Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Reading the Bible 31: Genesis 39 – Joseph’s Good Deed Does Not Go Unpunished

I question that comes to mind reading the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife is, why do bad things happen to good people?  We are told that God was with Joseph and he prospered despite the challenging circumstances he found himself in.  He came to Egypt in the poorest of poor circumstances - as a foreign slave.  Yet he succeeds against all odds.  The talents that God has blessed him with enable him to rise to a position of prominence in his master’s house.  He is a loyal and faithful servant and does not yield to temptation when his master’s wife tried to seduce him.  He ends up in even a worse situation than when he arrived in Egypt – in prison for his trouble. 

People have struggled with that question throughout history and many books have been written on the subject including books of the Bible.  With some trepidation here are a few of my thought on that eternal question.  Joseph seems to be beyond blame for the misfortune that befalls him in this episode of his story. Unlike his earlier treatment by his brothers which could be blamed in part on his hubris, he appears to be faultless when fate turns against him this time.  So apparently being in God’s favour does not guarantee that your life will be without problems and challenges and even misfortunes or the most serious kind.  

Everything does turn out for the best for Joseph as we will see in later episodes and there does seem to be God’s hand guiding Joseph through all that happens to him.  However, when we consider all the twists and turn in his story we can’t help be filled with wonder at how easily it could have turned to disaster and God’s plan would have gone unfulfilled.    

I don’t believe that God's caused Potiphar’s wife to attempt to seduce Joseph or to lead Potiphar to have him thrown into prison.  I do believe that God can be with us and we will still suffer the slings and arrows or life fortunes.  People will act in ways that God does not intend for us to act because of free will and evil.  Unlike Joseph’s experience in many cases the ends does not turn out as God intends for us.  However, we have the guarantee that God will be with us in our journey wherever that many take us through all its twists and turns. 

Our part in this is to be intentional in understanding God’s will for us and where the Holy Spirit is leading us.  The vagaries of life may intercede and work to oppose that plan just as we can make the wrong decisions in life; however, God will be with us on that journey.  Thanks be to God.


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Reading the Bible 30: Genesis 38 – What is displeasing in the Sight of the Lord?

The account of Judah and Tamar (as the passage in my bible is headed) has been inserted into the story of Joseph.  We have left Joseph being sold as a slave to Potiphar one of the Pharaoh’s officials with Jacob is mourning his apparent death.    This passage could have been introduced with the phrase, ’meanwhile back at the ranch’.  We are now introduced to a new branch of the family.  Judah has married a Adulamite woman (who doesn’t happen to be named – not important in the narrator’s eyes apparently) and they have started a family.  We now have an example of family values of a different kind indeed. 

Reading the account of Judah and Tamar I must wonder how anyone could question that the bible must be put into context to be understood.  Here we have an account of a widow - Tamar being required by custom/law to have intercourse with her brothers-in-law - Onan; of a father (Judah) ‘going into’ h is daughter-in-law (Tamara)  through deception – Judah only thought she was a temple prostitute so no harm done; the practice of Onanism being established as a form of birth control (again with a sister-in-law).  Judah also righteously is going to condemn Tamara to death because she has ‘played the whore’ and become pregnant outside the bounds of holy matrimony (as they existed them) – no hypocrisy or double standard there. 
And what is God doing while all this is happening?  We hear that Er, Judah’s first born is put to death by God because he was evil in God’s sight.  We have to wonder what terrible thing he did to bring down God’s wrath on him.  I would hazard a guess it wasn’t something such as not upholding the family values of today judging by the fact that God doesn’t seem concerned by all the carryings-on in the story.  Soory, I spoke too soon.  God did also strike down Onan for his terrible act of not impregnating his sister-in-law so perhaps all was not well with Judah and his family.

Apparently cultural context does matter when we are considering how we relate to others and how God views what is good in his sight. 


Saturday, 7 September 2013

Sermon Sept. 1, 2013, 14th after Trinity Luke 17:11 To Be Made Whole

One of the principles of reading and hearing the Gospel is that we should be surprised each time.  Now this may be a surprising statement to you.  After all we all have heard the four Gospels read in church all our lives or for many years in any case.  How can it be that we will be surprised when we hear a Gospel passage that we have heard many times before?   

