The Promise and the Pits

This week’s sermon Scripture reference: Genesis 37 cont’d

Thanks, Matt Judkins for the reminder of this exhibit in the British Museum:

“An interesting map is on display in the British Museum in London. It’s an old mariner’s chart, drawn in 1525, outlining the North American coastline and adjacent waters. The cartographer made some intriguing notations on areas of the map that represented regions not yet explored. He wrote: “Here be giants,” “Here be fiery scorpions,” and “Here be dragons.” Eventually, the map came into the possession of Sir John Franklin, a British explorer in the early 1800s. Scratching out the fearful inscriptions, he wrote these words across the map: ‘Here is God.'”

The story of Joseph doesn’t start off very promising. As a seventeen year old, he finds himself ratting out his lazy older brothers to his dad.  Not only does dad punish the sons but rewards Joseph with the famous coat of many colors.  J is definitely a fink (or a snitch in today’s parlance) in the eyes of his bros. J has made it even more insufferable by conveying his visions on the guys, “You will all, one day, bow down to me.”  Good one little bro.

My reading of it is that he is so reviled by his brothers that it is no longer safe to go out into the fields with them. He’s staying home in some familial witness protection program when his crotchety old father sends him back into the fray.  “Go out and check on your brothers,” was the instruction.

Sure enough, the brothers do have it out for him and his dreamcoat, and his fancy dreams of one day being their object of worship and respect. Those dreams don’t leave much room for the traditional family line and inheritance protocol.  The brothers conspire to kill him and only a last minute suggestion by Ruben keeps Joseph alive and thrown into a well.  We know the story, he is then sold off to a traveling band of merchants headed for Egypt.

There be dragons in Egypt. and scorpions and there might as well be giants too.  A hellish circumstance for anyone and completely confusing when you measure the dreams against the reality.  But of course, we know how the story goes and what we all love is a comeback.  This is the pit of a story that ends well. But not before it goes badly first.  I think you know where I’m headed on this.

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”   Luke 9: 24

Dreams are great, they can carry us on a bad day but when God has a hand in it, there’s dividend besides.  There’s a dangerous but predictable moment when we wonder where is God in all of our difficult moments. But the collaboration that is taking shape in the midst of our doubts, our setbacks and our sufferings is the fruit of God’s presence. We’ll see it when it’s over if not before.

Richard Rohr calls this, “mature second half of life stuff.”  The reality of death and doubt as a life affirming and redeeming force.

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