Genesis 37:3-4, 18-28
3Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. 4But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him. 18They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” —that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. 23So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. 25Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. 28When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
1 Kings 19:11-16
11He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Summer, when it comes to television, is a season of reruns and rebroadcasts. It’s not just television, though. Newspapers frequently reprint popular advice columns and comic strips, and book publishers will often re-issue a popular book under the heading “revised and updated.”
So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that pastors do the same thing! Today’s sermon was one I first preached to you about four years ago, before I was the pastor here. It was summer, and I was on break from seminary, filling in for the pastor at the time, Bob Reno, who was on summer vacation.
It ended up being one of my favorite sermons; I even made a video recording of it to send to the various churches (including this one) that I interviewed with during my last year at seminary.
I try not to do reruns too often, but as I looked at the text for today’s sermon, many of the words that I spoke to you four years ago seem almost even more relevant and appropriate to our church now than they did then…and where they were no longer relevant, I have revised, updated, expanded and refreshed them significantly.
So hopefully if you remember this one, there will still be a few new insights to glean. And if you missed it the first time, slept through it, or if you’re one of the many new faces among us who were not here four years ago…well then, you can put this one in the “new to you” category.
There are three scripture readings today, three stories, each revolving around a larger-than-life character in the Bible. First was Joseph, the great dreamer and Patriarch of the Israelites who saved his people in a time of famine. But in today’s reading Joseph is in trouble—his jealous brothers have thrown him in a pit and left him to die.
We also read of the prophet Elijah—arguably the greatest and most powerful prophet of the Old Testament. But in today’s reading, Elijah is hiding in a dark cave, afraid for his life, feeling sorry for himself, and struggling just to hear God’s voice.
Finally, we read of Peter, first among the disciples, the unquestioned leader of the early church after Jesus’ death. But here in today’s passage, Peter has lost sight of his savior, frightened by the storm, outside of the boat, sinking beneath the waves in the middle of the sea.
So. With all three of our heroes of the faith caught in such dire predicaments…if this were a TV show, this would be the perfect time to cut to a commercial, to leave you hanging on the edge of your seats, to jerk you abruptly out of the story you were immersed within, and back to the realities and annoyances of modern life.
And that’s actually what I’d like to do. Today’s commercial break is brought to you by your friendly local computer repair shop. How many of you have ever gotten frustrated because your computer, your tablet, or your alleged smart phone won’t do what you’d like for it to do? Worse yet, has anyone here ever had one of these devices CRASH, FREEZE, or otherwise get STUCK? I’m sure that’s never happened to any of you, right?
I’m not quite young enough to be part of the millenial generation—the first generation to grow up never having experienced life without the internet, but my father was a computer programmer in the earliest days of the field, so computers and technology have always been a big part of my life, from my childhood to the present day.
I remember back in the earliest days when Microsoft Windows was just getting started—if something went wrong with your computer, the entire screen would turn blue, and an error message would appear telling you that you were about to lose everything you had been working on for the past three hours. Now please click “OK” (as if this were something that you could possibly be “OK” with!).
This infamous screen was quickly nicknamed the “Blue Screen of Death.” Who says computer programmers aren’t capable of a little drama?
On later computers, if a program crashed, got stuck, or if the screen froze and no buttons or keys would work anymore, there was always one more thing you could try. You could simultaneously press and hold down three buttons; CTRL+ALT+DEL. Doing this would restart your computer, or at least let you restart the program that had crashed. This was (and is) known as a Reboot. With a reboot, you lose what you were working on at the moment, but you still keep all your programs and settings and saved documents. A reboot is frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world.
Sometimes, however, a Reboot isn’t enough. Sometimes a device can crash so hard, can get so stuck or frozen that rebooting does nothing. In this case, there is one last, desperate option. Reformatting the Hard Drive. A reformat erases everything—your programs, your documents, your whole operating system. It saves your device, and resets it to the way it was the day you bought it.
With a Reboot, you lose what you were working on at the moment. With a Reformat, you lose everything and start over from scratch. A Reformat will fix just about any software problem, but it comes at a great cost. It is, obviously, a last resort.
And now back to our show (that was a long commercial break, wasn’t it?). Back to Joseph, Elijah, and Peter, all of whom are, in their own way, experiencing “technical difficulties.”
Joseph has “crashed” into the bottom of a deep pit.
Elijah is “stuck” in his dark cave.
Peter is “frozen” by fear, sinking beneath the waves.
