And They Took Joseph to Egypt

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,

Shelli

One Who Is Mighty and Brave

Lectionary Text:  Matthew 14: 22-33
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

One year ago today, I adopted a rescued Labrador retriever.  He had been picked up in some place downtown where people throw food for homeless dogs.  He landed at B.A.R.C. (For those non-Houstonians, that’s the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Control.  I think they used to call it the “city pound”.) and was there, unbelievably, for three months. On the night before he was to be put down, someone at B.A.R.C. called Scout’s Honor Rescue and told them to come get this “wonderful little black lab” before they put him down.  He was put into foster care and, unbelievably, I found him on the Internet with his own page asking to be adopted.  (Isn’t technology amazing?) Somewhere along the way, someone had named him Vader, which I just thought was odd.  So, I changed his name to Maynard. (Which, admittedly, YOU may think is odd!)  It means “one who is mighty and brave”.  It just seemed to fit for a rescue dog.  He had been hungry and homeless and out in the elements.  He had been caged and deserted and begging.  But when he came home with me, it took a little while.  He was enamored with the dog toys.  He was amazed that there was dinner every night. He thought the yard and the walks were wonderful.  But when I left him, there was a look in his eyes.  I think he always wondered if I was really coming back.  A year later, that look is not there.  He has been swept into my unpredictable life.  He has often been the last one picked up from his weekly daycare outing and a couple of weeks ago, he had to be “emergency boarded” because his owner got tied up at a hospital with a pastoral care visit.  And yet, he knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I will come and take him home.  That is what it means to be one who is mighty and brave—not that fear no longer exists, but that it is no longer the controlling force in one’s life.

Recasting fear is not easy.   Sometimes life is just scary.  Sometimes life changes in an instant.  And sometimes that unknown ending of life as we know it looms larger than we ever thought it would. Yeah, sometimes the winds and the waves pound so loudly that we can’t even hear ourselves think.  Sometimes life is just scary.  God never calls us to leave our fears behind.  They are part of who we are.  But faith empowers us to recast them, to reshape and remold them into something different.  Think about the “recasting” of a thrown pot.  You do not discard the clay; you simply remold it into something that works a little better.

Faith gives us the ability to recast fear into trust.  God created all that is from chaos.  Imagine what God could do with the chaos in our lives today.  God is good at dealing with chaos.  God has done this before.  Our only job is to get out of the boat and trust that, when it’s all said and done, God will take the chaos of our fears and recreate them into trust in what God can do.  “Do not be afraid”, for God has recast your fears into life.  It is knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will always bring you home.

You see, faith is not a shield that we create that protects us from harm.  It is not something that we accomplish or wear like a badge of honor.  I don’t even think it’s something that is measurable.  It’s not something that we check off of our “to do” list.  Rather, faith makes us realize that we’re not in this alone.  Maybe God will pull us out of the storm in the nick of time.  Maybe not.  I think it’s much more profound to believe in a God who will get in the storm with me, who will hold me, allow me to wrestle, allow me to fight against the waves.  I believe in a God who doesn’t demean me or dismiss me for being afraid.  Sure, I’m afraid!  After all, there’s a big wave coming my way right now!  What kind of semi-emotionally-adjusted human WOULDN’T have fears?

You know, Peter had fears.  He admitted he had fears—ghosts, storms, death.  Jesus never said to him that those were unfounded or baseless or stupid.  Jesus just held out his hand and cheered him on.  “Peter, you almost have it, hold on, hold on.”  It is no different for us.  In his 1833 Journals, Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “the wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but for deliverance from fear.” We need to trust our fears.  They are part of our very being.  They are part of the way God made us to be.  But they don’t need to control what we do or who we are.  There is a way to recast those fears into something that is life-giving.

