The Silence of God
A Homily for 11 TrinitySeptember 1, 2019All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ Text: Genesis 37 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. I will always remember the first church that I served at. It was a small Anglican Church on the coast of Maine. I loved the people dearly, the rector was an older man who had retired from the Episcopal church, he was intelligent, spunky, and considerably more intense than me. I was blessed to bask in his knowledge, wisdom, and experience. One Saturday evening, I received a phone call from his wife. I had plans to go out to dinner with friends and I saw his number on my phone. “Hello Ian,” she said, “Father is in the hospital.” Over the next week, I watched my mentor die. I remember the calls, the aching, the pleading with God. I remember standing in the hospital room his last day as he slipped from his coma into his eternal rest. I remember the tears. Watching my friend die was nothing compared to what came next. As a young deacon, who was available, I was asked to guide the little church through this dark time, and keep things going. Over the next year – I watched the people who just months before had been my biggest advocates turn on me, they spread rumors about me in the church, I watched several members leave, I had lies told about me from the pulpit, I had another minister demand that I break the confessional seal (I did not, and I lost a friend), there is more loss in that season, but now is not the time to share it. The time was a profoundly lonely, and painful, it was the first time I was tempted to leave the ministry, though not the first that I wondered where God was. It was in that horrible and stormy season that one morning while praying the daily office I read St. Paul’s words to his spiritual son Timothy: “Let no one despise you for your youth.” My age was one of the complaints those against me were making. It was as though those words were written for me – it felt like God was speaking directly to me: persevere child, stay faithful, do not swerve. Now, you may be wondering why I am telling you this story: “Does he just want us to feel bad for him? Does he want us to see him as a strong person?” No – please don’t – in retrospect this was a sweet and sanctifying time and every day I am learning my only strength is found in Christ. I told you this because sometimes it is hard to sense the depth of emotion in the biblical narrative, it seems so far away – so I know by sharing a small part of my personal testimony, probably all of you can relate and remember a time or several when you wondered where God was. I suspect all faithful Christians have at times cried out to God “where are you? Why do I have to go through this?” This morning we met Joseph who undoubtedly wondered where God was, and scripture is full of other examples: we see the prophets who cry out anxiously looking for the Lord, we see Saints Peter, Paul, and John each persevering through persecution for the sake of Christ, and we see Christ himself – crying out from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We have all had these moments of “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Pain – aloneness – hurt is a part of the human experience since the fall of Adam and Eve, and it is one that as Christians can take significance from to draw us closer and closer to God by learning to submit to him and trust that he is sovereign. As we turn our focus to Genesis 37, we learn that Joseph’s “father loved more than all his brothers.” His father, of course, was Jacob, who we have traveled with for the past couple of weeks. As we read the narrative this morning – we continue to see the pattern of familial dysfunction amongst the patriarchs and if we wonder why God has chosen to use them – perhaps it is simply as a reminder, yet again, that God can use even the most broken of people to do his will. We learn Jacob’s love for Joseph is because Joseph was born in Jacob’s old age and he was the first son of Jacob’s favorite wife. Now, I am an only child and I have been told, if I get married and have more than one child – I will never understand my children’s relationship with each other. But – I’m confident that if I had siblings and my father loved one of them more than me – I would be pretty resentful towards that sibling. So it comes as no surprise to learn that his brothers hated him as much as Jacob loved him. Jacob adds insult to injury – he gives Joseph a coat – most texts translate this as a “multi-colored coat,” but every commentary I read note that it is more likely a coat with long sleeves. A coat such as this would have signified that Joseph was the heir apparent, the one who would continue to lead Jacob’s tribe after he died. It would be easy to blame Jacob for everything that is about to happen to his dear Joseph, but Joseph does himself no favors. He tattles on his brothers misbehavior and in the section that we skipped he has two dreams. Both seem to imply that one day he will rule over his brothers and he in turn excitedly tells them about it. Now remember these dreams as we move through Joseph’s life. They will become important in a couple of weeks but for now, they only act to incense his brothers more. I want to pause for a moment and make two notes – for most of you your children are grown and have left home and some of you do not yet have children, but you may very well one day – please, take note. Please, please don’t have favorites. Each child will need to be loved for the unique human being they are, each will need to be blessed in their own individual ways – some will be wild and rambunctious like Ruben, others will be more stoic, but love them all equally. I have heard too many stories of children who were not the favorite, and the profound damage that did to them. Secondly – as we have been adopted through Christ – we have been made children of God, we are given the incredible privilege of calling out to God as our Father. The Lord has made us unique and gives us all different gifts – but none of us are his favorites – or perhaps – we are all his favorites. However, just because I am the spiritual leader of this congregation – I am no more loved than those who make the bulletins, or bring in treats for coffee hour, or open up their house for fellowship, or spend hours praying because they can do nothing else – there are no favorites in the kingdom of heaven. We are all equally precious children of God. What good news this is! In Christ you are a beloved and precious member of a big, joyful, and deeply loved family. Our narrative picks up with Joseph who was allowed to stay home, while all the rest of his brothers had been sent out to tend to the flocks. Again, we see Jacob’s favoritism kick in. While Joseph’s brothers are out working hard, he is safely at home by the side of his father. The valley in which he is told his brothers are in was the host to a horrible incident outlined in Genesis 34 –one of their sisters was attacked and then while the family who attacked the girl tried to make things right – the sons of Jacob tricked them, weakened them, and murdered many of them. It was a dangerous place for the sons of Jacob to be. Jacob asks Joseph to go check on them and by the time he gets there, the brothers had moved on to another valley, and when he finds them, they see him coming from afar. The tale of the prodigal