Who She Is

Near the end of his speech to the Democratic National Convention in July of 2016, Bill Clinton had this to say about his spouse, Hillary: “You could drop her into any trouble spot, pick one, come back in a month and somehow, some way she will have made it better. That is just who she is.” As I heard this, I found myself thinking about my mother. You could drop her down and come back a month later and, yes, things would be better. Much better, probably. Then I started thinking about the women at Lakewood UCC Church. One by one.  And as I thought about each one, I thought, yes, leave her for a month and things would be better.  And if you are a regular attender at the church, yes, I thought about you.

Now, this is NOT to say that if you dropped a man down in a trouble spot and came back in a month it would not be better. Sure, men are capable, too.

Is this statement of Bill Clinton’s an apt description of Hillary Clinton? Well, it pretty much describes every other woman I know, which just makes me wonder why the US has never had a woman president.

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Who Would Jesus Vote For?

Who could have foreseen what a bizarre, nasty, and divided election season this would be? Not only are we bombarded with constant trash about the candidates, here in Florida  there are also persistent lies about the amendments to the Florida State Constitution especially Amendment One relating to solar energy. And even if you try to avoid it all by ignoring the paper, the radio, and the newsfeed on the internet, they are dishing it up to you on your phone with incessant robo calls.

As Christians, much as this election season may disgust us, we know that it is an opportunity to vote our values and to express our faith in a way that matters and can make a difference. And so we suppress the urge to stay home and not even bother voting.

Let’s take a moment to examine how Jesus might vote if he were an American citizen today. Jesus was devoted to a God of love for all of Creation. He showed people a God of love and care for all with no prejudice based on religion, ethnicity, or sexual identity. With that God at his center, Jesus took action on a day to day basis. He showed us how to embody the universal love of God for all by acting with compassion and mercy for individual people. This exposed the injustices of the society of his day. Jesus disrupted the social, political, religious, and economic arrangements of his time because all of those systems were set up to protect some at the expense of others. It’s no wonder he was killed.

In thinking about how to make our voting decisions, we can think about Jesus taking into consideration the big picture: All of Creation is beloved by God. So, how will our vote affect all of Creation? How will our vote impact the besieged people of Aleppo? How will our vote make a difference to the melting polar ice caps and glaciers? How will our vote influence the child who is sent on to Middle School but still cannot read? What will our vote do for the people of all the nations of the world who are all made in God’s image and beloved? I think this is how Jesus would think about who to vote for.

In the Tampa Bay Times, there was a letter to the editor this morning in which the writer shares how he will decide who to vote for: “Both presidential candidates are flawed human beings. But we must vote for one. So, which might benefit us and our families the best?” That is how Leonard Mead of Apollo Beach will decide who to vote for. To me, this perspective is not consistent with the universal vision of Jesus. To limit our concern to “us and our families” in voting is not in keeping with Jesus’ concern for all of Creation. This is far too limited a perspective for someone committed to the way of Jesus.

In another letter to the editor today, R. B. Johnson of Indian Rocks Beach gives this advice for selecting who to vote for: “Instead of obsequiously marching in lockstep to the siren blandishments of party solidarity, we should be considering ourselves human beings first, Americans second, and members of political parties a distant third.” This perspective is much closer to the vision of Jesus. The writer is encouraging us to broader horizons, to consider the well-being of the whole human family, not just our own family. This is much more in keeping with the way of Jesus.

All of Creation is the self disclosure of God. All of life is sacred. Every person is created in God’s image. Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity are about a grand vision of the common good. And that is what should guide our voting as followers of Jesus.

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Devotion – Easter Sunday

Helen Nims, a 100 year old member of the congregation, died in her sleep on Holy Saturday morning about 3:00 a.m. He son in Connecticut spoke with her by phone at about 2:00 a.m. Helen has been ready to die for years. She has said many times, “I don’t know why the Lord is keeping me here.” She was not afraid to die. She did not know what was to come, but she was ready for it.

For Helen, her death is the fulfillment of her hopes and dreams. How beautiful for her to have that gift at Easter.

May Easter bring us all new life!

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Devotion 46 – Holy Saturday

Silence. You may have noticed that the devotion posted for Good Friday had no content. It was silent. Maybe on Good Friday, Jesus, in some way experienced the silence of God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Today, Holy Saturday, there is a tradition that Jesus went down into hell and brought back with him the souls that were in hell. There are paintings of Jesus emerging from the fires of hell with streams of people following him. Thus even in his time of abandonment to the grave, he still found a way to do good, to help others, to defeat evil. Even if God was silent for him.

In recent days we have had a glaring portrayal of the way of Jesus and the way of the world, the contrast, brought home to us. Prominent politicians talk about building a wall to protect the United States. That’s one image. A worldly, fearful, self protecting image. This week, we have heard of Pope Francis washing the feet of immigrants at a center outside of Rome. He is ministering to the very people the wall is meant to keep out. That is an opposite image.

The Pope is following Jesus. Doing the good. Helping those most in need. Reaching out to those who feel marginalized. We think of Jesus, perhaps at his lowest moment, dead, choosing to visit hell to save the souls there. Is it so much to do that here on Earth?

Even when God seems silent, we can still choose to do the good and to follow the way of Jesus. And wait. For the silence will come to an end.

Prayer
We pray for hearts open to the way of love, even when we ourselves face challenge and hardship. May we meet God in the faces of those who need us. Maybe it is we who need them. Amen.

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Devotion 44 – Viva la paz!

This week we heard of President Obama’s visit to Cuba. It was amazing for me to hear about it. An American president in Cuba. My whole life, Cuba has been an enemy of the US though just 90 miles from Florida. In high school we read 13 Days about the Cuban missile crisis. I couldn’t put the book down. Many of you may actually remember the conflict. The world was poised, at the edge, on the brink, of nuclear war. Now, the US president has visited Cuba. On one hand, I never thought I would see it happen. On the other, I wonder why things haven’t thawed sooner. Really? Cuba? We have relations with other communist countries and other countries with human rights records we condemn. Maybe it has taken so long because there are many Cuban exiles in the US and they exert a lot of political power.

I appreciated listening to the President’s speech to the Cuban people. He didn’t portray the US as paradise. He didn’t extol democracy as nirvana. He admitted that the US has many challenges. But the President explained that our open, participatory system allows the people to work for improvement and change. And he affirmed that changes and progress are needed in the US and in Cuba.

This week we are remembering Jesus’ life and ministry. This week, we remember his last teachings and his last days. We remember his crucifixion. Jesus’ unjust death stems from his life and teaching. He pointed people to God with no self interest involved. He encouraged God’s vision of community, inclusion, and justice, for no personal, individual gain. The gain was to be collective.