Of what are you afraid?  No, I mean REALLY afraid–that terrifying, nail-biting, knuckle-whitening feeling that washes over you like waves.  Take it.  It is your fear.  It is real.  And then trust, trust that God can create even from this chaos that consumes your life.  I think God has done that before.  In fact, I think God is REALLY good at it, sort of has it down to an art (or at least a promise we can trust.)  And when God asks you to get out of the boat, go ahead.  What’s the worst that can happen?  Maybe you’ll sink to the depths of your soul, but God will sink right along with you.  (Hmmm!  God has done that before too!)  And maybe, just maybe, if only for a moment, you’ll walk on water.  And maybe you won’t.  Does it really matter?  Faith is not about always coming out on top.  I don’t even think it’s about relying on God always pulling us out at the last minute.  Maybe that’s not what’s going to happen!  I think faith has more to do with knowing that God is there on the mountaintop and there in the depths of our existence.  And THAT will make us one who is mighty and brave!

Happy “Adoption” Day Maynard!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli        

Taking Care of Busyness (but not all!)

I just returned back to work today after a couple of days off.  It was wonderful!  It was what I guess they’re calling a “stay-cation”.  I just stayed at home and sort of “piddled”.  I got some (but not all) of the planting done, some (but not all) of the organizing done, some (but not all) of that “to do” list done,  In my “but not all” times, I wandered through shops that I kept saying I wanted to visit, sat on the porch, and walked the dog.  I bought an old concrete yard ornament that is a weather-beaten rabbit who has two (but not all!) of his ears.  The antique dealer sold him to me for $18.00 and he’s in my front flower bed in front of the porch.  His name is now Chester and he has a home (which is the reason that the dealer agreed to sell him so cheaply!).  And I went and bought fresh (I mean REALLY fresh) fruits and vegetables from a neighborhood market and then made up things that I could do with them.  And, to top it off, I lost weight!  Maybe “but not all” is a good thing on several levels!

We are a busy people!  To tell the truth, even my “stay-cation” was wrought with emails and calls that were “work related”.  But they were important–so important, in fact, that I need to check emails and messages while I’m doing my self-prescribed “piddling”!  So I was able set up some meetings and agreed to do another mentoring gig.  Really?  Am I THAT important?  No, not at all.  I think on some level I just don’t want to lag behind the world.  I’m letting the world and it’s busyness lead my life.  So what do you do?

I think you change the way you do things.  You alter the route of your life.  I was watching something on TV during my time off.  (Truthfully, I don’t know what because I just had it on in the midst of the “piddling”.  Again, I watched some (but not all)!)  Anyway, their was a test question asked as to whether one can improve his or her memory more by memorizing something or by changing one’s route to work or some other place.  Interestingly enough, the answer was by changing one’s route.  I think it’s because it makes us look at things differently.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t arrive at the place that we would have anyway; it just means that we got there a different way and probably paid more attention to what was along our path. Now don’t get me wrong.  I am a BIG ritual person.  That is not what gets us in trouble.  It’s not the ritual of it.  It’s the rote of it.  Look up “rote”.  One of the definitions is “from memory, without thought or meaning.”  “Without thought or meaning”?  That’s pretty scary.

You know, we’ve seen this theme before.  Think about it.  The Scriptures are big on wildernesses.  There are lots of accounts of people just wandering around until they found where they were supposed to be.  Maybe the point is not that they were lost but that they had found a different route!  I think ritual connects and points us to God.  But being open to changing the way that we walk may allow us to see the God who walks with us along the way. 

So, here’s what I think.  I don’t think iPhones are bad.  I don’t think ritual is bad.  I don’t think work and staying busy is bad.  I don’t even think that one’s inability to say “no” once in awhile (but not all) is really all that bad.  It’s the WAY we do it.  Each of our lives is a work of art-in-process.  Each step is a brushstroke filling the canvas with color and texture.  And eventually, that bright white light that you see is the blending of all of those colors.  White is the most brilliant color of all.  Without color, without contrast, the world is dark.

