“Dreaming God’s dreams”
You may recall the story of Joseph in Egypt. Well, tucked away in Genesis 48, there is the story of Joseph’s last meeting with his father, Jacob, who was close to death.
“‘Your father is ill’, Joseph was told. So, he took his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, and went to visit him. When Jacob was told, ‘Your son Joseph has come,’ he roused himself and sat up in bed.
Then Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me. He said to me, ‘I will make you fruitful, and I will multiply your descendants. I will make you a multitude of nations.
“Now I am adopting as my own sons these two boys of yours, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born here in the land of Egypt before I arrived. They will be my sons, just as Reuben and Simeon are.”
At first glance it is a tender story about the passing of a generation, and the closing of a whole chapter in the history of Israel. It is also a reminded of God’s faithfulness – God will keep his promises.
But it is even more – way more than you could have ever imagined! And it is that “more” that makes the story relevant today for us, here at St David’s on this Day of Pentecost and, indeed, for the church at large.
Since early on in the story of the people of Israel, nationality was inherited through motherhood. Even as patriarchs were – and still are – famous, one became part of the people of Israel only if the mother was also a member of the chosen people.
You may recall the story of Abraham and Sarah – and Haggar and Ishmael. While Isaac was born into the people of Israel, Ishmael was not, even if his father was the one and only Abraham! Why? Because Haggar was Egyptian.
Even to this day, if one doesn’t have a Jewish mother, one cannot be considered Jewish – even if the father were to be the most revered Rabbi. The sages of old put it this way, “A possibility never cancels a certainty.”
Fast forward about two hundred years. Joseph is in Egypt and marries Asenath, the daughter of one of Egypt’s high priests. Eventually, she gave birth to Ephraim and Manasseh.
According to tradition and the Law, both Ephraim and Manasseh were Egyptians through and through. It was not their choice; they were born Egyptians.
They didn’t choose to be Egyptians. They were not taught to be Egyptians. They had no choice to be other that what they were born. It was not their fault. They were not influenced to be Egyptians or were confused by the wrong crowd, or by woke Egyptians. In other words, being Egyptians was part of their DNA.
And yet, here is the good news… or the challenge some may think.
Both Ephraim and Manasseh were adopted into the family of Israel, as proper sons, and members of Israel. They were received literally as they were, Egyptians, and accepted into God’s people, God’s very own family. So much so, that by their adoption, now Israel had no ten tribes, but twelve.
There was not a liturgy of conversion. They didn’t need to go classes. They didn’t need to change the way they dressed. They were blessed as they were. And note that Jacob was not ashamed to pronounce God’s blessing over whom they were.
Today, Pentecost, we celebrate what God intended from the very beginning – To pour out His Spirit over all flesh, over all people, without any conditions. One may not like it – like the brother of the prodigal son – but nevertheless, God’s heart and welcome are ready to all and sundry. “Come as you are.”
This is why – way back when – Ephraim and Manasseh were received into the people of God.
In our first Lesson, we read about God’s Spirit being outpoured over seventy elders that were appointed to help Moses in his monumental task of leading the people of Israel.
But as it happened, two men Eldad and Medad who were not part of the leadership group received the Spirit. So, a young man ran and told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp." And Joshua, one of his chosen men, said, "My lord Moses, stop them!" But Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!"
And this what St Paul taught – that God gave us to drink of His Spirit and brought us into His Body. Like Ephraim and Manasseh, even though we have no right, we have been adopted into God’s own family.
In other words, we are welcomed into the family of God not because what we believe about God, but for what God believes about us – that we are His, no matter what. After all, we carry more than our human DNA – since before we were born, we carry God’s spiritual DNA.
For as St Paul would write, in God there is no Jew or Egyptian or Greek, nor men or women, or free or slave. And, let me add, for God there is he, she or them; nor white or black or brown, liberal or conservative, red or blue or green, and no one lies beyond the reach of God’s love.
No one; no exceptions. It is not up to us, thanks be to God, to be chosen, but it is God’s loving choice to call whom He wants. He’s God, after all, isn’t He?
In the aftermath of Pentecost, Peter was driven to visit a Gentile home – a true challenge. And even after seeing with his own very eyes all that transpired on Pentecost Day, after giving rousing sermons, after watching multitudes joining into the nascent church, still Peter baulked at the idea of visiting a Gentile’s home.
And so, as we know he had a dream. “Old men will dream dreams prophesied Joel,” didn’t he? And in the dream God taught him a lesson. “Don’t trash out what God has sanctified.”
This is what I believe is today’s bottom line. In fact, because what Jesus told his disciples in John 20, it is God’s bottom line as well. “Welcome the Holy Spirit of the living God. You now have the mantle of God’s forgiveness. As you go, you are able to share the life-giving power to forgive sins, or to withhold forgiveness”, (John 20:22-23, The Voice).
In other words, those who are afar from the promises and covenants of God, those who live without hope, those who are crushed under the heavy weight of guilt and inadequacy, those who have been censured for who they are, all, all of them need to hear God’s call through what we believe, what we preach, what we teach, and what we do in church, or at home, school, or work.
Today in the Collect of the Day we prayed that God would grant us the grace of His Spirit so that we may come to see the world through His own eyes, and that we would embrace others – as tough as it may be – as God sees and embraces us – “To have the right judgment in all things.”
Many have said that we are entering into a post-Christian century, where religion as we knew it is being tossed away like run-down furniture. And if what it is tossed away is the “Holier than Thou” attitude and the barriers that hardness of heart built then, good riddance.
However, if the church is not only to survive but to thrive and grow as it did on Pentecost Day, we need to be willing to open the windows of our souls to the wind of the Spirit, come what may.
In other words, we need to pray with all our hearts, minds, and souls, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and kindle in them the fire of Thy love.” Amen.