Tag Archives: liberation

God’s People, part 19: Joseph

Read Genesis 37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then [God] sent someone to Egypt ahead of them— Joseph, who was sold as a slave.” (Psalms‬ ‭105:17‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 19: Joseph. An entire book could be written on Joseph and, as a matter of fact, the last quarter of Genesis is centered on him. Most of us know the gist of his story. He was a “dreamer” who had dreams that proved to be really annoying to his family and, specifically, his eleven other brothers. While the Bible tells us that Joseph had number of dreams, they always ended in the same way: with his brothers and the rest of his family (mom and dad included) worshipping the ground he walked on.

Sounds a bit…I don’t know…egotisitcal and heady, right? His brothers thought so and decided to murder him. Reuben suggested putting him in a well and leaving him to die (with the hope that he could come back and rescue his brother in secret). The others took the suggestion, but Judah offered one even more alluring. He suggested they not kill Joseph at all, evidently while Reuben was not there; rather, Judah suggested that they sell him off, make a profit and pass him off as being killed by a wild animal to their father. So, that is what they did, much to Reuben’s dismay. Joseph was sold to nomads who brought him into Egypt.

Long story short, it was his ability to interpret dreams that ironically saved his hide and put him under Pharaoh’s employment. Through his ability to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph rose to be the second in command under Pharaoh. It was through his newfound position and status in Egypt that Joseph found his place in the world and became the savior of his own people.

He also became the archetype for the prophet. The prophet both dreams and can interpret dreams. Those dreams tend to have prophetic implications. Those implications end up costing the profit, big league. People reject, abuse, and sometimes kill the prophet, until the prophecy comes true and the prophet (alive or dead) is respected.

Yet, what landed Joseph into trouble with his brothers was not so much his prophetic dreams, but his inability to know when to play it cool and chill out on the self-aggrandizing and boastful rhetoric. When one reads the story carefully, Joseph’s prophetic dreams are distorted by his own boasting of his status with his father.

Jacob favored Joseph more than the others, to the point where he was giving Joseph fancy clothing to wear and keeping him from having to workt he fields, while his brothers slaved away. Worse than that, actually. Jacob seemingly put Joseph in charge of his brothers and sent him out in his fancy clothing to check up on them and make sure they were doing their work efficiently. Then he was to bring the report back to his father.

Let me tell you this, no one likes a supervisor. Especially when that supervisor is one’s snot-nosed, bratty, younger brother. This enraged his brothers so much that they plotted against them. Had Jospeh humbled himself and explained his dream in a way that was less threatening to them, perhaps they would have heard Joseph out and at least given him the benefit of the doubt. We’ll never know, and God brought the good out of what had gone from bad to ugly in one fell swoop.

Have you ever been so sure that God was calling you to do somethng that you ended up doing it without ever pausing to wonder exactly HOW it should be done? Have you ever rubbed someone the wrong way due to coming off as boastful or self-aggrandizing? Sometimes we are doing exactly what we are supposed to do; however, we are NOT doing it HOW we ought to! When that happens we can be a hinderance to God’s ultimate plan, rather than serving it’s ultimate purpose. While God can and will bring the good out of any circumstance, let us learn from Joseph, that humility goes a long way in spreading the Gospel. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Without humility, the GOOD News of Jesus Christ looks very, very BAD.

PRAYER

Lord, give me the boldness of your prophets, and the humility of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 8: Oppressed

Read Luke 4:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t be surprised if you see a poor person being oppressed by the powerful and if justice is being miscarried throughout the land. For every official is under orders from higher up, and matters of justice get lost in red tape and bureaucracy.” (Ecclesiastes 5:8)

oppression11Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

Part 8: Oppressed. In our world, it is so very easy to see oppression just about everywhere we turn. We don’t even have to look far or wide. We merely, have to turn on the news to see oppression spill forward into our homes. Stories of people killing others because they are of a different creed, tribe, race, or all of the above. People enslaving women and children and subjegating them to all sorts of horrific and oppressive conditions. Perhaps we know of people who are in abusive relationships who, in the context of such abuse, are subjected to an oppressive living environment. Sadly, some have even found the church to be a place of oppression and subjegation.

