A true story: A man goes to a party and has too much to drink. His friends plead with him to let them take him home. He says no — he only lives a mile away. About five blocks from the party, the police pull him over for weaving and ask him to get out of the car and walk the line. Just as he starts, the police radio blares out a notice of a robbery taking place in a house just a block away. The police tell the party animal to stay put, they will be right back and they hop a fence and run down the street to the robbery.
The guy waits and waits and finally decides to drive home. When he gets there, he tells his wife he is going to bed, and to tell anyone who might come looking for him that he has the flu and has been in bed all day. A few hours later the police knock on the door. They ask if Mr. Joe is there and his wife says yes. They ask to see him and she replies that he is in bed with the flu and has been so all day. The police have his driver’s license. They ask to see his car and she asks why. They insist on seeing his car, so she takes them to the garage. She opens the door. There sitting in the garage is the police car, with all its lights still flashing.
Perhaps we have never been so stupid, but we’ve all had somewhat similar experiences – just when we think we’ve gotten away with something, just when we think we’ve made it, the world crashes in around our ears.
For the last several weeks our Old Testament reading has been the story of Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob. Jacob loved Joseph, because as the scripture says, “He was the son of his old age.” Joseph would later have a dream and the dream was interpreted to mean that all the sons of Jacob and that even Jacob himself would one day bow down to Joseph. Needless to say, no one liked the story, especially his brothers who were so put out that they eventually contrived a plan and sold Joseph into slavery. As we read in our lessons, Joseph rises to power in the land of Egypt and becomes second only to Pharaoh. Time passes and there is a famine in the land and the other sons of Jacob come to Egypt to find food, having no idea that they would be encountering their brother. When they arrive, Joseph’s dream comes true, and the brothers fall down before him and beg for food. Later, Joseph is reconciled to his brothers and says to them, “Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to save you.” Through these events, Joseph became the savior of the nation of Israel. They were given lands and animals. They thrived and grew in numbers and became a great nation, but just when they thought they had made it, “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor.”
For 400 years the Israelites were the slaves of the Egyptians. Beaten and bruised, they built the great cities of Egypt and all along wondered what had happened to their salvation. When all seems lost, the Lord sends them another savior, Moses. For several Sundays we are going to be reading about Moses and his fight with Pharaoh. “Let my people go,” Moses will declare. We will hear of the ten plagues that the Lord visited upon the land of Egypt, eventually leading to Pharaoh releasing the Israelites. They will cross the Red Sea, wander in the desert for 40 years, and eventually come to the Jordan river. From there they will cross into the land of milk and honey.
Joseph was Israel’s savior. So was Moses and later it will be King David. Through these saviors Israel succeeded, but just when they think they have finally made it, there is failure, and they are eventually sent once again into captivity due to their sins against God.
It is a pattern that repeats itself: they are in misery, they have their salvation, but it slips through their fingers and they find themselves once again in misery.
George Mallory was the famed mountain climber who may have been the first person ever to reach the top of Mount Everest. In the early 1920’s he led a number of attempts to scale the mountain, eventually being killed in the third attempt in 1924. Before that last and fatal attempt he had said, “I can’t see myself coming down defeated.”
Mallory was an extraordinary climber, and nothing would force him to give up. His body was found in 1999, well preserved by the snow and ice, 27,000 feet up the mountain, just 2000 feet from the peak. Give up he did not. His body was found face down on a rocky slope, head toward the summit. His arms were extended high over his head. His toes were pointed into the mountain; his fingers dug into the loose rock, refusing to let go even as he drew his last breath.
When those who had set up camp for Mallory further down the mountain returned to England a banquet was held for them. A huge picture of Mount Everest stood behind the banquet table. It is said that the leader of the group stood to be applauded, and with tears streaming down his face, turned and looked at the picture. “I speak to you, Mount Everest, in the name of all brave men living and those yet unborn. Mount Everest, you defeated us once; you defeated us twice; you defeated us three times. But Mount Everest, we shall someday defeat you, because you can’t get any bigger but we can.”
Can you almost hear the Israelites declaring the same thing to the world? “You’ve defeated us once. Twice. Three times. But one day we shall defeat you!”
Now, shall I tell you the entire story of Jesus or do you know it? How he came to the people of God and gave them everything they desired, including miracles and teachings. Things were going to be made new. Oh, yes! The crowds gather around him and cheer him on. He asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am.” Peter responds for them all, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” You are our savior. Our salvation. The people cry out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Yes, He is the savior, he is bringing the long awaited salvation. Yet, just when they thought they had finally made it, everything slips through their fingers as the blood of Christ trickles down that nail pierced cross.
I’ll ask you again, how many of you, just when you think you’ve made it, have had the world come crashing down around your ears? See everything just slip through your fingers like sand on a beach?
Following such events, it is very easy to look at the carnage in our wakes and say, “It’s just not possible.” “It can’t be done.” “All is lost.” We do it when someone is very sick – There is no cure. We do it with society – It’s just the way things are. We, good Christian people, even do it with our faith – God can’t help me. He has forgotten me. We can become like the Israelites in captivity or the disciples who sat at the foot of the cross and watched the life of Jesus slowly slip away. “Has God rejected his people? By no means!” But “Who will rescue” us? “Who then can be saved?” Jesus’ answer, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Three days after his crucifixion Jesus rose from the grave. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Like the Israelites, you may be experiencing one of those times of exile or, like the disciples, you may be in one of those three day periods where all seems lost, but remember, it’s not over. It’s far from it.
Consider the words of our Psalm for today:
Blessed be the LORD!
he has not given us over to be a prey for [the teeth of our enemies.]
We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler;
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the Name of the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.
Perhaps it is oversimplified, but there are days when my soul needs oversimplified, so I’ll put it in the words of the Brazilian writer, Fernando Sabino, perhaps some of you will remember the line from the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay then it’s not the end.”
There will always be those bad days when all seems lost, but to God’s people, not even death itself has the final say. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus has overcome the world and although it may not always seem like it, you are already victorious.