Genesis 41:37-40; 46-57; John 12:1-8 3rd Week of Sacred Stories
Isn't it amazing to hear another person's story? I am so grateful for Adam and Rachel and Renee who have shared their stories these past three weeks. Hearing other people's stories invites us in to reflect on our own stories. It helps us to know our stories so that we can see God in each other rather than demanding that your story and my story are the same. And it opens us up to gratitude when we are able to thank God for the people in our stories and bear witness to each other that we do see God in each other's stories. There's a saying in the Jewish tradition that the shortest distance between humans and God is through a story. (Andy Fraenkel, Stories of the Spirit) And we have been witnesses to hearing sacred stories in these past three weeks-- stories of resurrection, of kindness, of connection, of new life, of the surprising things God can do.
The excerpt we read from Genesis just a few minutes ago is the wrap-up to a very extensive story about Joseph. The children in our FaithWalk Sunday School have been learning all about Joseph, so if you don't remember the details, ask them. Joseph, of course is the one with the multi-colored coat that his father, Jacob, gives him. Joseph is the one who is sold into slavery by his own brothers who are jealous of him and that coat. Joseph is the one who works in slavery and then, through a twist of fate, lands himself in jail because of a manipulative woman, Potiphar's wife. And Joseph is also the one, that by the grace of God, is able to interpret Pharoah's dreams and becomes a trusted advisor to Pharoah and is then able to save the people of Egypt from starving during a time of famine. Joseph's is one of those stories, that if you stop too soon, you wonder where God is. Because things go wrong for him time and time again. And yet through God's faithfulness and through Joseph's willingness to praise God in the midst of trouble and use his gifts in whatever ways he can, God is able to save not only the people of Egypt-- outsiders to God's covenant to Abraham-- but also Jacob's family-- Joseph's father and brothers, as they travel to Egypt to receive the grain that Joseph made sure was stored for the time of famine.
Joseph's story is one of intrigue and despair and yet great hope and faith and forgiveness and new life precisely because we can see the end of it. The challenging part of our lives, is that we aren't able to see to the end. We don't know the end of the story.
We are in a time of crisis in our country. We are sitting in a time when the intricate design of racism that has been a part of our country from the very beginning is being revealed for what it is. We are living in a time of immigration-- not the largest waves of immigration by any means, many of our ancestors came in much larger numbers to this country and were considered outcasts at that time, and yet there are immigrants fleeing countries of violence and war and poverty and we are scrambling to find solutions and we are being challenged to remember our ideals instead of our fear. We are also living in a time where the priorities of our communities are being challenged because people are suffering from lead poisoning in their water; Native people from all over the United States are gathering and unifying to protest the pipeline that is being built; in the past several weeks we have once again been grieving the loss of Jacob Wetterling and what that meant for this community and for all Minnesotans. And we have had to wonder, in this past week, what kind of story we are going to be living here in St. Cloud as so many people at the mall witnessed a member of our community attack eight people and then get shot by someone else in our community, and people made the mistake we often make, which is to assume that there are sides to be taken and that we know whose side everyone is on because of our religious beliefs or skin color or where our grandparents were born.
And if I wasn't a person of faith, I think I'd have decided to go live in the Boundary Waters in a tent long ago. Because it can be overwhelming and confusing and hard. But I am a person of faith. Which doesn't mean that I'm naively thinking that we're going to come up with any great solutions anytime soon. But it does mean that I know, I know-- from reading Scripture and from talking with other people of faith-- that we have seen times like this before. And God hasn't given up on us. And God will continue to do the work of bringing about God's Kingdom here in St. Cloud, even when it seems unlikely. Because that seems to be what God does best-- create sacred moments out of our brokenness.
Mary could've attested to that. From the Gospel of John this morning we get this beautiful story of a sacred moment in Jesus' life and the life of his disciples. Jesus is at the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. It is days after Lazarus has been raised from the dead, and I can imagine that people are still sneaking peaks at him when he's not looking, amazed that he is walking around talking. Tension has already begun to build as the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders is increasing. And sometime in the midst of all that is happening, the prayer and the strategy meetings with the disciples and the confusion about what Jesus' role is as the Messiah, Mary comes in with a jar of oil. This jar of oil isn't cooking oil or perfume or a luxury item. This oil is the oil kept by families for burial. It's expensive. It's considered sacred. But that doesn't seem to give Mary any pause. She has had an experience of the holy somewhere along the way. And so, in an act of devotion and worship, Mary pours the oil over Jesus' feet, and she anoints him. It is a sacred act. And yet it was most likely an embarrassing act for those nearby because of her utter devotion and vulnerability. It is considered by Judas a foolish act because of all they could've done with that oil if they had sold it. But do you see what is happening here? Mary is living out her story. Politically her world is a mess if you're a Judean. Religiously her world is confusing as the religious leaders are also enforcers for their oppressors. Personally her world is turned upside because her brother, who she thought had died, is now alive and I can only imagine the amount of chaos that would throw into a family. And yet Mary takes the time to recognize God's presence in her life and to bear witness to where she sees the Holy. Mary doesn't allow herself to get distracted by all of the other things she should be doing. She doesn't allow herself to be imprisoned in fear of not knowing what to do. Mary takes the moment she has and she anoints Jesus' feet. Whether she realizes that she is anointing him for death, only scholars argue about. Mary is telling her story-- about how her life has been changed because of her Messiah-- and how nothing will ever be the same again.
We have the power to tell our story. We have the power to tell our individual stories-- stories that bring us closer to God and allow others to bear witness to the holy. But we also have the power to tell our story as a community. We have a story to tell as United Methodists in St. Cloud who once were considered strange, unChristian because we weren't Catholic, suspicious. We have a story as people who seek to live out Wesley's three simple rules of do no harm; do good; and stay in love with God. We have a story to tell as people who state in worship every week that our mission in this world is to build community. We have a story to tell as people who follow Jesus-- the one who welcomed every stranger, no matter their religious affiliation; the one who ate with people that others considered outcasts and sinners; the one who died forgiving his enemies as well as his friends who had betrayed him. We have a story to tell about what God can do here in the St. Cloud region. And it's a story that needs to be told.
This is not our time to retreat; to sit in our homes and rest in the illusion that this doesn't concern us. Our community is hurting. Our community that represents those who have been here for generations-- German Catholic people-- are hurting. Our community that has become more diverse, even welcoming us Protestants, is hurting. Our community that includes Hispanic people and African American people and Asian people is hurting. And our community that also includes refugees from Somalia, people who had to flee their home because they were being terrorized and now live in a place where people call them terrorists-- they are hurting. We are all hurting. And all too often we are all isolated. Which means that this is an opportunity for us to come together, recognizing that pain in each other's faces, and build a stronger community together.
Joseph was a stranger in a strange land with seemingly no power at all, and he saved Egypt and his own people from starvation.
Mary was a woman in a culture that told her to stay in the shadows, to not be seen, and she stepped out in faith to honor the love that she had experienced in Jesus, perhaps even giving Jesus a model for what discipleship looks like when he goes to wash his disciples' feet a few days later.
The Holy Spirit is at work. We've been praying each day at 11:07 for the Spirit to move, and it is indeed at work. I wonder how the Spirit is opening up your heart to lean in to God's love and draw closer to the community. Some people think they know how this story ends. That it will end the way it always does in St. Cloud. But we know better as people of faith. It's our turn to tell a different story: a story with an ending that will surprise a world that thinks it knows how this story goes; a story about a God works in unlikely circumstances to bring people together and to reveal God’s Kingdom right here in St. Cloud.