Before we get swept away by the glories of Easter, we want to remember that Jesus did not say that God’s way would be easy. A seed must die. Give up your life for your friends. Many of Jesus teachings show the cost of discipleship. They convey a path of sacrifice. Jesus died for being true to God. Others were killed for their faith. But the way of justice and peace is the very way to abundant life. Joyful life. Not simply going through the motions, in bondage to self interest, but living the good life for others, for humankind, for Creation.

I found President Obama’s trip to Cuba hopeful. I was moved to tears at his speech. Now, finally, we are beginning to act in mutuality with this small, poor neighboring nation. There are issues to be resolved. The countries have their differences and ever will. But we should be talking, visiting, playing music and baseball together, in a spirit of good will and mutual respect.

It was refreshing to see a US leader pursue peace with a former enemy without using a gun, or a bomb. And it stood in stark contrast to the bombings in Brussels. It was a bright spot, a moment of sanity, in a world that too often seems insane and inane.

Pilate let Jesus off. Herod let Jesus off. They didn’t think he deserved to be killed. It was the crowds that called for crucifixion. There are those who still call for severed relations with Cuba. May we be the crowds, the people, who cry out for peace.

Prayer
This Holy Week, remembering the death of Jesus, we pray for all the things that make for peace. Amen.

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Devotion 43 – Living by the sword

Today the world has been sent into shock again at the terrorist bombings in Brussels, at the airport and a metro station. People were going about their every day lives, lives taken by complete strangers who have no direct connection with the many who were injured and killed. This is so reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks and other attacks around the world. Strangers perpetrating violence against strangers, civilians in their every day lives, who have personally done them no harm, all done in the cause of an ideology.

In the story of Jesus’ arrest in the gospel of Matthew, when the guards restrain Jesus, one of his followers cuts off the ear of a slave. He is trying to protect his master. Defend him. But we are given these words of Jesus: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” [Matthew 26:52] Some verses later, we are told that the disciples deserted Jesus and fled.

Undoubtedly the disciples were afraid. Would they be arrested? Would they be detained? Would they be attacked? Were their lives on the line? Fear gave them a good reason to flee. But there may be more here. Jesus tells them not to respond with violence. We can imagine that their first impulse would have been to fight back. Take on the guards. Try to set Jesus free. That may very well have been the approach that they wanted to take: That they knew how to take. That they would have been comfortable taking. But Jesus tells them to suppress that impulse and quell that response. He has shown them another way. To take up violence would be to betray everything he has lived for and everything he will die for. The disciples don’t have an immediate Plan B, so they flee. They don’t know what to do if they don’t react with violence.

It seems that Jesus’ message is still having a hard time getting through today. The first reaction, even among Christians, is still to react with violence. We see many Christians idolizing the second amendment though it is very clear that Jesus would never support taking up arms. The sabers rattle in the face of terrorism. Presidential candidates threaten to bomb the terrorists into oblivion. And they are heartily supported with the votes of many Christians.

We can well imagine Jesus weeping in disappointment and despair for we still have not grasped his transformational message. Violence begets violence begets violence begets violence. The only thing that ends violence is love.

Prayer
We pray for all those suffering the effects of violence in Brussels and around the world. We give thanks for Jesus, who has shown us how to put an end to the spiral of violence. May we continue to try to learn the way of peace from Jesus so that his death is not in vain. Amen.

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Devotion 42 – Judas, are you here?

There is a Holy Week litany which asks, Judas, are you here? Judas is remembered for betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and then hanging himself. There is also a stream of belief that Judas did this out of devotion and faithfulness; that it was necessary so that Jesus’ mission could be fulfilled.

When we think of Judas as a betrayer, the case can be made that Judas betrayed Jesus because Jesus did not fulfill Judas’ expectations of a Messiah. Perhaps Judas was looking for more of a political rebel as a Messiah. More of a fighter. Someone who would take up arms and challenge Roman rule, then set himself and his friends up in positions of power. Then, when Jesus did not meet Judas’ expectations, Judas betrayed him. That is the customary view. And it has insights for us, even if we don’t see Judas that way.

We may feel that our faith is not strong. That is does not make enough of a difference in our lives. Maybe we feel that we are not making enough of a difference in the world. Perhaps we wish we were closer to God. We may have these disappointments because we feel our expectations are not being met. But maybe the problem is our expectations. Maybe what we think we want is not what is best for us, or what is needed by the world, or what is truly consistent with the way of Christ, or fitting for our circumstances. Maybe we are disappointed because what we are hoping for is not what we need.

Our faith could be offering us wonderful experiences, amazing new life, and exciting transformation, but we could be missing it all because it is not what we are looking for or expecting.

This Holy Week is a time to let ourselves be surprised and stunned by Love.

Prayer
It can be very hard to follow. We want to lead. We want to be in control. We think we know best. This Holy Week, may we open ourselves to the leading of Divine Love even when it leads us to the cross and beyond. Amen.

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Devotion 41 – Follow the Money

Jesus leads a peace procession in the streets of Jerusalem. Evidently even then, there wasn’t peace. The parade culminates at the Temple. This should be the locus of God’s peace in the world. This should be a place of serenity, devotion, and reverence. You know the hushed feeling of awe you get in a sacred space. Even in our little church open to the world, there is a sense of reverence. The Temple should have been a holy place of peace where you know to speak in hushed tones.

In the Palm Sunday account, when Jesus and the peace procession get to the Temple, what occurs is surprising. Instead of a candlelight vigil or a prayer service, we are given the story of Jesus driving out the money changers and overturning their tables. It’s as if things go from a peaceful demonstration to a riot. We know that line can be thin. An orderly market is thrown into chaos. This is one of the few stories we have of Jesus literally upsetting things. He disrupts the functioning of the Temple. Obviously, some people will not be happy about this. Surely the money changers were not thrilled with following their coins all over the ground and collecting their pigeons and other animals from hither and yon. The Temple officials would not have been happy about the disruption to their business and their income. They would not like the upset of the sacrifice system from which they benefitted and were fed though at the expense of the masses. To bring peace, Jesus uncovers the corruption of the sacrifice system. The peace of God and bilking the believers do not go hand in hand.

This episode shows us Jesus getting right to the heart of things. Follow the money. In religion, in society, in politics, in our personal spending, Jesus shows us that what is going on with the money is what is going on. It reveals people’s true commitments and intentions.

If you want to know more about yourself and what you care about, look at your spending and your budget. To know more about an organization, look at what is done with the money. When investigating political candidates, see where the money comes from and what the person’s policies are around money. Want to know more about a church or religious institution, look at the budget and finance statements. And if you can’t get access to the figures, someone does not want you to follow the money because it leads to the truth.

Prayer
May we align ourselves with Jesus’ procession of peace even when it disrupts our financial assumptions and conventions. May we follow the money and see the truth exposed. It is only through honesty that we can rid ourselves of the corrosive effects of greed which prevent God’s peace. Amen.

