Pastor Sherry’s message for August 9, 2020
Scriptures: Gen 37:1-38; Ps105:16-22; Matt 14: 22-33
This is a true story: In early February, a sheriff’s officer clocked a 2020 grey Kia sedan cruising at the brisk pace of 95 mph on Interstate 10 through Florida’s panhandle. Two men, in their mid-30’s, were headed east towards Live Oak and Jacksonville, then on their way south to Orlando. This corridor is a major feeder for drug trafficking into the Sunshine State, so officers are constantly on the lookout for signs of suspicious activity.
Federal law permits officers to stop those who are breaking the law, issuing arrests and tickets accordingly. But the Fourth Amendment prohibits the search of vehicles without probable cause, or reasonable suspicion. One lawyer explains it this way: “Basically, a law enforcement agent’s hunch without proof of illegality isn’t enough for him or her to look through a car legally. Before rummaging through a vehicle, the officer would have to observe something illegal. Examples of this are seeing or smelling an illegal substance. An admission of guilt by the person driving the car is another situation in which an officer can legally examine a car.”
When the officers pulled this vehicle over, they noticed— right in plain sight–two plastic zip-locked bags. Both were clearly labeled “Bag Full of Drugs.” This sight, needless to say, provided sufficient probable cause to warrant a search of the carand of the bags. Inside, Santa Rosa County Sheriffs found a treasure-trove of methamphetamine, GHB, cocaine, fentanyl, MDMA tablets, and various drug paraphernalia. Both driver and passenger were booked into the Santa Rosa County Jail without bond, on charges of drug trafficking. Later, the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office posted the following message to Facebook:
“Santa Rosa K-9 Deputies recently assisted [Florida Highway Patrol] on a traffic stop on I-10 where a large amount of narcotics were discovered. Note to self — do not traffic your illegal narcotics in bags labeled ‘Bag Full of Drugs.’ Our K-9’s can read.”
Law enforcement must abide by the 4th Amendment, but to our God–who knows all–words like probable cause and reasonable suspicion are meaningless. He is omniscient. We may attempt to hide our sins, or at least not place them in bags labeled “Bags full of wicked things,” but still He sees. He sees when the door is closed. He hears when the windows are shut. He knows even when our browser history has been completely wiped clean.
We have a very similar event recorded for us in Genesis 37—as well as its antidote in Matthew 14. Let’s examine them more closely.
Genesis 37:1-36 records for the backstory behind the enmity of Joseph’s brothers toward him. Thus far, in each generation of the founding family of the Israelites, God has chosen the younger sibling over the elder: God chose Abraham’s son by Sarah over the older son, Ishmael;God then chose Jacob, deceitful though he was, over his elder twin, Esau;once again, in this newest generation, God choses the baby son, Joseph, over all 10 of his strapping elder brothers.
Joseph, the son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, is also Jacob’s favorite.
Reuben was the 1st born, but he disqualified himself by sleeping with his stepmother, Bilhah. Not only is this icky to consider, but it says to his father, in effect, “I wish you were dead.” The next two eldest, Simeon and Levi, prove themselves to be violent men lacking in integrity. They violate a treaty their father had made with the King of Shechem. They are rightfully incensed when their sister, Dinah, is raped by the prince of Shechem. They expect swift retribution, the prince’s death. However, their father forges an agreement with the king which would allow Dinah and the prince to marry, provided all the male Shechemites submit to circumcision (i.e., become Jews). The brothers think this is weak on their father’s part, and that he does not sufficiently value their sister’s honor. So, they sneak into the Shechem at night and kill all the males recovering from circumcision surgery, including their sister’s fiancé. Father Jacob/Israel is now royally angry and disgusted with all of them, except Joseph. He fears they have demonstrated to the Canaanites that Jews do not keep their word and violate legitimate treaties. By this point, Jacob clearly favors Joseph over all of them. He unwisely uses him to spy on them as they graze their father’s flocks. He also increases their jealously and enmity by giving Joseph a special garment, in effect saying that Joseph—not any of the other 10–is the heir.
Naively, Joseph doesn’t help make himself more popular with his siblings when he shares 2 dreams in which it appears he will one day rule over them.
In today’s passage, they stop short of killing him; but instead sell him to Ishmaelite (remember Ishmael, 1st son of Abraham?) traders bound to sell him into slavery in Egypt. They concoct a plausible story for their Father, not anticipating the depth of his grief. And they essentially invoke the death penalty upon their brother—as few people in that day survived long as a slave. Scholars say that ½ of the later Roman Empire consisted of slaves. They had no pay, no days off, and no rights, so many died early deaths.
Joseph’s ordeal is memorialized in our Psalm (105:16-22) today.
The jealous and hateful brothers never appear to check out their feelings, or their actions, with God. They are filled with murderous rage and they act on it. But our psalmist reminds posterity (both the Jews & us) that God (v.17)...sent a man [Joseph] before them [into Egypt, all of Jacob’s other sons and all their families]—Joseph, sold as a slave. The equivalent of a prince of his family suffered, being encased in shackles and irons;
He did serve as a slave for 14 years, until…(v.19)…what he had foretold [the two dreams] came to pass, til the word of the Lord proved him true.
We know the rest of the story: Pharaoh, nudged by God, appointed Joseph over all of Egypt to superintend the storage and distribution of grain during a 7 year famine. As a result, he then becomes the means of saving his extended family—including those jealous, murderous brothers—from starvation. God redeems Joseph, and his brothers and their families.
How might the story have been different if the brothers had consulted God? How might the story have been different if they had prayed for Joseph—and their father, Israel—instead of acting on jealousy, rage, and vindictiveness?
The 10 elder brothers together provide a vivid example of how not to be.
For an example of how to be, let’s look at our Gospel lesson, Matthew 14:22-33. The context is that Jesus has fed the 5,000 + women & children. He then sends the disciples out to sea in their boat while He trudged up a mountain to pray. Apparently He prays all night. He comes walking toward them during what the Romans referred to as the 4th watch, 3-6:00am. It must have been pretty alarming for them to see Him striding toward them on the waves. 1st they mistake Him for a ghost. He responds (v.27) àTake courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid. He knows they aren’t expecting to encounter Him this way. He understands their fear, and He compassionately reassures them.
Peter has sized up this unusual situation and desires to walk on the water too. I don’t blame him—wouldn’t you jump at the chance to defy Physics, or to do something with our Lord that was unheard of? We observe that Peter did fine, until he took his eyes off Jesus. There’s the lesson for us all: Keep our eyes on Jesus! When we follow hard after God, He holds an umbrella of protection over us. But when we say in effect, that’s OK God, I don’t need you. I’ll do this myself, we step out from under that umbrella of protection. Bad things, scary things, unjust things, stupid things, even evil things happen when we place our attention on ourselves only–like Joseph’s jealous and murderous brothers; or like the 2 drug runners traveling I-10 in the Kia. Bad things, scary things, unjust things, stupid things, and even evil things can also happen when we put all our attention on persons or activities that divert us from Christ.
Like the old hymn says, we need to “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.”
Turn your eyes upon Jesus…
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
O soul, are you weary or troubled?
No light in the darkness you see…
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.
Through death and into life everlasting
He passed and we follow Him there.
Over us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conquerors we are.
Jesus keeps us afloat. Jesus lifts us up and out of ourselves, out of our difficult situations, and into the safety and security of His tender care. This week, let’s try to remain safe and sound under His umbrella of protection.
C 2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams>