“Wicked Brothers and Storms”
A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
August 13, 2017
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 & Matthew 14:22-33
The Barna Group is a respected firm out of New York that studies the religious beliefs and behavior of Americans and the intersection of faith and culture. Earlier this year the Barna Group published a study on why people have stopped going to church in North America. Interestingly, they found that the majority of the people in their study stopped going to church because they heard nothing there that had any significant meaning or impact on their daily living. It was not because of some political issue, or a denominational stance, or a disagreement with a pastor; these folks stopped going because it stopped being meaningful to them. There are 168 hours in a week and each of those hours is severely precious; if spending one of those precious hours in church does not help you interpret the world, understand God, or understand yourself better, why would you go?
All of this is to say that if in our worship today, if in our reading of Scripture and our singing and prayer, we ignore the significant and dangerous and scary things that took place in the week behind us, there really is no reason for us to be here today. If we think these walls are meant to be a fortress and that our faith is supposed to shield us from the world we live in, we should all book a tee time because a round of golf would serve us better. In particular today, I am thinking about the recent and abundant talk of world-wide nuclear warfare and the rally of white supremacists that took place Friday and Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. It grieves me to my very core to see service men and women and their families on the island of Guam and all over the world fearful that they may be soon looking down the nose cone of a nuclear warhead, or in the midst of a war started over who has the biggest missle. It grieves me to my very core to see people of color fearful to walk out into the streets of their towns because there are, literally, men brandishing torches and Nazi flags in their faces, chanting slogans like, “Black lives splatter.” These things are deadly. These things are inexplicable. These things are beyond scary. These things echoes a world that I thought was well behind us.
But in a spirit of fairness, the things that are weighing heavily on my heart and mind today may not be weighing heavily on yours. Maybe you or your spouse of your child saw the doctor this week and you are fearful of what they are going to tell you when they call tomorrow. Maybe you are afraid of losing your healthcare. Maybe you afraid of how you will pay the bills just in the week to come, how you will put food on the table for yourself and your children. Maybe you are afraid that God has abandoned you or this country or this world, and that in the end everything is meaningless. Maybe—and I think this is the case for all of us—you are living under a ever-so-thin veil of fear: fear of the other, fear of violence, fear of war, fear of the unknown, fear of sickness, fear of losing it all. What are we to do? Do we hide away and ignore it? Do we just hope that folks will stop hating each other, and countries will put away their weapons, and diseases will heal themselves? Do we pray to win the lottery or apply for citizenship in another country or go off the grid and wait for Jesus to come back ?
No. We don’t do anything of these things. As people of faith—as people who believe in the God of heaven and earth, who came to live among us in Jesus Christ—in moments like this we do exactly what we have been doing for the past two thousand years: we dig into the Scriptures, we read and study them together, and we listen carefully to what God is saying to us right now. This is our calling. In this is where we find our hope.
Joseph and Peter are a stern reminder to us all that we have very little control over our circumstances and the world around us. Jospeh was sold into slavery by his wicked brothers. Peter almost sank to the bottom of the Sea of Galilee after a terrible storm. But for as little control as Joseph and Peter had over their circumstances, one thing is true for both: God is at the center of their story.
Jospeh’s story did not end when he was sold to the Ishmaelites. When they arrived in Egypt, Jospeh was sold into the household of Pontiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials. Joseph did well in Pontiphar’s house until Pontiphar’s wife accused Jospeh of trying to violate her. Pontiphar threw Jospeh into prison where he remained for two years. But while in prison Jospeh met two servants from Pharaoh’s household who had strange and wild dreams. Joseph interpreted their dreams and became famous, so famous, in fact, that he was soon interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh. In one dream, Jospeh predicted that Egypt would enjoy seven years of abundant crops followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh immediately hired Jospeh as his right-hand-man and Jospeh led Egypt through the first stockpiling and rationing of food in history.