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Devotion 40 – Palms and Paradise

Palms. We are told they were used to line the path for the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem. His was a parade of peace. He did not enter the city as a military conqueror, though that is what some people would have liked. Jesus entered Jerusalem as the embodiment of peace, of hope, of reconciliation, of a new future. And not only a new future, but a different future. A future in which the oppressed do not apply the tactics of the oppressor to reverse the situation. Jesus comes into Jerusalem as a symbol of a reality in which violence, harm, and pain are not used as weapons against others. Jesus is leading the way to a reality in which the innate dignity of every person is honored and the creation itself is revered as the self-disclosure of God.

The palm tree is quite unique. It provides food through the nuts and date. Oil can be made from the palm. The fronds can be used for making baskets and for roofing and other practical applications. The trunk and the crown are home to countless insects, birds, and other flora and fauna.

Then there is the symbolic nature of the palm tree. It is associated with tropical warmth, the beach, vacation. Can you remember driving south on I-95 from the frozen north, eagerly seeing that first palm tree by the side of the highway in South Carolina? With global climate change, maybe they are in North Carolina now. But the palm tree is a symbol of tropical paradise especially for those from temperate climes.

So we see that the palm is really a very fitting symbol for the new reality that Jesus is pointing us to: a reality of peace, lived in harmony with one another and with nature. Paradise.

Prayer
May we keep focused on the kind of community and world that Jesus shows to us. May we be disciplined and keep ourselves from the allure a self-centered, greedy, violent society. May the palms around us remind us of Paradise and peace. Amen.

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Devotion 39 – Lent 2016

“When they came to the land of Goshen, Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen. He presented himself to him, fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while. Israel said to Joseph, “I can die now, having seen for myself that you are still alive.” Genesis 46:29-30, NRSV

The story of Joseph can be seen as a foreshadowing of the story of Jesus. As one commentator says, “The long and moving story of Joseph, who is sold by his brothers and then becomes their saviour, is the first image of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ in the Bible.” [From The Christian Community Bible. Translated, presented and commented for the Christian Communities of the Philippines and the Third World; and for those who seek God.]

Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, so unjustly gotten rid of. He is then falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, which lands him in prison. So he knows what it is to be an innocent victim. When the brothers return home, they tell their father that Joseph is dead. Jacob mourns inconsolably. For Jacob, his son is dead. His pride and joy, gone. It is final. Finished. He has the blood-stained robe to prove it.

Then after many years, the drought drives Jacob to sent his sons to Egypt for grain where they encounter Joseph. Eventually, all is revealed. Well, almost all. We don’t ever hear the brothers confessing to their father what they did to Joseph. We are just told that Jacob finds out that his beloved son, Joseph, whom he thought for years was dead, is alive. So, in the story of Joseph we see the innocent victim, whom his father believes is dead, appearing alive once again to his father and family.

Jesus would have known well the story of Joseph. We can imagine the saga of Joseph and his trials, the suffering of Jacob, and the ultimate working of all things together for good was a comfort to Jesus as he was undergoing his own suffering and grief.

In this season of Lent, we examine our lives to discover and acknowledge where we are dead. In our personal lives, our dreams, as a church, as a culture, where is there death? The story of Joseph and the story of Jesus show us that God brings new life, even from the most dead places, where we have long given up.

Prayer
We like to portray the image that everything is fine. We may obsess, medicate, or otherwise obscure reality. We can delude ourselves into ignoring where death holds sway. May we open our eyes to see the death around us and within us so that we can welcome the new life God brings. Amen.

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Devotion 38 – Lent 2016

“Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die; but God will surely come to you, and bring you out of this land to the land that God swore the Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’ So Joseph made the Israelites swear, saying, ‘When God comes to you, you shall carry up my bones from here.’ And Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.” Genesis 50:24-26

So ends the book of Genesis and the saga of Joseph. Joseph wants his body to rest where it first came into the world. He wants to end where he began. Full circle. Fully rooted in his family, land, culture, and religion of origin.

Joseph began in Canaan. His brothers sold him into slavery. He ended up in Egypt. In Egypt, he was a servant. He was imprisoned. He was put in charge of the country. His family came to Egypt and he was able to sustain them through the drought with the grain stores of Egypt. Joseph is reconciled with his family and they settle in Egypt. But still, Joseph wants his final resting place to be in his original homeland of Canaan. He still longs for what he considers his home.

We live in a time of much migration and mobility. People move from place to place for jobs, for weather, for retirement, to be near kids, for school, for lifestyle, for culture, for love. There is also much migration that occurs because of violence, war, and drought. Migration may be caused by severe weather events, like Hurricane Katrina. Many people left New Orleans and did not go back. With rising sea levels, there will be even more migration.

Our faith teaches that our true home is in God. And God is everywhere. So we can be at home everywhere. We also affirm that God is within us. So wherever we are, God is with us, and we can learn to be at home. We think of Jesus always going from place to place. And everywhere he went, he was at home. May we find our way home to God this Lenten season.

Prayer
The Earth is full of the glory of God. May we look for that glory everywhere, even within ourselves, and certainly within others. Aware of the presence of God, may we find our true home. Amen.

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Devotion 37 – Lent 2016

“God spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, ‘Jacob, Jacob.’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then God said, ‘I am God, the God of your fathers; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.’” Genesis 46:2-3

Jacob/Israel was coming to the end of his long life. He was old and had a large family. We can well imagine that his intent was to make his transition from this life in his comfortable homeland of Canaan. That was where he was familiar and entrenched. That’s the land he had spent his life on. That is where the people were that he knew.

Maybe Jacob/Israel thought that he was winding down; that God was pretty much finished with him. He had done his job, been faithful, followed God’s way. Now it was time to coast to the end. A gentle landing. But instead, he finds himself moving to a new country;  family, flocks and all. It’s a huge transition but not the one he was expecting to make ending his life on earth. This is a big, unexpected change into a new future here in this life.

Sometimes we may feel that God is not active or present in our lives. We may feel that God is quiet in our lives. We may wonder why we don’t get more direction or intimation of a godly nature in our lives. But maybe we are getting the signals and we are ignoring them. Maybe we are being called to make great changes but we are comfortable with things as they are. Maybe we are being sent in new directions but we are turning off our GPS to God because we don’t want to head that way. We like how things are going. We don’t want our apple cart upset. We don’t want to be bothered with drastic change. We just want to coast. But there can be a lot of friction to deal with when we coast against God.

Prayer
When life is good and we are happy, we may resist change. When we are struggling, we may resist the kind of change God intends for our good. May we keep listening with openness and a sensitivity to our resistance. Amen.

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Devotion 36 – Lent 2016

“So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. And they told him, ‘Joseph is still alive! He is even ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ He was stunned; he could not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph that he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. Israel said, ‘Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I must go and see him before I die.’” Genesis 45:25-28

Jacob was giving out. He was an old man with wives and children. He had flocks and holdings. He had done what he needed to do. Then he hears about his son Joseph being alive. And his life suddenly takes a new turn. We are told that he revives.

