busted?

Joseph said to his brothers, “I’m Joseph! Is my father really still alive?” His brothers couldn’t respond because they were terrified before him. (Genesis 45:3 CEB)

This past Sunday at Trinity, as part of our “Hope in Uncertain Times” series, I preached about moving beyond guilt and self-doubt. When we are holding guilt like Joseph’s brothers were, we live in constant fear of getting caught. Getting caught means someone else confronting you with the knowledge of the most awful thing you have done, and every fear you have conjured up over years and years of guilt are finally all coming true in the exact same moment. Such shame.

When we have lived with deep, buried guilt, we forget the other possibility, that forgiveness could also be around the corner; forgiveness and freedom.

I recently said something to someone in a moment of weakness that I deeply, deeply regret. I sat with it for awhile, hoping the shame would go away, but it didn’t. Eventually, I bared my soul to this person with a no excuses apology (and oh, did I have a list of excuses to offer if asked!). The apology was received, but I am not sure it was fully accepted.

Apologizing did not make what I said any less hurtful or any more right. I can not dismiss my actions by simply saying an apology. But I know better. I knew better when I said it. And I am no longer afraid of it.

The best thing that could have happened to Joseph’s brothers was getting busted. Even if Joseph hadn’t forgiven them, they could stop living in fear.

But this is a really happy ending, so let’s not take that away. Joseph has found a place of complete trust in God, as has Jacob. The brothers no longer blame one another for events from long ago. A new start for this beleaguered family has begun.

Day 13: Genesis 45:1-46:7

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if i’m left childless then i’m left childless

But me, if I’m left childless, then I’m left childless.” (Genesis 43:14 CEB)

The first verse that caught me this morning was Reuben (Judah) saying to his father, “If you hadn’t waited we would have been there and back twice by now!” Our fear paralyses us and keeps us from moving forward. It can keep others in painful stasis, building mistrust and more fear.

But I was hard on Jacob in my last post, so decided to focus on this verse instead. Acceptance. Jacob has done the risk analysis. At first, better the 9 sons he has than the 11 he may or may not get back. When we are in control, this is the most reasonable decision. However, this is not a business decision. This is family. It is also in the hands of God. God has spoken to Jacob through his sons. Trust them, Jacob. Trust me.

When we are most afraid, perhaps those are the most critical moments to raise our hands and trust in what God is creating. Perhaps I may be too afraid to do something, but others are not. Do I hold them back, or accept that, whatever happens, God has not abandoned us and will begin to create something new?

Day 12: Genesis 43-44

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God will give a favourable response

Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It’s not me. God will give Pharaoh a favorable response.” (Genesis 41:16 CEB)

During this “Great Emergence” as Phyllis Tickle calls it, the church is going through enormous change and, it seems, no one really has the answer as to what the church will look like. However, we do have a few “interpreters” or prophets who are telling us some truth. We are being forced to become a much leaner structure. Our understanding of community, and therefore worship, is changing dramatically, especially with social media.

Joseph’s interpretations were not all good news, but they were true. They gave the dreamer time and space to prepare for what would happen next or, at the very least, to know that something was coming.

We do not know what is coming, but we know things are changing quickly. Are we ready to listen to the interpreters? Are we open to the possibility that God will carry us through whatever this is?

Another thought

Now wait just a second now (as my Dad would say). I thought putting the grain away was wise and generous, until I read the end of chapter 41. So, Joseph took 20% of all the produce from everyone, and then SOLD it back to them?! During a famine? Great for the state, Terrible for the Egyptians!

Day 12: Genesis 39-41

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i had a dream


5 Joseph had a dream and told it to his brothers, which made them hate him even more. (Genesis 37:5 CEB)

As I read about Joseph, I am thinking of that famous speech by Martin Luther King Jr. Joseph’s dream, like King’s dream, threatened people. And I am wondering why.

Why couldn’t Joseph’s brothers just dismiss those dreams as the taunting of their annoying little brother? If blacks and whites really were naturally meant to be separate, why couldn’t the racists just leave King alone?

We are threatened by what we know is, or could be, true. If we are afraid, and we hear a dream, we will resist the possibilities and only dwell on the threats to our own status or comfort should this dream come true. But if we encounter these dreams with an open heart, who knows where God will take us.

How easy to forget that great things start with a dream.

And let’s not let this time with Joseph go by without a little Donnie Osmond.

