A Sermon for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
August 10, 2014
(Genesis 37.1-4 &12-28; Psalm 105.1-6 &16-22; Romans 10.4-15;
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Over the past few weeks we have been sitting with the life story of Jacob. He and his family are blessed by God that they may be a blessing to the whole world.
This is, of course, not to say Jacob’s was an easy existence. He lived far from family, made enemies, knew fear, and, mysteriously, wrestled God. Today’s reading opens with him living as a foreigner in the land of Canaan. Jacob, in his following of God, is now a refugee.
Our story will, for a time, follow, the fortunes of Jacob’s youngest son, Joseph. Well, perhaps that is an artificial separation: Jacob and Joseph’s stories are indelibly intertwined.
And the author of Genesis wants us to understand at the outset just how caught up Jacob’s life is with Joseph’s. Like Jacob, Joseph is the youngest. He is also one of only two sons born to Jacob’s first love, Rachel.
As such, Joseph is, dangerously, his father’s favourite. He listens to Joseph when he reports negatively about two of his wives. Even more alarmingly, he lavishes upon Joseph the most extraordinary gift: a coat with either long, flowing sleeves, or many colours. I doesn’t really matter which. All his brothers see is a gift that distinguishes him from them.
Combine this with Joseph’s less than wise boasting of his dreams of grandeur, and we begin to understand why his brothers ‘could not speak peaceably to him’. There is a rift developing – perhaps established – by the time Israel sends Joseph to visit his brothers in Shechem.
Shechem is close to one hundred (100) kilometres from Hebron. The most direct route is through the hazardous mountain country of Canaan. Upon his arrival Joseph discovers he has an additional thirty (30) kilometres to hike into the region of Dothan. Our author wants us to know that Joseph is a long way from the protection of his father.
And don’t his brother’s know it. Before Joseph even arrives the trap is set. Their plan to kill him is tempered only by the counsel of Reuben. He urges no blood to be shed and Joseph is merely stripped of his father’s divisive gift and thrown into a ‘pit’. In time he is sold by his own kin. ‘Twenty pieces of silver’ saw Joseph sent as a slave to the distant land of Egypt.
Perhaps death at the hand of his brothers looked more tempting.
Ours is a story of greed, jealousy, pride, favouritism, devious plans, and manipulation. It is quite an account for a people claiming to be part of God’s salvation plan. Surely the only award this family could win would be ‘most unlikely family to initiate the saving work of God’. This morning’s joy-filled psalm, celebrating God’s work among Jacob and his family, could neither be written nor imagined as Joseph disappeared over the horizon.
This family is, sadly, tearing itself apart. Each one – Joseph, Jacob, the jealous brothers – contribute to this low point. Each in their own way will be broken by this act.
They have all done wrong. And they all know what it is to have wrong done to them. They are all caught in a vicious cycle powered by their own pride.
And then there is our Gospel reading follows that mysterious day when more than five thousand (5000) were fed from a small collection of loaves and fish. Many were healed. A spiritual high no one wished to leave.
But Jesus still has not found any alone time after the murder of his cousin. The crowds forced their way into his mourning space. Once again his ‘compassion’ made him reach out his hand to serve.
Jesus, like all of us, needs time to heal. So he initiates the disciple’s boarding of the boat, and; he blessed and sent the crowds home. Jesus is making space for himself and room for God. He is a good example.
And there on that lonely mountain the one through whom God fashioned the universe prayed. Perhaps he shed a tear for his cousin, felt the vitality of the elements, gave thanks for the blessing of the multitudes. Our passage reads like he is lost in God.
There is a strange timing in our passage. Jesus is alone and praying by sunset. At exactly the same time the disciples are battered by a violent wind.
But it is not until ‘early in the morning’ that Jesus is found walking the waves to meet them. Somehow there is an uncomfortable time gap between the storm settling in and Jesus’ arrival alongside their boat. The timing of God is a perfect mystery.
And even when Jesus does turn up he is unrecognised. The disciples see a ghost and are fearful. Only his familiar voice brings calm: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
And then Peter, extraordinarily, asks to participate. He too wants to walk the white-capped water.
I understand throwing Jesus a rope. But asking to join him who is so unprotected from the swirling gusts and churning water is, really, a bit over the top. Why not offer to do something more…useful?
But Jesus graciously sees faith and invites Peter to step out of his comfort zone.
And Peter walks the water with Jesus.
Well, at least for a moment. Even with Jesus so close the storm left Peter brimming with fear where moments earlier we flowed with faith. It is the same for us. Our focus on God can be stolen in a second and we can know the desperation of the drowning. Like Jesus’ prayer time, Peter’s cry is one we are encouraged to make our own: “Lord, save me.”
The human family is not so different to Jacob’s. The story of God presents us with two confronting realities: we all sin and we are all sinned against. We break others and we, too, are broken.
This leaves us in great need of both forgiveness and of healing. As we learn to see this really in ourselves and our world we realise just how much we need to make Peter’s cry our own: ‘Lord, save us’.
And, if Romans is to be trusted, God is, in every situation, right there waiting to respond to this humble cry. God is not hidden in a distant, unattainable legalism or even in far-flung futuristic questions of the afterlife.
God, rather, is close to you “…on your lips and in your heart” (Romans 10:8).
And so, we, in the church, in our simple, confession and proclamation of the Jesus as Lord, are a people coming to know God’s salvation. God is loving, forgiving, and healing us.
And we are also an inviting people. We declare that ’Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’. This is God’s invitation to you.
You see, as strange as it may sound, we desire to be ‘beautiful feet’ bringing ‘good news’. Jesus has broken, is breaking, that Jacob-illustrated cycle. He is setting us free to be all God dreams we can be. We do not declare this because we are better, worthier, or more deserving. It is simply our obedient response, our act of worship. We believe God deeply desires that each one discover and learn the freedom won for us on the cross. Jesus came to break the cycle of breaking and being broken.
Is it any wonder we so easily see in the immediate reaching of Jesus hand to rescue Peter the action and heart of God toward each one?
And is it any wonder we see in the disciples kneeling and worship the perfect response to such kindness?
The invitation is sent. How will you respond?