Come home to Calvary
It is such a joy to have all these confirmands here with us this morning, leading us in worship, using liturgy that they helped create, and committing to journey with God throughout their lives.
We emphasize in confirmation, that joining the church is not the culmination or the end of their faith journey, but the beginning. Although God has indeed been with each and every one of them since the day they were born, today, they commit to fully recognize God’s presence in their lives and to choose to journey with God.
The scripture read this morning by Annabelle and Treyvor is the story of Joseph,
not Jesus’s human father, but Joseph from the Hebrew scriptures, you know, the one with the amazing technicolor dream coat.
Almost exactly 3 years ago, our children & youth choirs put on a mini-production of this musical which tells the tale of a God who journeys with Joseph through both the hills and the valleys of his life. You can still watch that production on Calvary’s YouTube channel and catch a glimpse of some of these very confirmands as their younger selves! It is fantastic and so fun!
Now, the story of Joseph takes up extensive space in Genesis. It begins in chapter 35 and continues all the way through chapter 50! It is detailed and complicated and convoluted, and we heard just the beginning of it today.
It is a story with multiple scenes, some highlights which include:
Joseph is given a special coat by his father and dreams of greatness (Genesis 37:1-11)
Joseph is betrayed and sold into slavery by his brothers (Genesis 37:12-36)
Joseph gets entangled with Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39)
Joseph, imprisoned himself, interprets the dreams of two other prisoners (Genesis 40)
Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream and rises to power (Genesis 41)
Joseph’s brothers, hoping to escape famine, come to Egypt (Genesis 42-43)
Joseph detains Benjamin and reveals himself to this family (Genesis 44-46)
And finally, Joseph forgives his brothers and is reconciled (Genesis 50).
Each time we think the worst thing has happened to Joseph, something, somehow makes it seem providential, almost as though God is at work in his life.
It reminds me of the old Taoist story that Victor once shared:
An old farmer who had worked his crops for many years woke up one day
to find that his horse had run away.
Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.
“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.
“How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses,
was thrown, and broke his leg.
The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.
The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.
Maybe. That’s probably how we should all move through life because we, who are human, are limited, and we often cannot see the forest for the trees.
But God’s view is expansive. Time and life for the Creator who is eternal
must be so very different than how we experience it.
Sometimes, we are able to catch a glimpse of God, working in our lives, but oftentimes it’s only through hindsight. Even Joseph has this moment. In Genesis 50:20, he says to his treacherous brothers, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good…”
It is a similar sentiment as found in Romans 8:28 which says, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God…”
Now, that doesn’t mean all things are good. Joseph being sold into slavery wasn’t good,
neither was the false accusation and his subsequent imprisonment.
But somehow, these things that are negative, intended by humans for harm,
worked together for the ultimate good, not only the good of Joseph but for his entire people.
Timothy Cargall, in his Genesis commentary writes:
“God is neither directly nor indirectly responsible for the plan to sell Joseph into slavery; rather, God actively engages what they have done so that ultimately it has a redemptive rather than destructive result…
God is at work to bring about the redemption of Joseph and his brothers, to bring reconciliation to this shattered family. God is still busy imputing goodness in the midst
of all the intentional and unintentional harm that we do.”
We often wonder, why do bad things happen to good people? And while the answer is mostly a mystery, free will, human sin and greed, as well as the design of nature, how our bodies scientifically have evolved and now work, and just plain accidents and bad timing, all play a role.
Not all things are good; we know this. We live this.
But all things can work together for the good.
What we proclaim in this season of Easter is resurrection which according to Frederick Buechner means “that the worst thing is never the last thing.” Let me say that again:
“Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing.”
All things are redeemable because Christ himself has risen. And when we wonder, where is God when bad things happen? The story of Joseph reveals to us that God is with us, helping us move forward, holding us when we cry and feel despair, and working for the redemption of all things.