It is easy for us to simply go into a coast mode. We have what we need, we go long, we plod from day to day. We pay the bills, we go to the doctor, we go through the motions. Our spirits flag. Our passions ebb. It may be gradual, so much so that it goes unnoticed. We may be disengaging and loosing interest and not even really be aware.

Joseph gets word of the son he thought was dead, and suddenly he once again has a passion for life. Pope Francis suggested that people give up apathy for Lent. This is a time to ask ourselves if we are apathetic. If we have lost interest in things. Do we need to be revived? Do we need to regain our passion? What is the condition of our spirits?

If we notice some ebbing of spirit, there are things we can do to engage. We do not just have to sit around and wait for something amazing to happen in our lives. We can dip our toe in the water. Try getting involved in something you care about. Try investing yourself more deeply in a relationship. Try a new hobby or a new subject or activity. Or pick up something you have not done for a long time. Spend some time in nature. Volunteer somewhere. Write a letter about an issue that you care about. Eventually you will find something that revives you. That excites you. That impassions you.

Prayer
Jesus went to the wilderness to discern his mission and his passion. In this Lenten season, may we consider our passion. May we see more clearly how we are being called to be engaged in the enterprise of faith. Amen.

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Devotion 35 – Lent 2016

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your bothers, ‘Do this: load your animals and go back to the land of Canaan. Take your father and your households and come to me, so that I may give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you may enjoy the fat of the land.’ You are further changed to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. Give no thought to your possessions, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’” Genesis 45: 17-19, NRSV

In the story of Joseph, we see the Pharaoh listening to Joseph and following Joseph’s counsel. Joseph is a foreigner. He is an outsider. He is an alien. And he begins his time in Egypt as a slave. He is from the bottom of a rigidly tiered society. And yet Pharaoh takes Joseph’s advice and recommendations seriously, he respects Joseph, and does what Joseph suggests.

How often would a national leader in the US take the counsel of a low class, foreigner who has spent time in jail? We would probably just be trying to deport the person!

In the recent session of the Florida State legislature, there was a bill presented to allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns openly. There was also a proposed bill to allow people to carry concealed weapons on state college and university campuses. It is hard to see how these bills could do anything but open the door to more shootings and violence. Thankfully, both of these bills failed to be passed and will not become law though they had substantial support in some quarters. But it is hard to conceive that these bills were even seriously considered and yet they were. We can see how the world gets the impression that America loves guns.

Recently, an international $1 million dollar prize was awarded to Hanan al-Hroub for excellence in teaching. She is a teacher in al-Bireh just outside of Ramallah in the West Bank. Al-Hroub is a Palestinian, an Arab, and a woman. And yet she won this prestigious award. She is committed to teaching peace. Her mantra is ‘no to violence’ and she stresses the need for dialogue. She is absolutely committed to creating peace through non violence and this is the focus of her educational efforts. Chances are she probably wouldn’t win a teaching award in the state of Florida. [See Tampa Bay Times, 3/14/16, “Palestinian wins $1M Global Teacher Prize”]

Maybe we should wise up like Pharaoh and listen to this foreigner, this person of low status, this outsider, this woman. Maybe we should be taking her seriously and listening to what she says, and implementing her vision. She is showing us the way to being a free, safe, democratic society.

In the UCC we say that God Is Still Speaking. We don’t limit where this speaking comes from because we do not limit God.

Prayer
May we listen to what we need to hear, even when it is difficult, or comes from an unlikely source. Everyone can be a voice for Divine Love and healing. Amen.

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Devotion 34 – Lent 2016

“And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.” Genesis 45:2, NRSV

When Joseph is finally revealing his identity to his brothers, he weeps uncontrollably. We can imagine tears for the years lost, for being brought together, for the unreconciled wrong between them, for the grief and pain about what has transpired and for the raw, ragged emotion of the whole situation. Maybe he did not even know that he had such tears to come forth. He wept upon his brother, Benjamin, and he kissed and wept upon all of his brothers.

It’s interesting that we are never told that the brothers weep. They are dismayed. Finally they speak. But we are not told of weeping or kissing on their part. We are really not even given a good apology scene. The story marches ahead with plans for Jacob’s family to relocate to Egypt. We don’t see tears and wailing on the part of the brothers. Does their guilt hold them back? Are they so wracked with regret that they have become expert at keeping their feelings down?

This makes me wonder about crying. When do we cry? How much do we cry? When has there been sobbing and wailing? Uncontrollable grief? The way Joseph’s crying is portrayed, we see that this reconnection and reconciliation is momentous and made even more poignant by the complete surprise involved. Surely Joseph never expected to see his brothers again. And the feelings are overwhelming. I am wondering when we let ourselves be overwhelmed by our feelings. When we just let it out.

The brothers, the guilty ones, seem more reserved, more hesitant, more stoic. Does guilt stifle feelings of grief and tears? Does regret lead to stuffing feelings for self preservation? Maybe there are things we need to let surface this Lenten season.

Prayer
Tears are a gift that help us to know our hearts. We are told that even Jesus wept. Crying is not weak, it is human. May we not be afraid of the tears that are evidence of our full humanity. Amen.

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Devotion 33 – Lent 2016

“When Pharaoh calls you, and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our ancestors’ – in order that you may settle in the land of Goshen, because all shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians.” Genesis 46:33-34

As Joseph plans for his brothers and family to settle in Egypt, they have to work around a problem. The Egyptians don’t like sheep and shepherds, and Joseph’s family are shepherds with extensive flocks. So the family settles in Goshen, outside the capital, in an outlying area, where they won’t be disturbed by the prejudice of the Egyptians. So, even back in those days, new ethnic groups settled in ghettos, off by themselves, for protection and solidarity.

We are also told that the Egyptians would not eat with Joseph’s family for that was abhorrent to them. The Egyptians let the Hebrews come and stay in Egypt, but they are clearly not fully accepted or welcomed. Later, under a different Pharaoh, the Hebrews are forced to work as slaves.

In today’s world, we know intellectually that there are no justifiable reasons for this kind of division and bigotry. And we know that separate means unequal. Thousands of years have gone by since the time of the story of Joseph in Egypt and yet the same issues face humanity. We wonder when we will choose to move beyond these divisions and prejudices. When will we truly accept that in God’s eyes, there is but one race, the human race. And its diversity is vast and amazing. Something to embrace and be enriched by, not something to fear.

If anything, in America at this time the problems of ethnocentrism and classism seem to be increasing not decreasing. People publicly demonstrate against a homeless shelter in their area, or a half way house of some kind, before you even get to a different ethnic group, skin color, or a community of legal refugees.

Our Christian faith teaches us that everyone is our neighbor and we are to love our neighbor. That means we are to work for the well being of our neighbor. Today, with the migration of populations which will continue to increase, we are needed to speak up and welcome all. Lent would be a good time to befriend someone who is different from you in some way.

