“Old Men, Fields, and Goodbyes”
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
July 10, 2014
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
Some meetings have a mysterious ability to awaken something inside of us. It’s as if there seems to be an unacknowledged fire just beneath the surface of our souls that burns through us when another voice throws some sparks on it. It seems like the most meaningful encounters happen when and where we least expect it.
Last weekend Kyndall and I went camping and my camp set-up job was to build the fire. We bought logs at the camp store, found some kindling, and I built the formation my dad taught me. Right before it was time to start the fire, I pulled out some laundry dryer lint. Nestling it in-between the logs, I struck the match and placed the small flame into the core of the lint. The fire started beautifully. I told Kyndall, when she asked, that my dad taught me that the unexpected lint was one of the best fire-starters. The uncommon and unrelated by-product produced the most enduring flames.
The same thing seems to be happening to Joseph. He had been walking for at least 60 miles before he had reached the field, so really it’s no wonder he misconstrued the question. He, who would grow into the legacy of an interpreter, goofed on the interpretation of his life. Maybe he was too exhausted from the days of burning sun and nights of twinkling stars. Maybe he had spent the walk pondering on his family’s tension. Maybe he was trying so hard to start his life the expected way that he was unaware of the creative awakening within him. Whatever it was that distracted Joseph, he missed what was happening.
Then the old man seems to have just appeared out of nowhere. One minute Joseph is wondering where his brothers are and the next a man who has the answers is in front of him. Who is this man? Where is he from and how does he just happen to know all about Joseph’s brothers? As valid as those questions are, what stands out so starkly is his question. “What are you seeking?”
Poor Joseph, either out of fear or exhaustion, quickly stutters out his reply, “I am seeking my brothers, tell me, please, where are they pasturing their flock?” He answered the question all wrong. Did you catch the direct question slip? The old man seems to be asking a deeper inquiry and Joseph fumbles on the hand-off. He answered a what with a who.
I can see the curl of the old man’s lips when he hears the younger man’s reply. He doesn’t get it. So he directs Joseph another 8 miles to Dothan, but he’s planted that question. What are you seeking, Joseph? I wonder if that thought came to him when he sat at the bottom of the pit while he listened to his brothers debate on whether to kill him or sell him? I wonder if the caravan ride to Egypt jostled the memory of the old man into his mind’s eye. I wonder if he began to be awakened to its meaning when he was wrongly thrown into prison.
And would he have understood, back at the field, even if he had replied with what he was seeking rather than who he was seeking? Would the young man still be too eager to lord over his brothers to see beyond the easy interpretation of his dreams? How would this unrelated by-product of finding his brothers refine him?
When interviewing for this internship and even after arriving, many of you asked me what I was expecting to learn or get from this summer. I don’t quite remember what I said, but I’m sure it embodied some form of, “I don’t really do expectation.” My life has always been filled with expectations. Growing up in the world that I did, pressures to be exactly what everyone told me was proper for a woman of faith stifled me. I wasn’t allowed to be this, do that, wear these, or ask those questions. My seeking of God was even filtered through expectation. I could never admit that my soul stretches and soars in the uncapped night sky, that I feel so alive preaching to anything that has ears, and that I am myself more in jeans and a t-shirt than in dresses or a skirt. It wasn’t until I heard my first, “What are you seeking” question that I truly felt brave enough to break out of the mold of expectation. But it still wasn’t until this summer that I began to listen to my soul.
If anyone would understand this, I have a feeling it would be Joseph. His life was almost preset for him. By no doing of his own he was his father’s favorite. Unlike Isaac, Jacob didn’t love Joseph because he made the best stew, but basically because he was born by Rachel and was almost last to boot. He didn’t make up the dreams he received and interestingly enough, he didn’t actually interpret them. Scripture says he had a dream, told it to his brothers and father and they replied with the interpretations. Joseph seems to have been blinded by what others expected of him.
Who would have anticipated that an unknown 11th in line boy from an equally unknown family would rise up to be a ruler in Egypt? The expectation was that Joseph would rule over his brothers not a country. But isn’t that so like this family’s story? From the beginning of their ancestry, Abraham until now, nothing ever gets to be like what it appears. Abraham and Sarah, who were well past the expected child bearing age, conceived, carried and birthed Isaac. The stereotype male leader Esau, was brushed aside for the quiet conniving Jacob, Judah mistook Tamar for evil and found her more right. Joseph’s lineage seems to have been preparing him for his unexpected journey.
But I don’t think he was ready to fully step into his true self. There seemed to be a need to do away with the ideas about who he thought he was to be. It is so easy to look past the old man’s role, yet perhaps without him Joseph never would have begun to question who he could be. It is as if the man was the first person to ever look, really look, at Joseph and see more than what was always perceived.
Receiving that look can be so disconcerting. Having someone look through you and see the untested potential within is both alarming and empowering. That older man might have set the course of Joseph’s life and he was not the first nor the last to intervene in people’s lives like that.
My beloved Covenant, you are my unexpected field wanderer. You have patiently and powerfully stepped in front of me and softly demanded to know what it is that I am seeking. It only took two months with you for me to realize that all my preconceived notions about myself are only half of who I really am. I feel so connected with Joseph’s experience. I feel as if my calling is the unlit lint that has been desperately waiting for a community to throw sparks on it, a church to take a chance on it, and to have someone believe in my potential.
You have all spoiled me with your love and acceptance. Truly, I feel like I have belonged to this family all my life. Like the man in the field, you have put up with me just not getting it and still you point me on my way. I have no idea what is next for me or for you, but I know that we have been bonded together. Your teachings will reach me in the moments where I don’t understand the point of bleeding out love. Your patience will push me to hold space for others even when I can’t quite figure them out. Your grace and acceptance will guide me when it feels like I have been cast into yet another empty pit. But, it will be your counter-cultural, unchanging pace that will lead me in the seasons of relentless sprinting. Your ability to slow down and recognize beauty inside and around you has touched me and shifted something in me in ways I can hardly process.
I didn’t realize how much I needed this community, probably because I didn’t know that anything like you existed. But, if you asked me what I have been seeking, the answer will be you. You have been a home for me, a place for me to selfishly steal some of your healing love, a family to lean into life with, and a community to learn how to trust in again. Thank you for your lessons in ground keeping, vulnerability, intentionality, support, and expectationless living. You allowed me to fumble and cry over pains and joys, you welcomed me and challenged me wake up my spirit, and you loved me in the middle of all of it. I will never be able to forget this summer nor any of you. Thank you for standing in a field, holding space for me, and looking straight into the heart of me. Thank you, thank you, amen.