Is it coming? Yes, it’s coming. Good.

Genesis 50:15-21
Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Pent13 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 9-11-11

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I had a little conversation with my wife this week, as I was preparing my sermon. It’s the same conversation that happens every week, and it goes something like this:

“How’s it going? Is it coming?”
“Yes, it’s coming.”
“Good.”

And then she goes to make breakfast or get ready for the day. Every time I prepare these words to share in worship, I have to believe that “Yes, God is coming” through prayer and the study of scripture – through conversation with others – through listening and asking questions. “Yes, it’s coming.” “Good.”

But this week, I heard that conversation differently. Because, what’s been on my mind these days (and I’m guessing on your mind as well) has been that same question directed toward our nation:

“How’s it going? Is it coming?” ‘IT’ being another terrorist attack or act of vengeance on this, the 10th anniversary of 9-11. “Is it coming?” I find myself checking the news more often. That’s the mindset you’ll have when you live in “an eye for an eye” society. “You bomb our buildings and we’ll destroy you, whatever it takes.”

No, I don’t condone the cowardly acts of religious fanatics. I just think there are better ways to move forward in life than the descending spiral of violence that has pulled us down with it. Ten years later, we’re still fighting and dying, and eye-for-an-eye-ing.

“Is it coming?”
“Yes, it’s coming.”
“Not good.”

Joseph’s brothers “saw it coming.” “He’ll punish us, for sure, when he finds out our father is dead.”

And maybe Joseph was in such a position that he could afford to be generous with his cruel and spineless brothers. Would he have acted differently if he was still a slave or of lowly rank in Egypt? I mean, think about it, here they were caught under the power of their long-forgotten brother who is now 2nd in command of all Egypt. They’ll starve without some grain from him. After all they’d done to him – stripping him of his multi-colored coat, selling him into slavery, and adding the color of ram’s blood to that coat before giving it to their father. “The poor fellow was eaten by a tiger!”

Even on their way to meet with Joseph, they’re devising new lies in order to save themselves. “Let’s tell him that father’s dying wish was that Joseph forgive the crimes of his brothers. That ought to work.” And, of course, when they come bearing more lies, pretending to care about Joseph, he breaks down and weeps. “Even though you intended to do me harm, God intended it for good.”

First of all, why God even cares enough to get involved in the family feuds of humans is beyond me! When we hold a grudge against another, God cares enough to get involved in the story.

Listen to this poem by Stephen Dunn, written after 9-11, entitled Grudges:

Easy for almost anything to occur.
Even if we’ve scraped the sky, we can be rubble.
For years those men felt one way, acted another.

Ground Zero, is it possible to get lower?
Now we had a new definition of the personal,
knew almost anything could occur.

It just takes a little training, to blur.
A motive, lie low while planning the terrible,
Get good at acting one way, feeling another.

Yet who among us doesn’t harbor
A grudge or secret? So much isn’t erasable;
It follows that almost anything can occur,

Like men ascending into the democracy of air
Without intending to land, the useful veil
Of having said one thing, meaning another.

Before you know it something’s over.
Suddenly someone’s missing at the table.
It’s easy (I know it) for anything to occur
When men feel one way, act another.
(source: The Writer’s Almanac)

The grudges we harbor can lead us to feel one way and act another. But notice what happens with Joseph and his brothers… God does show up – God does provide a way to save his people, Israel – “Is it coming?” “Yes, it’s coming.” “Good.” Good comes, even through treachery and deceit. And, good will come again through this tragedy, to God’s creation.

What if this day you took a fearless, moral inventory of your inner life and asked yourself: “What grudges do I hold ?” “To whom am I harboring resentment?” An old friend? A co-worker? A fellow student? A church member? An entire race of people? A nation? The Japanese? The French? The “rag heads” who wear turbans or the hijab? Who do you harbor resentment for? That’s all I’m asking: that you lay that grudge at the feet of the judge.

I wish you could have been there on August 24th at the Landmark Center in St. Paul. I watched as my sister-in-law was “sworn in” as an official US Citizen. Claire stood up that day and proudly raised her right hand along with 350 others from 46 different countries and said the Pledge of Allegiance. She’d married my brother while he was stationed in the Philippines in the US Navy back in the 80s. Now, 30 years later, she knows more about America than I do (having prepped to take the test). I watched with my brother, who was filming it all from the balcony, with tears in his eyes. And my pride swelled along with his. The presiding judge joked that this is the only time that everyone’s happy with his ruling.

But not everyone is happy. There is still hatred and suspicion of those we see as “different.” The fact that nearly half of those sworn in that day were from Somalia – doesn’t sit well with some Americans who harbor grudges against Muslims or those who don’t look like we do.

So where does that leave you in this conversation this 9-11? “Is it coming?” Is God’s mercy and forgiveness coming through you this day? Will the light shine through the darkness – so that the darkness does not overcome it? Let your prayer be a resounding “Yes, it’s coming.”

“Good.”

Amen.

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