I believe that this principle is valid because if we have ears to hear and eyes to see God’s truth will be revealed to us in new ways each time we hear the Gospel.  This will happen as we will be changed in some way each time we hear the Gospel proclaimed in our lives. This will not happen automatically.  As part of what God does in and for us it helps for us to be involved.  This may not be required but it does work better if we are open and to pay attention to how God is working in our lives and to listen and hear what the message is that God has for us and respond to it.   That is why there were many people when Jesus walked among the people of Judea who did not recognize Jesus as the messiah.  They were not open to his message.  They were not prepared to receive the truth he was offering - the truth of eternal life.

What then is the surprise for us in this Gospel message we have heard today?   You may have been surprised by any number of things in this passage.  It may be that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus then had his focus on what he knew faced him when he arrived in that place.  He was on his way to meet his destiny – everything that would be the culmination of all that he taught and had done in the last three years.  It could be that the lepers that he encountered only had to ask for mercy and they received it immediately.  Jesus did not always respond so quickly to those he encountered – such as the resurrection of Lazarus when he delayed responding to Lazarus’s’ death for two days.   It could be any number of aspects in this passage.  That would depend on your particular circumstances and how the Gospel speaks to you.

For me the surprise was that the tenth leper was a Samaritan.  Now I probably was aware of that previously but it had not made a lasting impression because it did surprise me.  Perhaps it is because this lesson comes directly after the story of the Good Samaritan and I preached on that passage last week at St. Alban’s in Souris.  You could say that this is the parable of the Good Samaritan part 2.

As you didn’t hear my sermon last week I will summarize what I said about Samaritans.  They were close relatives of the Jews.  However, there was no love lost between those two branches of the family.  They were engaged in a family feud that ran long and deep.  You know what a family feud can be like – it can be very nasty.  The Samaritans claimed to be direct descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC. 

They continued to identify themselves as Israelites rather than descendants of Judah - or Jews.  They did not worship at the Temple.  There were in effect despised and seen as outcasts and not part of the chosen people of God.

So this man that Jesus heals has one strike against him.  The second strike is of course he is a Leper.  Lepers - those who suffer from leprosy - were also considered ritually unclean.  They could not participate in the religious life of the community and they would contaminate anyone they came into contact with.  They   could not worship at the temple.  They remained outcasts until they were healed of their leprosy – which was not the same as the disease we know today.  According to the Levitical code there were many things that made someone unclean such as a woman who was menstruating, or coming into contact with a corpse, or  anyone with a skin condition such as psoriasis which was considered Leprosy.  Someone who was unclean remained so until a priest declared he or she no longer suffered from the condition.  Therefore this Leper was doubly unclean – doubly an outsider and outside the covenant with God.

The next thing that was a surprise to me is the declaration by Jesus when the Leper returned to give thanks to Jesus for being healed of his leprosy.  Did you note what Jesus declared?  Well it easy to missed.  He declared, ‘Arise, go thy way, thy faith has made thee whole.”   Note that he did not say that the Leper was healed or cured – he said the Leper was whole.  All the lepers were healed of their leprosy.  They were made clean and Jesus sent them to the priests to fulfill the requirements of the law and enable them to reenter the life of the community fully. 

The central issue here is what does it mean to mean to be whole?  For this leper who was doubly outcast – a Samaritan and a leper – it meant that God’s grace was also available to him.  He was just as much a part of God’s kingdom – he was as much able to receive God’s grace as was any Jew.  He was whole because he saw that to live fully as a child of God he must know – truly know in his heart and mind and soul that he is loved by God and that love was shown to him through the person of Jesus Christ.  At that point he had been in today’s language saved.  We know that he knew that because he showed that in his action.  He showed that through the gratitude that he expressed spontaneously not on the instruction of the priests and not following the example of one of the other lepers.  He acted because he could not do anything else.  That expression of gratitude flowed from his very being.  It was an essential part of who he now was.

What does all this mean for us?   If we are to be able to live a life a gratitude  - to have a life that will truly be one that is grateful for all that God had graced us with  - we must truly believe in our hearts that that is true.  Does that mean that we despair if we don’t truly feel that at present and therefore that there is nothing I can do?  No – as I said at the beginning of this sermon – we can have ears to hear and eyes to see what God has done for us.  We can see and hear how God is working in our lives.  We can see and hear the evidence that we are children of God and that as His beloved children we have Jesus as our savior and redeemer.  We can respond to that.  We may not fully believe that but when we respond we will begin to see and hear the truth of that.  It does not have to happen is one great event as it did with the Leper.  It can happen little by little. One day it will be as natural as breathing.  Gratitude will be an integral part of who were are.  Thanks be to God.