Lectionary Text: Genesis 37: (1-4, 12-22) 23-28:
So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore;and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt.Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed.When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
And they took Joseph to Egypt…so matter-of-fact, so simple, so explanatory. But far from being merely historical data, this six word sentence represents a turning point in the story. With these words the Genesis story turns the corner, moving from a story of a somewhat dysfunctional family as their lives are intricately woven with the breath of God to the story of a people growing into God’s people. We begin to prepare for the Exodus story. Nothing will ever be the same again. We know what is to come–slavery, plagues, wilderness, and, finally, deliverance, redemption. This is the stuff of transformation.
When this Scripture (sorry, I cut off the first part!) was read this morning, I was struck by these words. I know that I’ve passed them over time and time again. After all, this is an important story and there’s a lot to grasp–favorite sons, dreams, beautiful coats, family squabbles, murder, intrigue, conspiracy, enemies, slavery, lies. (And just for the record, I would like it to be noted that no matter what I did to my brother Donnie growing up, I NEVER sold him into slavery!) And then you take a breath and, oh yeah, “and they took Joseph to Egypt.” What struck me is how similar those words are to some others:
Text: Matthew 17: 1-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. When I realized that earlier this week, I thought it was just odd. I mean, really, don’t we celebrate that right before Lent begins? But the abrupt ending to today’s Old Testament Scripture made me think a little bit more about it. In this Matthean account of the Transfiguration, the writer has Jesus and the disciples headed down the mountain. They were talking. Jesus warned them to be quiet about what they had just seen. And in the same breath, he gave them a foretaste of what would come. So, we have Jesus walking down the mountain. Where is he going? He’s going to Jerusalem. And we know what happens there. This is the turning point. There is no going back. A new way of being has begun.
And they took Joseph to Egypt…And they took Jesus to Jerusalem.
We all have Egypts. We all have Jerusalems. They are those watershed moments in our lives that are bumpy and rough and uncomfortable. They are that way because it means that we have changed. We have been through a transition; we have been transformed; we have been transfigured into something else.
We don’t know what Monday morning will hold for our economy. There are those who will say that our “best years” are behind us, those who yearn for the 40’s and the 50’s when the United States was “on top of the mountain.” Really? I’m pretty clear that our African-American brothers and sisters will disagree with you. Are our “best years” the ones in which only some of us are on top? That’s sad. I don’t think so. Perhaps we’re being sold to Egypt. I don’t know. Maybe we’ve got a long wilderness ahead. Maybe we are walking down that mountain headed for who knows what. Maybe we will find ourselves in Egypt. Maybe we will find ourselves in Jerusalem. Maybe we will find ourselves enslaved by something we never saw coming or crucified by those who want to maintain things the way they are. Maybe there is a rough road ahead. Maybe not. Maybe our stocks will pop back up tomorrow and everything will be hunky dory. Maybe not. Whatever happens, we are in the midst of change. The road to change is not always an easy one. But somewhere on that road, we will find transformation. We will find deliverance. We will find redemption. But right now we’ve got to come down from the mountain…After all, I think it’s WAY too cloudy to see what’s going on up here. (Hmmm! Maybe that’s our whole problem.)
And they took Joseph to Egypt…and you know what? No one was ever the same again. We’ve been to the mountaintop…now is the time to move on.
Grace and Peace,