A Grace We Do Not Deserve
September 15, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Genesis 43
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
St. Paul wrote to the beleaguered church at Corinth “now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” This statement ends his long and beautiful treatise on what Christian love is and is not. These three, Faith, Hope, and Love are commonly called the Christian Virtues. It is these virtues which we as Christians strive to achieve, by God’s grace. But as it stands that we may wonder why Love is the greatest. Why he just spent so much time expounding upon this thing called love. One of the reasons for love taking a higher position than faith and hope is not because love is somehow more important – it is because of these three, love is the only one that will last into eternity. We will not need faith when our hope is fulfilled, and in eternity – we will have our Christian hope fulfilled.
The writer of Hebrews expands this thought a little further – “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” For now we need faith, and we need hope for the world can be a crazy place to live in, we can pass through valleys and pain and days of sorrow – but we have hope in the eternal coming of the kingdom of heaven and faith that Christ will bring us through.
We are called to place our hope in eternity, hope that one day Christ will fully heal us from the ailments of this life – from our sin, from the scars left upon us by that sin and other’s sin against us, hope for healing of our broken bodies, and hope for the refreshment for our weary souls. We may pray for those things we desire – but when we do not receive them we should not let this shatter our hope. Rather – let our hope be so firmly fasted in the eternal joy of knowing God forever, that we can see that our disappointment is leading us into a deeper and deeper life with him.
We place our faith in Christ – for it is Christ alone who can deliver us to God – he is the good prophet, priest, and king. It is him who has showed us how we should live. It is him who has made the covenant with the church and calls her back to it time and again, it is him who has made the sacrifice for men once offered, in that we are redeemed, in that we have access to the Father. It is him who is our one true king – the King of king and Lord of lords. He alone is sovereign over the world.
If we want to have hope – if we want to have faith – placing our hope in eternity with Christ, and placing our faith in Christ that he will sanctify us and draw us into the kingdom of heaven is the faith and the hope that will not fail us.
Now, you may be wondering what faith and hope have to do with Joseph and his brothers? We have spent the last two weeks walking with Joseph has he goes through the pits of despair – through being sold by his own flesh into slavery, by being unjustly thrown into prison, by being forgotten by those whom he’d hoped would helped.
If anyone had a right to be hopeless in all of this – it was Joseph.
Yet, he persevered.
But this morning – we see Joseph’s family in a place of hopelessness.
We are much more Joseph’s brothers than we are Joseph. As men and women with a modernist mindset – we do not like the idea of original sin. We get uncomfortable with the idea that we have a tainted soul that is bent towards self-desire and selfishness. Our modern mantra is that everyone is basically good – but this is an age old heresy. Pelagius – a British monk posited this almost 1600 years ago. He taught that we are blank slates with the ability to do good or to do bad.
The church soundly rejected it and said – no we have original sin, we are tainted by sin and are in need of a savior. We can do no good without God.
Of course we know that those who do not have Christ are capable of great acts of kindness, and those claiming to follow Christ have committed terribly atrocities. Let us not deny this – but let us also allow scripture to form our minds, as it reminds us time and again that we cannot get to God on our own, and we cannot redeem ourselves and it is through walking with Christ that our sins are washed away and we are growing to reflect His glory. It is through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we are growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
But left to our own devices we are like Joseph’s brothers, we tend to want our own desires, we tend towards jealousy of those who some how achieve something better than that which we have, we are bent towards selfishness. As the prayer book says: We sin from time to time – what this means is not that we occasionally sin, but that we are always sinning.
There is a great proverb from the Desert Fathers – the first ascetics – the first group of people who sought to isolate themselves from the world to live radically obedient lives – it goes like this:
Once a brother committed a sin in Scetis, and the elders assembled and sent for Abba Moses. He, however, did not want to go. Then the priest sent a message to him saying: Come, everybody is waiting for you. So he finally got up to go.
And he took a worn-out basket with holes, filled it with sand, and carried it along. The people who came to meet him said: what is this, Father? Then the old man said: my sins are running out behind me, yet I do not see them. And today I have come to judge the sins of someone else. When they heard this, they said nothing to the brother and pardoned him.
Too often we tend to be unaware of our own sinfulness, unaware that we are Joseph’s brothers. But a little self-introspection will reveal the sinfulness of our hearts.
Now – Joseph’s family has reached a point of hopelessness. They had already gone to Egypt once, the man who sold the grain to them had demanded one of their brothers remain behind, and then somehow the gold they had brought to pay for the food ended up back in their sacks of grain. They were certain to go back would mean death or some other evil.
But Israel, their father, tells them to go back to Egypt, they protest. They know that there is no way that this will be a profitable journey. Yet, they show faithfulness to their father.
Unlike when we come to Christ and the only thing we have to give him is our heart – the only thing we have to give him is ourselves, our souls, and bodies – their father, bereaved, agrees to send his youngest son, Joseph’s little brother Benjamin with them. He also sends fine gifts from his land.
To come to Christ can be a scary thing – whether it be in our hour of need, after a season of running from him, or for the first time. We wonder – what will he demand of us? Will he ask that we persevere in this season of suffering? Will he still love us even though we’ve rebelled? Can he possibly love one so broken as me?