Prayer
God is beyond our knowing and beyond our imagining. A hint of the amazing creativity of God can be seen in the vast diversity of the human population. May we see this diversity as a divine gift and appreciate it. Amen.

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Devotion 32 – Lent 2016

“Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.” Genesis 45:1

After Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt, he sends them home, with grain, and without one brother. Unbeknownst to them, he also sends their money home with them that they brought to pay for the grain. Later they go back to Egypt bringing the youngest brother and the money from the first go round as well as more money and gifts. And Joseph sends them back with grain, with their money, and with a goblet planted in the pack of the youngest brother. Then a guard goes after them and confronts them about the cup. They all return to Joseph and Judah offers to remain in place of his younger brother. Finally, Joseph reveals his identity and everything is exposed.

All these machinations. The return of the money. The insistence on seeing the younger brother. The planting of the cup. Somehow Joseph seems to be ensuring that the brothers are beholden to him. That they are in his debt. That he has intimidated them so that he has the upper hand. Why would he bother with all of this. Why did he not just reveal his identity to his brothers when they first came to Egypt? One reason I think is that he wanted some time to think things over. But I think that he goes through all the other machinations to get them in his debt and under his power because he is afraid that they still hate him and that they will not receive him and reconcile with him unless he has some leverage over them. So he gains that leverage. Later we learn that they have the same fear: That he only reconciled with them because of the father, but once the father is gone, he will no longer have any sympathy for them. And they are all wrong. The brothers and Joseph are all sincerely repentant and desirous of undoing the wrong that has been done.

I think we, too, let fear bind us when we are having difficulty in a relationship. We think we need to protect ourselves from the hostility of the other; hostility which may not even exist. We presume this for self protection. We know how to put up a screen of defensiveness, of protection, keeping another at bay trying to prevent ourselves from being hurt. But that attitude may also prevent the healing of the relationship. The wall we put up for protection may also become a wall of division, a rift, an ending of contact.

Lent is a time to think about how we are assuming the hostility and animosity of others which may not even be there. We can also reflect on how others may be defending themselves against perceived hostility from us.

Prayer
We are called to be honest and wholehearted. This also makes us vulnerable. Vulnerability can lead to intimacy and beautiful friendships and connections. It can also lead to hurt and pain. May we take the risk to be truly honest with ourselves and others. Amen.

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Devotion 31 – Lent 2016

“Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.” Genesis 45: 1-3, NRSV

In the story of Joseph, we are told that Joseph is favored by his father. We are told of the lies the brothers tell the father about Joseph’s death. We hear about how the father sends the brothers to get food from Egypt. The father continues to direct the negotiations between the brothers and Pharaoh. In the scene when Joseph finally discloses his identity to his brothers, he asks about his father. Didn’t Joseph have a mother? What about the mother?

This story comes from a time when men were the main players, men told the stories, and men wrote the stories. It was a man’s world. That was a cultural dimension of the presentation of the religious tradition that we have inherited. It is not part of the core of our faith. Male dominance is not a core value of Christianity. Yet many expressions of Christianity have treated male dominance as a core teaching of Christianity instead of part of the cultural context in which Christianity emerged.

We see this merging of patriarchy and Christianity in the treatment of women in the church and the limitations placed on women’s leadership in the church, especially around the ordination of women. The fact that the church has held on to this archaic aspect of middle eastern culture which is not central to Christian beliefs has harmed the church and society. The church perpetuating patriarchy has contributed to the society perpetuating patriarchy, which is why women don’t have pay equity with men, and they don’t have full decision making power over their bodies, and they don’t have equal treatment in many things in society.

We can look at the story of Joseph and be stirred by the best and worst of the human spirit in the story. We can be moved by the spirit of God at work in the story and the fruits that are borne by faith. We can also reflect on the story and see it’s cultural context and know that the mother is left out of this story. It is an issue of cultural context. And a reminder that in our cultural context, because of our Christian faith and values, we cannot accept male dominance and the subjugation of women.

Prayer
May we have the discernment to see our faith heritage for what it is. May we always be aware of the interplay of culture and religion. May we work to perpetuate the values of Jesus in our context even when that means challenging what has long been accepted. Amen.

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Devotion 30 – Lent 2016

“Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong what we did to him?’” Genesis 50:15

Decades after Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, they have encountered him in Egypt. Joseph has disclosed his identity to them. He has given them food to save their lives and invited them and all of their families to come live in Egypt. Joseph’s family have been living in Goshen, raising sheep, in Joseph’s backyard, for years.

Then the father, Jacob, dies in Egypt. And the brothers are afraid that now their brother, Joseph, will turn on them. They are worried and try to come up with a way to gain assurance that he is not harboring a grudge against them.

Once his family has moved to Egypt, Joseph is completely supportive of his family. He has given them no reason to question his sincerity. Why are they so worried about this? I think it is guilt. They still feel guilty about what they did. They are still worrying about it. They are still not out from under their shame and guilt.

When people do something hateful and harmful, there are consequences. Not just immediate consequences to the people involved, but often long term consequences. These consequences are not just to victims but also to perpetrators. Guilt, shame, and regret can linger and fester. This is certainly the case with Joseph’s brothers.

Last year, I was called to jury duty. I ended up spending the day with more than 60 others being considered as potential jurors for a capital case. The judge explained everything and we were questioned one by one about various things. One question was whether or not we could vote for the death penalty in the punishment phase of the trial. There were four of us out of over 60 that said we could not vote for the death penalty. I found this astounding. Here I was sitting in the “pews” in the courtroom with all these other people who were willing to be party to killing someone. They were willing to take responsibility for putting someone to death. I was horrified. I would be tormented the rest of my life knowing that I was part of a process that led to someone being killed. I don’t think I could go through a day without thinking about it. It would haunt me.

We should keep this in mind when we entertain thoughts of doing things that are immoral, hurtful, vengeful, or violent. We should think about residual guilt before we cheat on a test or cheat on a spouse. We should think about guilt when we think about cheating on taxes, stealing something, or saying something damaging and hurtful to someone. We may think that taking revenge or expressing hostility, we will get it out of our system. But we also need to think about the guilt and regret that may very well remain with us.

Prayer
We know that God is all forgiving. We have seen this in Jesus.  May we see the dangerous power of guilt and how it eats away at us.  May we prevent this guilt by following Jesus and may we follow his example of forgiveness when it is needed – for ourselves and others.  Amen.

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Devotion 29 – Lent 2016

“Joseph being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers. . . and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. . . ” Genesis 37:2b, NRSV

“Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?’” Genesis 50:15, NRSV

We can well imagine that when Joseph was young and the favored son, he was a spoiled brat. We can imagine him using his status not only to gain favors for himself, but to get his brothers in trouble. It’s no wonder they did not get along and the brothers want to get rid of Joseph.

