Monday, August 28, 2017

Sermon: The Turning Point

"The Turning Point"
Genesis 45: 1-15; Romans 12: 9-18
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
August 27, 2017

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, “Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.” And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.’

Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
- Genesis 45: 1-15

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
- Romans 12: 9-18

Joseph’s reality of feeling beloved was shattered when his brothers threw him into the pit. His identity quickly went from being the apple of his father’s eye to being nothing but a slave in Egypt. Twenty years had passed since that life altering day until our text today.

And yet the Lord did not leave Joseph in that dark place. The author of Genesis says, “The Lord was with Joseph, and showed him steadfast love” (Genesis 39:2, 21).

Over those twenty years, God worked behind the scenes of Joseph’s life to restore unto him a new sense of identity and purpose. Pharaoh took notice that God was with Joseph (Genesis 39:3). As Joseph grew into his gifts of dream interpretation and discernment, Pharaoh promoted Joseph as governor of Egypt (Genesis 41: 39-45).

Joseph began seeking the welfare of the city where God had placed him; he stored up grain. When the great famine hit every country, the world came to him to buy grain (Genesis 41:46-49, 57). As Joseph worked faithfully to fulfill his new purpose, God was faithful to begin working out his purposes for reconciliation. God worked through the hardship of the great famine to bring the brothers face to face to begin restoring what was broken.

Jacob sent his sons to Egypt two times to collect grain (Genesis 42: 1-26; 43:1 – 44:2). Both times the brothers stood in Joseph’s presence not knowing it was him, but Joseph knew (Genesis 42:8). Upon each visit Joseph tested to see if his brothers had changed. The brothers felt the weight of their guilt increasing with each test (Genesis 42:21-22; 44: 32-34). Each time Joseph turned away in tears and grieved his rejection (Genesis 42:24; 43:30).

God brought these brothers to a place where they could not deny their pain and brokenness any longer. God brought Joseph and his brothers to a turning point.

The Lord’s steadfast love redefined this family with the gifts of mercy and grace. As Joseph saw God’s hand redefining his own life, Joseph began to experience the inward power of God reconciling his broken pieces. His jagged edges of rejection and betrayal were traced and softened by the line of God’s amazing grace.

Old Testament theologian Walter Bruegemann says, “Joseph was no longer totally fixed on the past. [As he revealed himself to his brothers] he was not preoccupied with the hurt of his father or even with revenge towards is brothers. [God opened his heart] to be attentive to what was yet to come.” [1]

Joseph wept a third time, but those tears fell differently. Joseph was overwhelmed by the fact that God was redeeming his experience of being betrayed for God’s greater purposes. Those divine purposes were to bring hope and new life not just to Joseph’s family but also to the kingdom of God.

The Spirit moved Joseph to extend God’s mercy to his brothers. And as a result, they also began to experience the inward power of God reconciling their guilt. Brueggemann continues saying, “The guilt of the brothers had enormous power. [Until that moment] they were harnessed by the past.” [2]

God’s ministry of reconciliation opens the eyes of our hearts to see a way forward; a way past rejection and betrayal, past shame and guilt. The love of Christ urges us on so that our turning points may guide us to allow peace to cultivate within us.

Reconciliation always begins with our insides so that we may cultivate peace to reconcile with others. That turning point is trusting that God will not leave us in the pit; there is nothing in our lives that is beyond God’s ability to redeem. Whatever is broken has a potential to reveal God’s glory.

It hurts the most when those closest to us hurt us. Kristina Kuzmic felt utterly broken after her divorce. She was left with a broken heart, she was broken financially, and she now had a broken identity. She felt like she was lost with no sense of purpose. She was a mother of two young children with no support. The fear of homelessness loomed as a real possibility. Her tears stung with depression. Time seemed to stand still and she could not see past her own misery.

One day the Spirit whispered in her ear that she would find her own wellbeing if she sought the wellbeing of those around her. So Kristina called homeless shelters and soup kitchens to volunteer. Each call ended with “No thank you,” to this mom with no money for childcare.

