Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Looking and Not Seeing

Here is the sermon I preached this past Friday in Morning Prayer.  Third years have to preach in chapel what our chaplain calls "bread and butter homilies" during our last semester - the challenge being to say something worthwhile and formative in 5-7 minutes.  It's a whole lot easier to do "fluffy" in 5 minutes than it is "formative".

Founders’ Chapel, Wycliffe College
March 9, 2012

Genesis 43:1-15

For the past two weeks, we’ve been reading through the story of Joseph and his brothers.  It’s a story of brothers feeling slighted because of a parent’s favoritism, a story of an older brother who tries in his own way to keep the peace, a story of a young man betrayed by his brothers and who can’t seem to stay away from trouble, and in the piece of the story we read today we see a grieving father afraid of further loss, a brother ready to be held accountable for the life of another brother, and a family that must once again, come together and humble themselves for the sake of their survival.  It is a story of a family with its dysfunctions and quirks and whose dynamics may not be too different from some of our own.  I can recall at least a time or two when my older brother and I teamed up against my sister for what we thought at the time were very valid reasons and of times they teamed up against me.  Of course, we never sold each other into slavery but we did occasionally try to exclude the other from what we were doing. 
I find the story of Joseph quite interesting and apparently others do to.  It’s been made into a Broadway musical staring Donny Osmond, quite a few animated movies, and even (my favorite) a Veggie Tales titled The Ballad of Little Joe, it’s a Western done in typical Veggie Tale fashion with Larry the Cucumber as Little Joe. 
One of the things in this story I find most fascinating is that when the brothers encounter Joseph in Egypt, they don’t recognize him, not even a glimmer of “hey, you remind me of someone”.  How is this possible?  I mean they were brothers, they grew up together.  How, even after the twenty plus years that have passed, could they not recognize their own brother? 
I guess when you think about it, though, we can’t really blame them.  They had sold him into slavery, not into a prestigious job in the pharaoh’s house.   Perhaps they even thought he was dead.  They told Joseph their “other” brother (they didn’t even give him a name) was “no more”.  To them, he no longer existed, whatever his fate had become.  His mere existence made his dreams of ruling over them a possibility and they couldn’t face that (don’t let the irony that they were actually bowing before him escape us here).  They had gotten rid of him, written him off, he was no longer part of their life because they didn’t want him to be.  His existence didn’t fit into their reality and the last place they expected to see him was in a place of authority under the Pharaoh.  And they certainly wouldn’t have expected Joseph to be charitable and generous towards them, not after what they had done to him. 
In one form or another, I’m sure we’ve all experienced this, from both sides of the equation.  We have overlooked the reality of another human being because they didn’t fit within our world, and we’ve been the one who wasn’t seen for who they really are.  And yet, some action on our part or the others part can shift our reality just enough for us to finally see the other clearly.  We know what this is like.
Even after Jesus’ resurrection, Mary and the Disciples didn’t recognize him and he had told them he was going to rise again.  But the risen Jesus didn’t fit into their human world of grief and loss.  Jesus had tried and tried to prepare them for the radical reality shift that was to come and they still missed it because it was so far beyond their understanding.  Saviors aren’t crucified, they conquer.  And dead people don’t generally come back to life.  Yet, in speaking to them and eating with them, Jesus was able to open their eyes to this new reality and they could see him for who he truly is – the Risen Savior. 
And through this lens of the resurrection we are given the ability to see those around us for who we each truly are – those the Risen Savior came to save.  And, if we let ourselves see it, we can know the true meaning of Christ’s words to us that when I was hungry you fed me and when I was naked you clothed me.  Joseph, by God’s grace and despite their history, was able to see his brothers as the family he loved and gave them more than what they needed.  Through the lens of the resurrection, by God’s grace, we have the ability to see each other as sisters and brothers in a new reality.  A reality shaped by the hope given to us in the Risen Savior that in the fullness of time all things will be set to right, our famines will become abundance and our broken relationships made complete.  Amen. 

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