14. September, 2014Sermons No comments

Sermon given Sept. 14, 2014 by Fr. Jim Gordon on Genesis 50:15-21.

Joseph said, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”
In the name of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “That’s bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Is that so?” said the farmer.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three wild horses. “That’s wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Is that so?” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “That’s terrible,” they said.

“Is that so?” the farmer said.

The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “You’re so fortunate,” they said.

And the farmer answered, “Is that so?”

Back in my Zen days, this was one of my favorite stories, and I remain fond of it. I thought of it last week when I stumbled upon a commentary on today’s reading from Genesis. The commentary could have been titled “Is That So?” but was, in fact, titled “Good or Evil?”

As in, Joseph, as we know, was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Good or evil? Sounds like evil.

In Egypt, Joseph finds favor with the powers that be. Good? You would think so. We’ll put down “good.”

When he rejects the advances of his master’s wife, he gets thrown into jail. Evil.

While in jail, Joseph demonstrates his ability to interpret dreams, which ultimately results in his getting known by Pharaoh and becoming Pharaoh’s right hand man. Good.

Suffering from famine, Joseph’s family comes to Egypt looking for grain which, because Joseph is Pharaoh’s No. 1, means the person they have to ask for help is, unbeknownst to them, the very brother who they sold into slavery. In the end, Joseph has a forgiving heart and helps them. “Good!”

Which brings us to our text today in which the brothers, knowing that their father has died and is no longer around to protect them, in case they need protection, beg Joseph to have mercy on them, leading to Joseph’s famous reply: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

God intended it for good. Which could imply that God had a hand in it happening. If so, the commentary indicates, we’re led to this question: If God has a hand in all events, sometimes moving us around like pawns on a chessboard to accomplish his purpose, on what basis can we call any event good or evil?

My response to this question again takes me back to my Zen days. There’s a word used in Zen training — Mu, the letters M, U — that has been defined as “wrong question” or “Your question cannot be answered because it depends on incorrect assumptions.”

According to a standard Hebrew lexicon, the verb translated as intended can have a variety of meanings. Based on uses of the word in other contexts, the lexicon suggests that while Joseph’s brothers “planned” to do harm, God “imputed” or “reckoned” it for good. In other words, the actions of Joseph’s brothers were, in fact, evil. But God, because he is God, because he is light and in Him there is no darkness at all, brought good out of the evil.

Bringing good out of evil. I’ve described this before as God’s job description. It’s what He’s about. There are times and places where man’s inhumanity to man is so monstrous that we cannot see it; that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening or it won’t happen.

If God can bring good out of the crucifixion of His son, there are no limits to what He can do with evil. This is a bedrock belief, and we hold onto it in the most terrible of circumstances. The caveat is that we have to cooperate with God, like Joseph did. We have to be open to being transformed by the spirit of God. That transformation is the topic of the first DVD we’ll see today after Coffee Time in the series by Franciscan Father Albert Haase.

One of the things that Haase will say in this first video is that there are four stages in the spiritual journey and you know you’re on one of them — illumination — when you realize that there is nothing to “get” in the spiritual life. Nothing to get because we already have it.

“The great challenge in the spiritual journey,” he says, “is to come to the awareness of the presence of God that surrounds us.” That already surrounds us.

He’ll also say that the process of transformation is life-long, which means it’s not something you can hurry.

Which brings me to my last Zen story of the day:

A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, “I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it.” The teacher’s reply was casual, “Ten years.” Impatiently, the student answered, “But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice every day, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?”

The teacher thought for a moment.

“20 years.”

In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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