You Meant it For Evil…

Day Lily open

At the end of Genesis is the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph goes on a long and arduous journey, sent out from home, betrayed by his brothers, taken as a slave in Egypt where he rises from the lowly shepherd-servant to the great vizier in Pharaoh’s court, second only to Pharaoh in power. Joseph grows from wounded to wisdom. If you read the story carefully you will see that Joseph’s journey mirrors our own. Each event in his life is a place that we too pass through on our own journey’s to wholeness and maturity. This is a very human paradigm, which coincides with the passages that we make in this adventure called life. In Joseph we see the sacred design we are enacted in the drama of this one person’s life as the story of creation closes.

Because Joseph is in Egypt and in charge of the management when a famine comes, he will be able to send for his family and save the ones who betrayed him from starving to death. Save the family of Jacob-Israel to become a nation with a far reaching destiny. Like our lives too, Joseph’s life is informed by dreams, dreams Joseph knows how to interpret. For he is not only shepherd, but also the wise dreamer. Near the end of the story when Joseph’s brothers finally recognize who he is, they are fearful that he will retaliate for the evil they did to him. But, now knowing that it is the hand of Yahweh that has led them all to where they are, he tells them: You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.

There is another well-know story of a journey, that ends with much the same words Joseph spoke to his brothers. It is the journey that Jesus makes and the words the risen Christ echoes to those he met along the road, by the lakeside in the Upper Room. For God sustained and journeyed with Joseph throughout his life. It is this same God, the God of Israel, who sustained and brought Jesus beyond (even) death. At the close of Genesis, out of the garden, from tree of life, to the tree of death, to another garden, at the close of Jesus’ earthly life, we are reminded once more, that the gift was not lost when we left the garden, but continues in unhampered freedom as the good will of God to all of his creation, to all of us.


Love comes first

I just have to say, I love the new Pope. Even though I am an Episcopalian, I am so delighted to see a man who follows in the footsteps of the fisherman and truly understands, knows and lives what Jesus was all about. Truly he has opened the arms of the church wide to all. Like Jesus before him, everyone is welcome at his table no matter what you have done.

St. Paul says we are God’s work of art. In Genesis all that God created he said was good. We are all on the potter’s wheel. And God is not an extra-terrestrial task master. He is the I Am Who Am who identified himself as the personal sacred Reality of our lives. The God who pitched his tent among us, and continues to journey with us, to ensure that we get home safely. The churches’ emphasis on sin has kept many people from approaching its doors, let alone its altars. St. Paul says love comes first. Then people can change. Its not the other way around. Change your life and I will love you. That wasn’t Jesus’s program and the church has done a great disservice to gospel message by often making this the focus of its preaching.  Jesus invited all kinds of people to his table. Jesus ate and went around with people from all walks of life, those his society deemed ‘unclean’ or outcast. In a time when ritual purity was so important Jesus looked past this to the person, to their hearts and saw that it is the heart that counts.

Perhaps the churches can turn their focus and follow in another fisherman. Let us know we are God’s work of art. We are created in image and likeness. We are good because what God has made is good. That first and foremost we are loved. No matter what we do. For who we are is more important to Jesus and his Father.

This is how the kingdom comes. In love. One person loving the other. Then another. Until all humankind finds itself in this embrace and the kingdom has truly come to be in our midst.

The World is Too Much With Us

looking_to_the_future1.jpg On the horizon of being the human heart is endowed with hope.

      Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:39)

The cross of Christ is not the (only) reality that we live under. We live under the sign of the resurrection as well. It wasn’t even until the Middle Ages that the cross began to appear with the crucified savior upon it. Rather, it was the depictions of Christ in his glory, as having triumphed over death, that were imaged in religious artwork until then. But more and more lately, well beyond Lent, when Jesus’s cross becomes the place to center our faith and praxis, these hot August days seem to swelter under the heavy burden of the cross.

It’s not just in Jerusalem or Ferguson, but all over the world, man’s inhumanity to others seems to be on the rampage. I finally had to turn the television off. But the subject would not leave me, because the next topic of transformation that I was going to address was the transformation of evil to good. During these days I have kept my bible close at hand. And I was grateful again that I had continued with this blog,  because I began to search again through the scriptures and Paul, for a way to come to grips with the epidemic of evil sweeping our globe. The obvious response (because there is no ‘answer’ to evil): the Way through – the absolute, unswerving faith in God, the great Transformer.

I wrote all things are eventually redeemed in the heart of God. I absolutely believe this. I have experienced this in my life. We see even now the first inklings of that drive in the human spirit to make sure those who have died have not died in vain. That good comes from this. This too is the meaning of Christ’s cross. This is the god-place within us, the indomitable human spirit that needs to keep creating and recreating ourselves and the world in image and likeness as the ongoing reality of living.

But, the events of the past few weeks have made me pause and pray and search what I believe and hear it as others might hear it, as the most recent victims of injustice and evil might hear these words. To make sure this is not pious prattle. That it might come from the depths of holding to the cross while living in the resurrection. Holding to the paradox of good and evil in God’s good creation. I hear Joseph saying to the brothers who wrecked their evil upon him and tried to kill him: You meant it for evil but God meant it for good. (Genesis 50:18). Joseph made his own long, very human journey of transformation. (I write about Joseph’s journey in my just completed mss I Am Joseph: Symbols of Transformation in the Joseph Narrative.)

