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We Can Talk About It

August 20, 2023
Rev. Dr. Russ Daye
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 45.1-15

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’  So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.  And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.  Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’  But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 

Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’  And they came closer.  He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.  For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest.  God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.  Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, “Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay.  You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.  I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.”  And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you.  You must tell my father how greatly I am honoured in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.’   Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck.  And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Matthew 15.21-28

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’  But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’   He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’   But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’   He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’   She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’   Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’  And her daughter was healed instantly.

The two passages that Beatrice read for us this week I find really powerful!  In over three decades of preaching, I find them getting more and more powerful!

The first one, the story of Joseph and his brothers, picks up on the reproductive politics of what we were talking about last week.  Remember,  for those of you who were here?

Jacob has these two wives, Rachel and Leah, and he’s trying to get them pregnant and he’s not doing so well, so they start bringing their servants into play, and then they all get pregnant.  They produce lots of different children and so you get all of these half-brothers, including Joseph, who is the child of Rachel – Jacob’s “favourite” – and the cluster of half brothers become resentful of him because they can tell he is their father’s favourite.  And then, there’s a little bit of the story just before our passage where Joseph becomes a tattletale and tells on his half-brothers, to their father, so now they’re really not happy with him.

At one point, when they’re off in the desert, off in the wilderness with herds at some distance from their father and the farm, they see Joseph coming and they decide to kill him, but there’s a little intervention and they decide instead of killing him, just to take him and to throw him in a hole and then to sell him into slavery, and he’s carried away to Egypt.  Joseph goes through all these trials and tribulations in Egypt, but eventually becomes, because of his ability to interpret dreams and to predict the famine, essential to the Pharoah and the household of the Pharoah in Egypt.  And then his half-brothers, who beat him up, threw him in a hole, contemplated killing him and then sold him into slavery, find their way to Egypt because of the famine in search of grain that is stored away.  They’re brought in to see him and they see who it is, who the kingly official who controls their fate, is, (and, I’m sure their first reaction is not repeatable in church.)  They’re toast.  They’re toast.

But the story does a complete 180° because Joseph doesn’t do what they think he’s going to do.  Joseph doesn’t do what they would probably do to him if the roles were reversed.  Instead, he breaks down into weeping and lamentation so loud that the whole of Cairo hears it!  The Egyptians hear him crying and wailing so loud in lamentation that it echoes throughout the great palace and city.

When I was re-reading that passage this week, it reminded me of an experience I had over a period of months or years in the late 1990s, and that was when I got to witness the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

For those of you who don’t know, South Africa lived under a terrible, racist regime that implemented a policy called “apartheid” for generations.  As we moved through the 1980s and into the 1990s, anti-apartheid violence, and then violence from the white police state against the black and mixed-race people in South Africa, was getting worse and worse, and the American state department was predicting that there would be 100,000 violent deaths in the transition to black power but something miraculous happened and there was a peaceful transition.  And as a way of healing the nation, South Africa launched the greatest experiment in the history of national healing.  The greatest experiment in political forgiveness that the world has ever witnessed, called a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

How many people remember those images of Archbishop Tutu convening these hearings, and Nelson Mandela?

Tutu placed himself exactly in the position that Joseph was in when his brothers showed up.  He and his people had been oppressed and murdered and enslaved in multiple ways for generations, and he was put in charge of this great process of reckoning with the past.  The first thing they launched was Human Rights Violations hearings and they had person after person come and testify to all the human rights violations that had happened in the process of apartheid.  You could expect that there would be great condemnation of the apartheid state, the apartheid policemen, the apartheid bureaucrats and all of these while people who cooperated with apartheid, but instead what happened was there was a great – along with truth-telling and a lot of telling of facts – release of emotion.  On many occasions, Archbishop Tutu, when convening one of these hearings, broke down and wept and it was common to see a picture of him sitting at a sort of judge’s table, bent forward in his clerical clothes with his head down on his hands, and his body shaking as he wept tears.

Do you know what he did for an entire nation of oppressed people?  He modeled the release of pain, anger, grief, anguish, instead of the alchemizing of those feelings into hate against their oppressors.  I wrote my PhD on this process, and I am convinced that without this process, the transition in South Africa would have been enormously more violent.  Many people emulated Tutu in this process, but some didn’t.

As I was doing my field research on this process, I knew I needed to talk to some of the architects of apartheid and some of the killers – some of the apartheid state police who’d carried out assassinations and torture and beatings – and so I did.  Mostly I talked to them in the hallways at amnesty hearings, sometimes I talked to them in interviews.  Most of them were hard [pounding his chest], hard still, [they] couldn’t do it, (they) couldn’t do what Tutu did, actually get into the emotional core of what their lives had been and find some way into release.  It bothered me but I’ll tell you what bothered me more, was the number of Western journalists, North American and European academics, commentators who looked at this release of emotion and pejoratively called it “the Kleenex Commission” and spoke scornfully about a  process that engaged emotions so deeply.  That really got under my skin.

My dissertation title was “Baptizing the Nation with Tears: Truth and Political Forgiveness in South Africa,” and what I realized is the scorn that some of the white South Africans and some of the architects of the apartheid state; and this wasn’t everybody from Europe and North America, by the way, many people were tremendously positively moved, but the arrogance of a large number of Western and Northern academics and commentators, in speaking scornfully about this emotional process, had something to do with their own inability to go within here [pats the heart] really deep.  Their own inability to allow the emotional power of this process inside their bodies and their lives and to transform them as they went home and acted differently in their own cultures.

