Reading Genesis 45:1-15 (NRSV)
The church office had an answering machine to take messages when the office was unattended. It instructed callers to leave their name and address, and to spell any difficult words. Early one Monday, when the Office Manager was reviewing the weekend messages, she heard an enthusiastic caller recite her name and address, and then confidently add: “My difficult word is reconciliation — R.E.C.O.N.C.I.L.I.A.T.I.O.N.” The Office Manager didn’t know the woman well and couldn’t work out if she was joking or serious, or a bit of both.
This is the theme of my sermon this morning – reconciliation. And my title is “How Good it is!”
Reconciliation is not that difficult to spell, and its meaning is quite clear. The word derives from the Latin verb reconciliare. The re at the beginning means back or again. The conciliare part means bring together. So reconciliare means the bringing back together again.
Easy to spell and easy to define, but not so easy to do.
But we have a beautiful example of it in the section of the story of Joseph we read earlier. Last week Belinda had the unenviable task of preaching on the bad news part of the story – the dysfunctional family; his brothers planning to kill him then selling him into slavery; years languishing in prison in Egypt.
But today is the good news part and it’s as delightful as it is dramatic.
In his book on preaching titled “The Homiletical Plot”, Eugene Lowry outlines 5 movements of classical narrative. He calls them Oops, Ugh, Aha, Whee, and Yeah.
A good story begins by throwing the reader (or hearer) off balance with an unexpected Oops.
Then it draws the reader into the action with an ever-deepening set of complications that seem unsolvable, the Ugh.
At the point of greatest difficulty, there is the discovery of a possible way out – the Aha moment.
Then the resolution plays itself out and things get better and the reader is caught up in the thrill of the ride, the Whee.
Finally, the previously ugly situation is completely resolved, and everyone settles into the Yeah. Peace is restored. R.E.C.O.N.C.I.L.I.A.T.I.O.N.
The Oops part of the story began some 20 years previously when Jacob’s favourite son was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Things go badly for Joseph when his master’s wife accuses him of trying to rape her, and he is thrown into prison for years and forgotten — the Ugh part. But when God helps him interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he is released and becomes Pharaoh’s 2nd in charge. An amazing about-turn. The Aha. Then we go on a wild roller-coaster of a ride (Whee) as Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt looking for food during a severe famine. Joseph plays an intriguing game of cat and mouse with them which involves hidden identity, trip back and forth to Israel, hidden silver, hostages, and the dread and anxiety of his brothers and father.
Then in today’s reading we get the Yeah. Joseph can no longer control himself we are told in v1. He weeps so loudly that even the Egyptians he has sent out of the room can hear him.
He says: “I am Joseph.” (v3) “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here.” (v4b, 5a).
Then the final verse and climax of our passage – “And he kissed his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.” R.E.C.O.N.C.I.L.I.A.T.I.O.N. Or at least the start of it, because further steps would be needed later in the healing process.
Joseph could easily have had them all killed for what they had done. It would have been natural for Joseph to seek revenge and deliver punishment for all the trouble and suffering his brothers had put him through. This is in fact what his brothers thought was going to happen. But Joseph took quite a different path. Why?
It occurred to me that Joseph would have been there when his father Jacob reconciled with Esau after so many years. He would have shared in the relief and the blessings that resulted from that. He had been given a good example that he couldn’t forget.
But we get a more complete answer in what Joseph says to his brothers.
V8 – “So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
He says something very similar in v5, v7, v9 as well as v8. 4 times!
It’s also significant to note that Joseph called his second son Ephraim, which means “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortune”. (41:52)
It takes someone of great insight and faith to be able to say that.
This perspective raises the thorny issue of the relationship between human responsibility and divine sovereignty. The actions of the brothers were clearly wrong. God didn’t make them do this evil. But God was still able to bring the divine plan to fruition.
The New Interpreters Bible says: “The brothers’ sinful objectives have been thwarted by being drawn into the larger orbit of God’s purposes and used by God in such a way as to bring life rather than death.”
Despite the wrongs committed against Joseph, God was able to use him to save his own people as well as the Egyptians from death by starvation. In the grander scheme of things, Joseph became an important part in the fulfilment of the Covenant promises God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
This way of thinking, though somewhat paradoxical, is not foreign to us, is it? We apply much the same perspective to the death of Jesus. While we decry the evil and unjust actions of Judas and the Jewish court and the Roman executors, we also praise God for the salvation that came through Christ’s death and resurrection. An element of mystery remains that frazzles our finite brains, but we are nonetheless grateful recipients of life through God’s great plan of salvation.
A different kind of reconciliation – between mortals and God.
But back to the type of reconciliation we see in our passage – between Joseph and his brothers. How good it is!
Today’s Psalm is number 133. We didn’t have it as a reading today, but let me read the first verse to you. Literally translated it says: “How very good and pleasant it is, when brothers live together in unity.”
In last Sunday’s sermon Belinda showed you a picture of her family, so today here’s one of ours.
These are our 4 sons. The picture was taken 12 years ago when we did the Cradle Mt-Lake St Claire trek in Tasmania. That is at the top of Cradle Mt.
We are very fortunate that our sons get on. They’ve had their moments, like most brothers, but not major ones. Even though they are geographically dispersed these days, they are still close.
As a parent, let me say how wonderful I find it when brothers live together in unity.
But let’s extend our boundaries for just a moment.
As a Pastor, let me say how wonderful I find it when brothers and sisters live together in unity.
NIV translation of Ps 133:1 says: “How very good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
I’d like to quote what Eugene Peterson says in relation to this Psalm, one of the Psalms of Ascent. (The Journey, p159-162).
“We are a family in Christ. When we become Christians, we are among brothers and sisters in faith. No Christian is an only child. But of course, just because we are a family of faith does not mean we are one big happy family. The people we encounter as brothers and sisters in faith are not always nice people. They do not stop being sinners the moment they begin believing in Christ…
So the question is not, ‘Am I going to be a part of a community of faith?’ but, ‘How am I going to live in the community of faith?’…
Psalm 133 presents what we are after…
For centuries the psalm was sung on the road as throngs of people made the ascent to Jerusalem for festival worship. Our imaginations readily reconstruct those scenes. How great to have everyone sharing a common purpose, travelling a common path, striving towards a common goal, that path and purpose and goal being God. How much better than making that long trip alone.”
Isn’t that a marvellous picture!
Let me say again, how wonderful I find it when brothers and sisters live in unity.
But more to the point, how wonderful the Father of us all finds it when brothers and sisters live in unity.
That’s what God calls us to.
But because we are not yet perfect, as Peterson said, there will be ample need and opportunity to put into practice what we have seen in today’s story. R.E.C.O.N.C.I.L.I.A.T.I.O.N. How good it will be!
We can do it through Christ, who died to reconcile us and make us one and who gives us the ministry of reconciliation.