When St. Paul talks about evil, he isn’t engaging a theological debate (theodicy), evil as the dark specter that swarmed about Job, rather evil for Paul is a matter of human behavior. He begins many of his letters asking the people to curb their evil deeds (Co 1:21-23). Fornication, impurity, evil desire (covetousness), slander, foul talk, anger, wrath, malice, slander and idolatry. These are all sins of one person against another or against God. For Paul evil comes from people’s behavior. In 2 Thessalonians 3:2 Paul prays that we may be preserved from the interference of bigoted and evil people. Following the passage from Romans 8 quoted above Paul reminds us of the word from the Hebrew Scriptures: For thy sake we are being killed all day long. We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. It is then he says Nothing – not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus the Lord. Paul later in Romans will ask that we overcome evil with good. By good he means love each other, respect one another, work with untiring effort for what is right and just, keep praying even in the face of trials and make hospitality your special care. (12:9-21) Forgive one another because you have been forgiven (Co 3:12-15). Let the message of Christ find a home in you. That great, real Love saves. This is the resurrection.

Joseph eventually save the lives of the brothers who wished him dead and forgives them saying You meant it for evil but God meant it for good. Suffering and the resultant on-going search for meaning and judgment are to lie ever hidden in the mysterious design of God that Joseph can only answer by his continued care of his family, suffering and evil’s only recourse to choose how one is to live within it and beyond. And to know the beyond as God.


With a Word and a Sword

Original water color by Cathie Horrell

As I began to think about framing the next post on rejection and acceptance, I thought of lst century Palestine, the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day.  Then I thought of Jerusalem and the Middle East today. Then I thought of the bombardment of images from a town that is only a twenty minute drive from where I live, Ferguson, Missouri.

The next way of transformation that Paul addresses is rejection to acceptance. Primarily he has taken up this subject because there is the debate raging as to whether or not the Jews were included in the saving actions of Jesus Christ. Paul goes to great length to assure that indeed the Jews remain the chosen people. They are loved by God. God never takes back his gift or revokes his choice. (Romans 11:28-29) The irony is that Jesus was a Jewish man; he was rejected to the point of being executed by the Roman establishment in collusion with the high ranking Jewish priestly aristocracy.
In one of Paul’s many convoluted rationales he says that it was their rejection that made it possible for Jesus to reconcile the whole world to himself, and bring about the deliverance, the transformation from rejected to acceptance for the rest of the Gentile world, to whom Paul felt called to be an apostle. (11:13-16). Because they stumbled, the rest of us are able to be lifted up. He goes on with two marvelous metaphors, comparing the Jews to the first batch of good dough that makes all the dough holy. They are the sacred root of the tree that makes all the branches sacred. It’s good for Christians today to know that our religious roots are in Judaism. To know that no matter what nothing can prevail against Jesus Christ’s acceptance and love for us.
There isn’t any of us who doesn’t know what it is like to be rejected. Turned down from the job. Turned away from the lunch counter. Turned away from a club, a group, an organization because something in our humanness doesn’t conform to the standard held by the powers that be. Rejection is the denial of your very heart and soul. Your very existence. The work of your hands. And it is often the rejection of your life as well. But Paul is telling us that in Christ this rejection has been transformed into acceptance. Acceptance as one sacred, chosen, meant, of value and worth.
Rejection is nothing new to the Jewish people. During Jesus’ lifetime the Jewish people in Judea and Jerusalem were living under the occupation of the Roman military establishment. They were looking for a liberator. Paul quotes Isaiah (27:9) saying  a liberator will come from Zion. (11:26). They believed this meant a military leader who would free them from Roman oppression. They wanted another King David who would slay the Goliath of their oppression.
Jesus had another way in mind. Rather than military confrontation he preached peace. This man who included everyone at his table, the wicked, tax collectors (very wicked), non-Jews, women, rejected no one. Jesus saw that being a voice in the wilderness meant you could lose your head. So his chose the way of peace. The way of love. He preached. He had a voice. He spoke out. His way was to stun the oppressors with kindness. Do an end around. Get to the goal, make the kingdom real now in the world, by side stepping violence. Bless your enemies. Feed them. Give them drink. Conquer their evil with good. (12:14-21) Jesus was not naïve. He also told his disciples to take their swords with them as they went out to spread the good news, to do good, just in case they needed to defend themselves. If they were rejected he told them to leave that place, brush the dirt off their feet and move on. Brush the dirt off their feet? Don’t carry  their rejection, their dirt,  whatever their negativity is, with you.

Faith is difficult. Believing that things can change is difficult. Above is an image of man who held his hands up in surrender; surrender to his oppressors, and because he did he makes it possible for all of us to do what he did: come back to  life, live forever, forgive.  This is not a touchy-feely platitude. The gospels challenge us. It is ours to bring about the kingdom now. Justice  is what is right; what is right is the golden rule of all faiths.  To love one another as you love yourself. Love wants what is best for the other as we want what is best for ourselves.  And what is best for us is God. Justice is when the way of heaven and the way of the earth converge. When the kingdom, Yahweh’s, G-d’s, Jesus’s, Allah’s, Buddha’s, Mohammed’s way, is lived now.

Sometimes, in the name of religion, we are even told to endure oppression, our reward will be in heaven. I say, I have my reward now. I have Christ. And more importantly he has me.

We can be comforted by the Sermon on the Mount, but after he gave it he came down from the mountain, went to be among the people, to touch and to heal, He even healed the daughter of a Roman centurion.

P.S. I believe it was Karl Barth who said to do theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

 All the writing, quotes, artwork and photography are the work of the author unless otherwise stated. Scripture readings are from the Jerusalem Bible.
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