son echoes this scene – and I hope in taking a moment to compare this incident to that you might get a glimpse of how deeply you are loved by our heavenly Father. I think we all know the story of the prodigal son well enough so I do not need to rehearse it for you in detail but to summarize – a young man wastes his inheritance on things that do not last - if this were a modern story – on loose women, fast cars, and cheap drinks. This leads to his poverty where he has less food than someone’s pigs – someone’s throw away animals and he sees he would be better of going back to his father and begging for forgiveness. This is where we find ourselves without Christ. We think we can go off and do better on our own, and when we find ourselves bankrupt we come running home. Christ is not as Joseph’s brothers are, nor as the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, but he is there with His Father, running to us and celebrating our return. In Christ – you are deeply loved. I want to reinforce something here – when we turn from God, when we live in our sin, he mourns, but every time we come home he welcomes us with open arms. It doesn’t matter where we’ve come from. It doesn’t matter how sinful we have been, or how broken we feel – God welcomes us home and comes running to us with open arms, every time we turn away from our sin – and turn to Him – he is there, ready to welcome us, he never tires of embracing the repentant sinner. Joseph’s brothers are not so loving – instead they plot to kill him. Ruben, the eldest, and therefore the one with both the most to gain by killing him, and the most authority to stop this, steps in and prevents their wickedness. Instead, they agree to throw him in a pit and they strip him of his cloak of honor. Then they eat. I cannot think of a more horrifying scene – Joseph tossed into a pit that he cannot get out of, with nothing to drink, nothing to eat and above him – his brothers eat, probably laughing and delighting in their evil. Joseph in the pit is a type, or foreshadowing of Christ’s burial. It is when our savior was laid in the grave that many a poet has seen the demons celebrating thinking they had won. Undoubtedly, Joseph’s brothers thought they had won, finally, their pesky, arrogant little brother would no longer be a problem for them. For Joseph and Jesus’ followers hopelessness follows and becomes a reality in the pit. Then his brothers see it – a caravan of their long lost relatives – sons of Ishmael – Isaac’s brother – coming through on their way to Egypt to sell their precious wares. Apparently, these traders were not very scrupulous and were happy to take a strong, young man, for the going rate for slaves and off Egypt they go. Ruben, who had hoped to save him from the pit once his brothers got moved on with the flock, was horrified, and their father was heartbroken. A devastation filled Jacob that would follow him for years to come. As we read this we are reminded of human duplicity for the brothers allow their father to believe that Joseph was eaten by a wild beast and then comfort him in his grief. The passage doesn’t leave us with much hope – all we know is Joseph is sold into slavery in the land of Egypt. What do we do with the bleak picture that has been painted for us? Before I answer this question – I want to point out one more thing. Do you know who is revealed to us in the reading of scripture? Do you remember for who’s glory all of scripture written? Was it Man? Or the people? Or the church? No – all of scripture is written to reveal the glory of God – did you notice that God is never mentioned in this passage? Even in the parts we skipped to make this passage a little more manageable he is conspicuously left out. Where is God in all of this tragedy? When we face personal tragedy we might wonder this as well - whether we are a young minister who feels as though he’s suddenly been thrust in over his head, and abandoned by his support network or if we are one who has lost someone they’ve loved, or if we’re longing for something that never seems to come, or if we simply turn on the news and our heart aches for the brokenness of our world and we wonder: how long O Lord? When we face any of this tragedy and suffering we might cry out: where are you God? What is even worse – we don’t get the answer in chapter 37, but we must hang on for eight more chapters, and we must see Joseph go through countless years of abuse, neglect, slander, and pain. But by Chapter 45 Joseph has regained a place of authority and we learn the purpose of it all when he’s reunited with his brothers, he says to them: “God sent me before you to save you from the famines… it was not you who sent me here, but God…” and again in chapter 50: “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.” And what good is Joseph talking about: Israel and his family are saved from the famine, the nation grows in Egypt and in their departing God is able to show his mercy, justice, and providence to his chosen people. It is in the desert and the deliverance God draw’s his people closer, it is in this foreshadowing, and the keeping alive of his people that God prepares the way for Christ, it is through Christ that the church is saved, it is through the saving of the church that God is raising up for himself saints, and it is in all of this that we are being redeemed, through Christ. God has a grand plan for his people and he is drawing us each deeper and deeper into his will. We know the end of the story of Christ being laid in the grave. Over the weekend, which we now remember as the Triduum, that is the 3 days leading up to Easter or Resurrection Sunday – we remember the great mystery of unknowing, a time of fear for his disciples, but then Christ burst forth from the grave and we still rejoice at that news today. With Joseph and Christ we see two pieces of biblical evidence, and there is plenty more, that we can always hope in God, that he will not abandon his people, that he is faithful, that even when the silence seems deafening that God is there, walking with us, a quiet but strong shepherd, drawing us near. And what of my story? It was in that times of silence that lead to me reading 1 Timothy, and other times like it, that God drew me closer. He taught me to be solely reliant upon him. He showed me to stay firm, and live my convictions. Through that dark season, he showed me that He is faithful, and he gave me a good and faithful friend out of it. My friends we will have heartache, there will be pain, there will be days that it seems like all is hopeless, but do not give up, take heart, and continue to walk with the Lord. It took decades for the story of Joseph to unfold, decades for him to see what good God is doing. I pray you never have to experience such prolonged pain – but if you do – persevere, and know God will work even the darkest of hours into something good and beautiful – perhaps this beauty will only be clear in eternity – but stay strong, and stay faithful. It is in Christ that we can find salvation and healing for even our deepest of wounds, and out of those wounds we can learn to bless the world. My friends – know this – that there is no darkness that God’s light and love cannot penetrate, so when you find yourselves in the silence of God – persevere, press on, and in that deep mystery lean into him all the more. In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.