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God Chooses Your Heart

Genesis 45:1-15

Matthew 15:21-28

I was feeling lost this week when I got this Facebook greeting from my Dean, Pastor Regina Goodrich, in North Philadelphia: “Have you ever considered that God has fallen in love with you? He sends you flowers every spring, sunshine every morning. When you want to talk, he listens to you. He can live anywhere in the universe, but he chooses your heart.”

There is a God, and He - She - They - choose us to hang around with me and you. We humans are God’s vessels, God’s mirrors in the universe, God’s chosen companions and side-kicks. Rough guess - 100 billion stars in our galaxy - the Milky Way - which we’ve been seeing as a distinct band of light across the night sky - two trillion galaxies in the universe, and the architect of all that, the consciousness of all that knows me, knows you and wants to be known and loved by us. Incredible. Especially when you think, honestly, of what we’re like! (Actually, do we really want all that attention?)

Joseph story, our first lesson. Grim but wonderful. Last week we read the first part, Genesis 37, where this wonderful, dreamy 17-year old kid got sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. We’ve been relearning the vile nature of slavery in our country through various debates and “culture wars,” but we can all agree selling your kid brother because he threatened your status in the family is low down, heinous and mean. Then, having turned their own brother into property, like a goat or a shovel, the brothers took Joseph’s beautiful coat of many colors, soaked it in animal blood, and tearfully presented it to their father, Jacob, sobbing out the news that their beloved brother had been ripped to shreds by wild animals: “It happened so fast…there was nothing we could do.”

We humans, the Bible reminds us, have this dual nature: angelic and demonic. We break things, sometimes intentionally, sometimes by accident, and then we cover up the breakage, or pretend somebody else did it. Or we say “it’s sad. But there was nothing to be done.” Tropical storm barreling down on Mexico. Global warming unleashing wildfires in Canada and Hawaii. Sizzling temperatures fueling military coups and civil wars across the central belt of Africa. Deer ticks bringing Lyme disease to the Adirondacks. Any connection to wasteful patterns of production and consumption? Is it possible we’ve been betrayed by our love of technology and shiny toys and the distractions of social media? If we want to find the good news in this Joseph story, I think we have to be able to connect with our inner jealous elder brother. We need to acknowledge our complicity in the betrayal. We need to see our own faces in scripture’s mirror.

Because, as Genesis points out, there’s always the human plot going on, angelic or demonic, and then there’s the divine subplot, God behind the visible scenery, God hidden in historic events, but achieving God’s goals in God’s time. I love Irish poet John O’Donohugh’s perspective on this dual nature of reality: Human plot/divine subplot. O’Donahue says this: “The words we use to describe the divine are usually too nice and sweet. Sometimes God is awkward and contrary. God might be most active in an individual who just at that time invites our disappointment, judgement or hostility.” Hear that? Wily, woke liberals need to reckon with gun-toting’ MAGA conservatives having something to say that THEY - liberals - need to hear. States Rights conservatives, in the Genesis point of view, need to listen to the things Black Lives Matter progressives are trying to say. We need to listen to people we see as contrary in order to discern where God in history is leading.

Here’s O’Donohue again: ‘One of the wonderfully consoling aspects of the world of spirit is the impossibility of ever making a judgement about who someone is in that world. You may know “who” a person is in the professional or social world but you can never judge a person’s soul or attempt to decipher what her destiny is or what ir means. No one ever knows what divine narrative God may be writing with the crooked lines of someone’s struggles, misdeeds and omissions. We are all in the drama, but no one has seen the script.”

The brothers are terrified. What they had done, faking his death, selling him into slavery, was a capital offense. When they learn that Joseph has the power to take revenge on them, they are sure the end is near. This is the Middle East, after all, where revenge is a way of life. They expect that it is payback time and that their number is up! But Joseph surprises his terrified siblings:

“Come close. I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. But do not be angry with yourself, or distressed because you sold me here. For God sent me before you to preserve life, to keep you alive, and many survivors. You will settle here and be near me, you and your children, and your children’s children… I will provide for you, and you will not come to poverty.””You meant it for evil, but God meant it for Good.” (Genesis 50:20).

