Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Does Genesis Have to Do with Philippians?

This past summer the Westminster community[1] moved through the first book of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, Genesis. The venture reminded each preacher and all the faithful gathered that regardless how frequent we may visit the book of beginnings we will forever and again remain beginners and unfinished learners. Nonetheless, we were confident that God would meet us through the creation liturgy, ancient covenants, complex and twisted narratives, mind-boggling deceptions, raw and honest doubts and confusions, and even the faith and persistence illustrated by a few ancient characters. Even more, we were reminded that each Scriptural anecdote served to draw the readers and hearers, both of antiquity and present day, into a much larger story of God's ongoing activity. As we read, we were constantly invited to live into this story and the covenantal promises of God, which are for us and the whole world (Gen. 12:1-9).

That was the summer...what about the fall?

We come to September and October and we not only transition from the Old Testament to the New, but also from the genre of narrative to one of letter, i.e. Paul's epistle to the Philippians.

But what about Joseph? Just when we may have become familiar with and developed a fondness for the son of Jacob and Rachel, his elaborate coat, and his perseverance despite being trafficked into Pharaoh's courts, we make a break with the dreamer and interpreter of dreams. We only gained a glimpse of the deliverance of Israel that began in Pharaoh's prison situated in the vast Egyptian empire...

...and now we head to another prison in a different empire.
"I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear." (Philippians 1:12-14)
This fall, we find ourselves enveloped within a correspondence between an apostle, held captive for his faithful allegiance to Jesus as Lord, and his partners in Philippi, whom Paul declares "share in the gospel" (1:4). And the dreams of God, made known in the person and work of Jesus as Messiah, have spread like wildfire. This time, instead of a cup bearer, baker, and Pharaoh, we read of the Roman imperial guard and everyone else who catch wind of God's story of deliverance.

Can you hear the echoes of Joseph?
"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" (Genesis 50:20).
Do you remember the covenant?
"I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:2-3).
And here we are. Readers of stories and letters. We covenant with the same God who called Abram out of Ur and delivered Joseph and his brothers from famine. We follow the same Jesus whose Spirit moved through Paul, the Philippians, the imperial guards, and everyone else. We are invited to dream the same dreams they dreamed, to confess the same faith they confessed, and to share in the same gospel that gave them hope and stirred their prophetic imaginations.

So, what has Genesis to do with Philippians? What is the connection between Joseph and Paul? Said simply, God's covenantal dreams for us and the whole world. May our lives and lips be fresh interpretations of such dreams, this day and everyday, to Pharaohs, guards, cup bearers, and neighbors. And may the day hasten when these dreams become the world's only known reality.

[1]This is a post written for the Westminster Blog, Work of the People?

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