The Fallacy of Trying to Write Our Own StoryOrdinary 19A
Presbyterian Minister Katie Givens Kime, faculty at the Candler School of Theology, writes,
“We cannot see the entire path, or how God’s grace will intervene and make good from the pain of our lives, but even in our unknowing, God is with us on that path, and where we need to see the bend in the road ahead, the mist will clear enough for our visibility.” I wonder if we believe that God’s grace will intervene in the pain of our lives and that “the mist will clear enough for our visibility.” There are two men in today’s scripture whose stories seem to challenge that notion. In fact, both men were known to be head-strong and determined to chart their own course in life, despite what others said or thought.
First, we read of Joseph, the son of Jacob. Remember Jacob had two wives, Leah, from the sermon two weeks ago, and his second wife Rachel, was the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. These two sons from Rachel were Jacob’s favorites. Rachel tragically died in childbirth when Benjamin was born.
Privileged Joseph thought much too highly of himself. He dreamt that eleven sheaves of wheat bowed to him in reverence. He wasn’t smart enough to keep that kind of dream to himself so he told his brothers that they would also bow down to him, someday. When you are clueless, you may as well keep the fantasy going so when Joseph had another dream that the sun, moon and eleven stars bowed down to him in reverence, he told his entire family they would all worship him as well.
Finally, Jacob gave his son a beautiful robe. As if Joseph needed any help, this set Joseph apart even more. No one in the family had ever owned such a fine garment. Naturally, his brothers hated him and wanted to get rid of him.
Jacob sent Joseph out to the fields to check up on his ten half-brothers who were shepherding the family’s flocks. Joseph’s brothers found their chance to rid themselves of him. When Joseph arrived, his brothers captured him and stripped him of his fancy robe and threw him into a pit to die. If not for the pleadings of Joseph’s brothers Reuben and Judah, the other brothers would have killed Joseph. They would have made an excuse for Joseph’s murder by claiming that he had been killed and devoured by wild animals.
From the shade of a few palm trees, the brothers relaxed over lunch until they saw Egyptian slave traders in the distance. Family loyalty or guilt appealed to their better senses so one of the brothers’ remarked, “You know, he is our brother, so … maybe instead of killing him or letting him die — we could just sell him into slavery. He is our own flesh and blood, after all.”
Joseph was sold for twenty shekels of silver to slave traders who happened to be passing by on their way to Egypt . To make excuses for Joseph’s absence to their father, they killed a goat and put the blood of the goat on Joseph’s coat so it would look like a wild animal had killed him. Jacob was devastated by the news of his favorite son’s death and he never recovered from that grief. Whether Joseph would have died in the pit or die a slow death doing hard labour as an Egyptian slave, his life seemed to be over.
Today’s text leads us to wonder about the outcome of this family. All we are told in today’s passage is that the slave traders set out with Joseph toward Egypt and the odds would not be good for him there. We can blame his brothers whose hatred of them fueled their desire to rid the family of Joseph or we can, more accurately, blame Joseph for his grandiose and self-centered posturing. The real question, however, is whether we believe what Rev. Katie offered in the beginning, “We cannot see the entire path, or how God’s grace will intervene and make good from the pain of our lives.” We are left doubtful of the rest of Joseph’s and his father’s future.
A second story details an event in Simon Peter’s life. Peter was known to be impulsive and brash. Following the feeding of the 5000+, Jesus needed a day off and time away from the mad rush of demands. He dismissed the crowds, put the disciples in a boat heading in one direction and he went up a mountain alone to pray.
Jesus spent the night alone on the mountain. In the boat, the disciples are in trouble. The wind and the waves, often the antagonist in these stories, have put the disciples at risk of capsizing. In the morning, Jesus leaves the mountain and finds the disciples on the other side of the lake hunkered down in the storm.
Nothing would have been clear to the disciples at this point. The rugged fishermen recognized the danger their lives were in. “They were terrified, They cried out in fear.” Certainly, they may have thought this was their final storm.
Jesus walked on the water toward the disciples in the boat. And still, they are unaware that God is with them. Even seeing Jesus, they are not sure they will make it out of this situation. This is when they might have expressed their goodbyes to one another. What they thought they saw in the storm was not clarity. What they thought they saw was a ghost walking on the water. What else could it be?
Then, the ghost spoke and identified himself as Jesus. “Guys. It is me. Jesus. Don’t be afraid.”
Do you ever notice that when Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid,” someone’s life is in danger or great turmoil. Perhaps it means that even when life seems to be falling apart, we have choices that may not seem readily apparent to us at the moment.
Impulsive Peter takes action when he suggests, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Perhaps Peter thought that if Jesus is walking on the water, then he should be able to do the same. Why would Peter make such a preposterous request? In that moment, when Peter saw the strength and power of Jesus, he knew he needed to be a part of that and the only way he knew how was to bridge the distance between himself and Jesus.
Without delay or overthinking, which we are prone to do, Peter put one foot over the side of the boat and then the other and began his walk into the impossible. It was going fine for awhile. Then Peter began to look around, perhaps at the still raging waves or perhaps at the other disciples, and he fell into the water.
You can imagine that Peter felt defeated, that once again his bravado had doused his faith. It is here we might see ourselves as well, in bitter defeat. Peter tried but perhaps he did not believe what he said he believed. His fear and doubt had doomed him again.
Do we leave him here in the water as an example to us? Never step out into the dangerous waters of life lest you end up like Peter? At this point it seems that his life and his faith was nothing but a miserable failure. If he had just kept his mouth shut and let Jesus do all the work of walking on water.
Clifton Kirkpatrick, the President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, said, “Stepping out in faith is not a guarantee that we will not face troubled waters or be filled with fear, but it is always accompanied by the assurance that Jesus will not abandon us, and that when we need it most, he will extend his arm to lift us up and get us back in the boat.” We do not have to guess the end or attempt to write our own version of Peter’s story here because we know how it ends, at least in this passage. Jesus rescued Peter and brought him to safety. Likewise, Joseph’s story has a redemptive ending for himself and his family. Peter’s story did not end when he was in over his head and neither must ours end that way as well.
Once again we hear the challenge, “Even in our unknowing, God is with us on that path, and where we need to see the bend in the road ahead, the mist will clear enough for our visibility.” Jesus will not abandon us. Do we believe that for ourselves?