It’s All About Family
Based on Genesis 45:1-15, Psalm 133, Mt 15:21-28
I want to take a moment of privilege at the start of this part of our corporate worship to lift up those people killed and injured in last week’s demonstration in Charlottesville. The names of those persons killed are Heather Heyer, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates. Those three were laid to rest this week and I would ask for a moment of silence in prayer for their families and friends; for all those who were injured and are recovering; and for a peaceful way to respond to violence. Thank you!
I was moved by the Spirit in this portion of our worship time to begin in that manner because the focus of my message to you all this morning is that “It’s All About Family”. It is the one deep truth that I have been confronted with since coming to be your pastor…you are all (seemingly) one big family. Even those of you who aren’t originally from here, many of you married into a large and intricately connected group of extended family. This is new to me because I come from a relatively small family – going back generations. My dad was an only child, my mom had one brother; both Lucinda and I only had two siblings growing up – so there’s not many folks around. I contrast that to the stories I’ve heard you tell here of 8 to 12 children and then those children having multiple kids and so on and so on. I drive around and see the same family names at many different places around the County and I know that I am surrounded by your families. You get what I am driving at here…it’s all about family!
That doesn’t mean that everything is all “sunshine and giggles” within your family. Truth be told, there are folks within our family that we don’t much care for, or who don’t have anything to do with the larger group. Somewhere along the line, something happened and folks went their separate ways. This is where we started this morning with our reading from Genesis and the climax of the story of Joseph. Some background to catch you all up on Joseph…way back in Chapter 37, Joseph’s favored son status and dream of being in charge of his older brothers, has landed him in Egypt, sold into slavery by those very same brothers. Joseph is bought by an Egyptian official, Potiphar, and has a run in with Potiphar’s wife – which lands him in jail. Joseph interprets the dreams of two inmates and ultimately is brought before Pharaoh to interpret the king’s dreams. Joseph tells Pharaoh of the coming years of plenty and of famine and gets Egypt readied. He becomes the second most important person in all of Egypt. Then the famine hits the whole of that part of the world.
Egypt was well prepared for the famine thanks to Joseph, but the land of Canaan where his brother’s lived, by year two of the seven year famine, was out of food. The brothers were sent by their father Jacob to buy grain from Egypt – little knowing that they would be negotiating with their long-lost brother. By this time, Joseph had come to realize that all of his “misfortune” had been part of God’s plan. All of the things that had happened had put him in just the right place for him to save his family and his father Jacob. Joseph has hid his identity until just when we began our reading today – he is so overcome with emotion that he weeps loudly and announces who he is to his brothers. His brothers were overcome with guilt and anxiety at first, but when they see that the joy in Joseph is genuine, they all come back together in a big group hug. Eventually, Jacob gets all the family move to Egypt and the lineage of Abraham is saved.
The Psalmist sings out, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!…” How true it is that when we are united in our family ties how joyful it is to be together. I remember the joy of the secretary of the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church when a cousin that they didn’t know about reached out through Facebook. The extended family got together and introduced this young man to all the relatives he never knew he had. It was another of those group hug moments and a revelation for this young man who thought he was without any connections once his father and mother died. He had been united again with his kin and found a place to belong.
You might be wondering how family fits into the Gospel lesson from today…good thinking because that’s where we turn our focus now. A woman from Cana in Galilee, who is now living in the region of Tyre and Sidon, comes to plead for mercy for herself and healing for her daughter from Jesus. Jesus, initially dismisses the woman (an act unlike Jesus). They have a brief debate where the woman shows her depth of faith in Jesus – reminding him that he came for all, not just the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”. (Verse 24) How did her rhetoric cause Jesus to change his mind and grant this her wish? Maybe he remembered that his first miracle was in Cana at a wedding (John 2). Maybe he remembered that his patriarch Jacob was living in Cana when he and the whole family were rescued by Joseph. Maybe the shear logic of the woman’s response that even dogs are part of the family – reminded him of the bigger picture of what His ministry was all about.
What his ministry was all about was reconciling the world to God through his life, death and resurrection. Certainly he began with the “lost sheep” – as a “renewal” movement within Judaism, if you will. He called His disciples from all walks of life – tax collectors and fishermen and he befriended and ate with the marginalized. He healed folks from all over, returning many to active lives in their communities; and interacted with Canaanites and Samaritans and other folks not usually included at the Israelite family gatherings – folks who were considered “unclean”. In fact, after His ascension, He sent the Holy Spirit down to the Disciples so that they might spread the Word and baptize folks in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as we still do today. Then, he had that famous interaction with Saul on the road to Damascus – and Saul became Paul and went on to spread the gospel to non-Jewish folk – to Gentiles (the folks that we are all descended from)!! God brought all of us into the family through Jesus!
I have been reflecting on all this in light of what happened last weekend just a few miles from where we sit. I think about and grieve with a family from North Dakota over a father’s decision to publicly disown his son following the son’s arrest for driving into a crowd. I think and pray and grieve about how both sides in the demonstration believed that what they were doing was right. I think and pray and grieve over the loss of life, the injuries and the post-traumatic damage that this kind of conflict does to individuals and to a community. The issue that bothers me the most is the irony of how this violent demonstration revolved around a statue of a Civil War general who had to choose between duty to Country and family ties – a war, which by its very nature, often divided families – father against son, brother against brother. In fact, two quotes from that great man about war state, “What a cruel thing war is…to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors”; and “The war…was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forebearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” In a another ironic twist, Robert E. Lee was a man who because of his humility, faith, and grief over what he had done, never wished to be immortalized.
Brothers and sisters, what my reflection on this situation has pointed me to once again, is that this is what evil looks like…this is how evil operates. It lies about who we are and whose we are. It creates chaos instead of order. It destroys bridges instead of building them. It creates an artificial dualism – Us vs. Them, We vs. They, I vs. It. Almost 100 years ago, a man named Martin Buber wrote a small but powerful book entitled, “I and Thou”. In it he postulates that until we come into right relationship with something or someone we see in the other only what “it” can do for us (ex. How many board feet of lumber are in a tree). When we are in right relationship, we see the deeper and more complete picture of that tree and how it fits into its environment. Similarly, when dealing with fellow humans, we see the how they are beloved creations of God just as we are versus something to defeat or objectify. We move from an “I vs. It” to an “I and Thou” perspective. Irrespective of whether we agree with their beliefs and actions, we find ourselves seeking the uniqueness of who each of us is, and who we are together in the family of God. In this way we move from a dualistic to a unitive view that ALL have been created in the image of God as beloved children.
This unitive “I and Thou” is the message of Jesus and the message of the Bible. Over the last few weeks we have reflected on examples of division and reconciliation between Esau and Jacob and between Joseph and his brothers. Familial reconciliation, as we have seen in these stories, requires a change of heart and of vision. Rather than continuing in conflict, we seek to be in cooperation and understanding – a state of grace – with the other. We seek to be inclusive of those from Cana or Samaria or any others who might at first seem to be unrelated and unwelcome to us. God has shown us the way through Jesus to put away our differences, to name and overthrow evil, and to once again become unified in God. The good news my friends, after all is said and done, what God is telling us throughout the Bible is it is all about family – the family of God. Amen!!