Day 11: Genesis 37

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the children God generously gave to your servant


Esau looked up and saw the women and children and said, “Who are these with you?”
Jacob said, “The children that God generously gave your servant.” (Genesis 33:5 CEB)

My first reaction when I read the heading of this chapter was, “Whoa! We skipped a lot!” An awful lot happens to our hero Jacob in 5 chapters. I have been intentional about staying in the passage I am given, but I think, for today, a little more of the story is helpful, particularly to understand Jacob’s humility with Esau.

Rebekah’s cousin Laban, like Rebekah, was a conniving man. When Jacob arrived in Haran, he immediately fell in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel. Laban gave consent to the marriage but only if Jacob would work for him for 7 years. On their wedding night, Laban replaced Rachel with his elder daughter, Leah. When Jacob discovered he had married the wrong sister, he returned to Laban, who agreed, again, for Jacob to marry Rachel after 7 more years of labour. Jacob then marries Rachel and, between his two wives, has 12 sons and a daughter. By this stage, Jacob has taken not only his family, but all the wealth owed to him by Laban, and is on his way to find a new home.

Now that we are all caught up, compare these two brothers with the blessings they received from their father, Isaac. Around 30 years have gone by. A lot has happened with no contact. Jacob enters this encounter richly blessed with wealth, but full of fear. Esau arrives, perhaps with some fear since he brought 400 men, but, as he says, “I have plenty.”

Isaac’s blessing was about land and wealth and power. After all this time, I wonder if Esau and Jacob looked back on the blessings they received. With age and wisdom, do they still want what they wanted when they were younger men? If Isaac had blessed them with full lives and the guidance and love of God, would they have been happy then? Would that blessing mean more to them now? Isaac’s blessings divided them. God’s blessings, their children, their homes, have united them.

Afterthought: of course, then Jacob goes his own way. I wonder why? Perhaps he was afraid that, like most family visits, like fish, it would go bad after a week, so better to take what he has and go.

Day 10: Genesis 32 and 33

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the scent of my son


“See, the scent of my son
is like the scent of the field
that the LORD has blessed. (Genesis 27:27 CEB)

I don’t know if it angers me or comforts me that our faith is descended from the likes of Rebekah and Jacob. Again, more uncertain times, more chasing after security. Rebekah wants the blessing to belong to her favourite son, her Jacob. Jacob will be the one to take care of her.

When I am in dire need of God’s forgiveness and grace, I look to Jacob. Jacob may or may not have known happiness, but as we read through the story of this long family we know that he was blessed.

What irony. Jacob receives the first blessing and then is banished and Esau remains with his parents. Rebekah’s favourite is given the security she needs and then he must disappear.

I wonder if these blessings of Isaac end up being empty words. Does the proper son receive the right blessing after all? Is blessing about land and servants and power? Or is it about something else?

Day 9: Genesis 27:1-28:22

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i will make of him a great nation

So she said to Abraham, “Send this servant away with her son! This servant’s son won’t share the inheritance with my son Isaac.” (Genesis 21:10 CEB)

I couldn’t write about this reading yesterday. There was far too much. I think I will write more blog posts on this story. How can I let the sacrifice of Isaac just go by? But how can I just respond off the cuff? So, today, I will focus on Sarah and Hagar.

At Trinity Aurora, where I serve,  we are in the midst of a preaching series called, “Hope in Uncertain Times”*. This reminds me of this family. Talk about uncertain times. All the journeying, famine, this growing family with a very uncertain future. No wonder Sarai wants to ensure security for the one son she never imagined she would conceive, with the fierceness of a mother.

We are also living in very uncertain times. Our instinct, especially with our current financial insecurity, is to focus on ourselves, our savings, making sure we maintain as much stability as we can.

God understands Sarai’s fears as well, and not only assures Abram, but protects the victims of Sarai’s insecurity. God follows Hagar and Ismael into the desert and saves them from death. They are not only saved, but they are made secure, as Ismael marries.

Two nations, two families, struggling to trust a God whose plans are elusive. God works in the uncertainty and creates security and family.

*You can read and listen to our preaching series at Trinity Aurora’s website. I’ll be preaching on Guilt and Self-Doubt on Sunday, February 5, 2012 at 8am, 9:15, 11:00 and 4:30. 

Day 8: Genesis 21:1-22:19

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