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The Minority Report
The Rev. Dr. Baron Mullis
August 10, 2014 - Genesis 37:1-4; 12-28, Romans 10:5-15

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The Minority Report
Genesis 37:1-4; 12-28, Romans 10:5-15      

Rev. Dr. Baron Mullis
Morningside Presbyterian Church
August 10, 2014

 

We have been hanging out in Genesis since mid-June.  I checked the lectionary and that was when Drew preached his sermon about the creation… we’ve been in and out a bit since then, but largely, we’ve spent time with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, and of course, Jacob’s wives Leah and Rachel, without whom there wouldn’t be much of a story. 
I began to get a bit of a wind that at least some of you were getting tired of the terrain when one person noted that my sermon on the near-slaying of Isaac… well, shall we say, it went on a bit.  But it became crystal clear to me last week when we veered back into Matthew for the loaves and fishes and one of you said to me, “Thank God.  You were killing me with Jacob.”
Well, good news.  We’re just about done with Jacob.  Only a few cameos remain for him in the lectionary in the weeks to come – for all intents and purposes, we’ve moved on from Jacob.
But there is a bit of bad news too, though.  Jacob had twelve sons. 
But really, our summer reading in Genesis hasn’t been that bad… we did learn a few things, didn’t we?
We learned from the story of Ishmael and Hagar that no matter what circumstances we are thrown into, God is closer to us than our very breath… we cannot escape God’s presence.  Isn’t that a comfort?
We learned from the story of Abraham and Isaac, as horrible as it was, that God is holy – not just like us only better – but holy.  In those moments when we need to know that God is God and not just like you or me, isn’t that a comfort?
Just two weeks ago we learned from the story of Jacob’s marriages to Leah and Rachel how very easy it is to objectify others and treat them poorly – which is what Jacob did to his brother, and what is uncle did to him, and while we didn’t talk about it, what everyone did to Leah and Rachel.  And we learned that to God, we are never objects, but rather real, live human beings whom God created and loves in all our complexity and perplexity.  Isn’t that a comfort?
We tracked through the covenant, seeing always how God keeps promises.  We learned a few things about God and ourselves by peering back into our history as people of faith, back into our family story. 
Families are surely complex things, aren’t they?  Blended families, I think, have the toughest time because all of the nuances and challenges of each individual family are brought together into to the blended family. 
Of course, with modern day blended families there is the advantage that there are only two spouses… in Jacob’s blended family, both wives were still present. 
You remember the story – Leah and Rachel, treated as pawns by their father, were negotiated for by their cousin and married off in quick succession to the same man – whether they liked it or not. 
We have every reason to think perhaps Rachel did, though the Bible does not give us any intimation as to how she felt about her marriage, only that Jacob was smitten by her good looks and had to have her.  And of course, poor Leah with the lovely eyes was just dressed up and married off and who knows how she even felt about it… the Bible just doesn’t say.
We do know this: Leah was blessed with eight sons, well, she and her maid had them... so they count for Leah.  In a culture that prized women due to their fertility, Leah was rich.  There was no question who would care for her in her old age.  She had it good.
Rachel, the wife whom Jacob loved, was not blessed with a multitude of sons, only two: Joseph and Benjamin, whose birth cost Rachel her life, and two more from her maid.  
Jacob played favorites. 
Playing favorites is a sure way to breed resentment.  And Joseph didn’t help his case.  He was a piece of work himself, not lacking one bit in ego.  Jacob’s favoritism for the children of Rachel very nearly cost Joseph himself his life.
We shouldn’t take marital instruction from Genesis, but we can certainly take parental instruction: don’t do this.  Don’t give an uppity child a golden coat with many colors and think that everything is going to turn out right. 
Joseph’s life would surely have been snuffed out there that moment, but for Reuben. 
There is no doubt Reuben was in the minority in his desire to save Joseph’s life, but yet he spoke up. Joseph’s saving oldest brother spoke up and changed the course of the history of the covenant with his bravery, right?
Not so fast. 
Reuben is a piece of work too.  The Bible puts it delicately when it says that Reuben lay with his father’s concubine.  We all know what that means.  And the Bible tells us that his father knew about it. 
So maybe Reuben isn’t so heroic after all – he didn’t actually openly defy his brothers’ wishes to do in their sibling – he just suggests not spilling his actual blood.  “Throw him in the pit,” he suggests, knowing that he can come back later, retrieve his bratty brother, and regain his place as the good son that he enjoyed before cuckolding his father.
Indeed, South African theologian Allan Boesak puts it this way,
“Joseph was sold into slavery, and slavery is only a different kind of death.  The fact that Joseph, many years later, can say that ‘It was not you who sent me here, but God’ does not alter this situation.   Neither Joseph nor Reuben could have known this.  The grace of God that turns evil into good can never be an excuse for our continued sinfulness.  Reuben is not presented here as an evil man.  He is not a murderer.  No, he is presented as concerned and responsible.  As Walter Brueggemann says: ‘Reuben is presented as responsible, but cowardly, and the killers of the dream will not be restrained by a responsible coward.’
“This,” he concludes, “I think, is the agony of the church: we know what we should be doing, but we lack the courage to do it.  We feel we ought to do it and cannot.  We are afraid to make choices, so we are constantly on the lookout for compromises.”