Our confirmands, I imagine, are about the age when Joseph would have been betrayed and sold to Egypt by his brothers. So much life lies ahead for them. And yet it is natural for most young people to feel like what is happening now is the most important and weighty thing that we will ever go through. And, let’s face it, you all have been through it – a global pandemic in some of your most formative years?
And I hate to break it to you and to your parents, but your future path will not be a straight line to happiness or whatever you define as success. None of our lives are like that.
If we are willing to live fully, to take risks, to follow Jesus, our future will be a mess of squiggly lines, stops and starts, do-overs, and failures, and yes mountain-top experiences, too.
So while we do not know what the future holds; we do know who holds the future.
God is with us. God has always been with us. And God will always be with us.
And while it may be hard to feel God’s presence sometimes, that’s what joining a church, through baptism and confirmation is all about. It is committing to be the Body of Christ for one another. So we show up for each other when life is hard. We walk with each other and pray for one another. We celebrate our joys and learn new things together.
In baptism and in confirmation, we commit to being Christ’s hands and feet, knowing that God journeys with us through all our lives, and sometimes the best way we experience that is through other people. Theresa of Avila wrote once:
“Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion upon this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
And we can’t do it alone which is why together, the church is the Body of Christ.
So, welcome, confirmands, to the church, the Body of Christ. We are so glad you have chosen to join us as members of this incredible ministry to which God has entrusted us.
We will be here for you. And we know that you will be there for us. Because you are not just the future of the church, you are the church today.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Genesis 37: 1-4; 12-36
Jacob lived in the land of Canaan where his father was an immigrant. This is the account of Jacob’s descendants. Joseph was 17 years old and tended the flock with his brothers. While he was helping the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, Joseph told their father unflattering things about them. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he was born when Jacob was old. Jacob had made for him a long, many-colored robe. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him and couldn’t even talk nicely to him.
Joseph’s brothers went to tend their father’s flocks near Shechem. Israel said to Joseph, “Aren’t your brothers tending the sheep near Shechem? Come, I’ll send you to them.”
And he said, “I’m ready.”
Jacob said to him, “Go! Find out how your brothers are and how the flock is, and report back to me.”
So Jacob sent him from the Hebron Valley. When he approached Shechem, a man found him wandering in the field and asked him, “What are you looking for?”
Joseph said, “I’m looking for my brothers. Tell me, where are they tending the sheep?”
The man said, “They left here. I heard them saying, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan.
They saw Joseph in the distance before he got close to them, and they plotted to kill him. The brothers said to each other, “Here comes the big dreamer. Come on now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns, and we’ll say a wild animal devoured him. Then we will see what becomes of his dreams!”
When Reuben heard what they said, he saved him from them, telling them, “Let’s not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Don’t spill his blood! Throw him into this desert cistern, but don’t lay a hand on him.” He intended to save Joseph from them and take him back to his father.
When Joseph reached his brothers, they stripped off Joseph’s long, many-colored robe, took him, and threw him into the cistern, an empty cistern with no water in it. When they sat down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with camels carrying sweet resin, medicinal resin, and fragrant resin on their way down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What do we gain if we kill our brother and hide his blood? Come on, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites. Let’s not harm him because he’s our brother; he’s family.” His brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they pulled Joseph up out of the cistern. They sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver, and they brought Joseph to Egypt.
When Reuben returned to the cistern and found that Joseph wasn’t in it, he tore his clothes. Then he returned to his brothers and said, “The boy’s gone! And I—where can I go now?”
His brothers took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a male goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the long robe, brought it to their father, and said, “We found this. See if it’s your son’s robe or not.”
He recognized it and said, “It’s my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him. Joseph must have been torn to pieces!” Then Jacob tore his clothes, put a simple mourning cloth around his waist, and mourned for his son for many days. All of his sons and daughters got up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted, telling them, “I’ll go to my grave mourning for my son.” And Joseph’s father wept for him. Meanwhile the Midianites had sold Joseph to the Egyptians, to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s chief officer, commander of the royal guard.