Tom's Sermon: August 7, 2011

Genesis 37:12–28

Joseph Is Sold by His Brothers

12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem.13And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’14So he said to him, ‘Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.’ So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.

He came to Shechem, 15and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, ‘What are you seeking?’ 16‘I am seeking my brothers,’ he said; ‘tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.’17The man said, ‘They have gone away, for I heard them say, “Let us go to Dothan.” ’ So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. 20Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’ 21But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, ‘Let us not take his life.’22Reuben said to them, ‘Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him’—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. 23So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

25 Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers agreed. 28When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

Psalm 105 VU Page 828

Matthew 14:22–33

Jesus Walks on the Water

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

Walking on Water

Reading through Genesis about Jacob and his family reads like a soap opera, with all kinds of cheating, scheming, and manipulating. Jacob tricked brother, Esau into giving up his birthright, then he cheated him out of their father, Isaac’s blessing. Fleeing the country and his angry brother and father back to Abraham’s original homeland, Jacob encountered Laban who in turn tricked Jacob into 14 years of servitude, and into marrying Leah the homely older sister of Rachel whom Jacob really wanted to marry. Once back in the promised land, the sons of Leah and the two handmaids where jealous of the affection Jacob showed Rachel’s son. When Joseph told the brothers of a dream where they bowed down before him, they were so angry that they plotted to get rid of him. Ruben persuaded them to sell him into slavery to travelling traders rather than killing him outright. The brothers then persuaded their father, Jacob that he had been killed by wild animals.

At this point it doesn’t sound like they story of God’s revelation to the people of God about God and God’s way. Yet, as we all know, Joseph’s gifts shone through and he rose from slavery to become prime minister for the Pharaoh and through Joseph, the people of the promise found their way into Egypt to escape the famine that swept the land, much like it is in Somalia today. God can even use evil actions to bring about good in unexpected ways. The promise of God to Abraham was passed on, in part because of the actions of Joseph’s brothers. This is an example of how God can use even hardships and apparent disaster to bring about an aspect of God’s rule on earth.

The kind of difficulties Grace Congregation has had in its relationship with ministers for a number of years is difficult for its people, just as it was more than difficult for Joseph. But it could be that such difficulties are calling on us to find new ways of relating, new ways of discovering God’s calling for us a people of God.

Then we have the wonderful story about Peter responding to Jesus’ invitation to leave the boat and come to him, walking on the water. As long as Peter concentrated on responding to Jesus, he – like his master – was also able to walk on the water. It was only when he began to think of the storm that was raging around him that he became frightened and started to sink.

God knows, as we ourselves know when we think about it, that it often takes something dramatic to bring about change. If we are happy with everything there is no motivation to change. This is true of personal life, of family life, of work life, of national life and of church life. For example, we will never have electoral reform at the provincial or national level as long as the party in power can garner an overwhelming majority of seats with far less than 50 % of the votes. Why change a good thing? They say, “Tough luck” for the majority of people who are unhappy.

I know a congregation that was overtaken by the inner city spreading into is neighbourhood in Edmonton. What was once a family, neighbourhood church, now was surrounded by the kind of problems associated with inner cities -- flight of the middle-class to the suburbs, non-Christian immigrants replacing them, prostitutes on the street corners, homeless people seeking shelter on cold nights, creating a real challenge to the congregation. Then a key family won the Lotto 6/49, and made the generous decision that they would support the church so it could maintain a full time minister and return to its former glory. The problem was the kind of things that were so important a generation or two earlier were totally irrelevant to the new neighbours. In spite of financial backing the church did not change its approach to draw in either the new residents of the district, nor the younger generations of its long term members. In spite of having the best 1950’s style programming the church had to close its doors within about ten years.

Grace United Church has made a courageous decision to rebuild its failing structure here on this site. There are tremendous needs for a church presence in the heart of this city, a presence that draws together rural people, people from the new suburbs with their large homes, along with people from modest older housing, people from the seniors complexes, people who enter the city from Onion Lake and other reserves, people with addictions, people who need to find their way in a complex world.

I have a gentle fear that our redevelopment could be like that Edmonton church that tried to meet the needs of a couple generations ago, but does not give adequate consideration to what God is calling us to do today. If our goal should become one of replacing an aging building, we could produce an excellent plant for an obsolete mission. In the midst of challenges of failed pastoral relationships and hurting volunteers, some of whom have felt their gifts have been rejected, it is easier to concentrate on a great physical plant rather than giving adequate thought of how God may want us to service the total city in the first century of the third millenium of Chirst’s Church.

We have young families bringing their children here for baptism who need more than the offer of one hour of Sunday School per week. There is a hungering for spiritual nourishment in both young and old that we can offer with God’s help. There are people walking by our doors who need a break from the burden of the daily grind of single parenthood, who need fellowship and support when they have lost a loved one and their mental alertness is fading, who are in a new land with a faith that is strange to them with strange worship practices, who are hungry, who have no roof over their heads, and who are struggling with addictions. Jesus once said that the fields were ripe, ready for the harvest. Pray that God will send harvesters into the harvest.

The dysfunctional family of Jacob become the people of God known as the Israelites, the people who wrestle with God. Peter heard Jesus’ invitation to come to him walking on the water. He dared to step out of the boat and found himself walking on the water as Jesus was. Then he looked around him, saw the storms that were threatening everything, and lost his concentration of faith and began to sink. Spiritually, and in the life of the church, we are in stormy times. Jesus is calling to us, to Grace United Church and its people, to come to him in spite of the raging storms. If we lose sight of who we are, whose we are and why we are, we – like Peter will find ourselves sinking. But if we individually and collectively hear the call and respond in the assurance that Christ is calling us to act, we will be able, figuratively at least, to walk on water.