On the occasion of my ordination.
Genesis 39:20b-23, 41:46: [Joseph] remained there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; He gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph's care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph's care, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did the LORD made it prosper. ... Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went through all the land of Egypt. (NRSV)
I was introduced to the mystery of Our Savior's confirmation certificates when I was a senior in high school. Another girl from my youth group pointed out that printed on each certificate was a "spiritual connotation,” and as far as she had seen they were all different. She had no idea how they were assigned - we didn’t pick them, that was for sure. Maybe they were pre-printed on the paper or randomly generated somehow. Either way, I was excited to know what mine was since I had never noticed before. When I got home I dug out my certificate and read that my spiritual connotation is "amidst God's love." To be honest, I was a little disappointed. Love is good, but isn't that kind of boring. A little bland. Couldn’t I have gotten a connotation with a bit more pizazz? Amidst God’s Love. Isn’t that true for everybody?
Not too long after that, I was reintroduced to the story of Joseph as an emerging adult. I felt an immediate connection to his story. Not because I think I'm destined for unbelievable wealth or power because I don't. It started little. At first it was simply because Joseph was 17 when he dreamed his dream about the man he was going to become, and I was 17 when I received my call to ministry. Then in college his story was lifted up as an example of Joseph’s patience and God’s faithfulness. For me, college was a big speed bump when where I really wanted to be was seminary. It soothed me to know that things can take a long time to unfold, and God was still there, every step of the way. Little did I know that that devotion would become my anchor. Here I am after 4 years of college, 4 years of seminary, 3+ years of waiting and wondering - two weeks before my 30th birthday. Joseph was 30 years old when he was released from prison, from his time of waiting and wondering.
Today marks the end of my time of waiting. Waiting for the phone to ring. Waiting for the mail the come. Waiting for a “yes” instead of a “no.” Though my waiting is over, I don’t think I’ll ever be done wondering what purpose this time served for God or for me. Wondering if I was making good decisions. If I was saying “no” and “yes” in good measure. Just wondering why. That why was scary because it made me wonder if I had done something wrong. If I really was the leader that God had hoped I would become. Or had I been lying to myself about who I really was? Again Joseph’s story anchored me. The story never says that God kept him in prison so that he could learn a lesson or that he could end up at the right place, at the right time. It just says that God was with him. God waited faithfully with Joseph. We can see God’s faithful presence made real, made concrete as Joseph was loved wherever he ended up. He was loved and trusted in Potiphar's house, he was respected by those in prison with him, and he was trusted by the Pharaoh. I felt the same way on my journey all the way from high school, to St. Olaf, to Luther Seminary, to this waiting time. Wherever I went I was amidst God's love. Not just in some abstract sense, but in a very concrete way. In my physical reality I was surrounded by God's love through all of you who have gathered to celebrate with me today. I thank you for your prayers, for your conversation when we talked about the waiting and when we didn’t, when we just enjoyed the moments of what my life was instead of what it could have been. Thank you.
Now, it is so easy when you've longed for something for so long to begin to think that now that it has happened, life will be better, be easier, be perfect. The struggle is over. Joseph's story anchors me again. Joseph did not get released to simply sit around in the lap of luxury and frivolously exercise Pharaoh’s authority. Joseph was released from prison and lifted up to work. He had a lot of work to do. He had to go prepare a nation for a drought.
I go forward with God under no illusions that life will be easy or perfect now that I have a call or that I am getting ordained. I go forward to work. I know it will not be easy work either. The church is heading into a drought time. I am not saying this to be alarmist. I don't want to cause fear or anxiety. I am saying it simply in acknowledgement that there are times when fall turns to winter, when day turns to night. Even though our God is a God of life, at the same time God is a God who has suffered death. Our church is becoming something new again. Becoming something is a struggle. Just as God provided for the world at the brink of Joseph’s drought, God will provide for us now as we all head into the drought, into the winter, to work until the rain comes again, until the ground thaws and spring breaks through. I know, no matter what happens, I will always find myself amidst God's love. There will always be people around me that speak with God's voice, who comfort with God's hospitality and generosity, who love with God's heart. They may be Christian, they may not, they may be members of the church, they may not be, but they will be there because God is faithful and good.
Now I am so glad that my spiritual connotation is amidst God's love. It is not boring. Not boring at all. It is everything. It is hope. It is life. My hope for my work with God, for my ministry, is that no matter what happens, no matter what failures I see, what struggles I face, that those that come into my life and that allow me into theirs would see God's love all around them. Immersed in that love, they would find hope, they would find purpose, they would find life in all its fullness.