Over and over, the writer of Genesis says that God was with Joseph, and we see that to be true. God was with Joseph when his brothers hatched their plan, pleading through the voice of Reuben to sell Jospeh instead of murder him. God was with Joseph when he found a position in Pontiphar’s house, likely escaping grueling labor in the brickyard. God was with Joseph when the two servants of Pharaoh became his cell mates. God was with Joseph as he interpreted their dreams and Pharaoh’s dreams. God was with Jospeh as he laid a plan to store crops during the good times and ration them during the bad. And finally, God was with Joseph when his wicked brothers arrived in Pharaoh’s court years later begging for food. The brothers didn't know the man they were speaking too was their brother. After much conversation Joseph could not stand it any longer and finally revealed himself to his brothers. Joseph said, “…do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
My friends, from the opening of the Scriptures to their close, we read of a God is so big, so grand, so powerful, so interested in our good. This is the God who spun the planets into being and scooped us up from the dust of the earth. This is the God who came to live among us in Jesus Christ. But I don’t think we think too highly of this God sometimes. We may even imagine that God is too big, too powerful, too busy, to be concerned with us. Jospeh says otherwise. The God who created everything from nothing saw Joseph through every trial and suffering. The God who took on flesh and bone and breathed our air is the same God who preserved Joseph through every twist and turn. God saved Joseph at every moment so that Joseph, in the end, could save his people. No prison cell; no weird dreams; no wicked brothers; no famine could keep God from working for Joseph’s good.
And for Peter, we could say the same thing. God was with Peter. We poke fun at Peter a lot; he waffled, tripped and fell a lot, did things he shouldn’t have done. We poke fun at Peter because he is the disciple that is most like us. Yet, this is the disciple Jesus called to step out of the boat and walk on water. This is the same Peter who tried to convince Jesus over and over that Jesus did not have to suffer and die. This is the same Peter who constantly tried to distract Jesus from his mission. This is the same Peter who said that he would never abandon Jesus. This is the same Peter who denied Jesus in the courtyard three times. It is this Peter—this shaky, unfaithful, undeserving, messy Peter—that Jesus beckons to step out of the boat. At first he did fine. But he got distracted; the storm was still blowing behind him and he began to sink. But even before he knew what was happening, the hand of Jesus reached out and pulled him back into the boat.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we are Joseph and Peter, people we know are Joseph and Peter, we are living in a world of wicked brothers and storms. But just like Joseph and Peter, we should never give up hope by imagining that God is off doing something else or something more important. God is with us—God is with you. God is with you when you are sold off into a life that you never imagined by people who are jealous of you or whom you have never met. God is with you when you are sitting in the prison’s of everyday life—in the prisons of despair, in the prisons of depression, in the prisons of self-loathing or social disgrace. God is with you when, like Joseph, another person sees something in you that frightens or threatens them and they try their best to destroy you. God is with you when you are presented with life and death situations and you are unsure which decision to make. God is with you when you are all-in for Jesus one day and completely disinterested the next. God is with you when you pledge your full commitment to the Lord and then easily fall away. God is with you when you step out of the boat, and God is with you when you get distracted and start to sink. And most importantly God is there, in Christ Jesus, to pull you back into the boat.
The good news of the Gospel today is this: there are no wicked brothers, no storms, no white supremacists or nuclear arms; no diseases, no social labels, no economic uncertainty, no famine or fighting or war; no death, no life, no angels, no rulers, nothing that is happening right now, nothing that will happen in the future, nothing in heaven, and certainly nothing in hell that will ever separate you and me from the love of God in Jesus Christ. And until every single one of you believes that from the top of your head to the tip of your toes, I have a lot of work to do; until every single person in this world knows this truth, feels this truth, and lives without fear, we all have a lot of work to do. I promise you today that I’m going to do that work as long as I have breath in my lungs. Will you join me? Will join me in proclaiming to one another and the world the height and depth and breadth of God’s love? Will you join me in telling others that wicked brothers and storms are nothing for our God? For Jesus Christ’s sake, I sure hope you will. Amen.