Sermon for Aug. 16, 2020 -- "Special"

“Special”

 

There has a lot been going on in the Joseph saga since we left him last week. Joseph’s father Jacob has been informed about the supposed death of his favorite son Joseph and is decimated by the news. Meanwhile, the Midianites who had bought Joseph from his brothers resell Joe to a man named Potiphar. Potiphar is like the pharaoh’s general manager of Egypt.

Then the writers toss in a little sex with a rather incestuous story about Judah, another son of Jacob and Judah’s daughter-in-law. Enough said.

Meanwhile, Joe has become Potiphar’s personal aide and is growing in power and influence in his new country. But he is still a slave.

More sex. Now Joe is a pretty good-looking fella, a “hunk” in biblical terms and Potiphar’s wife likes ogling him. Soon she wants more than ogling him and tries to seduce him. Joe quickly sees this would lead to no good at all and rebuffs her attempt. Zulaikha, Potiphar’s wife is, according to one commentary on the Torah, miffed by Joe’s lack of interest in her, and falsely accuses him of rape. This is a big deal, as folks were executed for rape in Egypt in those days. Perhaps Potiphar is aware of Zulikha’s extramarital proclivities, and just has Joe imprisoned. Still it was quite a fall for young Joe.

In jail a couple of his cellmates have dreams they wonder about. They tell Joe their dreams and Joe interprets them the way he had interpreted his own dreams about his brothers having to bow down to him in the future. Word gets around about Joe’s gift of dream interpretation and Pharaoh gets wind of Joe’s gift as he had been having some confusing dreams. Joe is sent for and he interprets the dreams about a coming famine so they need to stock up the granaries while they can. Good advise. Joe rises in power again and becomes the Pharaoh’s right hand man.

Joe gets married and has a couple of kids and life is going very well for him in his new country.

Meanwhile, back in Israel, famine has struck and Joe’s family looks for a place where they can buy food. They hear Egypt has grain for sale so Jacob sends his son, minus the youngest one, Benjamin to procure food for their family.

They come to Israel and meet Joe but have no clue that he is really their brother. Joe keeps it a secret, messes with their heads a bit and sends them home with extra goodies, but also gets them arrested, and then demands they bring Ben along with them the next time.

Now comes today’s part of the saga as Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers.

(Genesis 45. 1-15 read at this point.)

So here we have the story brought up to date. Joe is still special but he has long outgrown his childish and brattish way of flaunting his specialness to his brothers and others. He has matured and become wise. His gifts and his wisdom in using those gifts enables him to help his family when they come in need. And he tells his family that. He also tells them not to feel badly about what they had done because ultimately it was part of God’s plan to help them.

Joe has come to understand his specialness now comes from his ability to help others, to do what God intended him to do. In today’s parlance, we could see Joseph as a servant leader.

Not everybody matures the way Joseph did. The Specials, Pappa Distinctly, Momma Ima and the kids Exceptionally and Extraordinarily move to Searsboro, a little town just down the road from my hometown of New Sharon. There Distinctly gets a new banking job, Ima, secures a teaching position and the kids remain their uppity ways but have become better at it by including some others kids in their elite group.

The Special family joins a church, the church of the “Most Righteous.” I’m not sure that was it’s real name but it was how it was known.

Prominent in that church Ima Special became know as “The Church Lady.” It is rumored that Dana Carvey used Ima as his model for “The Church Lady” character in his sketches on Saturday Night Live. Do you know and remember the character? “Now that’s special.”

A fun sketch some remember is when the Church Lady does a TV interview of Sean Penn, who she keeps referring to as Sin Penn, and quickly corrects her “mistake.” She also makes many remarks about Sean’s wife of that time, Madonna. Church lady talks about her sexiness and her “bulbous buttocks gyrating” and her displaying her “chestal area.” Sean, upset, throws a punch at the Church Lady.

Anyway, we know folk like that who engage in what we might call competitive specialness.

We see some evidences of that in the “Black Live Matter” demonstrations and marches. Some take offense at the line “Black lives matter” and self-righteously proclaim “All lives matter.” Well, of course they do, but that misses the point. The protestors are pointing out that some people in our society are NOT treated equally and do not have the same benefits as other. It illustrates our uncomfortable history of racism in our society since the founding of the country. Perhaps if you just add a word to the slogan it makes more sense to folk, “Black lives matter, too.”

Back to the Special family. Extraordinarily went to college and met a nice fella. After graduation they married and she did not change her last name but instead changed her first name to Common. Common Special. She and her husband attended the 5th Presbyterian Church in Newtown. Now there was only one Presbyterian church in town but the members of the church just didn’t want to use “first”. (I’m not suggesting a change in the church name here, but it works for my story). 5th Pres was known for its constant work for the common good. They taught and lived the idea that everyone was special and should be treated with respect. They believed that all of us are God’s children and should be treated with that in mind.

This appealed to Common Special and her husband and they felt quite at home in their new congregation and town. Common, like her mother, secured a position teaching in the local school. Every morning as her students arrived, she stood at the door, gave them a hug (allowed then) and said the student’s name adding, “You’re special.” And they were.

Hopefully, when you were young, you were told and you thought you were special. And it is true, we all are special as the children of God.

In our youth that feeling of specialness is sometimes competitive. This gives rise to the idea that to be special others have to be less special. “I’m a great basketball player. You’re not as good as me.” And our specialness just turns into delusions of grandeur and feelings of superiority over others. That’s not good and gives rise to all sorts of problems that trouble humankind.

My dad’s better that your dad. My car is better than your car, my family is better than your family, my community is better than your community, my state is better than your state, my country better than your country. Or, my God is better than your God.

Mature folk see all people as special. Everyone is important in God’s world and God’s plan for the world.

Realizing that all are special, we seek the common good. We work for those things that are of benefit to all God’s people.

Sometimes it seems as if we even have to nag God to promote our well-being and what is good for everyone, like the Canaanite woman, but we believe God will do what is best for us.

Sometimes we don’t have a clue why things are they way they are. It is good then to hear the scripture that tells us all things work for good for those who love God.

 

I’m special. I firmly believe that I am so essential to God’s plan for the world that if I wasn’t here nothing would be here. I’m Special.

That said, I believe everyone else is just as special and essential to God’s plan for this world and the next. That if we weren’t here nothing would be here.

And when we go, that’s God’s plan as well and the world will be fine. 

Joseph was a special fellow with great gifts.

We are special and have great gifts.

These gifts are given to us to use for the common good. They are gifts to the community of faith and beyond. They are to be treasures and shared. We should celebrate each other’s gifts

Perhaps today’s lesson can be the poster that read, “I am great, I am good, and God is not finished with me yet.” We are great we are good and God is not finished with us either. Amen.

 
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