This is the manuscript of the sermon I gave at Wesley Chapel UMC (Misenheimer, NC) on March 5, 2023. It is based in the work of Pete Scazzero (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Chapter 5). You can view the sermon HERE.
Genesis 50:19-26, Exodus 20:1-6, Ephesians 1:3-8
I grew up in a pretty “average” middle class midwestern family. My mom and dad both worked. My younger brother and I went to daycare before and after school. Growing up we had dogs, cats, fish, turtles. We took modest family vacations (mostly camping I remember) each year and traveled to Michigan a couple of times to visit family. My brother and I played sports and participated in other school activities. Neither of us got into too much trouble and when we were old enough got jobs and cars. I took a more academic secondary education path, while my brother took a more trade oriented route. We both had significant relationships and started having kids at the same time. We knew about my firstborn’s impending arrival first, although it was my niece that actually arrived first.
Life wasn’t perfect, yet I knew that my life had been so much easier than many. I’d been given a pretty solid foundation of hard work, being mostly financially stable, the importance of family, and an appreciation for life in a smaller community. I had good relationships with my grandparents and other extended family members growing up. To this day, I so appreciate the good foundation for life I had growing up.
When my first marriage quietly imploded, I was devastated, mostly because my dreams of an idyllic life were over. Then I moved 6 hours away from family (and later 12 hours away). As Bill and I added children to our family through birth and adoption, life became more complicated, harder. Job changes, job losses, a season of living below the poverty line, the strains of Bill’s heavy work travel schedule and a new clinical depression diagnosis… I felt like life was crashing around me. So I got help through medication and therapy.
The last several years have been a journey of self-reflection and healing for me. I have spent time with God and with my therapist and with some good books to look back and try to understand my personal story in deeper way, to try and understand how I got to where I am and how I can life a more authentic, healed, whole life. As an adult looking back at my childhood, I have come to even more deeply appreciate the life my parents tried to give me. Asking questions and knowing more of my family’s history has helped me understand that my parents are people who were breaking family patterns, battling their own childhood wounds, and doing the best they knew how.
That’s really what most of us are doing isn’t it? We’re doing the best we know how to do. We take the cards we are dealt and do the best we can. And some of us have been dealt some pretty crappy cards. Some of us have personal and extended family histories that include abuse, extreme poverty, infidelity, divorce, addiction, emotional abandonment, family secrets, untimely deaths, crime, instability, and a whole host of other stories. Our family stories influence who we are and how we are in the world.
And they do not have to define us.
Joseph is one biblical example of a family story that seems as if it should have ended differently. It starts generations before Joseph was born. Abraham’s story shows favoritism of one son, big lies to hopefully stay out of trouble, and a major family rift.
Then Abraham’s son Isaac married a woman name Rebecca. Their story shows a favored son with lies to gain a blessing and then a major family rift between two brothers.
Isaac and Rebecca’s son Jacob was surrounded by lying. He favored his wife Rachel and her two sons (out of the 12 sons and one daughter he had) over all the others. The favoritism was so bad that 10 of the sons sold Joseph (the most favored son) into slavery, then lied about his death, faked a funeral and kept the secret for YEARS. Talk about a family rift! There was also a whole situation with Dinah but that is another story for another day.
So yeah, Joseph’s family history didn’t exactly set him up for success. By 30, his life was in shambles, was marked by lies and betrayal, and if we are honest, justifies whatever acts of rage and bitterness he might have committed. And yet somehow, he ended up as the second most powerful man in Egypt and redeemed his family story. How? What do we learn from this lesson in Joseph’s life? How can we go back into our own family stories in order to go forward to redeem our family stories.
1 – Keep our eyes on God and remember that God is bigger that what has happened to us. God is bigger than our family story. And as Joseph says in Gen 50:20 “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.”
2 – Be honest and admit the hard feelings. We humans do not like to feel pain. We don’t like to admit when others have hurt us, especially our family members. Part of healing and moving forward in hope and wholeness is admitting the pain of our past. It is okay and healthy to lament the painful parts of our stories. Gen 45:2 records that Joseph wept so loudly the Egyptians and the household of Pharaoh heard it! Through honesty with the pain of his past, Joseph was able to be in an emotional and mental space where he could bless his brothers, bring blessing out of the pain of his past.
3 – Make choices to align life with Scripture and partner with God to bless others. Joseph knew the cards he had been dealt – the hard and the good. He had enough time in prison to know those cards well and choose which ones to focus on, to dwell on. Joseph chose to make peace with the crappy cards and focus on the ways God had provided for him, cared for him, positioned him. When the time came that Joseph was once again face to face with his brothers, he chose to play the cards of blessing. He chose love.
No matter your past, no matter your family story, we can find healing and be whole. It does not mean we just Pollyanna our way through and ignore the hard things. No. Instead, we examine how our past has shaped us, lament the pain and hurt we have felt, and look to God for healing and a new way forward.
That new way forward is through Jesus Christ. God’s love is here, waiting to fill in all the painful and empty parts of our life. Through Jesus, God has made a way for us to find hope and belonging and wholeness in the family of God. As Paul write to the church at Ephesus: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
No matter the pain and legacy from our families of origin, through Jesus Christ we are adopted into the family of God. It won’t be perfect (Lord knows adoption is hard) and we will have to daily make choices to follow the example of Christ, to choose blessing, to keep God’s commandments to love God and love others. Yet it is through Christ, through forgiveness, that we can change our family tree and go forward knowing the grace of God to the thousandth generation.