Exodus 1:8–14

When I was a young pastor serving the Countryside United Methodist Church in Topeka, on a Sunday afternoon, Jenny, 6 years of age, arrived on our front doorstep with a plastic bag in which were 2 large, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

I love chocolate chip cookies.

Jenny was in between birthday parties. Her folks were out of town for the afternoon. We had been asked to care for her.

I said, “Jenny, wouldn’t you like to share a cookie with me? “Nope,” she replied. “Jenny,” I said, “you remember the Golden Rule… Wouldn’t you like to do unto me as you would like me to do unto you… Share a cookie with me?”

“Nope,” she replied. “Jenny,” I said. “What if I had the 2 cookies? You would want me to share one with you, wouldn’t you?”

Said Jenny, “That’s easy for you to say, Pastor Kelly, because I have the 2 cookies!”

These days aren’t we wondering who has the cookies, and is there a willingness to share?

Oh, how I love to tell the old, old stories of God’s mercy and love. Don’t you?

You remember the Joseph story; “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” story? How Joseph’s father, Jacob, favored him, stirring the worst kind of sibling rivalry with his brothers. How his brothers sold him into slavery, then convinced Jacob that Joseph was dead. How Joseph became a valued house servant in Egypt, in the house of Potiphar; until Potiphar’s wife made a pass at Joseph. When he refused her advances, she accused him of attempting to sexually assault her. Joseph was put in prison where he discovered he had the spiritual gift of interpreting dreams. The Pharaoh was having a dream no one in his court could interpret, a dream that found him standing by the Nile, visited first by seven fat cows, then by seven thin cows which ate the fat cows; then seven plump ears of grain devoured by seven thin ears of grain. The Pharaoh, told of Joseph’s gift, summoned him to interpret his dream. Joseph understood the dream to be a premonition of seven years of plenty (thus the seven fat cows and seven plump ears of grain), followed by seven years of famine (symbolized by the seven thin cows devouring the fat cows and the thin ears of grain consuming the plump ones). The Pharaoh believed Joseph, appointed him agricultural secretary in charge of enforcing the stockpiling of surplus grain during the years of bumper crops. As a result, Egypt prospered during the seven years of famine. Joseph became a national hero.

In the meantime, Jacob and the boys were suffering the famine. Jacob had heard Egypt was faring nicely, sent his sons to seek its foreign aid.

Joseph’s brothers were stunned to discover he was alive, a prominent member of the Pharaoh’s cabinet, and that he harbored no ill will toward his brothers for selling him into slavery and telling Jacob he was dead. Instead, Joseph used his influence to provide a place for Jacob, his brothers, and tribe in the land of Goshen, in Egypt.

That’s where Exodus, Chapter One, picks up. Says the text, “There arose a Pharaoh who didn’t know the Joseph story.” It had been four hundred years since Joseph had lived. During that time, the Hebrews had flourished in Goshen. Now in Exodus, Chapter One, they are perceived as threats to Egypt’s national security, and forced into slavery.

What’s particularly instructive here is that during the four centuries from the death of Joseph in the last Chapter of Genesis to the Hebrews forced into slavery in Exodus, Chapter One, there are no God stories. Four hundred years without any God stories to be remembered in sacred scripture. Why? The Hebrew Scriptures represent some 1,500 years of Hebrew history with a 400 year gap! Why?

Bruce Birch contends that it has to do with the difference between being “landed” and “unlanded.” (What does the Lord Require? Westminster Press, 1905.) One of the Bible’s themes is that you can’t be a people without a place. Under several Pharaohs (thanks to Joseph) the Hebrews had a place (in the land of Goshen) and were doing very nicely. They were “landed.” I’m landed. Aren’t you? I have a place, don’t you? Some of us have, more than one place. Oh yeah, we’re landed. We’re people of status, influence, power. We have the chocolate chip cookies. And there are those without who wonder if we’ll share… The primary task of faith, when “landed,” contends Bruce Birch, is forgiveness. God is much more willing to forgive my sins than I am to confess them. I would dare say it’s the same for you.

Oh, how I love to tell the old, old stories of God’s mercy and love. Don’t you?

If we struggle as persons to confess our sins, how is a nation to confess? And yet, so long as America, land I love, sees itself only as the victim in this war on terror, there will never be the accountability necessary to justly intervene in the unending cycles of violence.

Oh how I hate to admit I’m wrong, especially when I’ve been wronged. Though God’s grace is freely given as forgiveness to persons and peoples, it can’t abide where it’s wanted or believed to be unneeded.

I don’t easily confess; find it difficult to ask for forgiveness. So when forgiveness is needed, God and I don’t talk much. As a result there are fewer God stories to share… until I’m “unlanded” struggling to find my place, lost, “in over my head,” “at the end of my rope…” Then I cry out to God. And the cry, says Bruce Birch, is for deliverance.

Following 9-11, for a few Sundays we had Easter crowds in worship where I serve. In much of Eastern Europe, worship attendance dropped by one half within a year after the fall of the “Iron Curtain.”

Oh, how I love to tell the old, old stories of God’s mercy and love. Don’t you?

Theophan the Recluse, an 19th century Russian Mystic, wrote “though God is always with us, we’re not always with God. The reason we’re not always with God is that we don’t remember God…” (Igumen Chariton of Valamo, comp. The Art of Prayer. London: Faber and Faber, 1966. p. 119.) Remembering God does more than bring God to mind. Remembering God stirs up within us the desire to be with God… And when we are with the God who is always with us, all things are possible.

Oh, how I love to tell the old, old stories of God’s mercy and love. Don’t you?

To close with a follow up to the chocolate chip cookies story. Push forward eight years. A moving van is loading up our belongings to relocate us to another place for ministry. In my clergy tradition, “home is where the Bishop sends us.” Jenny, now 14, arrives at our front doorstep. In her hands she holds a large pizza size box, filled with a chocolate chip cookie. We sat down on the front porch and shared that cookie through our laughter and our tears, giving thanks to God. Oh yeah, it was a God moment.

Oh, how I love to tell the old, old stories of God’s mercy and love. Don’t you?