NOTE: This is the text of a sermon I did NOT preach on August 14, 2011.  It is, however, the text of a sermon I was planning to preach.  When the time came to actually stand up and offer the homily, I felt moved to use the work I had done as an inspiration, rather than a direct guide.  Nonetheless, I feel what I wrote gets the idea across, and might be helpful to some folks.

God’s Grace Is Abundant!

Pastor Allen

Sermon Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pastor Allen Preaching At Our Outdoor Worship (Photo by Don Hudson)

Outdoor Worship & Picnic

Selections from Genesis 45:1-15

“Unexpected Trials To Unexpected Triumphs”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

meeting at Edgewater Park

Rev. Allen V. Harris

Is there someone in your life for whom you hold a grudge?  Is there someone, or some ones, for whom nothing they can say, do, think, or even look can be right or good?  Is there someone on your “list” that you have written off?  Is there someone for whom you have no time, no care, no grace, and certainly no place in your life?

If so, I would say you are a classic “Line In The Sand” person.  The Bible knows them well.  The sons of Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah were “Line In The Sand” kind of men.  Their dreaming, self-important, always-the-favorite brother, Joseph, had so enraged them that every single time they were in his presence they seethed.

Until that fateful day when their anger turned to action… which is almost always the result of “line in the sand thinking.”  Had it not been for the lone voice of Rueben, blood would have been shed, a life lost, and there would have been no chance for redemption in this ancient story.  But one was willing to overcome the grudges, the spite, the envy, the loathing, just long enough to save a life.  And a family.  And a nation.  And a story.  Even if it meant slavery for the one on the other side of the line.

Here, lo these long years later, one has to wonder what happened to all that anger.  Anger turned outward invariably turns inward.  One wonders what kind of bickering and in-fighting happened in those intervening years between the brothers grim.  “Line in the sand” thinking rarely is satiated when one victim is removed, expelled, done away with.  “Line in the sand” ways of being usually come back to haunt those who live by it.  For when one brother is excluded because of this trait, or that affect, or such-and-such a behavior… the angry heart’s appetite is only whetted, so that another line is drawn, another brother scapegoated, another life dismissed.  And then the awful cycle begins again.

“Line in the sand” can’t help but have a victim, and when all have been summarily demonized, the lines start within, if they haven’t already been drawn chopping up the soul into good and bad, right and wrong, haves and have nots, you’re in and you’re out.

Too much of our world is living out the grievances made so clear in the story of the sons of Jacob.  Too much of our world history is about line-drawing.  Whether it’s debt limit brinksmanship in Washington, DC or walls being built and reinforced in Israel or vigilante border patrols along the U.S./Mexico perimeter or personal grievances in the community of Franklin Circle Christian Church, we live in a world all-too-comfortable with drawing lines to keep someone out.

But then there is our Joseph.  There are those in our world’s history, our life, our circles of community who see and do things in a different way.  There are those in our world who are so confident in their identity, so faithful to their dreams, so engaged in their calling that they have neither the time nor the wherewithal to draw lines.  Like Joseph, there are those who are so focused on what God is calling them to do – sometimes irritatingly so – that they are neither fazed by nor distracted by being on this side of the line or that side of the line.

Quite often, these folks are less “draw the line in the sand” kind of folks and more “lay my life down on the line” kind of folks.  There are those who are less about making a point, winning an argument, talking a good game than they are about getting the job done, using their gifts and graces to the fullest, serving God and humanity as best they can.

Crucifix, Filippo Brunelleschi, 1412-13. Web Gallery of Art.

Jesus became the ultimate example of what Joseph was about.  Rather than finding ways to exclude people, Jesus worked diligently to include people, even the most bothersome, frustrating, self-centered, egotistical, hurting, grieving, inconvenient, hair-pulling kind of people.  Jesus found no need to draw lines in the sand and every need to lay his life down on the line.  Jesus held in tension both “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” with “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Beloved, we are human, all of us, and all of us have our preferences, our pet peeves, partialities, predilections, and our personal penchants.  I don’t expect any one of us to either want to nor be able to give up those.  What I do see in the Joseph story, and in the very life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is a call to move farther and farther away from drawing lines in the sand and closer and closer to laying ones life on the line.  It is the right thing.   It is the good and noble thing.  But it also may save your very life.

For Joseph, who was able to rise above the bickering of his brothers and stay focused on the call of God in his life, through hell or high water, would one day stand before them, without malice in his heart and a great sense of peace and purpose, and say to those who had wished death on him the words that echo throughout history:  “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

And Jesus, who surely “suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” without malice in his heart toward those who would exclude, deride, mock, and even kill him, but with a greater sense of purpose, peace, and love, would welcome those very enemies to the great and beloved community by laying his life down on the line for them.

Can we at least name and claim that as our ultimate goal?

Amen.

Genesis 50:15-21 (NRSV)

Joseph Forgives His Brothers

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?’ So they approached Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this instruction before he died, “Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.” Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, ‘We are here as your slaves.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

RSV: As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

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