But through his time as a slave, and as a prisoner, and then as a top administrator in Egypt, Joseph matures. When the time comes, he forgives his brothers. He saves them and their families not only by giving them food but a place to live in Egypt. We do not see Joseph holding a grudge or harboring vengeance, which could very well have been expected considering what was done to him. But Joseph has matured. He conducts himself with authority, wisdom, and compassion.

Hopefully as we make our way through life, we are all maturing. Hopefully we grow in a sense of our own authenticity and then function with more assuredness and authority that is consistent with who we are. Hopefully, as we see more of life, we gain some wisdom as time goes on and that helps us to grow and mature. And the more suffering we see in life, our own lives and that of others, hopefully, the more compassionate we become.

We should not expect to respond to things the same way when we are in our teens, our twenties, our thirties, our sixties, our eighties. Hopefully all along life’s journey, we are learning and growing and maturing in character and faith. Life experience is a wonderful teacher if we are eager students. And often it takes all of those lessons to help us through the challenges of later life.

And just as we should expect growth in ourselves, we should also expect growth from those around us including family and friends. We should not expect the same kind of response from a sister who is 60 that we got from that sister when she was 16. We should be giving her room to grow and mature and develop in her sense of self, in her wisdom, and in compassion. And we should want to affirm the growth and change that we see in others. That will be a sign of our growth and development.

Prayer
The journey of life is a great teacher. May we learn well and continue to grow in integrity, wisdom, and compassion. May we continue to expand our capacity to forgive and to be forgiven. Amen.

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Devotion 28 – Lent 2016

“Now the famine was severe in the land. And when they had eaten put he grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, ‘Go again, buy us a little more food.’” Genesis 43:1-2, NRSV

Jacob was adamant that he would not let his sons take the youngest son, Benjamin, to Egypt to retrieve Simeon. No way. Case closed. But now they have run out of food. And there is food in Egypt. If Jacob wants food, so keep living, and to sustain his family, there is only one option. Send his sons, including Benjamin, to Egypt for more food. Jacob must change his mind. He must go against his previous edict.

When a person is hungry, sometimes principles become less important than food. I remember seeing a play many, many years ago, about Adam and Eve. After eating the apple, Adam made some kind of comment about morals being fine as long as your belly is full. If you know this reference, please share the details or the exact quote! But I have never forgotten that idea. Ideals, morals, values, principles, it’s all fine when things are basically “normal.” But in a situation of desperation, sometimes we feel forced to bend.

Sometimes people are stealing to get food for their children. When the plane crashed in the Andes with the soccer team, the survivors ended up eating those who were killed. It was this or die. Someone told me about how her mother, desperate to feed her children, accepted money for sex. No one wants to be in that kind of desperate situation. Yet many people are. In our community, In this country. And in the world. Being aware of this can make us more compassionate and less judgmental. We can consider who to see that help is available to those who need it. We can also work on how we can create communities and societies in which no one is in that kind of situation of extreme hopelessness.

Prayer
Sometimes we may want to relax our values and morals for convenience or greed. We feel tempted to do something we know is wrong because it may be easier for us, it may save us money, no one will find out, so why not? May we remember that there are people around the world and around the corner who are faced with compromising their morals and their values to survive. Maybe even to keep their children alive. May our compassion be stirred so that our faith and our moral commitment lead us to work to eliminate such circumstances. That’s what Jesus would do. Amen.

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Devotion 27 – Lent 2016

“And their father Jacob said to them, ‘I am the one you have bereaved of children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has happened to me!’ Then Reuben said to his father, ‘You may kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.’ But Jacob said, ‘My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should come to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.’”

When Jacob, who has lost one son, hears that to get his son back from Egypt, he must send his youngest, favored son to Egypt, he refuses. He has lost one son years ago. Now another is in prison in Egypt. He is not about to risk a third son. So, he simply accepts the loss of the second son. He figures better that than loosing two more.

Risk. What is acceptable risk? When are we willing to risk? For what will we risk?

In the political debates around us, we hear talk of sacrifice, but it is not the sacrifice of the candidates themselves. It is risking the lives of others, in the military, for instance. What are they willing to risk their own lives, their own sons and daughters, for?

We think of changes we would like to see. Changes in ourselves. Maybe in our attitudes. Maybe in our behavior. Maybe we would like to be more patient. Or forgiving. Or honest with ourselves. Or compassionate. To make these changes involves risk. We have to give up our old, familiar ways, and we aren’t assured of the outcome.

What are we willing to risk to see that all children in our country are well educated? Are we willing to risk paying more money to teachers? Are we willing to risk holding parents accountable? In some school systems, if the student is late to school three times, the parents are fined. And the fine is not a token. If they won’t pay, are we willing to risk garnishing wages?

What are we willing to risk to eradicate racism, at least systemic racism, in our country? What is it worth to us? What are we willing to invest?

As Jacob saw his situation, he was not willing to risk the life of one son for another. Having lost two sons, he was not willing to risk making it three. The second son was not worth the risk. That’s how he saw it. His son, Reuben, however, was willing to risk the lives of his own two sons to save the live of his brothers.

How do we assess the risks we are willing to take? Sometimes it seems like we are taking risks on the wrong things and playing it safe when we should be risking all.

Prayer
May we have the discernment to know what is really important in life. Jesus was a risk taker. Nothing was too much for the good of others, even his own life. May we value life so much that we, too, are willing to risk our lives. Amen.

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Devotion 26 – Lent 2016

“They loaded their donkeys with their grain, and departed.” Genesis 42:26, NRSV

Joseph’s brothers head home with the grain that they were sent to procure. Mission accomplished. But they are going home without one of the brothers. And they are coming home to get the youngest brother, the father’s new favorite, to take back to Joseph in Egypt, who will then release the brother that has been kept in trust.

We can well imagine the conversations on the way home. What are they going to say to their father, and mother, though the mother is not mentioned in the story, about why they have come back one son short? How are they going to account for this arrangement that they are to go back with the favored Benjamin to get back Simeon? They are probably arguing and debating and exploring every avenue for putting this across to their father in a way that he will accept. Yes, they are adults, but they are still sons and owe their devotion to their father and are subject to his authority. No doubt they were panicked and scared about the whole business.

Even when we are adults, we feel the influence of our parents. They may be long dead. We may be fully functioning, independent, successful grownups, and yet our parents are still influencing us. We may not have parents, and their absence may still be shaping us. Parents have an enormous role to play in the development of children. They are crucial to the functioning of society. Parenting is extremely important.

When we become adults, we need to take responsibility for the role that our parents have in our lives. We need to choose what kind of influence they will have over us. I sometimes think to myself, “What would my father want me to do in this situation?” Or “Dad would approve of this.” Or “This is something my father would want me to be part of.” Even though my father has been dead since 2007, I feel he is still having a positive influence in my life and I am grateful. I was fortunate to have a father like that.