The opposite happened to me.  I came home and found myself involved with truth and reconciliation processes throughout the decades that followed.  You see, this passage has everything that Joseph does, bracketed with weeping.  He starts out with these loud, loud sobs and then he speaks gently to the half-brothers who’ve oppressed him and then he wraps his arm around Benjamin and they weep on each other’s necks and there is a physical, visceral reconciliation happening there.  There’s a mutual recognition of humanity and a restoration of their common humanity.

Now, the other passage, starts off showing the opposite and shockingly, the bad guy is Jesus.

Who knows where Tyre and Sidon are?  Southern Lebanon.  So, at this time, what’s happening in this passage?

Jesus is not wandering alone through Southern Lebanon, hanging out with Canaanite women – would have gotten himself into multiple forms of trouble – he’s with at least some of his followers but he’s gone there, I think, for a break.  He’s left Israel and he’s in another country, away from all of the work he has to do, so he’s sort of on vacation in Southern Lebanon, which is a beautiful place – makes some of the best wine and some of the best Arak in the world today.  And then Jesus is confronted with this woman from a different culture, a different race, a different religion, a Canaanite woman – we talked about Canaanite religion last week – and she has a daughter who is “possessed by a demon” and she needs him to heal her.  Jesus tells her, Can you not see I’m on retreat?  Leave me alone! – it’s like the minister who doesn’t want to receive the phonecall on a day off because he/she/they are too tired.  I can empathize.  But she keeps at him and finally he says:

‘It is not fair to take the children’s food’ [ie. the children of Israel] ‘and throw it to the dogs.’ [ie. you, and your people]

Now, this thing that I remembered immediately upon reading this passage today – which looks so much worse in my eyes than it did 35 years ago, for some reason – was what’s happening in European soccer at this point.  There’s a great controversy happening in European soccer, especially around a player named Vinicius Junior who is from Brazil and who is black.  When he scores goals, he likes to dance and celebrate and he scores a lot of goals, and when he’s dancing and celebrating chants of ‘monkey, monkey, monkey’ arise amongst the supporters of other clubs, and they’ve spread, and now more black players are being called monkey.  Jesus is in that position in this passage.  The courage to write this and to include it in the New Testament is some truth-telling – that would stand out in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.  Jesus is tired.  Jesus is not acknowledging the mutual humanity of the Canaanite woman and so he’s turning to the same kind of scorn.  He is looking at this woman and he’s saying, woman, we’re a mismatch.  We don’t belong in the same place.  We’re a mismatch.  We’re not part of the same tribe.  We don’t belong to the same religion.  We don’t see the world the same way and so, forget about it.

Now, in our culture today, he’d likely just be cancelled in some form, but the Canaanite woman is so desperate to have her daughter healed that she doesn’t react to this humiliation but uses wit to make him see her humanity.  And somehow, through her quick wit; which is like an arrow into his heart, Jesus goes, ‘O my God, what am I doing?!’, and the scales fall from his eyes, and the armour falls from his heart, and the fatigue falls from his body and he recognizes her humanity, and instantly, in the mutual recognition of humanity, across these barriers, the daughter is healed.  He doesn’t say to the woman, Oh, I will heal her, but he acknowledges that she’s already healed.  The demon of othering, the demon of otherness, has been cast out and the daughter is healed.

At the deep level of common humanity there’s no mismatch.  When we get to this place, with the honest truth-telling of the heart, and the body, as well as the mind, all can be healed.

Friends, the scorn of the refusal to go to the heart is alive and well in our culture.  Last week, in response to my sermon, you were saying, What about the rise of the right wing?  What about the Trumpites?  What about the complacent of right-wing religion and right-wing politics?

Well, it’s happening on the left too, and what’s happening is folks who are articulating this unholy combination of right-wing politics and religion, are people who are losing things.  In a time of tremendous inequality, most of these people are falling through the bottom of the middle-class, and when that happens, we have a lot of negative emotions, and we look around for somebody to call a dog or a monkey.  For some reason it’s easier to turn to scorn than to really feel in process what we’re feeling, which would actually liberate us to doing something more about it.

Our culture is filled with that scorn, you can smell it online.  Unfortunately, our churches sometimes are filled with that and you can smell it when people refuse to go to the depths of their hearts and they project something onto the other, and they’re scornful towards them.

Let me finish this sermon by offering an invitation:  my mentor, Bill Coffin, used to use the phrase, “It was a wonderful experience, except at the time.”  The process of going deep into the heart and feeling the grief and the anger and the pain and the loss is a wonderful experience, except at the time.  It heals us and it liberates us into a future filled with creativity and hope.  We’ve got to have the courage to drop the armour and to realize it’s going to hurt to move through all of the sources of bitterness and brokenness and non-recognition of humanity in our churches and in our culture but we’ve got to go through the experience that is wonderful, except at the time.  And we’ve got to go through it together.

May it be so.


[These words from Russ Daye, given before the offering, are included at the request of the Pastoral Care Connector, Tina Edwards.]

Let’s breathe again.  You’ve been working your ears and your faculties of listening, maybe even feeling, but let’s remember our faculties of breathing.

Let’s forget about money, and just say for yourself, in your heads and in your hearts, this is the spiritual and emotional energy I have to offer in this moment.

What is it?  To offer myself, to offer the people I love, to offer the world – this is the spiritual and emotional energy I have to offer.



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