We humans think we’re running the show, but God has a way of balancing things out. Joseph’s brothers thought they had shut him down so they could safely divide their father’s legacy among themselves. But God used their crime against their brother to bring about a much bigger blessing - the survival of generations. The survival of a chosen people.

God is still at work behind the scenes, I believe. The current crises caused by greedy human damage to the natural world may be God’s way of summoning us to a higher, more harmonious mutuality with the loons and the water skimmers and the hills and the hemlocks. Can’t you feel God trying to balance us out? The vicious polarization in our social and political life such that we have to litigate everything from the light bulbs we use to whose votes will get counted could well be God’s way of giving our whole country and the world a refresher course in what “Government of the people, by the people and for the people” actually means: individual rights in balance with shared responsibilities. I feel God tugging at our shirttails.

Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers made possible the entire future history of the Jewish people In like manner, our own ability to forgive parties and persons we have come to view as enemies will have a major say in whether the human family has a future on this planet. Sooner or later, God has a way of balancing things out.

Matthew’s gospel suggests it all depends on whether we can shed all the labels and gimmicks we use to determine who’s IN and who’s OUT, who’s UP and who’s DOWN and simply listen without filters or barriers to the cries of human need. “Have mercy on me Lord,Son of David: my daughter is tormented by a demon.” My best friend since high school is, right now, in the grip of a deep clinical depression. Mental and physical trauma have impact on us every day, sometimes directly, sometimes through family or friends, sometimes from our exposure to the pains of the world smacking us in the face when we open our emails and media in the morning. “Lord, Son of David, have mercy!” We are often moved to cry out. And Jesus response’ in Matthew is shocking:

“You’re not one of us. I’m sent to the house of Israel, not to you. You are unclean. Untouchable. One of them.” It’s constantly bewildering to me how medical care is distributed unevenly along lines of race and class, but here, Jesus, our “savior,” our “paragon of true humanity,” seems to be endorsing and ratifying divisiveness of class, race and religion. What gives! Jesus, Matthew’s gospel is telling us, was HUMAN, subject to the same dual nature all of us confront, angelic and demonic, human AND divine. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs,” the human side of Jesus hurtfully barks out. “Yes, Lord,” the woman insightfully responds, “but when the children drop their crumbs the dogs can eat and be satisfied.” It’s not an either/or, this story is telling us. Health, welfare and salvation are not treasures to be hoarded, but gifts to be shared. And in the sharing there is more for everyone, a divinely empowered but humanly enacted transformation from scarcity to abundance.

Oh, Woman! Great is your faith! Jesus, getting a new prime directive from God through the woman’s persistence and trust. And her daughter was healed instantly. And you hear the human and the divine, the dual natures in Jesus, come into balance. Salvation, healing, wholeness are not for the Jew OR the Gentile, the Muslim OR the Hindu, the believer OR the scientific atheist, the gay, the straight or the bi person - salvation, healing, wholeness are for all of us to find and to enjoy together. God’s working behind the scene’s, balancing things out.

In the spirit and the hope of balance, I’d like to conclude with Ronald Reagan’s favorite joke. I’m told he told it time again, always with glee.

The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities – one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist – their parents took them to a psychiatrist.”“First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. 'What's the matter?' the psychiatrist asked, baffled. 'Don't you want to play with any of the toys?' 'Yes,' the little boy bawled, 'but if I did I'd only break them.“ Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. 'What do you think you're doing?' the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. 'With all this manure,' the little boy replied, beaming, 'there must be a pony in here somewhere!'”

When you look at all the mess and confusion in your life or in the world, keep digging! You’re sure to find God looking back at you with love, “Have you ever considered that God has fallen in love with you? She sends you flowers every spring, sunshine every morning. When you want to talk, he listens to you. They can live anywhere in the universe, but They choose your heart. May we all know God and walk with God this week! AMEN.

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