That last round of rejection left Kristina in tears. And then the Spirit whispered into her ear again: What is your gift? What are you still confident in?

The next day Kristina went to the dollar store with her children and her food stamps. She bought whatever was on sale to make the biggest meal she could. She emailed her friends saying, “Send anyone who is down and out and needs a free meal to my apartment on Wednesday night for supper.”

As she cooked that meal and prepared the table, her brokenness gripped her with negativity: “Kristina, your life is a mess. Why would your friends send anyone to your apartment? They would be embarrassed. You have nothing to offer.”

But six o’clock rolled around. One knock on the door led to another. Strangers started coming into Kristina’s apartment and let her feed them. And by the end of the night, she had fed a ton of strangers on her tiny little budget, in her tiny little apartment, with her tiny little kids.

After the last person left, Kristina shut the door and just sobbed. For the first time she was not crying out of misery or desperation. She was crying because she had just experienced her first glimmer of hope. God led Kristina to a turning point; she no longer felt defeated. Her problems were not solved but for the first time she saw past her brokenness.

The steadfast love of God holds our broken pieces and proclaims the betrayals, hardships, guilt, and shame in our lives are not what ultimately define us. We cannot and should not deny brokenness is a part of our human experience. But they also do not have the last word. God’s amazing grace is rewriting our stories by the power of God’s redemption to bring healing, wholeness, and peace.

God urges us on in the love of Jesus Christ to see the turning points in our lives as a path that will lead to reconciliation within us and among us. God can and will bring goodness in ways we can never imagine for ourselves.

The Apostle Paul gives us wisdom to lean into God’s turning points.

“Let love be genuine;” not our definition of love but let God’s love be genuine through you, without a hardened heart, hypocrisy, or hidden agendas (Romans 12:9). We love because God first loved us through Christ’s unconditional love on the cross. If we allow God’s love to flow through us to one another then God lives in us and his love is perfected in us (1 John 4: 9-12). Forgiveness is a big part of God’s will for reconciliation because it makes love genuine. Jesus Christ says that we are to practice forgiveness over the course of our lifetimes (Matthew 18:21-22). Love that forgives frees us from being imprisoned by the past so that we may be attentive to the hope God holds for the future.

God’s vision of reconciliation moves us to detest what is unethical and hold fast to what is good (Romans 12:9). We are all held accountable for our actions that hurt others. However, God’s Spirit of wisdom is on the move to convict us to live differently, whether we have been hurt by another’s sin or we are burdened by the guilt of our sin. We live differently by confessing our experience and holding fast to the truth that God’s goodness is at work in our lives even when we do not readily see it.

God encourages us to move through our turning points with Paul’s words, “Do not lag in zeal” – do not have a reluctant attitude in life’s hard places. As we hold fast to God’s deep embrace, God gives opportunities to look beyond ourselves and see life through a different lens – the lens of faith. The Spirit urges us to look beyond ourselves with a passion to serve the Lord.

God worked in this way with Joseph and Kristina. Even through their tears and depression, God reminded them that they still had value and purpose. God redefined their identities to allow their experiences to serve a greater purpose. As they followed God into the turning points, they began to see glimmers of hope.

The Lord says, “Surely I know the plans I have for you; plans for your wellbeing and not for a harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Even when reconciliation is not possible with another individual, God desires to claim our hearts and minds with Christ’s healing and wholeness so that we may have the opportunity to move forward, have an abundant life, and serve the Lord.

May the Spirit open the eyes of our hearts to see God’s turning points. God sees all the places where his peace is missing. And yet God desires to work through us to bring about God’s will for peace and reconciliation.

The grace of God is on the move to break our chains and free us for the sake of praising the goodness of God.

We praise God with our reconciliation song: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blinded by my brokenness but now I see!

In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

Prophetic art "Wave of Healing," by Patricia Kimsey Bollinger

[1] Walter Brueggemann, “Interpretation: Genesis” (Atlanta: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982), p. 341.

[2] Brueggemann, p. 337.

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