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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Joseph Could No Longer Control Himself - 08/16/2020

“Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ … and he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it and the household of the Pharaoh heard it.” (Gen. 45.1-2, para)

This isn’t just giving way to a tear or two down one cheek, or even a good cry. This is a wail.

I have felt that kind of unmanageable wail start to rise up inside me before. And I know many of you have too. It’s happened to me for some different reasons … at the loss of my father, my Uncle John, my grandmothers. It happens, at times, after meeting with my counselor.

And it happened to me at the birth of my first grandchild, which is the experience I was really reflecting on this week. My little sister and I were in Detroit waiting with my daughter in those last, long days of pregnancy when one is exhausted simply trying to get out of bed. It was May, which is one of my favorite months downstate. The old city neighborhoods like the ones my kids have lived in are lush with green trees and grasses already, the lilacs and lily of the valley are already faded and a cacophony of colors pops out in so many other flowers … the peonies and poppies, bearded Iris and sweet William.  And it’s not too hot and muggy out yet.

And it was in this air that we waited together. And when the time finally came, I have this distinct memory of my very-pregnant daughter standing under one of those lush trees dappled in the sunlight. I remember hearing those leaves rustle above our heads just before our little birthing team piled into cars already pointed toward the hospital. Finally this child was coming and we were excited for the movement, for the future.

The labor experience was difficult, as many first labors are, but not extreme, and 12 hours or so after standing together in that dappling sunshine, we welcomed our beautiful Zedd to the planet.

While I have very vivid memories of the beginning of this experience, and the end, which I’ll get to, the middle is very foggy. I remember it, but not crisply. A lot happened.

And then like a bookend, I very clearly, very crisply remember walking back to my car to leave the hospital and being suddenly overwhelmed by this wail that was rising up out of me like a creature. I couldn’t get to the car fast enough and when I did, I shut the car door and it came out … all loud and ugly and almost alien sounding.

And with it came some understanding of what fueled it. Somewhere in that very foggy part of the experience, I truly understood that we birth our children on the brink of life and death. When it’s you doing it, you are kind of in a “git ‘er done” mindset. But when you are accompanying your own child giving birth, there’s different stuff dancing along that brink.

Somewhere in that fog I learned that as amazed as I was that my love could grow so exponentially at the birth each of my own children, I would feel even more overwhelming love when they had children. I very distinctly remember thinking under the cover that wail “This is my reward for not killing my children when they were teenagers.”

Somewhere in that kind of murky memory of the day Zedd was born I also felt grief enter into the picture. I was particularly aware that my father would not meet my grandchildren. It was a bitter reflection, though I knew he was present with us that day and always in our great cloud of witnesses.

And somewhere in the fog of that experience, even though at that time in my faith journey I would not have put it this way … somewhere in that fog I realized that God was with me in my life … that God had preserved and protected me when I was a child … when I was a moody, poor-decision making teenager … when I continued to make some dodgy decisions in my early adulthood …  and in those hard days of parenting that sometimes led me to apologize to my own mother.

I realized that because somewhere along the line I also came to understand that I was created in part to make the birth of this grandchild, and the three that would follow, possible. I was, in part, created and formed by my experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly – to be someone my children and their children would need somehow in their lives.

Now it wasn’t just me, of course … there are others who are in this kind of role. My daughter and her spouse did not appear magically through just me. But in that moment, I just felt this immense awe and fear of God’s providence in my life, of some greater power at work to protect and guide me for the sake of my children and grandchildren. I felt with more honesty, honor and uncertainty than ever before, my call to be a parent and a grannie.

It overwhelmed me. I could no longer control myself. I desperately needed privacy in the middle of a very busy urban hospital and I wept and wailed uncontrollably over it all. I’m pretty sure if there was anyone in the cars around me, they could hear me too.

It was one of those moments in life when you know immediately that you come out the other side of that overwhelming, unmanageable wail different, changed forever.

***

A lot has happened to Joseph since we left him last week, sold off by his own brothers to a group of his distant Ishmaelite cousins. They were taking some of their goods to Egypt for trading and selling, including Joseph.

They sold him to an Egyptian government official named Potiphar. Despite being enslaved, Joseph rose up in status in Potiphar’s household. Joseph didn’t really seem to talk very much about God. He didn’t seem to have direct conversations with God like his grandfathers did.  Still, Potiphar, likely a worshiper of the government-sanctioned gods of Egypt, sensed the powerful presence of our God in Joseph. Potiphar had a lot of reverence for this God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and therefore much respect and trust for Joseph.

