These stories in Genesis are the strangest collection of dysfunctional families, horrific twists and turns. Is there not one story of good things happening to good people?
Joseph is the favorite son of his father Jacob.
Joseph tattles on his older brothers.
Joseph gets the coat with the long sleeves.
Joseph dreams dreams that drip with self-importance.
His brothers hate him, conspire to kill him, and then think better of it and decide they will ONLY sell him into slavery (Ishmaelites – cousins!) – might as well get a little profit.
And so they take Joseph’s coat and pour blood on it and bring it to father Jacob – who grieves as only a father can grieve. Of course Jacob once took a lamb’s coat, and smeared blood to trick his own father out of a blessing. What goes around comes around.
Place yourself in the “today” of the action – while the brothers scheme, as father Jacob gets the news; while Joseph sits at the bottom of the pit;
The “today” of the narrative is bitter and hopeless – Jacob and Joseph probably don’t want to face tomorrow – only more bitterness and hopelessness.
And while I am one to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” (as my mother used to say) and always want to dwell in joy and celebrate the gifts – it is a fact that for many people today, and maybe some of you – bitterness and hopelessness are close by. I think of the mother who works two jobs and still doesn’t make enough, the man facing a hard prognosis, the child who has nothing to live for, the athlete at the University of Missouri who died by suicide – depression and loneliness crept in and overwhelmed. Yes, sometimes “today” is hard.
And yet, we know with all the narratives in Hebrew Scripture “tomorrow” comes.
Sometimes that tomorrow is a day in coming, a generation in coming, or a seeming eternity in coming – but tomorrow comes.
And the promise of tomorrow, changes everything, I want to believe. In faith, tomorrow is more important than yesterday. So how do we give people a sense that tomorrow is coming?
The “today” of Joseph is shaped by hatred and jealousy. But we know what tomorrow will bring. Joseph’s tomorrow is in Egypt. And for many “tomorrows” thereafter the ancestors of father Jacob will dwell in slavery – but the tomorrow of liberation is coming, the tomorrow of Moses is coming. We have to have imagination to see beyond the present, we have to have some hooks and hopes.
Thomas a’ Kempis, the 14th century author of “The Imitation of Christ” – once wrote: “Man proposes but God disposes.” You and I live in a series of TODAYS. It is all we have. We propose to do this and propose to do that. We may be blessed or suffer. We may see to a certain degree the short term consequences of our actions and decisions – but only God know how the twists and the turns will ultimately unfold.
Christian faith is grounded in the narrative that NOTHING tarries God from moving history along an arc of redemption, liberation, reconciliation, and salvation.
It is genius, this biblical vision: YES, your daily acts have meaning. YES, your actions have consequences. AND ALSO God has the final word and nothing will deter God from bringing it all together. “For I am convinced,” St. Paul writes: “that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is the point of every biblical narrative; this is the claim of Christian faith.
We get caught up in the narrative of “today” and ask all the “why” questions: – why this happens and why that happens, and where is God, and if I were God I would do it differently –
But at some point you have make a choice: do you trust that your “today” is shaped by God’s “tomorrow?” It makes all the difference… it is at the core of faith.
This is what helps people face death. There is a tomorrow.
This is what kept slaves alive and their eyes on the prize. Tomorrow will come.
The faith in tomorrow, not just any tomorrow, but God’s tomorrow — moves us from narrow, suspicious living into the broad avenues of graceful potential;
The hope in God’s tomorrow keeps people moving and dissatisfied with injustice;
The knowledge that God’s tomorrow is on its way also keeps folks content and open.
Tomorrow is coming. “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King, Hallelujah!”
It is a matter of faith. Where do you place your trust?
This is why the doom and gloomers in church and society do not speak biblical faith.
This is why those of us who dabble in nostalgia (“yesterday really was better”) don’t get the power of the Gospel.
Today, Jesus Christ calls us to repent– turn around! Look forward towards tomorrow, not backwards into yesterday. This is very liberating – we are not bound by our past, or by any of our sins – tomorrow comes.
This communion we share –it is a memory of a past event – but really it is a foretaste of what is to come at the heavenly banquet – everyone at the table. Our present shaped by the future… today shaped by tomorrow – the kingdom come, thy will be done – so we take our daily bread and press on.
Why work hard and save – why? Because tomorrow is coming.
Why study now and get that degree – why? Because tomorrow is coming.
Why dream that dream, and speak your truth that may lead you into a pit – why? Because tomorrow is coming.
Why wake up and put your feet to the floor – why, because today is here and tomorrow is coming. You and I have to witness to the fact that tomorrow is worth living for!
To the newly elected leaders, Elders and Deacons – Thank you for giving us your “todays.” I do not know what the days ahead of us will bring, but together in service to this community, together we will discern what God is doing with our tomorrows.
So if nothing else, let the story of Joseph, and all the stories in Genesis remind you that “today” you may be in the pit, today you may be grieving, today you may be burdened.
But tomorrow is coming: So do what you do; for good or for ill, “ring the bell that you can ring” – make your “todays” as rich and wonderful as possible – for tomorrow will come – and the day after that – and God Almighty has all of time in his gracious hands.