Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Genesis 50) transports me to my grandparents’ house near Gashes Creek, the place to be in the fifties and early sixties on Sunday afternoons, when a good number of their 12 children and dozens of grandchildren would congregate for food, fellowship, and fun. Stories abound about the horse shoe matches, the cow pasture baseball games where you might slide into what you thought was second base, and granddaddy’s ongoing battle with granny’s cats. A favorite story comes from my brother David; when he and cousin Charlie were kids, they liked to see who could hit rocks the farthest with makeshift bats. One Sunday, they were searching around for something to use as a bat, and came across a wooden structure in the basement. They tore it apart and found the sticks to be the perfect size for swatting rocks. All went well until somebody spotted them and ratted them out to Granny. They had torn apart her heirloom quilting frame, a well-used prized possession that would be difficult to replace. It was a day of reckoning for the 2 young home-run derby stars, who were probably seeing stars after it was all over. You have to remember that Granny was a product of the Depression era, and quilting for her was a frugal necessity, not the boutique art form it is today. Going to a fabric store to buy material for quilts was unheard of back then. Quilting served two essential functions; it was a means of recycling old and worn out and threadbare clothes, turning them into utilitarian pieces of art that provided warmth on cold winter nights. Secondly, the quilting frame provided the means for Granny, her sisters, and other women in the community to gather and talk, sharing news and worries and hopes and disappointments. It was a means of forming and sustaining community. Two kinds of fabric were being worked there on the frame – textile and social.
I can’t help but think about that quilting loom when I read stories like the one in today’s passage of Joseph and his brothers at the end of their long epic drama. When patriarch Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared for their lives, suspecting that Joseph had been holding a grudge against them for their actions against him in his youth. They channeled some of Jacob’s authority, sending a message to Joseph that his father’s last wishes were for him to forgive them. They approached him and threw themselves on the ground, foreshadowing the Prodigal Son as they hoped to be received as slaves, even as they felt they deserved death. Joseph was more than gracious in his weeping response. He put their history in the context of God’s providence and sovereignty over the affairs of human beings. Don’t be afraid, he said to them. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. It gives me a picture of God as the grand quilter, taking the threads of history, the old and worn out fabric of our foibles and failures, weaving all these threads into a beautiful and useful work of art – salvation.
In a week when I’ve had my faith questioned and my core values berated and castigated in a public way, I’m glad to have Joseph’s story to remind me that what people intend for harm, God can use for good. The master quilter can take the discarded fabric of animosity and the loose threads of desperate rage, and weave them into a garment that will ultimately prove salvific for someone. Such a trust in God’s sovereignty and providence was confirmed today when someone who had read some of those online attacks told me that it only motivated him to re-double his efforts in the outreach and ministries of our church. After that word of encouragement, I found myself humming one of the old hymns Kim and I played last Sunday at First Baptist Morganton’s homecoming service, When I Can Read My Title Clear. The second verse reads like it could have come from Joseph in his encounter with his brothers: Should earth against my soul engage, and fiery darts be hurled, then I can smile at Satan’s rage and face a frowning world. A healthy belief that the whole world is indeed in God’s hands, hands that are constantly weaving worn out materials of meanness and fear into a fabric of faith, enables us to smile and face a world that is nothing these days if not frowning. It also reminds me that even those life experiences that lead to a dreaded day of reckoning, like tearing up a treasured quilting frame, can eventually be woven into our lives as a treasured story that brings smiles and laughter.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.