“Joseph found favor in (Potiphar’s) sight and attended him; he made (Joseph) overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.” (Gen 39.4)

And just when things seem to be going well, so well that it may even seem like Joseph isn’t truly enslaved anymore, the story takes a dramatic turn when Potiphar’s wife begins sexually harassing Joseph. He resists, saying, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen 39.8-9).

Potiphar’s wife did not appreciate the rejection. She continued to harass Joseph until finally she manipulated a situation and contrived a story that Joseph had made inappropriate sexual advances toward her.

That’s when we realize that Joseph is still enslaved … when the lies of someone who holds power and privilege are believed over the truth of one who has less power and privilege. Potiphar was furious and threw Joseph in prison.

He was in a pit again – all seemed lost and hopeless once again. Except that “the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer.” Joseph again rose in status, this time as a prisoner.

And here in the story, dreams enter in again, only this time instead of having the dreams, Joseph is interpreting them. He interprets the dreams of two servants of Pharaoh who have also been thrown into prison. The interpretations are proven accurate immediately. It takes two more years in prison, but eventually Pharaoh himself hears of Joseph’s gift at a time when he is desperately in need of someone to interpret two back-to-back dreams he’s had. So he sends for Joseph and he tells him his dreams.

“‘In my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile; and seven cows, fat and sleek, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. Then seven other cows came up after them, poor, very ugly, and thin. Never had I seen such ugly ones in all the land of Egypt. The thin and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had done so, for they were still as ugly as before. Then I awoke. I fell asleep a second time and I saw in my dream seven ears of grain, full and good, growing on one stalk, and seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouting after them; and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears…’ Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‘Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, as are the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind. They are seven years of famine…Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man who is discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt…Let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh …That food shall be a reserve … so that the land may not perish through the famine.’” (Gen 41:17-36, para)

It didn’t take long for Pharaoh to appoint Joseph in this role. He seemed the obvious choice. He could interpret dreams, had great experience and a plan! His interpretations were again proving accurate and they were just a couple of years into a wide-reaching famine when Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt for the food they need to survive.

“Now Joseph was governor over the land; it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground.” Joseph’s dreams of his brothers bowing to him were proving accurate too. “When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them…they did not recognize him.” (Gen 42.6-8, para)

You see, the text we have today from Genesis 45 is the second trip the brothers make to Egypt for provisions to survive the famine. Joseph is putting them through the wringer. He accuses them of being spies. And when they defend themselves and proclaim who they are, who their broken-hearted father is, where they live and what they are going through, Joseph puts Simeon in jail as collateral and sends the rest home, with food, and instructions to come back with their little brother Benjamin. Then he would release Simeon.

So, they did as Joseph demanded, but still Joseph gives them a really hard time. Before releasing Simeon and sending the brothers off with yet another load of supplies, he set Benjamin up to look like he had stolen Joseph’s silver cup and has him detained before they get very far on the journey home. The brothers know they cannot return home missing a brother again, so they return to fight for him. Judah, who made a weak attempt to protect Joseph years before, is not going to be weak again. He delivers an impassioned argument for the youngest brother’s release. “Please let (me) remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy,” Judah pleads. “And let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.” (Gen 44.33-34)

And then, Joseph could no longer control himself … he cried out “send everyone away from me!” And Joseph wept.

That beast of a wail was rising up in him as he revealed himself to his brothers. And as wail rose up, the brothers, all of them together, finally chose acceptance, forgiveness, reconciliation and unity for themselves and their descendants, instead of jealousy, spite, fighting and division.

Maybe somewhere in that time between the day Joseph was sold and that day they all met again in Egypt, the brothers all had realizations about their vulnerability and the vulnerabilities of those they loved. Maybe they saw their own family baggage more honesty, their callings more clearly. Likely, they had all grown to know more about human suffering and loss, their broken and beautiful histories, love.

And I’m pretty certain – because we are here still talking about the brothers, their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins – I’m pretty certain they also came to sense that powerful presence of God in their lives – that God have preserved and protected them through it all – the good, the bad and the ugly. And that they would come out on the other side of that overwhelming, unmanageable wail different, changed forever. Despite even themselves, they are the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham – descendants more numerous that the sands of Lake Superior, blessed to be a blessing to a world in need. Amen. 

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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