St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for August 20, 2017 

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
August 20, 2017
Proper 15 A
Genesis 45:1-15; Matt. 15:10-28
     Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them; take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     In our reading from the Book of Genesis, we hear the story of the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers. You may remember that Joseph and Benjamin are the only sons of Jacob and his beloved Rachel. The other ten sons of Jacob are sons of Leah, and the two maids, Zilpah and Bilhah, making up the twelve tribes of Israel. Now the other sons of Jacob did not like Joseph. He seemed to get preferential treatment and he told the brothers of his dreams that they would someday all bow down to him. That didn't exactly win him the popularity vote. So his brothers get fed up with Joseph and sell him to slave traders and tell his father Jacob that he was killed by a wild animal.
     Eventually, Joseph ends up as the trusted servant of Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh and he interprets dreams. Pharaoh has a dream that Joseph interprets to mean that there will be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine throughout the land. He tells this to Potiphar, who puts him in charge of seeing that grain and produce is gathered through the years of plenty so everyone will have enough food to sustain them during the years of famine.
     As the famine hits the land where Jacob and his family are living, Jacob sends the brothers to buy grain in Egypt. The first time they come, Joseph recognizes them but does not tell them who he is. He fills their bags with food and returns their money. When they return a second time for more food, we hear the story we read this morning. Joseph breaks down in front of them and reveals who he is - their lost brother. The brothers are in fear because they are the ones who sold him into slavery and now he has an opportunity to retaliate. Joseph should have been furious. We would expect him to rage and yell at his brothers, to think about revenge, of getting even......But Joseph doesn't do that. He forgives them. He wants to have a relationship with them and his father. He wants to forget what has gone before, forget what his brothers have done to him and move ahead, make up for lost time with his family. And he tells them not to be angry with themselves for what they have done to him.
     "It was not you who sent me here but God," Joseph tells his brothers. God did not do the evil of selling him into slavery, but God made good come out of it. Because of Joseph and his dream about the famine, he was able to stock pile food so people would not starve during the famine. He saved his own brother and father from certain death. "God sent you before me to preserve life, " Joseph says.
     Joseph forgives his brothers for what they have done. He is not looking at things from a petty, "let me get even with them" perspective. He is looking at this from God's perspective. He looks back on their sin and suggests that God has actually used what they did for good. God did not force them to do evil but God can use it for good. God can bring good out of evil. That is our great hope.
     Evil ran rampant in Charlottesville a week ago. White supremisists and Neo-Nazi extremists gathered to spread hateful speech and actions. But our Episcopal bishops, clergy and lay people and many people from other denominations and faiths gathered peacefully to stand against the hate filled rhetoric. They were a witness to those who thought that hate might be winning. They were a witness to the Christian way of life - to love each other and respect the dignity of every human being. They were a witness to those who might lose hope in a world filled with so much violence.
     Evil reared its ugly head in Spain and in Turkey this week with several acts of terrorism killing and wounding many people. Violence seems to surround our everyday existence. So where do we find our hope?
     We find our hope in the example of Jesus Christ who overcame violence with love. We find our hope in the story of Joseph who chose forgiveness rather than revenge. We find hope in the stories of saints who gave up their lives rather than give in to evil.
     So what will our story be? As people who profess their faith as followers of Jesus Christ, what is our response when we are confronted with evil? Will we give into it and go along with the crowd? Will we stand up against it, even though it may cost us our friends or our job or our life? Or will we be silent against the threat of evil, not speaking out, not willing to recognize that it is in our midst? What will be our response?
     With recent upheavals in Charlottesville as well as many other cities and towns,  with verbal and physical attacks against Muslims, women, LGBT people, immigrants, and people of color, we are called to stand up for all who are marginalized, for all who are pushed to the side. Isn't that what Jesus did? Jesus touched the lepers, healed the Samaritan woman and the man with the evil spirits, helped the poor and the widows. He ate with tax collectors and sinners - those who the powerful ignored and kept on the fringes of society.
     As Christians, we are called to stand with those who are on the margins. But first we need to know who they are - what are their concerns, their needs, their fears, their hopes and dreams? We need to get to know our neighbors and build relationships, build community, so when evil comes to our doorstep, we are not alone. We have a community who will stand with us and denounce the evil.
     Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry put out a video earlier this week, asking the question, "Where do we go from here.....chaos or community?", which is also the title of Martin Luther King's final book. He points to our lessons for this morning, which point to God's vision for us, that hope and healing will arise out of the fragments of humanity. We are at a crossroads, he says, when we have to choose chaos or community, whether we choose hatred and revenge, or love and hope.
    God calls us to embrace those who may be different from us - those from different backgrounds, different cultures, different languages, different religions.
     With Jesus as our model, our example, we are called to embrace all of God's people. We are called to stand up with those who need our help and our hope, so they are not swallowed up by evil. Our Christian faith gives us that strength to stand up against evil and allow the gospel of Jesus Christ to prevail. Amen.
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