By Elle Morgan
View the worship and sermon here.
In today’s lesson from Genesis we witness Joseph's call to reconcile with his family. Today, Heather & Molly have asked that I share my own story of being called. I’ve prayerfully considered this charge over the last weeks. While this is principally a story about forgiveness, I believe it is also a story about call… where you belong and how you can serve.
The story of Joseph and his brothers is one of the most well known in the Old Testament. While many can thank Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber for that knowledge, it is a story that has struck the hearts of many in the Judeo-Christian tradition for centuries. It is the story of a complicated family – something we can all relate to and how God’s call for us that might be wildly different from our own imaginings.
It is easy to imagine Joseph as a young man. Confident in the knowledge of the love his parents and his ideas as to how other see him – the favored son of a favored wife. It is easy to imagine Joseph with his father planning for the future as to what that might look like for both of them. Many of us are familiar with the phrase, “People plan and God laughs”. Like many of us, that was the way for Joseph. A bright future working with his father, taking leadership over his elder brothers, might have seemed desirable for Joseph. But that was not the way it was to be. Joseph was needed elsewhere.
I think as children we imagine how our lives might unfold. We may have thoughts or dreams about our futures: our families, our ambitions, how we might lead or serve. I know I did. Growing up in Utah, it was easy to envision myself as a wife and a mother. Certainly my ecclesiastical leaders saw that future for me and encouraged me toward that destiny. I had loved and appreciated those treasured roles, but I always felt God’s call for me included more, although what that meant was not immediately evident.
Joseph’s father sent him on an errand to check on his brothers and the flock and report their conditions back to him. However, the errand happened to be God’s call to Joseph to undertake a special mission to Egypt: to prepare a sanctuary for the young nation of Israel to survive a severe famine, prosper, and multiply into a great nation. Neither Joseph nor his father recognized the call at the time. God delivered the message by prompting his father to send him on the fateful errand. Also, we learn that God may allow adversity as a channel for effecting a positive change for a person. The person will be in better position to realize the change by remaining steadfast in living in the image of God despite hurting from the adversity.
Joseph’s shock at his changed circumstances at the hands of his brothers must have felt profound. What a difference a day makes. Thrown in a pit, sold into slavery, jailed. His circumstances must have seemed surreal. But it is easy to imagine that in the confusion of those extreme circumstances, that Joseph must have known that God had a plan for him, yet unrevealed. Joseph’s faith in God allowed him to persevere under extraordinary circumstances.
I think many of us ask the question, “Where do I belong?” “Where and whom shall I serve?” I imagine that if you asked Joseph, his answer would not involve interpreting dreams in jail. Or being chased about by Potiphar’s wife. But how many of us find ourselves in similar circumstances. How did I get here? For much of my life, I felt the same. How did I get here? How did this happen? How did I actively attend the tradition of my foremothers which espouses, racism, homophobia, and misogyny. What does this signal to my children, my friends, those whom I respect? Like Joseph, I asked myself “how did I get here?” And more importantly, what is God’s plan for me. Joseph knew, probably more quickly than I did, to put his trust in the Lord. Faith, perseverance, and patience showed Joseph where he belonged and how he could serve. Joseph was led by the Lord to where he might be most useful to God’s people.
I think many of us have asked the same question, but perhaps without the same patience and faith. I believe that the Lord leads us into things as well as out of things. Like Joseph, he was led from his home and family in Canaan into where was most needed in Egypt. The Lord saw the bigger picture for Joseph just as he sees that same picture for us.
I was a slower study. I thought I could impact circumstances even change the hearts of others, but that was not to be. God knew better. In prayerfully turning to the Lord as to where I belong, God led me out of my previous tradition and into the Episcopal tradition. As a former children’s Sunday School teacher, I taught many young people to as the question, What Would Jesus Do? I believe that members of the Episcopal faith actively ask the questions, “What would Jesus Do? Where should I serve? And act upon those inspirations.
I sometimes reflect on that interim period with both sadness and curiosity. It was hard to be without a faith community and the likelihood that the situation might be permanent was high. Research shows that members of my former tradition don’t often find a new spiritual home for a number of reasons. I have to imagine that when Joseph was thrown into prison he felt the same way. Separated by those he loved due to circumstances, concerned about outcomes. In the play Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Joseph sings a song while in jail describing his bleak circumstances but remaining constant in his faith in the Lord. One stanza states “Children of Israel are never alone”. I will say that during this in-between period, I often felt spiritually lonely for community, but never alone. I think that period was one when I learned to rely ever more closely on the Lord. I am grateful that God called me to be a member of this parish and I believe God continues to call me to greater levels of participation.
In this past year, I have attended Loving the Questions and the Community of Discernment to try to determine where I might belong and to better hear God’s call. One of my favorite scriptures is Mary answering God’s call with the plaintive statement -- Behold thy handmaiden, Lord. I have tried to emulate Mary’s approach as I pursued answers with an open mind as to where God might want me With the tutelage of, and in consultation with, diocesan leaders, I have prayerfully sought answers to where I might belong and how I could serve. To my great surprise, I have felt a call to the priesthood, understanding that calls are a combined vision of the individual, the diocese, and the Lord, in concert with them I continue to ask where should I serve? And look to the Lord for answers.
Joseph understood that God’s call was what led him into Egypt. Not the perfidy of his brothers. Upon their reunion he explained to them that it was God, not them, that sent him to Egypt for a special mission “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.’”
Joseph’s willingness to patiently wait for God’s plan to unfold for him is inspirational. It couldn’t have been easy and, at times, probably very frightening. I think this is something to which we can all relate. How does our vision for our life match up to God’s? How do we reconcile the differences?
Maybe Joseph felt bitterness about his changed circumstances, but it isn’t evident from the scriptures Joseph – rather than being bitter found ways to serve irrespective of his circumstances. Finding a place to serve where God intends, rather than where we think that place might be, demonstrates humility that is not easy.
In Jeremiah 29:13 we learn: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Today I suggest that we follow the inspirational example of Joseph and his patience through adversity as he waited to better understand his call. Discernment to call can be a life-long process. God’s call to us may be different at the various seasons of our life and they may become evident during times of adversity. In Hebrews we learn that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Waiting can be discouraging, it can test our patience and our faith. I know from personal experience this can be true. It is my prayer that we will be blessed as we answer God’s calls to us.
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