So Paul finds himself in prison, doing the thing we all do in our most vulnerable moments. He asks: “Who am I?” “What about my life matters?” He, being the Apostle Paul who’s seen it all and done a few shady things himself, knows that what’s in the heart matters most. Credentials, not so much. Nationality or heritage, eh, not really. Occupation- nope. Wealth? Social Standing? Good deeds? None of it amounts to much of an identity for Paul, without Jesus in the picture.
It’s his conviction that Christ’s way is the only path of right living, that gives Paul purpose. “I press on to make it my own,” that way of living in service to others; And because he does this, because Paul lives for that heavenly calling of God in Christ Jesus, his answer to the question “Who am I” is clear. I am Jesus’ friend. I share in his sufferings, so I might share in his resurrection too. Paul walks the highs and lows of life knowing to whom he belongs, and it makes all the difference- even in the midst of an unjust prison sentence.
This sure sense of connection with God is what I’d like to offer us all over the next 5 weeks. Because, I’m convinced (and so is Paul) that connecting with God gives us all the purpose and identity we long for. This fall, we’ve distributed Holding your Family Together by Rich Melheim to our families with kids in the home orbit in lieu of SS; I’m excited for our online discussions drawing us deeper into faith practices at home. (If you haven’t chimed in yet, please do! Our first question was posted Sunday- and I’ll post another this afternoon). But what I especially love about Rich’s approach is how accessible it is for every household, even those who live alone. If you want the full version- read the book, of course.
For today, I’d like to introduce the 1st step of Rich’s nightly routine he calls Faith5. It’s not intimidating, I promise. It’s only 5-15 minutes a night, every night, with family or even friends. (if you live alone, you can establish this routine with a loved one over the phone- and if your family won’t engage with you- same thing applies, find someone who will);
Okay, Step #1: Share one high and one low from your day. That’s it. It’s simple, but effective in helping us become better listeners to what’s really going on inside ourselves and one another. And that, in turn, helps us discover more of our identity. I’d like to offer a way sharing our highs and lows affects our minds and our spirits, according to research by Rich.
First, sharing highs (what is good in life) is great for our brains! It “triggers a cascade of positive and powerful neurochemical transmitters that bolster immune systems, regulate hormonal systems, improve one’s digestive tract, slows down the aging process, and triggers positive electro-chemical exchanges throughout the brain and body!” Interesting stuff, right!?
Sharing highs is also great for our spirits- who we are inside. “Sharing a high reclaims, renames, re-games, and reframes the day as God’s good gift. It teaches that life isn’t all bad and that, in fact, it contains a lot of good! Sharing a high lifts us to an attitude of gratitude and lowers us to a deeper appreciation for the Giver of all good gifts.”
But life doesn’t always happen in the positive zone, right? Our days consist of lows just as often, and it’s important to share them too! Here’s why, according to Rich,
“Sharing a low with the people you love minimizes the pain. It does so not by minimizing the problem, but by taking it off your shoulders and placing it into the arms of those who love and trust you the most. Everyone you “let in” is on your team. Everyone “in the know” who loves you now has antenna up searching for solutions. Everyone who cares is now praying to see answers and working to be the answers to the prayers. Everyone has your back.”
It also teaches us to create sacred space in our everyday lives. “Sharing lows gives you a better understanding of yourself and others. And especially if you’ve got kids in your home orbit, “growing up with a forum, format, and life-long experience in verbalizing one’s lows aloud (within the context of a safe, loving, non-judgmental home every night) gives one a huge advantage when it comes to building capacity for mental health, emotional resilience, and spiritual maturity.”
Friends, this stuff really matters for the way we establish our identity in Christ. The Apostle Paul walks with certainty that no matter what happens, who he is and his purpose on earth is secure. We know this, because Paul makes a point to share his highs and his lows with us in the art of writing letters. Want even more from Paul- read the NT, he writings make up nearly half the books in the NT.
Even in his lowest of lows, expressing the mess of his journey with others connects Paul with God, and it will help us begin the routine that sinks us further into an identity as God’s beloved. Sharing our highs and lows is the stuff of life itself- and if we commit to sharing consistently, think how much more we can discover about what really matters: Answering “Who am I?” & “What about my life matters?”
A few nights ago, the kids were running on steam- and we had some tears leading into circle time. Rather than skip, I used our sharing highs and lows as an opportunity for Briggs (the one with the tears) to express his frustration with the fact that Blaire had cleaned up his toys (ie- messed up his tower) without letting him know first. That was his low. After he collected himself a bit, he also shared another low- mommy left our family outing to the park early today, and that made me sad. Without allowing time to reflect on the day, I would have never known that me leaving the park made him sad, because he never mentioned it. Our evening ended in the kids praying for each other- both of them expressing how much they appreciate each other’s snuggles, playing, and giggles.
Circle time was for us that day became a very real in-the-moment chance for healing. From tears of frustration to prayers of gratitude for one another. That’s the power of Faith5- and I hope you stay tuned for step 2 next week!
And I really hope I get to hear to some of your stories as you begin implementing this routine in your families.
God you are so accessible to us if only we take the time to notice. Guide us in ways of sharing and prayer this week. Amen.
Exodus 12: 1-14
"The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover. “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.
Something big is about to happen in the Israelite community. They’ve been enslaved for some time, a long time. And God is planning to set them free. I’m not sure they even know this, it can be hard to visualize true freedom when all you’ve known is the weight of your oppressors knee upon your chest. But God has big plans for those who trust him, and it begins with something in this day, called Passover. For the sake of time today, I’d like to highlight only two important parts of Passover.
