Genesis 47 (selections)
September 11, 2016
Cary G. Speaker, D.Min.

Joseph, the son of Jacob, is in charge of the nightmare of scarcity. The scarcity of Egypt (some call it famine) spread all the way to Canaan, Joseph’s homeland. In all of the story of Joseph, the longest story of anyone in the Bible, there is no conversation between God and Joseph. It takes the reintroduction of the old man Jacob to bring a conversation with God back into the story. No one ever speaks of the God of Joseph. Perhaps that is why the list of Patriarchs stops just short of Joseph.

At the end of chapter 47 in Genesis, the Pharaoh owns all of the land, all of the cattle and all of the people. The Pharaoh has a complete monopoly over all of Egypt. Joseph is the primary architect of the monopoly. It starts with a little thing called famine. We know the story of Pharaoh’s dream of the seven fat cows and seven lean cows. Joseph is such an able administrator that he also leads a tax reform movement. When the people cannot pay for grain, they sell their land and themselves and become slaves of Pharaoh. The people are so grateful for being alive that they willingly become sharecroppers for Pharaoh, giving back twenty per cent of all they grow.

We typically read this story as history. But if we can just look beneath the surface we discover that the Pharaoh of Egypt is a metaphor of the anxiety of the world. Pharaoh believed that there is no more goodness to be given. For everyone living under the scarcity of the Pharaoh there is no such thing as generosity. There is only scarcity. Pharaoh is completely committed to scarcity. Pharaoh will not allow anyone to get ahead of him. That is why he runs the monopoly.

At the beginning of Exodus, just three pages ahead of our story we read that a new Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph. We are not certain what that means. But we are clear about the result. The children of Israel lose their favored place in Egypt and become just like everyone else – slaves.

What has happened to Joseph and the beginnings of what will become the children of Israel, not just Jacob’s sons, but all of those descendants who 400 years into the future will leave Egypt under Moses’ direction?   What has transformed these faithful sojourners into the privileged class of Egypt? They have been seduced by the empire. Joseph was such a standout, different kind of guy, that his entire family received special treatment from the Pharaoh. When all of Egypt is enslaved and turned into sharecroppers, Joseph’s family is given the best land in Egypt, Goshen. The story does not directly say it, but we can imply that the land of Goshen was so good that the famine did not infect Goshen.

So, before they were slaves, Joseph and his family receive preferential treatment. They live in the best land. They are privileged. Does that ring any bells? Does that sound like anyone you know?

It is us. We live in the best neighborhoods. It is not even one neighborhood. There is too much privilege for one neighborhood to hold. In this myth of scarcity, we are Israel. The myth supports us. But we miss something in this story, just like Joseph and his brothers missed that same something.  We are so comfortable with our sense of being privileged that we miss the hidden, playful, inscrutable and silent warning not to be too sure. So, of course, we do not heed the warning. We can even honestly say that we never heard the warning because we really are unaware.

Out of my own experience of being unaware, I am going to go out on a limb and claim that we cannot allow ourselves to hear the warning that something is not right because if we did listen, if we heard the warning, then we would be robed of our deep certainty and ultimate sense of control. Because it is most often from that hidden, playful, inscrutable part of our lives that God is at work among us in ways that we cannot even imagine. It is in this hidden place that God does for us more than we can do for ourselves.

In this hidden place that “thing” that is happening is what we Presbyterians like to call the “providence” of God. Providence means that God “sees before” us. God knows ahead of us and God takes the lead in our lives. This is not the same as a claim of fate or to say that we are puppets dangling at the end of God’s string. Providence is the claim that God is the real power in our lives. God takes initiatives in our lives that may run counter to our own intentions. When we live as faithful people, we learn to pay attention to the hiddenness of God and we are willing to be led by it.

To live into the providence of God is to walk with Father Jacob into Egypt. Leave the land of promise and sojourn into the land of the empire. Because you know in your heart of hearts that God’s promise is true, no matter where we go.

We have the tendency to make life more difficult than it has to be. I believe that there is something small, dangerous, greedy and brutal happening in our culture today. There is a mean spirit abroad in our culture and it is infecting more and more people every day. I am calling that “something” the myth of scarcity. When we live under the myth of scarcity, we live in fear. When we live in fear, our lives become small and defensive. When we live into the myth of scarcity we lack joy and the generosity of God.

Living into the myth of scarcity is almost the opposite of living into the providence of God. When the Pharaoh controls the monopoly of life, our prospects are grim and selfish and then we die. The terms of real life come only from God. God’s terms are other than our own. God’s terms are generous, merciful, giving and forgiving. God invites us to new life, a second chance at life, a second life of forgiving and being forgiven.

How do we live into this offer of new life? One way is through the mission of this church. When we compare our journey with Jacob’s, or Joseph’s, we have it rather easy. We do not have to walk to Egypt. We can drive to the nearest habitat house right here in Huntsville and pick up a hammer on just about any Saturday morning we choose. We can be involved in the ministry of the Good Samaritan project, the work of Kids to Love at Davidson Farms, bring non-perishable food for the food pantry, make a financial contribution to specifically support one of our international missions in Cuba, Haiti, Mozambique or Uganda. We can contribute to a special offering that this church will receive to support the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program for the recent disasters in California and Louisiana. All of these mission efforts are relatively easy to join because they already exist. We are already doing all of those things and “It’s all good.” So how do we go from good to great in our mission efforts?

We make the personal commitment that each one of us will personally be involved in at least one mission event during the next year. There may really be only one step we need to take to go from good to great in our ministry of missions. It may be as simple as thinking differently. If all of us believe that each one of us is responsible for mission, then we stop believing that “someone” else will do it. Just imagine that there is no one else. If you do not step up as a reading tutor, someone is not going to learn to read. If you do not work on a Habitat House, then someone will be homeless.   

Let me back up a step because you and I both know that everyone of us will not be a reading tutor. But if we do not stop thinking that somebody else is going to do these things, we will not make the move to greatness. None of this is difficult to do. In fact, if you talk to those already involved in our missions, you will discover how much fun these things are. Our mission work is perhaps the best way we have to show the love of Christ to people in need. Let’s get serious about our mission efforts. Let’s make a commitment to missions. Together let’s make the move from good to great. 

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