The truth is that, no matter where we are, if there are people congregated and organized, there is bound to be oppression in one way or the other. Oppression happens when one who is in a position of power lords it over those over whom they are in power. In other words, oppression happens when power is misused and abused. Whether it be in the work enviornment, in a domestic situation, in schools, in churches, in governments, or wherever it is occuring, oppression always involves an abuse of power. You know the phrase, “absolute power corrups absolutely”; too often, good people corrupted by power become monsters and demons.

With that said, oppression is pernicious. It does not go away once the oppressor is removed; rather, oppression begets more oppression. Often times, the oppressed end up becoming the oppressor. Having risen out of being oppressed, the victim seeks to put themselves into a place of power so as to never fall victim to the abuse they endured in the past. Other times, the victim acts in an oppressive manner because it is learned behavior and it is all they have ever known, What ever the case, be it self-preservation or ignorance, the oppressed will often morph into the oppressor and the ugly, nasty cycle will continue.

Most, if not all, of us have been on both sides of the oppressed/oppressor divide. We’ve all, no doubt, been in situations where we have been abused or where power had been lorded over us in a way that made us feel week, vulnerable, threatened, and trapped. With that said, there are times (even if seemingly minor) that we have been of abusing the power that we have over others. Perhaps in our familial relationships, or in our professional relationships, or in friendships, or in our communities. The point of this is not to point the finger, but to spark a new and more wholesome self-awareness so that we can move forward from where we are to where God is calling us to be. As can be seen in the Christian Manifesto, Christ was anointed by God to set the oppressed free, which means that Christ has both set you free from being oppressed as well as from the oppression of being the oppressor. What’s more, just as Christ has begun the work of freeing the oppressed, so too we Christians are called to carry on the work of eliminating oppression and injustice from our homes, from our communities, from our world and from our midst. The task is set before you as surely as Christ is with you. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
PRAYER
Lord, end all oppression and make me a part of the solution and reconciliation process. Amen.

 

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 6: Captives

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 NLT)

LA5561-001
Man with hands chained above head, high section (toned B&W)

Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

Part 6: The Captives. Standing in the Synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read the passage from Isaiah slowly and deliberately to the people gathered around. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for God has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.” This was a message that, at least in the moment, was resonating with a people who had been under foreign occupation since the days of Assyria and Babylon. This time around their oppressors were Rome and the Jewish people were looking for the Messiah to come and save the day. This text in Isaiah had long been seen as the promise of the coming of the deliverer, the Messiah who was both anointed King and the liberator of the people Israel. Could this Jesus, this carpenter from their own village, really be that Messiah? They had heard of the great and amazing miracles and signs he had performed around Galilee, and they were hoping he’d prove his worth and identity here.

Jesus continued, “God has sent me to proclaim that the captives be released.” There were plenty of captives, for sure! The people in Nazareth knew that. If Rome or their puppet Tetrarch Herod Antipas had it out for you, you either ended up captive, put to the sword or, worse yet, crucified. Just a short while before Jesus was born, King Herod (Antipas’ father), had 2,000 Galileeans crucified for rebelling against his rule. John the Baptist, the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan, had become a critic of Herod Antipas’ and his wife. As a result, Herod had him arrested and, ultimately, beheaded. Yes, there were many prisoners who were looking for the day that the Lord’s Messiah would come and give them their freedom. The people in that synagogue were no doubt waiting for the day when the Messiah would come and set captive Israel free.

Yet, as the people of the Synagogue were about to find out, Jesus didn’t just have prisoners of Rome and Herod in mind, nor did he see the role of Messiah in quite the same way that they did. It was true that he was purposefully reading that passage in Isaiah 61, and it was true that he was proclaiming to them that he was the Messiah and that he was, in their hearing, fulfilling the words of the prophet. Yet, what Jesus meant by those words was not limited to the political captives of Rome or Herod. Nor was it limited to the releasing of captive Israel from Roman and Herodian oppression; rather, Jesus was about to fulfill the words of Isaiah, by freeing Israel from being captive to themselves. They were captive to their own biases, to the suffering of the “least of these” around them, and to all who were captive in any sense of the word.

