Sermon: August 16, 2020

Preached at First Congregational Church, Loveland UCC www.lovelanducc.org By Rev. Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson Scripture Passage: Selections from Genesis 37 & 45

Will you pray with me? Holy One, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, our strength and our sustainer. Amen.

Ow! That hurts!

Mama! Grandma! Dad!

A whimper. A wail. A wound.

Wounds are the place where pain lives.

David Whyte, one of my favorite poets, says this of pain:

“Pain is the doorway to the here and now” (David Whyte, Consolations)

Children seem to know this intuitively. The pain, the wound IS the only reality in a given moment, and it remains so until tended — the scraped knee only better when kissed and covered in a Puppy Patrol bandaid. The hurt feelings let go only after a moment of tenderness — that moment when love is stronger than anger.

I’ll never forget a particularly difficult afternoon with Cora. She had had a rough night, and we were all tired. I don’t remember the details of what happened at lunch — maybe her sandwich got cut in half instead of left whole. Maybe she wanted her Beauty and the Beast cup instead of the dinosaur one. Whatever it was, the end had begun.

By the time all of Cora’s food, silverware and cup were on the floor, our voices had been raised to the yelling category. Darryl had been pinched for not being mom. We had all had it! Hurt, wounded and angry. All of us.

At long last, I sat with Cora on my lap trying to settle her down for a much needed nap. Trying to settle myself down. And I found myself saying, “Cora, I’m sorry I yelled at you. I felt frustrated and angry, but it was wrong. It was unkind. And I’m sorry.”

Looking up at me, she said, “It’s okay, mom. I love you.” And that was that: the wound tended. Love was stronger than anger and so the anger could dissolve.

If only it were that simple for us adults.

Whether we want to engage with it or not, we are living in a time of deep personal, social, national and global pain. There is the pain of the pandemic — shutting down life as we have known it. Gutting our economy. Changing the face of how we do so many things — from school to church, from grocery shopping to coffee with a friend. Making the very things to which we turn for comfort and solace, unsafe — things like in-person church gatherings, rites of passage, family reunions, an embrace with a dear friend.

Theologian and priest Father Richard Rohr writes that two kinds of experiences bring us closer to God — our experiences of love and suffering. I balked when I first read this. Christianity has long done violence by suggesting that people stay in harmful situations, submit to slavery, abusive relationships, and oppression because God won’t give them more than they can handle. Because God is testing them. Because there is a great reward awaiting them in heaven.

Now thankfully, Richard Rohr refutes the idea that God causes our suffering or makes bad things happen to us in order to test us. Instead, Rohr claims that God is present through our suffering. God’s love is at work even when bad things are happening around and to us.

In my words, it is in the very bottom of the U-shaped journey of healing where we encounter the divine. When everything else is stripped away we find ourselves leaning on the One who is and was and will always be with us. We no longer resist the draw towards God but instead surrender. What choice do we have? In that journey of pure humility and vulnerability through our wounds and pain, we discover that love is after all stronger than anger. 

Pain, our wounds, are the doorway to the here and now where we encounter God most profoundly.

In this morning’s scripture, Joseph’s brothers betray him. What a wound — being sold into slavery by your own brothers. They strip Joseph of the robe that identifies him as their father’s favorite. And they also strip him of his freedom, his identity as a son of Israel, indeed his very humanity.

Joseph then journeys from one humiliation to the next. Only through his continued gift of vision, of interpreting dreams, does Joseph end up before the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh has dreamt of 7 fat cows emerging from the Nile River followed by 7 thin ones. The 7 thin cows devour the fat ones. Clearly, the dream is significant, but what does it mean?

Even as the Pharaoh praises Joseph for his gifts of interpretation and understanding, Joseph humbly acknowledges that the gift is God’s, not his. How different from the arrogant boy who taunted his brothers with a vision of them bowing down before him. How different from the young man who flaunted his father’s favoritism. Here is a man grown humble, a wise, acknowledging that even the gift for which the Pharaoh seeks him is not his own. It is not his power but God’s.

The interpretation of the story that we heard this morning does not give us the messy, complicated details. It leaves out the moment when, as scripture tells us, Joseph can control himself no longer. He sends out his servants and turns to his brothers telling them: “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery.”

And then he begins to weep so loudly that those outside the room can hear. His pain has become a doorway to the here and now. Revealing himself to his brothers, Joseph strips himself of his fancy Egyptian title, clothes and power. He is once again the arrogant, ignorant boy, Joseph. The brother, betrayed and sold into slavery. And when Joseph surrenders to the truth of his wounds, he can control himself no longer. He weeps and wails, held in the here and now of his pain.

And only when he enters this pain

Only when he humbles himself before his brothers,

Only when he is vulnerable enough to be his authentic self,

Only then can healing begin.

And the healing is not a return to what once was.

Too much has changed.

Healing instead holds the unexpected, inexplicable good that has come out of so much bad — “God has used us to save the world from hunger.”

“What you intended for harm, God has used for good.”

God’s love has been at work even in the midst of so much suffering, death and pain.

And so friends, here we are

In the midst of our pain, with our wounds.

Dare we allow that pain to be the doorway into the here and now

where we can encounter fully the power, grace and love of God?

Dare we allow our love to be stronger than our discomfort, our fear, our desire for normalcy, our anger?

Dare we imagine that God can bring good out of this suffering?

Not because the pandemic is part of God’s plan. Not because we are being tested.

But because in our suffering we encounter God

And know the truth of God’s everlasting love.

Because the U-shaped journey of healing brings us to a new place.

Where friendship is consistently marked by forgiveness and grace.

Where the story of community tells of lifting one another up.

Where church is so much more than what we do on Sunday mornings but is how we live every day.

Because the U-shaped journey of healing is the journey towards resurrection, new and abundant life.

Not just for us, but for all people. For all creation.

“What was intended for harm, God has used for good.”

Love is stronger than anger. May it be so today, tomorrow and forever. Amen.

© 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact thandiwe@lovelanducc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.


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