Bad Things Happen to Good People

Genesis 45:1-15                                                                  Summer Series:  Top Ten Bible

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                          19 June 2016


One hundred and thirty-six.  That’s how many mass shooting events there have been in 2016.   We do not hear about most of them, because they are domestic disputes and gang violence, events in which at least four people are wounded or killed.  Because of stricter regulation for car and driving safety, car fatalities are down.  But gun fatalities are up and now match the deaths by auto accidents = about 33,000 of each every year.    The three deadliest shootings in the U.S. have occurred in the past 10 years, in the short time I have been serving this church.   Orlando was the worst, followed by 2007 Virginia Tech massacre – 32 people, followed by the 2012 Sandy Hook – 27 with 20 of them being little children.   In the three years that followed Sandy Hook, 555 children died in the US from gunshot wounds, many of them accidental.   We did not hear about them either, though I’m sure their parents were just as disturbed, if not more so, than the parents who tried to wrestle their 2 year old from the jaws of a gator at Disney.   Many bad things have happened to good people this week.  But what is worse than the tragedy itself is the apparent hatred that motivated Omar Mateen.  It is the same horror we felt exactly one year ago this week when the evil spirit of hatred in Dylann Roof incited him to murder members of Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, just because they were Black. 

It is disturbing that the human heart can contain such hatred.   Yet we know the human heart is subject to sin.   We know that hate-filled rhetoric and even disparaging comments about people groups can lead individuals to a diminished capacity to see the dignity of other human beings.   What is bewildering is that we do not yet seem to have the will or ability to limit the capacity of sin-sick, hate-riddled persons to kill people so rapidly.   We are very careful about who can get on an airplane, but we are so loose about the purchase of guns.  


I pray that we can learn from the succession of tragic mass shootings to work harder to teach peace and human dignity, to soften the hard edges of mean-spirited rhetoric, and to provide greater security measures with firearms, like we do with automobiles and with airplanes.

But what does this have to do with the Joseph narrative?   Well, Joseph’s brothers despised him enough to want him dead because he bragged about being Daddy’s favorite.   They would have killed him, if they had a gun, but Reuben talked them out of the bloodshed they were considering.  So they threw Joseph in the pit, and then Judah was merciful, saying, “Let’s sell him, not kill him, for he is our brother.”  So Joseph was sold to the descendants of Ishmael, Isaac-Laughter’s brother.   He was taken to Egypt, and sold to Potiphar, the caption of Pharaoh’s guard.   And today, are especially mindful of Father Jacob, who loved all his twelve sons, though he was partial to two of them.   We remember his grief at the supposed death of his son.   We remember all fathers who grieve today and all who grieve because they had no good father, but the One in heaven.   

Even though he was too full of himself, and bragged to his brothers, Joseph did not deserve all the bad that happened to him.   Potiphar’s wife hitting on him, and then accusing him, getting him into more trouble, after he had risen in the ranks.    But Joseph continues to have dreams which lead to his successes.  And ultimately, he predicts the great famine, which saved Egypt, and saved his family, who came to Egypt for help.   But when his brothers come asking for help, it is a sublime irony that they are begging from their brother, the dreamer, whose dreams have come true.   They are bowing down to him, asking for his help.   He knows who they are, but they do not recognize him whom they sold and assume might be dead.

So we pick up at the moment of Joseph’s revelation to them that he is in fact their brother and that God has provided for him.   Both here and in chapter fifty, Joseph tells his brothers that it was God’s hand, bringing good out of evil, that they may have intended harm to him, but that by God’s sovereign power, it is working out for good.   It took many years for the good to be worked out.


Genesis 45:1-15

Joseph could no longer control himself in front of all his attendants, so he declared, "Everyone, leave now!" So no one stayed with him when he revealed his identity to his brothers. 2 He wept so loudly that the Egyptians and Pharaoh's household heard him. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, "I'm Joseph! Is my father really still alive?" His brothers couldn't respond because they were terrified before him. 4 Joseph said to his brothers, "Come closer to me," and they moved closer. He said, "I'm your brother Joseph! The one you sold to Egypt. 5 Now, don't be upset and don't be angry with yourselves that you sold me here. Actually, God sent me before you to save lives. 6 We've already had two years of famine in the land, and there are five years left without planting or harvesting. 7 God sent me before you to make sure you'd survive and to rescue your lives in this amazing way. 8 You didn't send me here; it was God who made me a father to Pharaoh, master of his entire household, and ruler of the whole land of Egypt. 9 "Hurry! Go back to your father. Tell him this is what your son Joseph says: 'God has made me master of all of Egypt. Come down to me. Don't delay. 10 You may live in the land of Goshen, so you will be near me, your children, your grandchildren, your flocks, your herds, and everyone with you. 11 I will support you there, so you, your household, and everyone with you won't starve, since the famine will still last five years.' 12 You and my brother Benjamin have seen with your own eyes that I'm speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about my power in Egypt and about everything you've seen. Hurry and bring my father down here." 14 He threw his arms around his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder. 15 He kissed all of his brothers and wept, embracing them. After that, his brothers were finally able to talk to him. (CEB)