As our oldest son became an adult, I told him, “Dad and I did our best raising you. You know that you are loved. Yes, we made lots of mistakes. We probably screwed you up in some ways. But now that you are an adult it’s up to you to straighten things out and become who you want to be.”

Part of the journey as an adult is dealing with whatever our past experience is involving our parents. We can try to look for the good and let that continue to bless us.

Prayer
We are grateful for parents – biological and others who have an important influence on our development. May we choose to see the positive lessons that have been given to us in our upbringing. And may we choose forgiveness when those who have parented us have had a harmful influence. Amen.

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Devotion 25 – Lent 2016

“They said to one another, ’Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us.’ Then Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.’ They did not know that Joseph understood them, since he spoke with them through an interpreter.” Genesis 42:21-23, NRSV

Here are Joseph’s brothers agonizing over what they did to their brother many, many years before. And they have no idea that Joseph is there listening and understanding what they are saying. The brothers are in anguish over their guilt. It has hung over them for years. In the heat of the moment, they did something awful. They did not think about how it would torment them for years on end. They did not think about the guilt they would feel. It just looked so satisfying to finally take revenge.

In a recent political debate, the candidates were asked about water-boarding and whether it should be considered torture. Some of the candidates expressed support for water-boarding and more. Do they not think of the toll that such actions take on those who are forced to implement them? What about the soldier, the interrogator, who must carry out the torture? What an awful burden to put on them. Can they ever get over having done such a thing to another human being? Someone who also has a mother and father and a family? Another person who eats and sleeps and sings and prays? How do we get over causing extreme harm to another human being? It’s not easy, whether the person was family, friend, or enemy. Violence and revenge are one thing in theory and quite another in practice.

We think about Joseph and his burden of what has been done to him by his brothers. But there is also the burden borne by the brothers of their shame and guilt and regret. Lent is a time for us to think about the reconciliation we need in our lives. Maybe for something we have done. Maybe for something that has been done to us. Either way, God’s love can be healing.

Prayer
We all have our burdens to bear. We can’t go through this life without sorrow and regret. Because we are human, we make mistakes. We wait too long. We say too little. We miss an opportunity. We make the wrong choice. May we be compassionate with ourselves and with others and tend to the process of healing. We are given Jesus as our guide. Amen.

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Devotion 24 – Lent 2016

“Before the years of famine came, Joseph had two sons, whom Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him. Joseph named the first born Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house. “ The second he named Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes.” Genesis 41: 50-52

Joseph had made peace with his past. He had put it behind him. He was over the torment caused by his brothers. He had laid to rest his bitterness over his enslavement. He had accepted his lot and made the most of it. No looking back. No wonder he is so undone when his brothers appear to buy grain. To Joseph, then may seem to be ghosts.

Sometimes we may work hard at something like overcoming our past. Maybe we were born into unfortunate circumstances and we have struggled to do well in life. Maybe we have made some kind of mistake that has really cost us and we have done everything we can to put it behind us.

Sometimes we may work hard to eliminate a character flaw and we think we are over it. We apply ourselves with self help techniques or therapy or an accountability group. We truly endeavor to eliminate a trait that we see as a flaw and something that is not good for us, those around us, or the world.

Maybe something comes up in a conversation and we realize that something we had resolved is not as resolved as we thought. “I thought I was over that,” we may think as we stew about something. We feel blindsided. Taken by surprise.

Maybe we have applied ourselves to dealing with an addiction and we think we are steady in our recovery only to find ourselves using again. How did that happen?

We think we’ve made progress and then life happens. And we’re taken aback. It is time to regroup. To examine where we are as opposed to where we thought we were. These are opportunities to become more whole and more compassionate toward ourselves and others. God is not finished with us – yet!

Prayer
We are grateful for our faith and for the way of Jesus and how we are encouraged to grow throughout our life’s journey. May we look for the lessons and learnings that life is bringing to us. God is always moving us toward reconciliation and love. Amen.

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Devotion 23 – Lent 2016

“But Joseph said to his brothers, ‘It is just as I have said to you; you are spies! Here is how you shall be tested: as Pharaoh lives, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here! Let one of you go and bring your brother, while the rest of you remain in prison, in order that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you; or else as Pharaoh lives, surely you are spies.’ And he put them all together in prison for three days.” Genesis. 42: 14-17, NRSV

The drought brings together Joseph and his brothers who wanted to kill him when he was younger. They have not seen each other for years. I think it is pretty safe to say that they did not expect to see each other again. Ever.

But the brothers come to Egypt because they are starving due to the drought. Thanks to Joseph, Egypt has stockpiled grain. So the brothers have come to Egypt for grain. And Joseph is the gatekeeper. So, they go to him, directly, face to face, to ask for the grain. They don’t recognize Joseph. They think they are simply dealing with the premier vizier of Egypt. And they are deferential because they really want the grain.

But Joesph recognizes the brothers. He knows exactly who they are. Unimaginable as it is, here they are. And what does he do? After all of that time? His brothers? He stalls. He concocts one scheme after another to string them along without telling them who he is.

Is he just trying to be mean to them? They are afraid because their lives are dependent on Egypt’s grain. I think Joseph stalls because he needs time to think this through. It is such a shock. I think his first reaction, and it is a good one, is to buy some time so he can sort this out. Does he want to reconcile with them? Does he want to let them know who he is? Does he want to harass them and get back at them? He needs time to explore his feelings and consider his actions.

We like things fast in today’s world. We are used to virtually instant responses to things. Read an email, send one back. Read an article or blog on line and weigh in with your opinion right away. Take care of business. Express yourself. Maybe there is something to be said for a more measured approach to things. Sometimes weighty matters need time. We need to sort out our feelings. Explore what we want to do that will be consistent with our faith and values. Our first impulse may not be our best impulse. Taking time with something can help us to make a healthier, more compassionate and loving response.

We don’t have to create machinations like Joseph did. We can simply say, “I need some time to think about that.”

Prayer
We want to do the right thing. We want to be loving and work for peace. May we take the time to be thoughtful and look for paths that lead us to greater peace and reconciliation. We may not see those paths at first. It may take time for them to emerge. May we apply ourselves to thoughtful, intentional reflection. Amen.

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Devotion 22 – Lent 2016

“Now Joseph was governor over the land; it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them. ‘Where do you come from?’ he said. They said, ‘From the land of Canaan, to buy food.’ Although Joseph had recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Joseph also remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them.” Genesis 42:6-9a, NRSV

When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt for grain, and he saw them, and recognized them, we can imagine that his world was rocked. The ground shifted for him. His reality was suddenly redefined.

For people alive today, it seems like reality is constantly shifting and changing. People are unsettled and anxious. There is so much change and it is happening so fast. Within just a few years, less than 50% of the population of the US will be of European descent. That’s a drastic shift. Sea level rise continues apace and many homes and beaches that we now enjoy will be gone in our lifetimes. That’s another huge adjustment. If you don’t use the internet, you are almost excluded from participating in mainstream society, and you certainly are at a disadvantage for everything from getting a job to buying a car to healthcare. Change. Change. Change.