He may continue to sanctify us through the trials of this world, but he does love us, he will take even the roughest of us. It is in welcoming men and women from all walks of life into his kingdom that his kingdom is contains such beauty. It is opening the door to people who have reached the darkest corners of despair that we are reminded of how he can heal even our darkest pain. There is no corner so dark, no person so peculiar that Christ cannot love them. No, my friends, if you are sitting here today know this – Christ loves you deeply – and wants you to bring to him – your selves, your souls, and your bodies. Sin is the great equalizer – and Christ forgives even our darkest of sins and gives us new hearts.
Now – Joseph’s brothers arrive at his house – and Joseph tells his servant to bring the men in. Because of the jumps the lectionary makes we miss the brothers’ fear when they are invited into the house. They think – surely this is a trap but the servant does his best to assure them that all will be well.
Faith requires that we trust God – requires that we trust him on the storm and he tells us to step out of the boat, requires that we trust him with every aspect of our life.
Someone recently challenged me to do some serious introspecting about my life and ask this hard question: what am I not trusting God with?
Friends – this is a hard question to ask yourself. It is hard to acknowledge that there are aspects of my life that I need to grow in trusting God.
But it is a good question and one I would challenge everyone to ask – are there areas in your life that you need to trust God better? Are their areas in your life that your faith needs to grow?
For me – it started with taking each thought that passed through my mind captive and giving them to God. I’m still working on this – but especially when a negative thought passes through my mind simply saying “okay, I’m frustrated about this or that, dear Lord please take my frustration and help me to understand it, and use it properly.”
Now, as I’ve become more aware – when I start to worry about something I pray something similar. “Lord, I know I need to be responsible about this or that, but please help me to understand how to do that, please help me to trust that you will take care of the details that I don’t yet understand.”
We are called to step out in faith – even when it seems impossible. Surely, the brothers were not off base in their fear. The man, Joseph, had been unkind to them before, demanded their brother stay behind, and some how they still had the money from their first trip. You may be thinking – “what Fr. Ian said above about giving everything to God is fine for him, but my life is messier,” or “sure, that’s fine for the little things – but you have no idea about the mountains I am facing.”
Faithfulness knows no bounds – and we are called to be faithful in a little so that we may be faithful in much! We are called to faith, not fear.
In the section we skipped over – Joseph does all he can to put his brothers at ease, he assures them that it must have been God that put the money in the sacks and then he shows them respect – inquiring of their family. This seems as care to them but he genuinely wishes to know how his father is.
Then he sees his brother Benjamin.
We have mostly focused on the brothers – focused on their need to step out in faith and the similarities to our need to step out in faith – but here we see something beautiful. Joseph who had been isolated from his kinsmen, who had lost everything in order to save the world, Joseph who had experienced more trials than most of us could imagine – feels the balm of love.
The other day I was talking to someone about the power of a letter. I love a good letter – from a friend, from a loved one – when you are far from someone who holds a special place in your heart a letter goes a long way in making you feel close in a way a text message, or a phone call, or an email doesn’t. There’s something about pen on paper that can act as an incredible balm for the weary soul.
I was telling my friend about how once in a particularly tough season a friend wrote me a letter. There was something so precious about it. My friend made a card specifically for me – but then openly, and unapologetically acknowledged my pain, and struggle and then did something beautiful. My friend told me that it’s okay to have these struggles – but that I am more than them – more precious to God than my struggles and more loved than the pain I was experiencing at that moment. It was an incredible balm of love in that moment of sorrow.
Joseph feels the same balm when he sees Benjamin. After so many years of aloneness, after so much time of heartache, and so much cruelty there is his brother – the flesh of his flesh.
He is not alone.
His flesh lives.
My friends, this is why love is such an important Christian virtue. Christian love – first exemplified in Christ and then acted out in the church acts to heal – acts to reminds us of the hope that we have in eternity when love will be the rule of life – Love acts to bolster our faith when everything seems dark.
But, Joseph doesn’t reveal himself to his brothers, not yet anyway but he does throw them a feast.
It is the marriage feast of the lamb which we are looking forward to, the feast when we will celebrate the joining of the bride, the church, to her bridegroom, Christ the lamb. We look forward to that day when we will be finally and fully bonded to Christ. To be seated at the marriage feast is the hope which we have - not for temporal things which pass away – but for eternal things – for that joyous day of reunion.
For now though we must live in faith, with the hope of these things which we cannot yet see. Just as Joseph’s brothers had to step out in faith, knowing they did not deserve mercy from the Egyptian nobleman, knowing that they should not be received warmly, we too turn to Christ, day in and day out.
But we have a greater and better assurance than the brothers did. We know that we are beloved, we know that Christ’s love for us was so great that he willingly hung on the cross and died. We know that Christ is calling us back to him day in and day out.
So place your faith in Christ, trust that he is the good shepherd, learn to trust him with every aspect of your life – nothing is too small, nor too great for him. And hope – hope for that marriage feast of the lamb, hope for the day when our sins will be washed away and our wounds are healed. And love well – love God – and love your neighbor – for in loving well – we can be and experience the balm that restores that hope which was once lost and shows the one who is worthy of our faith.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.