Sermon – Is That What Really Happened?

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Genesis 45:1-15                                                              

Farmville Presbyterian Church

August 20, 2023

– Reinterpreting our history in God’s grace


I want to briefly tell you a strange story I saw in the paper this week.  Apparently, there was an older lady living out in the country after a career dedicated to baking and confections.  She specialized in sweets and baked goods.  In fact, this was such a passion for her that she even stylized her home to resemble something like a gingerbread house.  Anyway, she ran across a trail of pieces of bread in the woods and discovered a pair of children.  They seemed lost and afraid.  She offered to help them get home and invited them to use her phone.  Yes, that is especially worrisome in this day and age, and there are lots of troubled people out there, but the kids went to her house, and that’s when everything went sideways.  The children became so upset by her home decorations, many of them unusually spiritual and mystical, that they panicked and shoved the women into her own oven before running home.  The police are looking for the kids if you happen to know where they are.

Do children today recognize the tale of Hansel and Gretel?  I bet you do, but it might not have been obvious to you in the beginning because I told the story more from the woman’s perspective, the misunderstood woman who was accused of being a witch, mind you.  Anyway, the point is that stories we know, stories that we have lived with, even our own stories can be retold, reinterpreted, and reimagined and end up as entirely different.

That’s what I love so much about this passage from Genesis.  And honestly, I never thought about this story in this way.  Maybe you already know what has happened.  Joseph was the spoiled baby of his family among his ten older brothers.  He was daddy’s favorite and got all the attention.  He also had dreams that clearly showed how important he was, and his brothers and father couldn’t stand it.  His brothers greatly resented him, but it was not until they found Joseph out in the wilderness alone that they actually hatched a scheme to murder him.  Eventually, though, they just decided to sell him into slavery, and long story short – Joseph ends up the second most powerful person in the most powerful empire in the world at the time.  His wisdom and God’s leading put him there, and he was able to provide food for untold numbers of people in a time of severe famine, and that’s what brought his brothers to him.  They were looking for food.  Joseph recognized them, but they had no idea it was Joseph, of course.  He looked and sounded Egyptian.  Finally, Joseph arranged for them all to be there with him, including his baby brother Benjamin, and he revealed himself to them all.

Now, his brothers had been living with that evil ever since.  I cannot imagine they felt good about their decision.  Their father would have been devastated.  They did something unbelievably wicked, and they felt very guilty about it, as we might imagine.  How do we know?  When they discover who Joseph us and his power and authority, they are terrified of him.  They see someone who should hate them and has every motive for revenge and could easily have it done.  One snap of Joseph’s finger brings in guards, and they are all dead or worse.  Maybe Jospeh would enslave all of them – make them his slaves after a dreadful stay in the prison.  They are so, so, so upset that when their aged father Jacob dies after this and everyone had supposedly made up, they are still terrified that Jospeh is going to take his revenge, and they concoct a story to get Joseph to forgive them.  They are not listening to Joseph’s explanation here because they only see the story they carried.  They did not hear Jospeh tell them the story from a different perspective.  God rewrote Joseph’s story.  God took that story and redid it.  Joseph saw the big picture.  He knew what God had done.  He even says later that what they meant for evil, God meant for good.  He is as close to being grateful for the whole trouble because it provided a future for his entire family.  Joseph provides a future and a home for his family down in Egypt which is why they are there for the Exodus and Moses’ story, but for now, this horrible, horrible story of hatred, violence, jealousy, betrayal, and lies has become a story of salvation and redemption.  It gives me chills just thinking of God doing this.  If God can and does work that way in history, there must be hope for us, also.

That’s what Paul is telling the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome.  When he was writing, maybe 30 years after Jesus’ death, the larger Jewish people were not thought of very well by Christians, but Paul has not given up on them.  Yes, they rejected Jesus, but God has not rejected them.  Even their disobedience and rejection is God’s way of bringing in the rest of the nations.  Amazingly, if the Jews had embraced Jesus as a people, then following Jesus as the Messiah could well have stayed a Jewish thing forever, and that was certainly not God’s intent.

The story is being retold differently.  We love a good redemption story.  Things seem bad, maybe they are bad, but eventually the story turns and ends up better.  Even the villain can end up the hero – just ask Ebenezer Scrooge, Darth Vader, or Severus Snape.  A special story can create the most unlikely situation and deliver it for us all.  When the Grinch rides in with all of the presents he stole, it reflects God’s heart, as well as the Grinch’s.  In fact, the very power of the gospel is in retelling our story through God’s heart.

A church is the only place outside of prisons that specifically welcomes those who have done wrong.  Just think about it.  No one here is righteous or good enough or able to stand up to God’s holiness.  No one here earned this seat or a place in God’s family.  We are here by and only by the grace of God.  It is the most counterintuitive thing – we win by being failures.  If there were any possible way we might be able to save ourselves, we’d do it, but the whole idea, our foundational notion, is that there is nothing we can do to redeem ourselves.  It is all God’s love: God takes our stories with all of their problems and brokenness and sin and failure and loves us anyway – loves us into something new and shows us a different story.  We are loved so much, even with all of our bad stuff, that we are living witnesses to what God can do.  We go from being self-serving to servants, from stingy to generous, from proud to humble, from taking to giving, from self-righteous to meek, from harsh to loving, from being false to being true, and all of the many ways that God reinvents our story so that we go from being tragedies to being part of God’s Amazing Grace story.

In fact, I will even say, if this makes no sense to you, then you might be in trouble.  If you have no idea why your story needs to be retold through God’s eyes, then you might be in trouble.  All of our lives are far more complicated than we understand.  Everyone is dealing with all kinds of things about which the rest of us are completely unaware.  We all have scars and wounds that have never healed.  The longer we live, the more we understand what people are capable of doing to other people, including ourselves, but we also have new life through faith.  Jesus gives us another way to see ourselves and our neighbor – same us and same them, but Jesus helps us to see ourselves as worth saving and them, too.  Jesus helps us to see ourselves as precious and invaluable and them too.  Jesus helps us to be better than we could ever be on our own – chosen, holy, and beloved in God’s sight.  We have become so incredibly precious to God that nothing in all creation can separate us (warts and all) from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  That’s because God wants us to see how loveable we all are with warts and all.  God sees us as we truly are, children made in God’s image.  We can only see from one side, our side, the from the inside of our little bubbles.  Through Jesus, though, we can see a big, glorious, wonderful, precious, holy picture.  God has made something beautiful and worth sharing, even with us, especially with us.  Our stories have also been difficult at times, even ugly at times, but we are also all thoroughly redeemed in God’s grace, and our stories all come to a glorious ending.  To God be the glory.  Amen.