Family Stories

Genesis 45:1-8, 14-15
Fox Valley Presbyterian Church
August 8, 2010 (VBS Sunday)

I’m the oldest of 4 kids: me, Emily, Mark, Anna. We’re packed in there…Anna is only 6 years younger than me.

A few months ago, Anna started a new job at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. The agency where she works has a weekly staff spotlight, and one of the questions they asked when it was her week was:

“What’s the story your family always tells about you?

Here’s Anna’s answer…

When I was 2 or 3, the youngest of four, I used to sneak out of my room at naptime and head down to the kitchen, where I’d dump the trash can on the floor and eat all the food scraps I could find. As my mom tells it, “That’s when I looked at your father and said– ‘Now this one– she’s a survivor.’”

I think it’s a great question: what’s the story your family always tells about you. We do all have these family stories, and they tell us something about who our families are. My family was laid back enough not to freak out because the baby was exploring the garbage can. And optimistic enough to spin the story into something positive.

And the stories tell us something about who we are: Anna is the super-independent, adventurous survivor of the family. She wasn’t a neglected child, but my parents will admit that by the time she came along, with 4 kids under 6, everything was kind of a blur…

I love family stories…both my own and other people’s families. Think of how many well know stories are some sort of family stories: cinderella; Hansel and Gretel; Snow White Winnie the pooh–all those animals in the 40 acre woods are sort of like a family for Winnie; even Barbie has a family of some kind…all those dolls who are somehow part of her entourage; and comic book and action hero character stories eventually get around to explaining where the hero comes from.

Big parts of the Bible, too, are nothing more than family stories…Joseph’s family story is a bit ore extreme than Anna the garbage eater, but there it is: another story that a family tells to remind themselves about who they are.

And another story about finding your way as one of the youngest in a big family. About family at its best and at its worst, about how families can fall apart and how they come back together, about how families can setroy each other or take care of each other.

It’s not a story about a perfect family: this is a family with a father, Jacob, who shows blatant and unfair favoritism to his youngest children (maybe I notice that because I’m as oldest child!); this is a family where brothers get jealous and lash out at each other; this is a family where a talented child (Joseph) brags about his talents; this is a family where someone gets sent away, and a father becomes so devastated that he barely cares about the sons (and the one daughter) he still has.

Even when we’re very little, I think we know that our families aren’t perfect. Hopefully, not as bad as Joseph’s family. But it doesn’t take long to know that families are messy things. They are places where people grow, but they can also be places where people get hurt.

I asked the kids at VBS this week about this moment in the story, one morning, the morning before we told them that part of the story. I said, “If Joseph met his brothers again, after they were so mean to him, what do you think he would do to them? What would you do to them?”

One boy, with incredible honesty, gave the non-churchy answer: “He should punch them in the eye.”

We know we’re supposed to forgive, but let’s be honest: if your brothers sold you into slavery, what would you do? Would any one blame you if you never let on to who you were; if you threw them in the same prison you were stuck in; if you punched them in the eye?

There are so many stories in the Bible about families, but they are not perfect families. And I, for one, am glad…

Because God uses people and situations that are not perfect, sometimes even really messed up, God uses these things to work out good.

And I, for one, am glad, because I come no where close to being a perfect person. So it’s good to be reminded that God can use even me.

But if there’s one thing that we learn from the Joseph story, it’s that great moment at the end where all the brothers are trapped in a room together.

When Joseph sees his brothers again, of course, he doesn’t punch them in the eye. But he does poke and prod and test, and it takes a couple visits before he can even tell them who he is:

He finally says to them: 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

It was not you who sent me here, but God…don’t worry. You did a terrible thing. But God turned it into something good.

See, it’s not just that God uses imperfect people: God FORGIVES imperfect people. And if we’re honest with ourselves, if someone can forgive us, we can learn to forgive other people: to be like God, and to try to make good things come from bad.

Even this story of forgiveness in the Bible is a family story: and not just because there are families in the Bible who desperately need to forgive each other.

Because Joseph and his 12 brothers and their children and their children’s children, and those children’s children, and those children’s children, and on and on and on, they survive the famine. And they survive slavery in Egypt. And they survive 40 years wandering in the Sinai desert…and on and on and on.

Until, one day, one of the children’s children’s children has a baby named Jesus. A baby who is God’s own son, but also a great great great ever so many greats grandson of Joseph’s father Jacob. Part of Jacob and Joseph’s family.

And Jesus is God’s answer to all of us, daughters and sons of God, who need so desperately to be forgiven.

Our God is a God of forgiveness.

And that means that we can forgive others, even our families.

And even when the hurts feel to big to get over, too much to bear, we can know this:

We are part of this one big family, God’s family, messy as it is, but a family where we are all children of God.

And where we are all forgiven,

And where we can all learn to forgive.

This is our family story…
Thanks be to God!