So do not be angry with yourselves that you sold me here.   God sent me before you to rescue you.   Those who trust in the providence of God are able to move on to a place of healing, rather than stirring up hatred against those who have mistreated you.    If Joseph had nursed his wounds and given bitterness a place to lie down comfortably in his heart, he may have never been able to welcome these brothers and forgive them.  

He would have been trapped by the walls of hatred and unable to open his eyes to the humanity of his brothers.   But Joseph stayed connected to God and was therefore able to believe that God can take a sinful act of hatred and turn it into something good, something beneficial.   

Bad things happen to good people.   There were a lot of good people in Pulse who are now dead or forever wounded physically or emotionally.   We cannot yet see past the pain of this tragedy yet.   But we can see goodness in first responders and others who are helping.  We see the goodness of people rising up in support of LGBTQ persons, like Roman Catholic Bishop Lynch of St. Pete, who said, “Sadly it is religion, including our own, which ….often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people.”  

We see good people rising up in solidarity – like the Orthodox Jewish congregation that went to a gay bar in their city just a day after the killing.   The Rabbi said, “We did not know what to expect. As we gathered outside in our yarmulkes, we saw one large, drunk man talking loudly and wildly. I wondered whether we were in the right place. Then my mother, who was with me, went up to a man who was standing on the side of the building. She told him why we were there. He broke down in tears and told us his cousin was killed at Pulse. He embraced us and invited us into the Fireplace.  The bartender shut off all of the music in the room, and the crowd became silent as we offered words of prayer and healing, as we lit memorial candles on the bar ledge. Then everyone in the bar put their hands around each other’s shoulders, and we sang soulful tunes. After that, one of our congregants bought a round of beer for the whole bar.”   What a lovely story of solidarity!

Black Americans felt unsafe after Charleston one year ago.  LBGTQ Americans are feeling unsafe now.   The Pulse Club previously served as a safe space for an LGBTQ community that too often feels unwelcome or undervalued in places of worship. 

Hear what Joey Longley, who grew up in a very conservative church said, and weep with him: I have a deep fear that some of the same people who loved me as a child (in my church) think I should be dead because I am gay.   I’m sorry, Joey.  I’m glad that you now know that is not Christian love.   At Peace, we welcome all people as children of God and we will not tolerate such hatred.   At Peace we stand with those who suffer, those who are marginalized, those who are oppressed.  At Peace we speak up for God’s love of LGBTQ people.  

And at Peace we announce that radical terrorists do not represent the faithful among Muslims any more than Eric Rudolph, Atlanta Olympics and abortion clinic bomber, represented Christians in his acts of violence.   We announce that the Westboro Baptist Church, and Pastor Jimenez in California and Pastor Anderson in Arizona, who call themselves Christian and celebrated the deaths of LGBTQ people are not true to Jesus Christ and the faith we profess.   We celebrate the people from a theatre company in Orlando, who played the part of angels, blocking the view of Westboro’s hateful signs from the victims’ families as they attended funerals this week.   We assert that so-called Christians from Westboro are NOT true to our faith, just as Islam asserts jihadists and ISIS are not true to their faith.  Fundamentalists can quote random isolated verses in the Bible or the Quran, but we do not agree with their hate-infused interpretations.     


At Peace we stand with Jesus of Nazareth and with Joseph of Egypt for love, not hate.   The only thing we hate is hate itself, the kind of hate that blinds us to the full humanity of our neighbor.  For hate stokes the burning fires of fear and mistrust, while love sees each person as a child of God, to be treated with respect and dignity.   We are convinced that Christ came to teach us to love one another and to forgive as we have been forgiven.  It is the hard work of all the faithful of every religion – to love, to forgive, and to try to find a way to live peaceably with all.