God Doesn’t Play Favorites

Sermon for the 10th Sunday After Pentecost

Genesis 37:1-28
     Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.
     Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
    Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.
     He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
     Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
     He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
     Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. (NRSV)

Romans 10:5-15
     Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or “Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (NRSV)

Matthew 14:22-33
     Immediately he [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.
     When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (NRSV)

 

Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ our redeemer and friend and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.

My brother was born on my mother’s birthday. We always teased them both that he was her favorite kid. It was all in good fun, because you see, we really didn’t believe it. It was very clear from both our parents’ actions that they loved us all; each as we needed to be loved. I am very thankful to be able to say my siblings and I get along great. There is no rivalry or jealousy. There is no sense of competition or resentment among us. We can be genuinely happy for each other’s successes and be supportive in times of failure, hardship or disaster. When our parents had both died and the estate was being settled up, the lawyer remarked on how refreshing it was to work with a family that got along so well and looked out for each other’s welfare; respecting each other’s contribution and experience.

Today’s scripture passages about jealousy and competitiveness couldn’t be better suited to speak to us this particular weekend in the life of our nation and our world. There seems to be strife everywhere.

The unrest in Charlottesville is one thing to worry about. The escalation of war talk coming out of North Korea and Washington DC is another that is concerning. Then there is Venezuela’s constitutional crisis and the destabilizing of their economy. There’s the civil war in Syria and refugees being deliberately drowned off the coast of Yemen.  On top of that you have a terrible earthquake in China and so many other things I could name. The list goes on and on.

You might be asking yourself, “Where is God in all this?”

It seems like God has left the building. Everything seems out of control.

The story of the storm raging in the sea of Galilee seems all too familiar. We feel tossed about by forces way more powerful than anything we can do anything about. It is tempting to disengage, to curl up in a ball in hopes it will all go away. But it won’t. We know it won’t. The world, in all its craziness and danger, is here to stay.

But we are not alone. All of our passages today are about how God is with us in the worst of times. Joseph was sold out by his brothers. We’ll get the end of his story next week, but maybe you remember: He spends half of his life in slavery and in prison, languishing for years; working his way out of prison by being trustworthy and honorable, only to be falsely accused, being lied to and forgotten. But God is with him and he is redeemed. And he goes on to be the one to redeem the people of Israel, his own family along with all of Egypt, providing them food in the time of famine.

Jesus is with the disciples even though he isn’t in the boat physically at the time. He knows exactly what is going on with them. They aren’t alone. And when Peter got out of the boat to go to Jesus, amazingly, he was able to walk in the midst of the storm as well! Jesus’ presence empowers us to do great things in the midst of the storms of our present day world.

Our passage from Romans for today reminds us too: God is present wherever there are people who call on the name of the Lord. We don’t have to go to God. We don’t have to go find God and bring God back with us. God is here. God is with us. God is wherever there are people who know God and who call on God, who seek God.

“The word [God’s word] is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);” says Paul to the Romans in verse 8.

But knowing the name of the Lord and having access to God’s saving grace in Jesus the Christ puts a special responsibility on us. Not everyone knows God. Not everyone understands what Jesus is all about. Some people only think of God as a powerful judge who sees nothing positive in them. Some people think God has nothing to do with them or has nothing for them. People think a lot of crazy things about God, simply because they haven’t met anyone who told them God loves them—or at least not in a convincing manner.

Too many people think that God is like people they know. That God plays favorites. That God wrests judgment onto people with storms and earthquakes and other natural disasters. That God is full of bad news.

People come to those conclusions by only “knowing” a little bit about God.

They read a violent passage in the Bible and think “If that’s what God is all about, I want no part of it.” not realizing if they read the whole of the scriptures, it is a critique of that kind of thinking. Or on the other hand, someone else reads that same violent passage and it feels like strength to them and they want exactly that kind of God, not recognizing there is a whole other kind of power; the power of love, that overcomes that power—the power of violence— in the end.

Paul gets it. He has been given the good news. He is giving his whole life to sharing it. He is also right to tell us to share it. It isn’t something we should keep to ourselves.

We are called to get out of the boat, and walk with Jesus in the stormy sea of daily life in this dangerous world. Jesus will be with us, that is one thing we can count on. We don’t have to go “get” Jesus from somewhere else. He is with us, always coming to us, always living within us.

But not only us. God’s love is for all people. God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s renewing power is freely given.

There is no room for hate in the Kingdom of God. There is no room for racism in the Kingdom of God. There is no room for violence either. God’s love takes up all the space there is in the Kingdom of God.

So I stand before you today to renounce the hate mongers. God loves them too, but they do not represent God. I stand before you today and renounce racism. All people are God’s people and are worthy of love and an equal chance in this life. I renounce violence too. Jesus went to the cross to be a victim of violence and break the cycle of violence rather than strike back in violence, overthrow the government—as the disciples wanted him to do, thus keeping the cycle of violence going.

I proclaim God’s love—for you and for all people. I proclaim the power of love—greater than any other kind of power. In it is the power of the resurrection. I proclaim good news. God’s love is present—as close to you as your next breath. God’s love is the way for us to all get along, to look out for each other’s welfare; to respect each other’s contribution and experience. To love as people need to be loved.

God’s love takes up all the space there is in the Kingdom of God.

This is the good news we have to share, and Lord knows, the world has people who need some good news.

Please join me in prayer.
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

blessings to you,
Pastor Karla

 

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Published by: Pastor Karla

I am a pastor and a retired Navy Chaplain who believes following Jesus in compassion, service and gratitude is the very best kind of doctrine. God is present in the world in the Spirit and in the church as the body of Christ. I am a One on the enneagram who lives to find the balance between having my 'to do list' all crossed off at the end of the day and being spontaneous in the moment. Biblical literacy is important to me, and I want to make the meaning of the Bible and its stories less of a mystery to the average person so the love of God comes through to them clearly. You can contact me at karla.seyb.stockton@me.com. blessings to you, Pastor Karla

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