Genesis 12:1-2; Exodus 1:8
All summer we have been immersed in the Book of Genesis. Some of you have wondered if we will ever find our way back to the New Testament while others have expressed joy at discovering new ways of looking at ancient stories. The other 95% want to know when Roy and his sock puppet are coming back.
The Book of Genesis was one of the last Old Testament Books written. The first 11 chapters are a theological prologue which includes stories of creation, sin, forgiveness, reconciliation, and recreation. In chapter 12 we are introduced to the family of Abraham, a pre-historic representation of the trials and triumphs of the people of Israel. Compiled during the exile in Babylon, these stories addressed the questions of a people in captivity.
Who is God? Where is God? Are we the people of God?
I love these stories. Every time I reread them they fit comfortably into my never ending and always revolving faith journey. The stories of the family of Abraham are the stories of God’s people, a never ending journey sandwiched between light and darkness with that hopeful promise that the light will be restored. The legacy of Abraham begins with a promise and it ends with a loss of memory. In Egypt, Israel begins to have that memory restored.
The call of Abraham is not to be confused with a mid-life crisis. Abraham did not wake up one morning desiring a convertible and a new wardrobe. He had already tried Viagra and it didn’t work. Abraham awoke with the conviction that God is always out in front of us working on the next new thing. He and Sarah belonged to a church that turned fear and suspicion into doctrinal statements. Abraham took a leap of faith and discovered God never intended the human experiment to be bound by strident walls of mortar or dogma. God is out there, waiting for us to catch up.
But even pioneers occasionally stumble. Abraham and Sarah built a new home, started a little business and eventually had a family. Everything God promised had come true. Then God comes to Abraham with a final examination of his understanding of God’s intentions. “Abraham, I need for you to sacrifice your son.” Abraham balked. “God you stand for life. How could I kill my child? I can’t find anywhere in the good book where it says child sacrifice is a good thing?”
God said, “Have you checked the Book of Leviticus?”
Abraham responded, “No I haven’t. Is it there?
God responded, “That is where people usually go when they want to limit my boundless love for all my children.”
An uncertain Abraham scratched his head and then made arrangements to climb the mountain. He laid the wood, bound his son and placed Isaac on the altar. But before Abraham could lift the knife, a disappointed God substituted a ram. God released Isaac, and then said, “Abraham, be careful what you read, even in my holy book. Sometimes my way of love and life are overridden by the fears and prejudices of well meaning but misguided folks.” A confused Abraham stumbled down the mountain followed by a grateful son who had experienced a valuable lesson concerning his God. “Thou I walk through the valley of death, God is with me.”
Enter Jacob. When folks carelessly lament the recklessness and waywardness this generation, I remind them of Jacob. Was Jacob self-serving? Was Jacob thoughtless? Was Jacob scheming? Was Jacob misunderstood? Perhaps all of the above and yet when Jacob fled his home, his culture and presumably his God, guess who met him in the middle of the wilderness. Guess who reminded him of the covenant first made with Abraham. Guess who comes after us even when we might not be willing to come after ourselves.
But how quickly we forget. Like most of us who have trotted down the aisle singing, “Just as I am”, by the next week-end Jacob was back to his old ways. Trusting his schemes and dreams rather than God’s promises, Jacob took a fourteen year detour that eventually left him alone once again, back in the darkness, and down by the river with no idea of what tomorrow might bring.
Was it a stranger, or an angel, or was it God that collided with Jacob leaving him lame but healthy. Does it really matter? Finally able to stand on his own two feet for the first time in his life Jacob, the wounded healer waded through the water of his own discontent to meet the brother he never knew. And God made the introductions.
Finally there was Joseph. He had the audacious vitality of his father but the consciousness of his grandfather. The combination would serve him well. In the beginning Joseph probably thought he was a god, but quickly learned differently while sitting in a hole in the middle of nowhere. Just like God would be forever attached to him, Joseph would always be attached to his brothers no matter how great the desire for separation. From one prison to another Joseph clawed his way through life, always believing he was never meant to be a slave. Then one day God’s light purged the darkness and Joseph had power and fame thrust upon him. He could have claimed to have been be a son of pharaoh. Instead he remained a son of Abraham, a son of light, a son of forgiveness, a son of reconciliation, and a son of God.
And that is where the story could have ended. Joseph died, but worse than that the storytellers died. Generations past and children begin to ask their parent’s burning questions such as, “How did we get here? Have we always been slaves in Egypt?” The parents had no answers because the stories of the children of Abraham had been forgotten.
Stephanie Paulsell claims, “We need places to pray as if someone were listening. We need places to study as if we might learn something worth etching on our hearts. We need a place to join others in service and love in order that we might always believe the world can be transformed.”
The book of Genesis displays glimpses of the nature of God. We witness the One who goes ahead, urging us to follow even it means giving up those things which offers a different security. We witness the One who stands against time honored traditions, especially when those traditions divide rather than unite us. We witness the One who embraces both the outcast and the renegade, joining their struggle and blessing them with a new identity. We witness the One who is in the pit, in the prison and even in the seat of power. But the distinguishing mark of this Holy Sovereign is mercy and forgiveness.
From the beginning God is creative, God is enterprising, and God is distinguished as one who stands over against culture. God is embraced as one who walks with the rich and the poor, the accepted and the rejected, and offers salvation to both. God converts death into life through an everlasting openness to spiritual transformation.
But what happens when pharaoh forgets Joseph? What happens when the stories are no longer told? What happens when the places where together we pray and study and do ministry no longer exist? What happens when it is no longer convenient to worship the One who goes before us and stands behind us and is always within us? (STOP)
Well, as promised, next week I plan to begin to preach form the Gospel of Matthew. But if you want to know how those slaves in Egypt responded, I suggest you look up Exodus 2:23-24. In fact, while you are at it, read the whole Book of Exodus. Call me if you have questions. I will be happy to discuss those questions with you. If enough folks are interested, maybe we will do Exodus next summer.
To God be the Glory. Amen.