Boesak calls this, “the Reuben option.”
He’s pretty clear about what this means: do the right thing, but only after making sure that you’ve completely covered your backside.  It puts me in mind of Winston Churchill’s quote about the United States while the British were awaiting the entry of the Americans into the war.  He said, “Americans will always do the right thing… after exhausting all the alternatives.”
The church is better than that – we are better than that – but it does seem from time to time like we hear far too many stories of doing just what needs to be done, but only after covering all bases.  We do hear often enough of the right thing being done… eventually.
You all know that I generally prefer to let you connect your own dots when it comes to Christian Ethics… I prefer to think that it’s not because I’m exercising the Reuben option myself when it comes to what needs to be done and is popular to preach but unpopular to solve, but rather because I know you can connect the dots – and you might not all connect them exactly the same way to get to where we need to go.  Some folks connect the dots in such a way that they spell public policy, and others connect the dots and they spell the letters 5-0-1-c-3, and I respect the differences in philosophy that lead us to our conclusions. 
But I cannot escape the reality that the weight of evidence lies on the side of the fact that we’re living in a Reuben Option world and consequently nothing seems to be changing.
The evidence is clear… It’s one thing after another, isn’t it?
We know far, far away someone was weeping over Ebola, and yet the things I heard about the arrival of two patients from Africa with Ebola made me want to pull my hair out… I live in the backyard of Emory Hospital and my neighbor works at the CDC and I’m glad that good care is being offered – I wish more folks could get it, but you just won’t believe some of the things people have said about it…
If this is the evidence on behalf of humanity, I want a minority report!
If we just leave Joseph in the pit and stop with the Reuben Option, this is a pretty gloomy Sunday and there’s no Gospel in it – and we’re about to promise Hugh better than that when we baptize him, so let’s get to the minority report.
I saw it as I was driving to the church this morning, coming down Briarcliff road.  That’s when I saw it right in front of me on the sign at the Pig-n-chik.  They had used their sign to say, “Get well soon, Dr. Brantly and Nurse Writebol.”
When all the evidence suggests that this old world is unredeemed and that we’re all headed straight to hell in hand-basket, God is never done with us.
God didn’t give up on Joseph… there’s more to come. 
God doesn’t give up on us… there’s always more to come.
That’s what I love about this passage of Romans that we read today – it is about as definitive a statement about what God is doing as we may find.  Paul is not bashful in calling us to know about God’s redemptive power in the world in Jesus Christ.  Not remotely.  It is clear to him that the world will be saved and that the saving activity has already been done in Jesus Christ. 
Karl Barth puts it this way, “The questioning concerning the secret meaning of life which is manifested in every law and in every religion, is assuredly a calling upon the Lord who is the deep and hidden answer to this questioning.
In other words, we are all yearning for this answer to the problems of life. 
Barth goes on, “Men call upon God, because, and only because, He has answered before they call.”
We are calling out for God because we know that on our own, we are not good enough, on our own, we are not complete, on our own, we are just as apt to exercise the Reuben Option as to do the right thing.
Gloomy stuff for a Sunday morning, no?
But that isn’t all.  Barth concludes, “Men suffer at his hands because they require to be healed at his hands.  Such is the case between God and man, as it is manifested in Jesus.  And he is the master of the situation in virtue of his resurrection.”
Redemption is the last word.  It will be for Joseph, and it will be for you and me. 
The Jesus Option is the answer to the Reuben Option.
I realize that this may come across as exclusive of other faiths.  I don’t it to be – I’m not concerned with other faiths at this moment.  I am concerned about Christian faith and the claim that it places on you and me. 
We’ve learned quite a bit this summer by looking at Genesis and how God continues to act in creation using the most extraordinarily messed up people, from Abraham and Sarah on down to Reuben and Joseph.  It’s all about the covenant.  It’s all about a God who keeps promises. 
You see, within the pale of the Christian church, we Presbyterians are the oddballs.  We are truly the minority report, because we have staked our claim that God has already done it all.  Nothing you or I say will change what God has done, because that is what God promised to do, and God always keeps promises.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, God has acted in Jesus Christ, and it changes everything.  All we can ever do is respond. 
All we can ever do is exercise the Jesus Option – and that doesn’t mean we claim our salvation – God has already done it after all – that means that we abandon the Reuben option and go out on a limb. 
Margaret Mead tell us, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”  
The teaching of Christian faith is just a tiny bit different from that… we know that one person did change the world, and so all of us – all of creation – are now freed to change everything else.  That is the promise of the Gospel.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen. 

 


 Boesak, Allan.  The Reuben Option in A Chorus of Witnesses, Long and Plantinga, eds.  (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1994) p134
Barth, Karl.  The Epistle to the Romans.  (Oxford University Press, London, 1933) p383
ibid.
4 ibid.

Last Published: November 21, 2014 11:43 PM