All are at risk of losing everything that they have worked for, and all that God as called them to do. When I read these passages, I want to yell out to them, across the ages, “CTRL ALT DELETE! Reboot! Reformat! It’s the only way!”
If only it were so easy. Peter, Elijah and Joseph are not programs, I am not the programmer here, and there are no CTRL ALT DELETE keys in ancient Israel.
And yet…there IS a Master Programmer, one who coded the universe, keyed the stars into existence, and engineered our very DNA. He is a God of second chances, reboots and reformats. He may not use the keys CTRL+ALT+DEL, but he has a quite a few other buttons at his disposal.
For Peter, the Master Programmer pushes the keys JESUS + HAND + BOAT and the wind calms down and Peter is safe again. Since Peter didn’t lose everything—only his faith in Jesus, and that only for a moment—this is more of a reboot than a reformat. Or, technically, I guess it’s a “Re-Boat.”
For Elijah, the Master Programmer pushes the keys WIND + EARTHQUAKE + FIRE + SILENCE and it is with the final keystroke, silence, that the voice of the Lord comes to Elijah at last, instructing him and promising him the help of Prophet-2.0-Beta, also known as Elisha. This, too, is more of a reboot than a reformat—a recommissioning for service, and even a bit of an upgrade.
Our Master Programmer sometimes uses tools that we wouldn’t expect. In the case of Joseph, he presses the buttons BROTHERS + GREED + TRAVELING MERCHANTS and instead of dying in the pit, Joseph is sold into slavery, bound for Egypt where his dreams will be put to good use. This, of course, is a full Reformat. Joseph loses everything and everyone he has ever known, starting over from scratch. But his reformat saves his family, and gives the people of Israel a second chance.
And of course, like Joseph, Elijah, and Peter, we too so often get stuck. We crash. We freeze. In our jobs, our relationships, and in our faith. But every Sunday we gather here for worship and we press the buttons CONFESSION + REPENTANCE and our Master Programmer presses the final button in the sequence, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE and we Reboot. Psalm 103 tells us that as far as the East is from the West, so far He removes our sins and transgressions from us.
CTRL + ALT + DELETE. Reboot. Reformat.
At the heart of that last word—Reformat—is a word that we, as Presbyterians know so well: Reform. We are the children of the 16th century Reformation, of the reformers Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox, who left behind a medieval church that was frozen, stuck, and plagued by error messages. They started over from scratch, reformatting the entire hard drive of the church and reinstalling the core software of SCRIPTURE + FAITH + GRACE + CHRIST + GLORY TO GOD.
CTRL+ALT+DEL. Reboot. REFORM-at.
Here at First Presbyterian Church, we too, are in the midst of our own reboot, as in the past couple of years we have installed a new pastor, new staff leadership, new programs and worship services, many new members, new core values of Faith, Hope, and Love, and a renewed emphasis on Mission and the Great Commission. Later this year we will install a new organizational structure that supports and flows out of these things. After about 20 years of being stuck, frozen, about to crash, our church is moving forward again. Thank God for second chances and new beginnings!
CTRL+ALT+DEL. Reboot. Reformat.
And yet, rebooting and reformating changes things. Change can be frightening. I often hear people say, “We need to change…but just not this one little thing that I care about!” or “Can’t we just change a little bit less…a little bit more slowly?” Unfortunately, rebooting and reformating are by necessity, drastic and rather sudden. Valuable things are lost, in order to save the things that are the most valuable.
But we need not fear this process, because like Peter, and Joseph and Elijah, we are in the hands of a master programmer who loves us, and leads us. In Revelation, God tells his people, “See, I am making all things new.” One of the great mottoes of the Presbyterian Church is “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda”—the Church reformed…and always being reformed.
In other words, it is God who changes and transforms those whom he loves. It is God who changes and transforms his church.
It is God who rescues Joseph from the pit. It is God who speaks to Elijah in the silence. It is God who calms the storm and saves Peter.
And yet…after God brings the change, Peter and the disciples DO do something: Verse 32 and 33 tell us that when Jesus and Peter “got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.'”
God brings the change. What do we bring?
We get in the boat. We worship him. We proclaim that he is Lord.
CTRL + ALT + DELETE. Reboot. Reformat.
The God of second chances and new beginnings wants to transform and renew your life in a deep and meaningful way. And when he does, I hope you will get in the boat, worship him, and proclaim his good news to everyone you meet.