The Rev. Canon Paul McLain
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Little Rock
Sept. 11, 2011
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
If we truly believe in a loving God, how do we make sense out of unthinkable evil and terror? That is the question we are left with on this 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Perhaps our Old Testament lesson from Genesis today offers us a glimpse of illumination. It is one of the final chapters in the story of Joseph and his brothers.
Jacob favored Joseph over his other sons because he was the son of the beautiful Rachel,
and was the son of his old age. Jacob gave Joseph a royal garment, a long robe with sleeves, that we often call ‘the coat of many colors.’ Between Joseph’s coat and his dreams that he told that seemed to depict the other brothers bowing down to him, his brothers became intensely jealous of him. One day, as they saw him coming, some of them conspired to kill him. They stopped short of that and instead they stripped him of his coat and threw him into an empty well. They later sold him into slavery to a band of travelers. They dipped his coat in the blood of a goat which convinced their father that Joseph had been devoured by a wild animal.
The band of travelers later sold Joseph to Potiphar, the captain of the guard of the Egyptian Pharaoh. One day, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph and Joseph wound up in prison. The Lord was with Joseph in prison and Joseph earned the trust of the chief jailer. He committed the care of all his prisoners to Joseph. Word spread that Joseph had correctly interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners.
Later when Pharaoh had a dream that no one could understand, he sent for Joseph. Joseph realized the meaning of Pharaoh’s dream. Egypt would have seven good years of bumper crops, followed by seven years of lean times and famine. He suggested to Pharaoh that he put someone who was discerning and wise over the task of gathering up the surplus of the good years so that it would be available to feed the people later during the lean years. Because Joseph so impressed Pharaoh with both his interpretation and this suggestion, Pharaoh appointed Joseph over all the land of Egypt as his second-in-command, and Joseph set about the business of implementing his plan.
After the seven years of plenty, a famine spread not only in Egypt but throughout the world. When Jacob learned that there was food in Egypt, he sent his sons there to buy grain. Joseph recognized his brothers when they arrived, but they did not recognize him. Joseph eventually revealed his identity to his brothers. He gave them and their father some of the best land in Egypt in which to settle.
When their father died, Joseph and his brothers went back to their homeland of Canaan to bury Jacob. But upon their return, the brothers begin to wonder, ‘What if Joseph has been waiting for our father to die before he extracts his revenge on us for the evil we did to him years ago?’ So they go to him saying that before their father died he instructed them to say to Joseph, ‘I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ And the brothers now ask for Joseph’s forgiveness. Joseph is so moved that he weeps. The brothers also weep as they fall down before him.
Joseph tells them not to be afraid. He says, “Am I in the place of God?” By that, I believe he is saying that he is not their judge. And, as a man of God and as a good brother, Joseph knows that revenge has no place in this situation or in his heart. For when revenge becomes our motive, evil has won. It has won a convert because when we fight evil with evil, we become that which we are fighting.
I think it is important to make a distinction between maintaining security and pursuing revenge. I am grateful for the men and women who put their lives on the line each day
in our military, in law enforcement, and as fire and emergency personnel to maintain our security and keep us safe. I am the proud brother of a U. S. Navy petty officer, and I know that many of you serve, have served, or have loved ones who are serving our nation, state, and city in maintaining our security and keeping us safe. When Osama bin Laden was captured and killed, I was grateful for the work of the Navy Seals and others to maintain our security. But I was disheartened when many took to the streets in this country with raucous celebrations. Security is one thing, revenge is another.
Joseph tells his brothers, ‘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.’ While I don’t believe God would wish destruction or disaster on any of us, I do believe he can somehow bring about good from even the worst tragedies.
So what good can possibly come out of September 11th? Remember your first impulses that day. Our first impulse was to think of people we knew in New York or Washington or on flights that day. Our first impulse was to think about and care for someone outside our selves that day.
I think this good is still evolving. I do believe it is present in our hearts and is moving from an impulse to a way of life. Joseph’s brothers feared revenge. Instead, they were embraced by him with love.
I ask that you open your Prayer Book to Page 816. Perhaps the most difficult and the most important thing we can do today is offer Prayer Number 6 – For our enemies. Let us pray it together.
‘O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’