“Not Long After the Bible Began”

A sermon preached on
The Ninth Sunday After Trinity (The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost)
at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete,
July 12, 2020 11:00 am.

Has anyone here ever seen Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat?

It was originally a short, fifteen minute cantata for schools; it was the first thing that Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice collaborated on that got performed. It was written in 1968 as a pop cantata, to be done by schools. After the success of Jesus Christ Superstar they expanded it considerably, and in time was presented as a full blown musical on both the West End and Broadway in the 1990s. The video version with Donny Osmond came out in 1999. My children watched it repeatedly.

Oh, and I was in a version at my high school in 1979, sharing the role of the narrator and Potiphar.

“The Story of the Family of Jacob,” as Genesis 37.1 puts it, takes up the last fourteen chapters of the book.

What are we to make of it (other than the fact that it is a good story and a darned good musical)?

Context

Fundamentally, it is that we need a saviour. The story of Joseph and his brothers is the story of how God saved the children of Israel from a devastating famine. But it is not happily ever after, because just as it ends in Genesis, we read of their descendants becoming enslaved in Egypt. So they still need a saviour, someone who will deliver them from slavery.

Well, let’s pause to put it into a large context. Now is a good time to do so, as since Trinity Sunday we have been reading our way through Genesis, and we will now be going through the Joseph story for a few weeks. Then we continue on into Exodus, and we end up by late October in Joshua.

  • So, the Big Context is: The Bible, which as we know, has two parts the Old and the New Testament (ignore the Apocrypha right now). The Old Testament, originally written in Hebrew and often referred to as the Hebrew Bible, was the only Bible of Jesus. And he would not have known it so much as a book, as a collection of sacred writings, which he would have referred to as “The Law and the Prophets” or “The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms”. Greek speaking Jews such as Paul would have known it mainly in a Greek translation called the Septuagint.
  • The Hebrew Bible had three divisions. The Hebrew names for the three divisions of books were: The Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Kethubim. Jews often call the whole colleNeviimction Tanakh, from the first letters of these three divisions – Taph, Nun, and Caph. We translate the latter as “Prophets” and “Writings”.
  • Prophets includes the prophetical texts of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and the shorter texts known in Judaism as The Twelve but called by Christians The Minor Prophets. It also includes things we think of as histories – Joshua, Judges, the two volumes of Samuel, and the two volumes of Kings.
  • WritinCethuviimgs is a real grab-bag of things – Psalms, Proverbs, Daniel, Job, Ruth, the two volumes of Chronicles, the Song of Songs.
  • The Sadducees, or the Zadokite priesthood that controlled the Temple worship in Jerusalem, rejected these latter two collections of scrolls as being sacred, they accepted only the Torah.
  • The Torah is the most sacred of these texts, accepted by all Jews. It contains the first five books of the Bible, traditionally ascribed to Moses and his immediate successors. They are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The word Torah was translated from Hebrew into Greek as “Law”, but it is clear that it is much more than law. It includes commandments and guidance, but also narratives, theology, genealogies, history, prophecy, and poetry. Torah could be translated just as well as “InstructionTorah”, for it is that.
  • Our text this morning is in Genesis, the first book, which Jews call Bereshith, from its first word meaning “In the beginning”. Genesis itself has two parts.
  • Chapters 1-11 tell of God’s creation of the cosmos, and how human beings screwed up repeatedly. There was Adam and Eve, then Cain murdering Abel, the murder of Lamech, the depravity of the world which led to the Great Flood, the depravity of some of Noah’s sons, and finally the Tower of Babel. Obviously things were not going well. So God starts all over with one family.
  • Chapters 12 to 50 tell the story of that family – the call of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and his two wives, two concubines, and twelve sons, one of whom was Joseph.
  • Throughout Genesis there are these dual themes – God as the creator, but also the one who promises this family a piece of land in Canaan that will be theirs. But the Torah is not fundamentally about that.
  • The Torah – all five books – and especially the four books that follow Genesis – are fundamentally about Moses leading the people of Israel out of slavery Egypt into the Promised Land, and of the giving of the Commandments at Sinai. There were the ten commandments, and the total numbers was held to be 613, which guided the people of Israel in how to live and worship. All of Genesis is a prologue – a long and grad prologue, but nevertheless a preliminary part – to the next four books.
  • So, today’s story is a part of the set up. It explains how the people of Israel found themselves in Egypt. The first chapter of Exodus explains how they were enslaved. It is the hinge on how the story of God and humanity becomes the story of God’s salvation of Israel, and his gracing with them of the Torah.

So, again, what do we make of this?

Beyond Broadway and the West End

As Christians, we read everything in the Tanakh as if it potentially foreshadows Jesus. What Moses is for Israel, Jesus is for all humanity. We are like Joseph. He did not intend to lead Israel into slavery, but that is what happened. None of us intended to be enslaved by sin and oppressed by powers greater than ourselves, but that is the situation we find ourselves in. We need a saviour, to permanently rescue us from the evil powers that would dominate us and oppress us, and from ourselves.

Chapel of St Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas

If we look at the gospel reading for today, we are people in a small boat, battered by waves and wind. It can be terrifying. But the one who made the heavens and the earth is among us. Whether we find ourselves in slavery, in the wilderness, or in a great pandemic, Jesus is with us, and he says to us, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

So let us invite Jesus into our lives, once again. Let us invite him into this small bark, and perhaps we will see that with God all things are possible, and perhaps, just as he led Joseph to save his family from famine in Egypt, so God will lift us up, and maybe we can even walk on water. Amen.

 

About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Canadian. Husband. Father. Christian. Recovering Settler. A priest of the Church of England, Diocese in Europe, on the island of Crete in Greece. More about me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bruce-bryant-scott-4205501a/
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