Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church

Family Reunion

Genesis 45:1-15

Living together is never easy. If anyone tells you it is… they are either lying or they are out of touch with reality. Living together… in the same house… or the same family… or the same church… or the same workplace… or the same community… the same parish… the same state… the same country… the same continent… the same world… is never easy. We could talk this morning about conflicts in Europe… in Russia… in the Mediterranean. We could talk about the most recent shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Los. But you know what… you don't have to go nearly that far afield to find examples of how difficult it is to live together!

When was the last big blow up at your house? Maybe this morning when you were getting ready to come to church? Or yesterday when you had a lot to do but couldn't decide whose agenda was more important? Last week… Dave complained one too many times about how contrary my computer is when he tries to use it… and I blew y stack. You can criticize me for a lot of things… but don't tell me my computer is stupid!

Maybe the last big hassle in your life was at work… co-workers can be difficult to get along with sometimes… present company excepted, of course. Sometimes others don't shoulder their responsibilities… or they don't take our concerns seriously… or they don't appreciate us the way they should… I could go on… and on! In any circumstance… people are just plain difficult to get along with because people are people!

On the other hand… sometimes the problem lies elsewhere! Maybe I'm being too demanding… may I'm expecting too much from other people. Maybe I'm too sensitive… too thin skinned to hear even the most innocuous of comments… let alone some critical remark. Maybe I'm too self-centered… expecting everyone to cater to my wishes. Maybe I'm not comfortable with people who are different from me… or who are more attractive than me… or are smarter than me. Maybe… just maybe… I have some quirks of my own. Maybe… just maybe… I'm the one who is difficult to live with! Maybe… just maybe… I'm the one who needs to change if I expect to get along well with other people.

Now there's a scary thought if I ever heard one… me…change? Me… be more accepting? Me… be less critical? Me… be less demanding? If the prospect scares you… don't ever come to me for counseling… because I could listen to you all day long complain about someone else… but I can only help you change yourself!

Our story today is about a family reunion… the reunion of a family estranged for many years… because of jealousy. Remember last week… Joseph got sold into slavery by his brothers. Joseph… Jacob's favorite son… had these wild, pretentious dreams… delusions of grandeur you might say… that seemed ludicrous to his brothers… but nevertheless were threatening to them. And then… there was the way Jacob treated Joseph! Letting him stay home long past the age when they themselves had gone to work in the field with the sheep. And sending him out to spy on them… to report back to their father how they were doing their job!

Maybe the straw that broke the camel's back was that beautiful coat Jacob gave to Joseph. None of them had ever received such a beautiful piece of clothing… they were relegated to simple shepherds garb! The green-eyed monster was just too much to resist!

Well… we've skipped on now… through the years. The years Joseph spent as a slave in Potiphar's household… the episode with Potiphar's wife that landed him in jail… the dream interpretations that came true for the king's cupbearer and the baker… Joseph's interpretation of the King's dreams… and his appointment as prime minister to store up the grain during the seven years of plenty. If any of that doesn't seem familiar… go back this afternoon and read Genesis 39 through 44.

In our story today… the brothers have returned to Egypt for the second time… to get food for the family. Apparently the famine that plagued Egypt was widespread… and had a dire effect on Jacob's family as well. This time the brothers had brought their youngest brother, Benjamin… and Joseph was overwhelmed at seeing his baby brother… now fully grown… once again. This meeting… between eleven brothers… and Joseph… their long lost brother… turns into an amazing family reunion!

There's something about that "long lost" part that especially warms our hearts, isn't there? Bringing people back together again has become a popular subject for several TV talk shows. We've recently had just such an exciting event in our very own congregation. Carolyn Benenate was reunited with a long lost daughter… and has gained two new grand-children. It's been a time of wonder and rejoicing for Carolyn… just as it was for these brothers so many years ago. There's something especially poignant about the reunion of "long lost" family members.

And there is something especially scary about such reunions as well. Separations occur for many reasons… sometimes they were unavoidable… sometimes they were beyond our control… sometimes they involved foul play… as in Joseph's case. And now a long time has passed… people have changed… what will they be like… will they be angry… or forgiving… will they understand? Through the years there may or may not have been the hope of reunion. Will it be a time of anger and punishment… or an opportunity for forgiveness… a new life to be embraced?

Isn't there something strangely familiar about this story? You may never have had such an experience… such a reunion… and yet… somehow it seems like you've been there… done that. And so you have… because this is the story of your relationships with God.

You and I are God's children… and we have been separated from him at birth. We came out of his presence into the time dimension… where God is always present with us… but where we are not always aware of his presence. Some of us have been separated from God for a very long time… and maybe it's scary to think about a reunion. We each know in our heart of hearts how we separated ourselves from God… just as Joseph's brothers were painfully aware of what they had done.

They must have been terrified at the prospect of meeting Joseph once again. They knew what they deserved… for the injustice they had inflicted on Joseph… the pain they had caused their father… and Joseph's mother… and his little brother Benjamin. They knew… they knew… and they were afraid of what Joseph would do to punish them.

We do deserve punishment in God's eyes… for what we have done… the ways we have kept ourselves separated from him… our insistence on "doing our own thing" when… in reality… we belonged to God all along… loving and serving him alone. Our separation and our guilt has taken its toll on us… and now we are afraid of the reunion… and the punishment we surely deserve.

But low and behold… when God finally engineers the reunion… sometimes with us kicking and screaming… the story takes a completely unexpected turn. Would you believe that God is so happy to see us again that his grace and mercy come to the forefront… and wonder of wonders… we find ourselves forgiven. Can you imagine that? We deserve to be punished… but instead we get forgiven… and embraced… and restored to our rightful position… and given a new life in which we can be what we were meant to be. "O, Happy Reunion!"

Let us pray:

Lord, we long for the day when we will love each other the way you love us… for the day when we will be reunited with our brothers and sisters in Christ… with open arms… accepting and forgiving… caring for one another just as you care for us. We pray in his name. Amen.

A Sermon Preached on August 15, 1999
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA

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