I am quite sure that everyone and their uncle is frustrated, irritated, so ‘over with’ the pandemic stuff. When this whole thing started, for reasons I didn’t understand at the time, I stuck some of the sayings that came across Facebook into a separate folder. I happened to take a look into that folder this week, and there was some good stuff that bears repeating.
Former teacher, chaplain, mother to five dogs, wife to one husband, Madison, WI resident Kitty O’Meara wrote a proverb-like poem that became sort of a pandemic anthem. “And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.”
When the part about playing games came up, I was reminded of some thing that came to my mind earlier this week. There are people who are having meal times together and study times together on the internet so why couldn't we play games together on the internet? Grandparents can play Chutes and Ladders with their grands on Zoom or whatever platform and get to spend a little more time with them that way. Just a thought.
Ms. O’Meara’s was and is an inspired poem with tranquil recommendations for the time that would take the world by a scruff of our necks. 5 months later, today’s reality is that the fear is still very, very present for many people, although outdoor activities are a little easier now than they were in March. Others are mourning the absence of the freedom we had in what seems like an eternity ago. Neither of those situations, nor any of those between them are better than another. They just are. So part of this morning’s message is to remind all of us that in the big scheme of life, the last five months are barely a blink. It serves us all well to remember where, how, when and in whom we are grounded.
Just be careful because people are going crazy from being in lockdown! Actually, I've just been talking about this with the microwave and toaster while drinking coffee and we all agreed that things are getting bad. I didn't mention anything to the washing machine as she puts a different spin on everything. Certainly not to the fridge as he is acting cold and distant. In the end the iron straightened me out and she said everything will be fine, no situation is too pressing. The vacuum was very unsympathetic… told me to just suck it up, but the fan was more optimistic and hoped it would all soon blow over! The toilet looked a bit flushed when I asked its opinion and didn't say anything but the door knob told me to get a grip. The front door said I was unhinged and so the curtains told me to … yes, you guessed it … pull myself together.
It is interesting how we can become near-sighted in the things that go on around us, and we fail to keep the farther sight in mind. If you think back on the famous Joseph - of Amazing Technicolor Coat fame - we get a clear picture of farsightedness. He was sold at the age of 17 as a slave to Midianite merchants and taken to Egypt where he was sold to Potiphar, one of the Pharoah’s officials. Over the next 13 years, Joseph worked as a slave - one day very much like the last and the next - increasing his owner’s wealth. Then he was imprisoned on a false charge of adultery, and while jailed, Joseph took to interpreting dreams, including those of the Pharaoh, who brought him out of prison. Joseph eventually ended up as the second in command of all Egypt. Eventually seven years of plenty gave way to seven years of want for everyone - Egypt as well as in the Middle East.
22 years after Joseph’s brothers sold him, the brothers went to the Egyptian court, asking for grain for their people. 22 years is a long time, and over that length of time, an undeserved wrong has the potential to become a raging monster. We all know that a lot can happen in five months or 22 years that can change a person. So it was just before his 40th birthday, that Joseph experienced holy far-sightedness.
Genesis 45:1-15 Joseph Makes Himself Known
45 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
4 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! 5 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. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
8 “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. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.” 14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
Thank you, Bill. That passage is one that can certainly stand on its own. In fact, I’m rather certain that a whole sermon series could come out it But that is the Old Testament passage for today. The Gospel passage, from Matthew, has even more to teach us about being farsighted.
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” 13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
This passage is a good ying to the Old Testament’s yang. The passage about Joseph is practical, more realistic, highly relatable. This passage from Matthew is more theoretical, more conceptual. Esoteric, even. Both passages are accessible. The next passage that continues from Matthew? That’s a little horse of a different color.
Too often, children’s songs aren’t given the credence they should have. That little ditty, “I Just Wanna Be a Sheep?” From it we get the reminder that Pharisees were not always “fair” to their own people. Sadducees were so sad, you see, because they didn’t believe in the risen Christ, so they didn’t know or appreciate the joy of all that Christ did in his death and resurrection on our behalf. And “I don’t want to be a Canaanite, cuz they raise cain at night? Yep, Canaanite’s were not only descendants from Noah’s grandson - of Ark and animal fame - they were a strong, fierce, wild people - the sort of people you cross the street to avoid confrontation.
Matthew 15:21-28 The Faith of a Canaanite Woman
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” 25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
This is one of those sticky passages that I’d rather not look at. That bit about the bread and the dog and the girl? Maybe if we understood the culture better from that time, it might a bit more palatable. Even so, there is some farsighted wisdom that can come from it.
In Jesus’ silence before the woman, perhaps he was looking far into the future, to see where this daughter would go. Or perhaps where she had been, to better understand her. Perhaps the mother had some farsightedness in understanding that Jesus was the one who could make her daughter well. So we can take away the need for courage to act on the gift of our instincts, even when the situation before us seems rather remote.
Sometimes we can get really focused on a task and when someone silently comes up on us, scares the bejeebers out of us. Or we forget to drink enough water, or whatever other things that need to balance out our intense moments. So may God use these examples and words and sentiments as reminders to enjoy the day, the weeks, this time that will be over before we know it.
Rather than a prayer to end this morning's message, I thought some thing from the heart of Fred Rogers, of neighborhood fame, would fill the bill. He said it many times throughout their lives, children will feel the world has turned topsy-turvy. It's not the ever present smile that will help them feel secure. It's knowing that love can hold many feelings, including sadness, and that they can count on the people they love to be with them until the world trans right side up again. Let us count on God’s love to be with us as we adjust to the needs of living in this world - and the next. And all God’s people say, Amen.