much as the others. Family favoritism continues. (Remember, though, Benjamin was the only brother not present, maybe not even born yet, when Joseph was thrown in the pit and sold into slavery…And Benjamin’s also the brother Joseph fears may be dead or beaten or enslaved…) But all the brothers are now served a feast… and things seem to be looking up…

Except… Joseph has in mind to provoke yet-another round of testing…(And much as I sympathize with Joseph, still there’s maybe a touch of over-kill here – as – ) Perhaps he’s wrestling still with family demons of deception and revenge – as he plants false evidence on brother Benjamin to force the hands of his other brothers – to see how they react with Benjamin taken hostage. Will they write-him off and go home? As if to say “oh you can have that one… just give us the food and we’re gone…?”

Then suddenly Judah stands up – and acts shockingly responsible. Saying that for them to come home without Benjamin would kill their father Jacob. Dad couldn’t stand losing both sons of Rachel. So please – take me prisoner instead of him. Let him go. Please.

Judah puts himself on the line for the sake of his brother and father. And now finally Joseph’s doubts and fears subside. Now he reveals himself at last to his brothers, saying, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?”

Speaking to them in their own language for the first time. All the Egyptian translators and court officials sent away. And Joseph weeps so loudly they can hear him far off, as he reveals himself at last to his brothers…Who are far too dismayed… in utter shock… to respond.

Till Joseph repeats, “I’m your brother Joseph, whom you sold into slavery.” (And just imagine, flashing through brothers minds – ‘oh dear God! The one we’ve been bowing down in total fear of – is our long-lost brother? Our brother whom we sold into slavery?!’ And with twenty years worth of guilt stored up, they’re probably in sheer terror, thinking ‘we’re all dead.’)

Yet Joseph says now – “And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here. For God sent me before you to preserve life…”

Then he weeps on Benjamin’s neck and shoulders, who weeps also on him. And he weeps on the necks and shoulders of each brother in turn…And kisses them… And after this… brothers are able to talk again… as brothers…

Making arrangements finally to bring their father… wives and children… livestock and all they own… Down to Egypt..

***

“I appeal to you… brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship….Don’t be conformed to this world – but be transformed by the renewing of your minds… so that you may discern what is the will of God… what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We talked last week about dysfunctional family patterns and how we only break out of them when someone steps out of role, and acts differently.

Here’s one of our chief sinners from last week, Judah. The one who came up with the idea of selling Joseph into slavery.

But now Judah is first to step-out-of-the-broken-pattern – and present himself, bodily, as a living sacrifice. Transformed by the renewing of his mind. Offering his own freedom so his father can have his youngest son back, and the youngest son can have a life back… Presenting himself, bodily, as living sacrifice. Giving himself for others. And –

Grace is contagious. Judah’s example triggers Joseph’s response. Seeing a brother who’d betrayed him… now putting himself on the line for others… brings Joseph to the sweet release of forgiveness… Now tears flow… Now love flows… Now faith in practice working through love provokes yet more love… Extreme forgiveness is happening… Soon the whole family’s at the altar… experiencing deep revival… redemption… regeneration… And…

Our nightmares won’t be wished away. The places where we’re stuck and still dysfunctional – won’t yield to just good intentions – or merely passive prayer. The prayer that gets us to necessary change and enduring healing is prayer with arms and legs attached. Presenting ourselves bodily as living sacrifice. Showing up in person for Jesus. This is our spiritual worship. This is how we are redeemed, renewed, regenerated.

Please pray with me:

Dear and holy God of our fathers and mothers – Healer, Savior, Lord of all – We come before you asking your help. Help us present ourselves to You as living sacrifice – offering ourselves body and soul, heart and mind, in your service. Transform us, in all the ways we need to be changed. Sustain us wherever we need to hold tight and not let go. Give us grace to know which is which – Grace to know your holy will – and what is good – acceptable – and perfect… through your perfect love…in your perfect presence…

In the perfect name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

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