And he does. So when we take this opportunity today, this moment of Holy Communion, we too remember that love will win. Faith will set us free. We are ready for whatever comes our way, because the winds of the Holy Spirit are at our back. Whatever salvation means to you in this moment, hear this call from Jesus: “Remember, I am yours and you are mine.”
Genesis 45: 4-8; 50: 15-21
Let me first say, I’m going to get to the story, I promise, but this duesy of a tale requires some set-up. You may know something about Joseph’s story if you’ve ever seen a performance of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.” It’s a play that captures well the dramatic nature of Joseph’s life- it pulls together details of an extremely long biblical narrative in a way that's vibrant and colorful.
I happen to have my own “coat of many colors here.” A friend of mine made this stole for me because he learned it was my favorite bible story! I’ll try to point out his artistic expression of these different scenes as we go along.
Joseph’s story begins in Genesis chapter 37 and doesn’t come to resolution until the end of Genesis- 15 chapters later! I've decided to be kind today and give you the cliff notes version. One of the first things we learn about Joseph is that he’s the favorite son, and he knows it. (do you have a sibling who’s a favorite? I sure do, right Alison?)
Joseph gets his daddy Jacob's preferential treatment, and his brothers hate him for it. So much so, that they take his special coat from daddy, throw him in a pit, and leave him for dead. They deviously go back and tell dad he was killed by an animal- "here's the blood to prove it!"
That's a pretty good plot, right?- but it gets even crazier. In a sudden turn of events, Joseph is pulled out of the pit, and sold to an Egyptian guy named Potiphar, who works for Pharaoh....Joseph becomes a slave, gets thrown into prison (for something he didn’t do), and is left to rot in an underground cell for years. Joseph’s life is looking pretty terrible, until one day Pharaoh has a dream.
Now dream interpretation is a fairly respectable thing in these days, and word gets to Pharaoh that there’s a guy in the dungeon who knows about dreams. So Pharaoh uses Joseph to interpret the dream, and in the blink of an eye- his world is turned upside down. From prison to pleasing the king.
Okay, this is important though-in between being betrayed by his brothers and being elevated to Pharoah's right-hand man, Joseph spends 13 years enslaved or imprisoned. 13! Remember this when we get to the text for today. So back to the dream.
Joseph interprets Pharoah's dream to mean that Egypt and all the surrounding lands will experience 7 years of prosperity, and 7 years of famine. So Pharaoh’s favorite new guy Joseph is put in charge of ALL the grain. He's a saavy businessman, turns out, and after 7 years of plenty, Joseph makes sure that Egypt’s kingdom is overflowing with food.
Two years into the famine, word of Egypt's surplus spreads back to Joseph's homeland, Canaan, and Joseph’s brothers (yes, the ones who threw him in a pit) travel to Egypt because everyone needs the one thing Joseph has in plenty…food. By this point, Joseph (who was only 17 when his brothers left him for dead), is nearly 40 years old, so when the brothers come for grain, they don’t recognize him. And because of how difficult their relationship had been in the past, Joseph performs a series of odd tests that his brothers oblige, because they'll do anything for food. Finally, it comes time for Joseph to reveal himself to his brothers- and in an emotionally charged scene, here's where we enter the story…
Genesis 45: 4-8 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.
Hold up, what? For all the brothers knew, Joseph was dead! And now he's alive? Scripture says, "They were terrified at his presence." Can you imagine it? That's got to be the shock of a lifetime! [...] As the story goes, the family is reunited, and Joseph enjoys the company of his father Jacob and little brother Benjamin for a time. But when father Jacob dies, the brothers try to leverage his death to find favor with Joseph Why? Because they don't buy Joseph's forgiving nature just yet.
Genesis 50: 15-21…”When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.
There are a million reasons and ways Joseph could have gotten even with his brothers. It's our natural impulse- some might even say our "inner sense of justice" that wants revenge for wrongs committed against us. I'm guilty of this impulse as much as anyone...which is why Joseph's story is one of my favorites.
What a difference his perspective on life makes! What a difference his faith makes- faith in a God that is bigger than all of our troubles, a God that dwells within each of our circumstances. And Joseph's life reveals something so important for you and I to hear today...that a life of forgiveness is far more valuable than holding grudges.
Rather than being known as the guy who was thrown in a pit by his brothers, and got revenge by refusing to help them when they needed it the most...Joseph is known as the one who forgives, even though his brothers don't deserve it. That's forgiveness from the pit at its best.
Who or what are you being called to forgive? As you contemplate this, let me add that forgiveness is not meant to wash away wrongs that have not yet been accounted for. I will never advocate that any victim of injustice simply forget and move on. Forgiveness in the case of Joseph, and the forgiveness I speak of today- is a change of our spirits after wrongdoing is already accounted for. So let me ask again- Who or what are you being called to forgive?
When revenge feels so tempting, we have a choice to make. We choose the perspective we take on life. We can choose to harbor resentment, wallowing in self-righteousness...or we can choose the difficult, but life-giving forgiveness from the pit, just like Joseph.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good. What if this became our perspective in family relationships? I'm not saying it's easy, or even possible all the time- but I know the real temptation to harbor bitterness, we all do, and we know the results are bad for our souls. When I resist forgiving someone, I think of Jesus and his sacrifice. It's in the saving light of Jesus Christ that you and I begin to see a better way. We are offered a way to rise above revenge...and that's the powerful Good News of the Gospel for us every day of our lives.
May we help one another embrace Joseph’s perspective. “What you intended for harm, God intends for good!” And may our identity be that of people seeking healing and wholeness, giving up our grudges for the good God intends in our relationships with one another. If you need a safe space to talk about this hard stuff in life, I’m here. Your pastors and church leaders are here. These are the stories worth share for their healing powers. Amen!