Jesus came to liberate people through truth and awareness. Using the truth, and his example of servant-leadership, Jesus brings liberation to the people who are held captive by their social status. Jesus liberates the people who are held captive by their sins (and which one of us aren’t)? He came to proclaim release for the captives of elitism, of self-righteousness, of pride, of hatred, of bigotry, of hypocrisy, or discrimination, of social injustice and oppression, and of systemic evil. In other words, there is no limit to the understanding that Jesus had of what it meant to be captive. What’s more, if the captives of sin would accept such freedom in Christ, they would be transformed into liberators themselves, working alongside Christ to bring release to all captives in the world (both literal and spiritual). Christ is calling us to be freed by the truth, and to work for the release of all of the captives in our communities and beyond.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.” – Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:34 NLT)
PRAYER
Lord, set me free from the bondage that holds me from doing your will in working toward the liberation of others. Amen.

The Prophet’s Call

Read Amos 5:11-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Those who exploit the powerless anger their maker, while those who are kind to the poor honor God.” (Proverbs 14:31 CEB)

US-Pope-Francis-Congress.JPTwo weeks ago, America was tuned into the 24 hour news cycle. It wasn’t because of some nefarious criminal, or some horrendous crime. It wasn’t because some celebrity was getting married or that some other celebrity was getting divorced. There were no major scandals, and for the first time in I am not sure how long, the news wasn’t very negative at all. Why was this? Because Pope Francis I was visiting the United States of America for the very first time. He started off in Washington D.C., headed from there to New York City, and finally ended up in Philadelphia. The news, and the country, could not get enough of it!

With that said, not ALL of the news was positive. All of the commentators seemed happy that the Pope was here and they were praising him and his papacy; however, with that said, some commentators objected to some of Pope Francis’s stances. Some disagreed with his stance on climate change, while others disagreed with his stance on capital punishment. Some were astounded that the Pope would come to the U.S.A and talk about the injustice found within the golden calf we call capitalism. Some were upset he interjected in our ongoing immigration debate.

“With all due respect to the Holy Father,” I heard one commentator state, “he really should stick with things of a religious nature and leave the politics to the politicians. He’s the head of the church, and while at the Vatican he is also the head of state, America is not a theocracy and he is out of his league speaking in politics here.” Some commentators opined that the Pope didn’t understand capitalism in American and that he only knew capitalism to be as it was in his country of Argentina: crony capitalism (as if that doesn’t exist here too).

Hearing all of the debates going back and forth made me question, was the Pope out of line for speaking out politically against things he felt were wrong, unjust and in need of change? Should a religious and/or spiritual leader simply keep to “religious” things and leave politics to the politicians? Of course the answer is both yes…and NO! Let me address “yes” first. If a religious leader is putting themselves out into the political sphere to garner political points or to receive political gain, then obviously that religious leader is acting inappropriately. If the religious leader is pushing an inherently political agenda for the purpose of getting a specific person elected, or to push his/her congregation to endorse a specific candidate, I will concede that the religious leader is in the wrong.

Yet, I object the claim that religious leaders should stick to religion and leave the politics to the politicians, because that inherently disregards what religion is and it denies the very station that religious leaders and prophets (Jesus included) have taken in society. You cannot divorce religion from politics, just because a religious leader’s message is inconvenient to one’s agenda. The fact is, if a society is acting unjustly, then it is the religious leaders duty to speak out against that injustice. That isn’t political…IT’S RELIGIOUS.

Religion literally means to reconnect or rejoin together. It is the reconnecting of our relationship with God and with our neighbors. It’s all about relationships. Therefore, if a society is in moral decline and/or if there is injustice and oppression within it, then it is counteracting the call of the Spirit to be in right relationship with God and neighbor. It is also hindering others from doing the same. It is a religious person’s duty, it is their obligation to speak out on those subjects no matter how inconvenient those truths might be. That can be done without naming people, without any hidden agenda and certainly without bashing or endorsing candidates; however, the faithful are called to stand up against oppression and injustice. As I see it, Pope Francis is leading the way. Don’t scoff, but join him in ending injustice.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” – Amos, Jewish prophet (circa 750’s BC)

PRAYER
Lord, let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Strengthen me to speak your words of truth to the power. Amen.