These People

These People

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When Abram was seventy-five years old, God called to him and said,

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

And he did. And things happened and time passed. And God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. And Abraham had a son: Isaac. And Abraham passed the covenant that God had made with him on to Isaac.

And things happened and time passed and Isaac had two sons: Esau and Jacob. Now, Esau was the first born. The covenant that God had made with Abraham, and that Abraham had passed on to Isaac, should have gone to him. But Jacob was clever. And Jacob tricked Isaac into giving it to him instead.

And things happened, and time passed, and God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and Israel had twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. And Israel’s family had issues.

You see, Israel had favorites. And his sons knew that he had favorites. And his favorites were Joseph and Benjamin. And his favorite favorite was Joseph.

And Joseph was, maybe, a little full of himself. And he kept reminding his brothers that he was the favorite… and not just he favorite, but the favorite favorite. Like brothers do.

And Joseph’s brothers did not like him very much at all.

So Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin put together a plan to get rid of their annoying and maybe-kind-of-full-of-himself brother. They were going to kill him, and tell their dad that a wild animal had gotten him. Like brothers do.

But… after a bit, they thought that might be pushing things too far. So, instead of killing him, they sold him into slavery, and dipped his coat in blood, and told their dad that a wild animal had gotten him. Like brothers do.

And I just want to say: Joseph’s family… is messed up

A long time after this story… a long time after Jacob dies… and long time after Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin all die… their descendants the Israelites will be follow Moses through the wilderness. 

And Moses will go up a mountain, and God will give him a law. And God will say, basically, “Follow this law and be my people in the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

And there’s this story, that’s not in the Bible, that goes like this:

Before God went to the Israelites with the law, God went to each and every one of the other nations on earth and said, “Follow this law and be my people.” And each and every one of the other nations on each said, “No. We have a law. Thanks but no thanks.”

And so God came to the Israelites and said, “Follow this law and be my people.” And the Israelites said, “No. We’re fine. Thanks but no thanks.” So God picked up a mountain and held it over the Israelites and said, “Are you sure?” And the Israelites said, “Y’know, on further reflection… we’ll follow this law and be your people.”

And so the Israelites became God’s people. And, sometimes, they even followed the law.

And I don’t think that really happened. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Because it’s easy to imagine that the family of the guys who sold their brother into slavery… and dipped his coat in blood… and told their father that a wild animal had gotten him… wouldn’t be God’s first choice.

It’s easy to imagine God saying, “[DEEP SIGH] Okay… fine… I guess… … …these people.

And that’s easy to imagine, because I imagine that God says that sort of thing about me… a lot. Because here’s the thing: every pastor is a broken mess of a person who God is doing their best with. Sometimes, we can hide that brokenness; sometimes, we can’t; but always, it’s there.

I’m not saying that any of us are the kinds of people who would sell our brothers into slavery, but still.

And that’s not just true about pastors. It’s true about Christians.

Someone once said that the church is not a museum for saints, it is a hospital for sinners. It is not a place where we go to learn about how wonderful we are. It is a community where we go to experience the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It is the little consulate of the kingdom of God where we hear God say, “Follow this law and be my people. I’ve boiled it down to just two things: love me and love your neighbor.” And we work on doing that. Everywhere. All the time.

Every church… every church… is, a little bit, a group of folks who have heard God say, “Okay… fine… I guess… … …these people.

I know that doesn’t sound great. Stay with me. Because there is such good news.

After his brothers sell him into slavery, Joseph has a bunch of adventures. And he ends up in Egypt as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. I mean, he was still a slave, so it wasn’t great, but still.

You see, what happened was that Pharaoh had these dreams and only Joseph could interpret them. Joseph saw that there would be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. So he told Pharaoh, “During the years of abundance, store up grain as a reserve. And then, during the years of famine, you will have grain to eat.”

So Pharaoh put Joseph in charge. And Joseph stored up grain. So, when the famine came to Egypt—and to all of the nations—Egypt had bread. And all of the nations came to Egypt to buy.

Eventually, the famine hit Israel and his sons. So they went to Egypt for grain. And there were some more adventures, but, eventually, the whole family was reunited, and Joseph said, “Do not be afraid! Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.”

And I am not saying that God planned on having Joseph sold into slavery. But God used what his messed up family had done to save his messed up family, and the messed up Egyptians, and the messed up everyone from famine.

And later, God came into the world as a descendant of that messed up family to save the messed up everyone from sin.

And now, God is working through us—as messed up as we are, as broken as we are, as imperfect as we are—to spread good news for the poor, to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim a time of God’s abundance in all good things.

And that is, in itself, good news. God did not need Abraham or Isaac or Jacob to be perfect. God did not need Reuben or Simeon or Levi or Judah or Dan or Naphtali or Gad or Asher or Issachar or Zebulun or Benjamin to be perfect. God did not even need Joseph to be perfect.

And thank God that God didn’t need them to be perfect. Because they were not perfect. Not even Joseph, who was the favorite, who was the favorite favorite.

And if God can use them, then God can use you. And God can use me. And God can use us. And even we can follow that law—love God, love our neighbor—and be God’s people.

Thanks be to God!

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I’m a pastor, an author, and a nonprofit development and communications professional. My passion, my mission, and my calling is bringing people together to do good, with a particular focus on serving people who are experiencing poverty and other forms of marginalization.

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