So, how do we take care of busyness?  Maybe it’s only a matter of loosening it up enough to follow a different route.  Maybe some (but not all) busyness isn’t all that bad.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

…Robert Frost

Have a wonderfully busy week…just drive around a different block once in awhile!
Grace and Peace,
Shelli

   

Just An Ordinary Day

Today we begin Ordinary Time.  We made it through Lent and Eastertide and the spirit-filled days of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday.  And now we begin that long stretch of time until Advent.  It holds few “high holy” days, with the exception of All Saints Day and, for our church, the Blessing of the Animals. (Maynard is laying right below me on the floor, so I had to say that!)  It’s just ordinary, everyday time.  And this beginning Sunday is just an ordinary day.  Thanks be to God!

I love Ordinary Time.  It’s a chance to breathe in all that Spirit that has been swirling around us the last few weeks.  It’s a chance to soak in what has happened, a chance to sort of “catch up” with ourselves.  There is a story of a nineteenth century explorer who journeyed to Africa and hired some of the villagers to help him navigate the continent.  For the first three days, they walked at an incredible pace and took few breaks.  He was pleased with how quickly they were moving.  On the fourth day, though, they wouldn’t move at all.  He was angry, to say the least.  After all, he was paying them to do this!  When he asked them what in the world they thought they were doing, they told him that it was time to stop, to rest.  It was time to let their souls catch up with their bodies.

I love that story.  I think I need to hear it about every fourth day (or at least every seventh!).  That’s why we need Ordinary Time.  All this ascending and Spirit pouring into us can wear a person out.  So, rather than filling us until our head explodes, God gives us the gift of time to breathe it all in and change our lives to fit our new way of being.

Today we read what is possibly one of the most difficult passages in the Bible.  The story of the Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-14), taken at face value, is disconcerting, disenchanting, and downright shocking.  Read in this way, neither Abraham nor God really comes out looking that good.  After all, what kind of parent would kill his own son?  (Hmmm…I’ll leave that one for later!)  And what kind of God would expect someone to pass some sort of test as proof of faith.  I used to hate this story.

But…breathe…let it sit…let it become a part of you.  First of all, we need to realize that our English translation is limited by the English language.  There are two meanings for the word “test”.  One denotes testing to discern whether or not standards are being met, to separate right from wrong.  (You went there, didn’t you?)  The other is a sort of experiment.  Think of a chemical test in which an entity is pushed beyond itself, a test in which something actually becomes something else.  If God was “testing” Abraham, perhaps it was so that Abraham would emerge changed, a new being.  The point was not whether or not Abraham passed but whether or not Abraham transformed.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow claims that the best contemporary midrash to the Aqedah comes from Esther Ticktin.  She says that the “strongest imperatives of Torah are to rear children and to break idols.  What happens when we turn our children into idols?  We must break our idolization of them—kill the image of of them we have erected…This is what God asked of Abraham:  Lift him up to me:  But Abraham had so totally made Isaac into his idol that he couldn’t fathom how to do it without killing him.  The lifted knife was the breaking of the idol.”  That was all God wanted—for Abraham to break the cast of any idols that he might have set between himself and God.  God wanted Abraham to realize once and for all his own faith to trust in what God was doing in his life.

Maybe the point of the story is not whether Abraham got it right or wrong.  I mean, when it was all said and done, who really cares anyway?  God shows us over and over again that there is always another chance to see things in a different way. Ordinary Time is the time that we are given to break idols, to shift our perspective, to finally get it.  This story does not include such drama as burning bushes or parting seas or even stones rolled away.  There is no dramatic wind or fire pouring down from the heavens.  What finally comes to Abraham is “wait”…”listen”…”think about what you’re doing”.  Maybe Abraham finally questions all that he knew about God and saw God in a way that he’d never seen God before.

God never spoke to Abraham again.  Abraham lived the rest of his days in Ordinary Time, just breathing in all that God had provided.

Have a wonderfully ordinary day!

Grace and Peace, 

Shelli