Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Feb 24, 2019

    The 7th Sunday after the Epiphany

    Passage: Luke 6:27-38

    Preacher: The Rev. Ken Massey

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Epiphany

    Detail:

    Today is Rite 13 Sunday. Do you remember being 13? I’ve tried to repress it, but with no success. When I was 13, other friends were hitting their growth spurts. Not me. Other boys were starting to shave. Not me. In fact, I still haven’t. Other boys were no longer singing soprano. Not me. Other boys were engaged in the state religion of Texas, football, but I was playing the cello. And I was allergic to girls. They made my heart rate accelerate and my respiration rapid. I had a late July birthday so I was younger than everyone in my class, and I was what you call a late-maturing adolescent. I’m still waiting for my voice to change. I’d like to have a deep rich baritone for public speaking. Maybe next year. The good news is that by the time I took my driving test at 16, I didn’t have to use a booster chair. If I can make it through the jungle of adolescence, so can you. I’m happy you’re here today.

    We have heard the ending of an ancient story from the OT. Here’s the backstory. Joseph, the protagonist, was the next to youngest son of Jacob and Rachel, who had 12 sons and one daughter. Joseph was his father and mother’s favorite child. He got preferential treatment from his parents, expressed by the "long coat of many colors" he was given, and the work he was not given. When Joseph was a teenager, he had dreams about his family members bowing down to him like royalty. He told his brothers about these dreams because he was blindly entitled, privileged and spoiled.

    Joseph’s brothers were so jealous and angry at him, they sold him to slave-traders going to Egypt. They took his coat, covered it with goat’s blood, telling their father his favorite son had been killed by a wild animal. Hopefully, your own family is looking better to you at this point.

    Joseph initially served as a household slave but was later wrongly accused of a crime that sent him to prison. But Joseph had a gift from God. He could interpret dreams. So when the Pharaoh had a dream no one else could interpret, Joseph got that chance. And because the dream was about a coming drought and famine, Joseph’s insight literally saved countless lives, and the Pharaoh made him his Chief Operating Officer. Joseph ran the country while the Pharaoh played golf at his resort.

    During the famine, some half-starved men came to Joseph wanting to buy some grain. They were the brothers who sold him into slavery. How would you have treated them? Joseph was so overcome by emotion that he had to leave the chamber to find some composure. He spoke to them through a translator to conceal his identity. There were several twists and turns in the story and after his brothers came back to Egypt a second time, Joseph revealed his identity. That’s what we read earlier. Joseph wept as he embraced his once estranged brothers, telling them not to be angry with themselves for what they did. He said God had turned their evil into good. Joseph was able to save his entire family.

                This is a Rite 13 story because it’s about a difficult journey into adulthood; from hellion to hero. Not a super hero, mind you. Joseph couldn’t make himself invisible or turn into a hulk or slip into a rocket suit. He wasn’t a guardian of the galaxy or Harry Potter with a wand. He was a flawed human hero used by God, not to save the world, but to save his corner of the world from famine.

    Joseph as a kid had no intention of being a hero. He just wanted what HE wanted. He didn’t know life would take him where he didn’t choose to go. The spoiled kid had to grow up to survive. But once he learned to use his gift for something other than self-promotion; to use it in service to a higher good, he became a hero. That is also your path. At first, we think adulthood is about being who WE want to be and doing what WE want to do; to make a name for ourselves and have people bow to us. But then we discover we are in a life larger than we imagined.

    In the Lord of the Rings, Samwise the hobbit asks, “I wonder what sort of tale we fallen into, Mr. Frodo?” When we are 13, we feel small like a hobbit but without the furry feet. And like Sam and Frodo, we have fallen into a story that is larger than our life. You are going to be called upon by God, to save someone or to save something valuable in this world. Whatever you go through as you mature, those turns and struggles are preparing you for this heroic calling that is beyond your personal success. I can’t tell you who you’re going to save or how. Joseph didn’t know either until it was done. He simply used his gift for the greater good and only later discovered he had been used by God.

    There is one feature of Joseph’s heroism you must embrace. We heard it in the gospel reading. Joseph refused to live in reaction to his enemies; he refused to harbor anger or retaliate toward those who hurt him; he refused to judge those he didn’t like. And this forgiveness set him free to become the hero he became.

    A single mother and teacher in Texas wrote about the experience she had with her son after the Parkland school shooting just over a year ago. She was taking her 5th grader, Dezmond, to school the next day and wanted to reinforce the school’s safety measures. “When your school has a drill, it’s not time to socialize or goof off,” she said. “Have you guys practiced your lockdown drill?” Dez said, “you mean our active shooter drill?” “Yes. Tell me what you’re supposed to do,” the mom said.

    Dez said, The teacher shuts and locks the door and puts black paper over the glass. Then me and 3 other boys push a table against the door while the class stands in the back corner of the room. Then me and the other boys stand in front of the class. The mother’s anxiety meter suddenly spiked. Dez was one of only 2 black children in the class and she was imagining how her son was chosen to stand in front of the other kids. But she calmly asked, “why did you get picked to stand in front of everyone else if a shooter comes to your school?” And Dez said, “I didn’t get picked. I volunteered to push the table in place and protect my friends.” The mom started feeling nauseous. “Dez, why would you volunteer to do that?” And her 10 year old said, “If it came down to it, I’d rather be the one that died protecting my friends then have them die and I be the one that lived.”

    Even if that kid never dies to protect his friends, he’s a hero, because heroism is about how you live and how you love; how you use your gifts; and how God turns evil into good. That is your inheritance.

    We don’t need more personal success. We don’t need super stars or celebrities. We need every day heroes who will be instruments of God who is healing our world. We need teachers who can save us from ignorance. We need epidemiologists to save us from disease. We need attorneys who can save us from tyranny and anarchy. We need social workers who can save us from oppression. We need climate scientists to save us from denial and self-destruction. We need activists to save us from political stalemate. We need prophets who will save us from untruth. We need priests who will save us from a soulless life. We need leaders who will save us from chaos. We need poets and artists who will save us from lifeless technology. We don’t need heroes who can save the world. We need heroes who will save a family or neighborhood or community, or just one other person. That is your destiny. That is your royal inheritance as a child of God.

                Marissa Lang had an article in the Times this past week about Jay Speight, a pastor in Rockville, MD, who did an ancestry DNA test, a very elaborate one designed for African-Americans. The test revealed that he was a descendant of a former king in Benin, a country in West Africa that was a center of the slave trade. His ancestor was probably captured by a rival tribe or defeated in battle and sold to slave traders. Speight flew to Benin to meet his newly discovered relatives. The airport was filled with people when he landed and there was a party going on. It was for him, the prince who had come home.

    He traveled to the port where a million Africans were put on ships headed to America. He saw the place where a tree once stood called the Tree of Forgetting. Before the slaves were loaded on ships, they joined hands and walked around that tree several times as a ritual of leaving their world behind and preparing for whatever world would come. When Speight saw the historic marker where that tree had been and heard the story, he walked around it 9 times, a ritual of reconciliation and return; a ritual of coming home.

    That is the ritual we see in this Joseph story; it is a ritual of leaving home and childhood; a ritual of taking a difficult journey beyond his control; a ritual of finding that he was in a place where he could help heal or save some of this world; and then a ritual of unimaginable joy at the end of that heroic quest. The story of Joseph is your story too. Today, we join you in this ritual of leaving childhood behind, knowing that one day, you too will come full circle to the joy of your royal reunion. That is your inheritance as sons and daughters of God.