I have recently heard about a book by Rebecca Traister called All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. This book examines the changing landscape for women in the US given that as of 2009 less than half of the women in the US were married. That’s a huge shift in the social fabric of America. There are all kinds of implications about the greater options for women, having children without getting married, the decreasing stigma of being an “old maid.” It’s great that women are gaining more freedom and equality.

But this new trend also has implications for men. Heterosexual men have been socialized to get married and have a family. They have been shaped to think of themselves as breadwinners for their families. Stay at home dads have made an impact but have not become common. Now with less women choosing marriage, what happens to the men who want to choose marriage, but have a smaller pool of partners to choose from? Less women marrying changes the social landscape for men. So, they need to adjust to changes in their world. As the mother of two sons, white men, I see all the changes that they are dealing with as society shifts around them.

As we see our world rocked and our reality shifting in many ways, we want to remember that others are having similar experiences. It is a time to be compassionate toward one another in this country and around the world. It is a time to focus on understanding and reaching out to see the perspectives of others. We are all having our adjustment problems. It is not a time to be “me” focussed and only see our own anxieties. While disturbing, these changes can also bring us together. Change may be difficult but it also means that we are alive, and we hope, that we are progressing toward a more egalitarian, peaceful world.

Prayer
Life is changing so fast. We seem to face one transition after another. It is easy to want to stop time, go back, to what was more familiar and comfortable and solid for us. As our reality shifts may we look for how it brings us closer to others, may we look for common bonds. May we look to all the possibilities of the future and new things that Love is birthing. Amen.

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Devotion 21 – Lent 2016

“When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, ‘Why do you keep looking at one another? I have heard,’ he said, ‘that there is grain in Egypt; go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.’ . . . Thus the sons of Israel were among the other people who came to buy grain, for the famine had reached the land of Canaan.” Genesis 42: 1-3, 5, NRSV

And so we learn that through the drought Joseph and his family are going to intersect again. They are going to encounter one another. The brothers who sold Joseph into slavery are going to see that very brother.

Going to Egypt, the brothers are probably worrying about the drought. They are stressed about the lack of food. Do they have the money needed to buy grain? Are they in danger of being robbed on the way there or on the way back? Will the Egyptians sell to them as foreigners or will they keep all of their grain to sustain their own people? We can imagine the many concerns and worries that the brothers talk about on their way to Egypt. Chances are they are NOT thinking or talking about Joseph, unless they pass the pit that they put him in on their way to Egypt. Even so, we would imagine that Joseph was but a dim memory to his brothers.

It is the drought, a devastating lack of rain, a killing cataclysm, that leads to the encounter between Joseph and his brothers. It is often tragedy or hardship that brings people together. A death in the family may bring many relatives together. People who have not seen each other in years. Perhaps people who have not spoken in decades. Maybe family members who have parted company in a hostile manner will be thrown together. A natural disaster can bring unlikely parties together. Maybe the homes of rich and poor alike have been devastated by a tornado and the people are thrown together to work on the clean up. Maybe white police officers and black citizens alike are killed in a mass shooting and the families and community are all brought together in their grief.

The question remains: How to respond? Take the opportunity to reconcile? Seek common ground? Share the pain? Allow our common humanity to bring us together? Or maintain hostilities. Keep the wall up. Perpetuate the alienation. These are the choices that may face us when we encounter those from whom we are estranged.

As we will see, Joseph seems to need some time to think the whole thing through. He is so taken aback at the sight of his brothers. The tables have turned. He holds their lives in his hands. What will he do?

Prayer
All people suffer. All people experience alienation from others and from their true selves. Sometimes extreme circumstances can provide the opportunity for us to pursue reconciliation and wholeness. Sometimes a broken heart lets the love out. Sometimes pain exposes our vulnerability and healing can ensue. May our eyes be open to see possibilities for reconciliation. Amen.

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Devotion 20 – Lent 2016

“And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went through all the land of Egypt. During the seven plenteous years the earth produced abundantly. He gathered up all the food of the seven years when there was plenty in the land of Egypt, and stored up food in the cities; he stored up in every city the food from the fields around it. So Joseph stored up grain in such abundance – like the sand of the sea – that he stopped measuring it; it was beyond measure. . . The seven years of plenty that prevailed in the land of Egypt came to an end; and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in every country, but throughout the land of Egypt there was bread. When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread, Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do.’ And since the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the world came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine became severe throughout the world.” Genesis 41: 46-49, 53-57, NRSV

What is the proper role of government? In this season of presidential primaries, we are hearing a lot about that. One of the things I liked about early candidate Rand Paul was that he was consistently for small government. Other candidates seem to want small or no government on some things, but then they want to insert the government into people’s lives in other ways that many think should be private, personal matters. So we think about what is the appropriate role of government? In viewing many of the films at the Eckerd College Environmental Film Festival this week, this issue came up repeatedly relative to global climate change. What is the proper role of government?

In the story of Joseph, we see the government of Egypt very much in control of the food situation in the time of fertility and drought. If the people were left to themselves, even with warning about the drought, would they have stored the grain they would need? Would they take the situation seriously? Would they have the wherewithal as individuals to make provision for seven years of drought? Could they stock pile so much grain? It’s hard to know. And what about people who were poor or underfed during the time of plenty. You know they are going to be in an even worse situation during the drought.

Government stepping in on behalf of the welfare of the population regarding something as basic as food seems to be a proper role for the government. Our Constitution protects our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You can’t enjoy those rights if you are starving to death and there is no food to be obtained. Seeing that all citizens have access to safe shelter, food, healthcare, and the other basic necessities of life seems a reasonable expectation of government. Overseeing a safe and plentiful food supply seems a proper role for government. Ensuring access to safe potable water seems to be a proper activity of government. Making sure there is clean air to breathe also appears to be a reasonable function for government. These are basic needs for life and people should expect their government to protect these life sustaining rights.

Given the state of global climate change, a case can be made that our government is falling severely short on these responsibilities. There are issues with food additives and pesticides, land usage, subsidies, and consumption of meat that are contributing to agricultural problems and an unhealthy food supply. There are already water wars and water shortage issues in the US, which again relates to agriculture and food supply as well as to drinking water. Sea level rise is also continuing apace and will wipe out many coastal cities potentially within our lifetime. And air quality, while it is better here than in, say, China, is deteriorating as the significant rise in asthma and other respiratory ailments shows.

In this election season, we must ask ourselves, what is the proper role of government and is our government really protecting our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Prayer
Separation of church and state in America has led to a rich and thriving religious landscape in this country. We are grateful for our freedom to worship as we choose. As people of faith, we pray for our government and our leaders that they may protect not only our freedom of religious expression but also our freedom to breathe clean air, drink safe water, eat healthy food, and live safely in these beautiful United States. Amen.

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