Christ the King, Moorhead
September 7 & 10, 2014
Rally Day/Installation of Pr. Aaron Suomala Folkerds
Genesis 37:1-28 and Matthew 28:20
This week, as I was preparing my sermon, I think I finally figured out something about Jesus--about what makes Jesus “tick.”
It is as if Jesus has deep inside himself a kind of “homing device”….a microchip in his brain—or is it his heart?—…a microchip that causes Jesus to be drawn toward persons who are “left out,” avoided, for whatever reason “on the outside looking in.”
You can open up any of the four gospels, and almost wherever you look….you’ll find Jesus making a beeline toward someone whom we’d call an outsider.
Jesus was attracted to folks on the edges, on the outs, alone and abandoned….for whatever reason.
So sometimes Jesus’ homing signal draws him toward sick people, especially invalids whose illness separates them from the community….with diseases like leprosy.
Other times Jesus seems to be attracted to persons who are discriminated against, like the Samaritans with whom Jews like Jesus usually had no dealings.
Other times Jesus’ homing signal pointed him toward people who were caught in illicit lines of work or risky lifestyles…or people who had made bad decisions…prostitutes, tax collectors, rabble-rousers of one sort or another.
It’s as if something inside of him compelled Jesus to seek out, come alongside of and stand with folks who—for whatever reasons—were left out by others.
So, as today’s worship theme proclaims: Even when you're left out, Jesus loves you.
Even when you’re left out (for whatever reason or for no reason in particular), Jesus loves you, because it’s as if Jesus has inside of him a “homing signal” that drives him to seek out those who’ve been left out.
And this isn’t just Jesus’s “thing,” either! This is God’s thing, and it’s always been God’s thing….to be drawn toward outsiders. We see this not only in the gospels and the entire New Testament….but we witness this reality all the way back to the beginning of the Bible, in the Old Testament book of Genesis.
In our lesson for today, we meet Joseph, the 11th son of the patriarch Jacob’s twelve sons…..and Joseph is in a world of hurt.
Here in Genesis 37, Joseph is stuck in a hole in the desert, a pit he can’t get out of….and as Joseph languishes in that scary place he hears his ten older brothers arguing among themselves…..as they try to decide whether they should just flat out kill him, or sell him to human traffickers, or just let nature takes it course, letting him rot in that pit.
Talk about being an outsider! Joseph is about as “left out” as anyone ever could be!
This amazing saga of Joseph illustrates the astounding, surprising realism of the Bible. The Good Book never presents to us a slick, sanitized, detached view of the human condition.
No the Bible tells it like it is. The Bible is God’s book—true enough!—but it’s a book that’s also literally covered with fingerprints…the very human fingerprints of the living, breathing human beings God inspired to preserve these stories for future generations.
And the Bible, in its cold and sober realism, doesn’t gloss over the ugly stuff, doesn’t round off the sharp edges of life. The Bible exposes us in all our waywardness, all our God-forsakenness, all our lostness!
So just how did Joseph wind up in that pit in the desert?
One honest answer would be that this is where parental favoritism, personal arrogance, and murderous envy all lead—all of those things, within a highly dysfunctional family system!
· For Joseph was, you see, the favorite son of his father Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel.
· And Joseph seems to have let his favored status go to his head.
· And, also, not surprisingly Joseph’s ten older brothers harbored an envy toward him that seriously led them to consider fratricide!
And that’s just the start of a saga about Joseph that occupies another whole 10 chapters in Genesis (a saga that I encourage you to read when you get the chance!)
Throughout that long, twisting, turning tale….Joseph is time and again “on the outside looking in,” rescued and abandoned, rescued and abandoned….until finally in Egypt—far away from his home and family—Joseph is promoted from a dungeon to a castle, from being a prisoner to becoming prime minister, Pharaoh’s right-hand man.
If ever someone tasted what it was like to be “left out” and left behind in the biblical story, it was Joseph…..but that left-outness was never the “end of the story for him.” For Someone else was always there for Joseph. Someone (Someone with a capital “S”)…Someone else was always hot on his trail, out ahead of him, guiding Joseph’s story to an amazing, transforming conclusion that you can read about in Genesis chapter 50.
What’s maybe most striking about this 11-chapter novella tucked within the book of Genesis is that God is always at work (though hardly ever mentioned in the narrative itself)…and that Joseph perceives and names God’s loving, saving presence only at the end of the story.
And here, I think is where Joseph’s story and our stories intersect and interpret each other.
For we, too, live out our lives often unmindful of the fact that God is walking with us every step of the way. We—even people of faith like us—can, so easily live out our days as if we were all alone, as if God were not woven into every step of our journey, as close to us continually as the next breath that we take.
And when we do become aware of God’s presence and God’s love---isn’t it often only at the end of a chapter in our life….only as we stop, listen and look back over where we have been….does it become apparent that we were never “left out,” never truly alone, but that God was alongside us always, walking with us every step of the way?
So, in Genesis 50 Joseph is finally reconciled to his treacherous brothers. Joseph, who has indeed (just as his youthful dreams predicted!) risen in rank to the second place of authority in the Kingdom of Egypt….Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, not in a spirit of revenge but with a heart full of reconciliation….because Joseph has caught wind of what was really happening all along: “Joseph said to [his brothers], ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 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.” (Genesis 50:19-20)
Just as Joseph needed the perspective that only time and reflection can provide, we too are often most aware of God’s abiding, loving presence only when we look carefully in the rear-view mirror of our lives….when it dawns on us that in the times of life when we felt most alone, most left out, God was still there, always present….and God will always be there, right beside us.
And here’s where you come in Pastor Aaron (I bet you were wondering if I’d ever get around to you!).
You have been called and today you are installed to be part of the pastoral team of Christ the King, along with Pastor Matt and your other staff colleagues.
That means, as you well know, all sorts of things….but for now let me draw attention to these privileges that are yours.
· You are here to remind these dear people that even when they feel left out, Jesus still loves them—to do that reminding in a host of ways and under an array of circumstances.
· You have great material to work with in this regard, because it will be your privilege to crack open the Word of God, time and again. You don’t have to make stuff up, Aaron….all you need to do is hunker down behind this Word of Jesus who has a sort of “homing device” inside him that draws him, like iron filings to a magnet, draws him toward down and outers and anyone who has messed up badly enough to wonder whether God is still in the equation.
· You are here to let both the divine inspiration and the deeply human, realistic expression of the Bible come to light—always focused on Jesus, who is at the center of it all.
And perhaps most intriguingly, most invitingly for a man of your gifts and interests in listening to people and guiding them toward a richer life….you are here to help people detect the stirrings of God within their seemingly earth-bound lives. You are called to help them look back, in the rear-view mirror of their lives to perceive all the ways that just when they thought they were most alone, Someone with a capital “S” was always there, always guiding, always saving, always opening up a gracious future in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.