A sermon by Kevin Bright
Genesis 50.4-End, 1 Corinthians14.1-19
When I was listening to the radio in the bathroom this morning there was a discussion about ‘colour blind adoption’ in an American state and whether this would be appropriate here in Great Britain. Those responsible for placing children in families felt that where possible children are best off with at least one parent who shares their race and culture.
However the luxury of choice to match children in this way often isn’t available and it is felt that the love, structure and routine of any family life which could be made available to children otherwise living in care homes hugely outweighed any difficulties which could arise around race and culture.
Those who grow up in care without any family, when becoming adults are thrown out into a world without the support, love and social functions the majority of us take for granted as part and parcel of life.
In our Genesis reading today we heard that Joseph grew to be 110 years old, whether this was possible or not in his day we will never know but the point seems to be that he saw several generations of his family grow and prosper, surely one of life’s greatest pleasures and no mean compensation for some of the more difficult aspects of growing older.
Most homes have photos of family members in them but for those blessed with children and grandchildren the pleasure and pride in seeing them make progress in life is usually well evidenced for all to see. The natural inclination is to want to support the following generations of family, often through childminding, doing jobs, helping with homework and last but not least giving financial support where needed and where possible.
We like to think that succeeding generations will have a chance of a better life than ours and this will be particularly true for those who live in grinding poverty or who are unable to live their lives in peace due to crime and war.
Joseph resonates with this through two sets of circumstances we hear of.
Firstly, following the death of his father Jacob there was great potential for conflict in his family. The same brothers who sold him to be a servant in Egypt had felt safe whilst their father was alive but now feared that Joseph may take revenge. However, Jacob hoping for peace in his family when he could no longer be there to oversee wished the brothers to seek Joseph’s forgiveness.
The language they use is a little bit strange, they seem to approach Joseph without the sense that they are offering a heartfelt apology. It seems a bit like one of those apologies that are made when you don’t feel you are totally to blame for all that has happened. You know the type ‘Sorry that you misunderstood what I was trying to explain to you’ or ‘I didn’t realise you were so sensitive about your mother’ for example and less I’m so sorry to have acted out of anger and jealousy, I am totally to blame and will try not to let it happen again’.
Despite this Joseph only seems to hear the ‘sorry’ part and is moved to tears closely followed by the tears of his brothers. Joseph clearly doesn’t want to perpetuate a cycle of anger and hatred which may be passed down through the generations and reassures his brothers as he says ‘have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones’. He has found the grace to move on in a positive way and finds peace of mind in acknowledging that the final judgement will be God’s not his. In doing so peace can be restored and people set free.
I’m sure that it is our shared prayer that similar actions could apply one day in Afghanistan and other war blighted areas where acts of revenge and retribution perpetuate a seemingly endless cycle of suffering, not only for those involved in the fighting but also for huge numbers of helpless innocent victims.
Secondly Joseph shows faith that God keeps his promises, he also shows a sense of God’s time and not that constrained by our human bodies. Though he is about to die Joseph makes arrangements to have his body embalmed and put in a coffin in Egypt. He tells his brothers that God will restore them to Canaan and at that time his own body should be laid to rest there.
Today’s readings may prompt us to reflect on where we, both individually and as a church can play our part in breaking cycles of hatred, oppression, poverty and injustice. One area has to be to help future generations to grow up without the ill founded racial prejudices many of us have had to struggle to shake off.
We also need to be thinking about the legacy we will be leaving for future generations and be ambitious about finding sustainable technologies for our planet and play our part in recycling and reducing energy consumption where possible.
But what about us as a church? If we are honest I doubt that many of us feel we have a very positive image at a national level. The press seem to portray the church as full of people who are obsessed with sex and sexuality. When did you last hear a report about a project set up by the Church of England to help people on the fringes of society, to provide companionship to the lonely, to campaign for justice and raise funds for the poor.
I did a quick internet search and immediately found an Evening Standard story about a former Anglican vicar in an alleged sex scandal, he’s one of Boris Johnson’s former deputy mayors. But try looking for a positive headline and they are virtually all published by the church itself.
Of course we mustn’t overlook the fact that one type of story sells papers and one doesn’t but we need to care how we are perceived by those outside our church because we have a responsibility to make it an open and inviting place where the possibility of knowing God’s love can be found.
We heard in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth that he had concerns about those who were speaking in tongues. Corinth was a place of great trade and wealth with many links to the West and Asia, but it was also infamous for many bad and lurid activities often associated with a large transient population.
It’s possible that those speaking in tongues wanted to show how they were fully engaged with God and had no part in the bad activities. If this was the case they were building up a religious elite which could not be understood by those unable to interpret their sounds and such talking would no doubt appear insane to those outside the church. Paul is keen to impress upon his Corinthian congregation that a truly spiritual believer will wish to ensure their gifts are used not to further their own standing but to build up the church.
I know that many look out for visitors to help them follow worship and I’m also aware that the paperwork we have to follow has been simplified and made more accessible at this church in recent years.
No one can benefit from a message which cannot be understood so it is for us to put in the effort to make what can initially appear complicated simple and to remember that this remains God’s church, open to all and not simply what we want it to be for our own convenience.
Rev Peter Flynn was here last week taking our morning service, afterwards he was staring at the former priests of this parish on the wall in the Vestry and commented ‘they all looked so formidable don’t they, it’s hard to imagine anyone approaching them with some sensitive problem.’ Of course some may have been very friendly when you met them in the flesh but it reinforced the need to make church accessible for those who find the whole institution a mystery.
What’s important for us now is to act in a way that will eventually leave the best possible legacy both for those that will succeed us in this church and in the world. In doing so, like Joseph, we can show our faith and move a little closer to seeing things in God’s time rather than just that of our own lifespan.
1 August 2010