You Meant it For Evil…

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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.

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Jesus the Christ

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The drama and tension that runs through all the gospels is at their core the question of Jesus’ identity. Between John the Baptists, who proclaims the coming one, and Paul, who proclaims the meaning of the one who now has come, Jesus stands. Awash in the waters of the Jordan River, beyond its shores Jesus himself became the message swirling about the Mediterranean in the questions Paul’s converts raised about this Christ Paul asked them to follow. By a dramatic turn of events, Paul would call him Christ and range far wider than any of the evangelists in his proclamation of Jesus’ identity, the nearness of God and saving sovereign for all who believed in him. The gospels and Paul’s letters, read in tandem today can orchestrate for us the mosaic of Jesus’ life and person.

Rising out of the waters of the Jordan he became a magnet to those searching for a better way, a better day. But we do not have the physical presence of Jesus to draw us to him. What sensibility quiets the clamor that seems to reign today? How do we enkindle the flame so our hearts burn within us when we hear his voice, hear the stories he told retold to us today? This is no small challenge. Our desire must be great. Our imaginations open wide. Our searching hearts undaunted by the secular world’s hold, sway and pull on us. And yet we live in the midst of our world, the way in which Jesus lived in and moved about in his world, awash with its own profane and materialistic determinations.

Woven about the person of Jesus, like a shroud that had begun to unravel over the years, over the centuries, are stories and legends, the fact and fictions of his life. He became draped in the mantel of Israel’s hopes. Soon enough, those hopes dashed, he would wear the royal purple of Rome and then become the Roman Empire’s standard bearer, cooped by a king, to be a King.

His life is a mosaic of those who loved him, those who followed him, those who believed he was their savior. His life story was even shaped by those who feared him. But the voices of those whom he had touched won out. Those are the voices that remain to carry his story forward for future generations, for us.

The Waiting Remnant

IMG_0231      In some respects one might say we are still the waiting remnant of Israel. Waiting to take the fullness of our humanity as sacred and meant into the fullness of our faith-life. Waiting yet to bring to fullness the realization and embrace of our identity as Christians as it is rooted in the journey of Israel. Israel gave us Jesus. Jesus said he came to Israel. He came to gather together the twelve tribes. To restore Israel to its rightful place and in some respects get her back on track. The liberator will come from Zion.

Like Paul Jesus would address the tension between law and the spirit of the law. Law and love. For both love wins out. For both, Israel, Paul and Jesus faith was in a person, not in the law. You could say the law held us in the embrace of God until Jesus came to extend his arms in love to everyone on the cross. No one was every meant to be excluded. Exclusion’s purpose, setting oneself apart, as Israel needed to do at the outset, was to enable their novice faith to grow strong, to solidify as a people, in their forming faith. By 1st century Palestine, Jesus welcomed everyone to his table; his message to all who could hear and to those who would follow. Paul is the Jewish apostle to the Gentiles and the world. So that one can still say that faith came through Israel. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

In giving the promise the Lord God of Israel had a plan. Israel was the plan. God chose Israel first and loves them still Paul reminds us; they remain the people of the one god, first to work through an understanding of what monotheism meant and then to shape their identity from the fullness of that meaning and their relationship with the god who was shaping them and forming them as his own. As his own so he could proselytize the world to him.

They have not fallen out of the embrace of God’s design for them in the world. All that has occurred, even their tenure in Egypt under Pharaoh became part of God’s cause in the world for all humanity. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. In Egypt they were preserved from the famine, grew into a nation large in numbers and then made their trek across the wilderness of Sinai to the land of the promise. It is through Israel, in whom the seed would grow, that the other nations of the world would come to know I Am Who Am. The living God. The very presence of the Lord of Life in their midst. We know this God through his Son, Jesus Christ, who is now Lord of all. We know Jesus the Christ only to the extent we know the story of Israel.

We too need to honor Israel and rather than consider the story of her journey as an ‘old testament’, regard the Hebrew Scriptures as a paradigm for all those who would follow, even Jesus, especially Jesus. Israel gave us Jesus. Both Paul and Jesus were formed in the faith of Israel. Their message and mission came out of the wilderness and the lion heart of Judea.

Israel’s story is much like our own. I feel we have a long way to go in understanding and valuing the place of the Jewish people in the grand and greater schema of what we call salvation. I did not lose one of those you gave to me. Our saving is in the heart and soul of the footsteps of God’s sacred people, the people who are our spiritual ancestors and in whose footsteps Jesus and we follow to the fullness of life; realizing our humanity as both sacred and meant. We too are ever on a journey like the Hebrew people. As we follow Jesus we follow the story of Israel as it continues to teach us today about what it means to be human. What it means to be God’s.