“The Windshield or the Rearview Mirror”Dr. Don Flowers Genesis 45:3-11, 15 Luke 6:27-38. Year C: Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
People who know me know that I went to Wake Forest University. They know that I bleed Black and Gold, pull for them win or lose (more time than not, lose, especially this basketball season!) Stories are told how I have been known to roll my own yard after a big victory. I am a Demon Deacon through and through!
But what a lot of people don’t know (and I don’t usually tell) is that from the time I was in the 4th grade until I graduated from high school, I was a Clemson fan. I only missed 2 home Clemson football games—one due to the SAT and the other a game where my parents sold my ticket! Every Saturday our families would join my Uncle Hugh, Aunt Jack and cousin Susan and head to Death Valley. Those were the days before Clemson annually played for the national championship. These were the dark days of Clemson football, before the top deck, when they lost more than they won. It was good training inbecoming a Wake Forest fan!
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the games. I couldn’t tell you a single final score. But I do remember the trips! Susan and I had a different perspective, for the two of us sat in the back of the station wagon, facing backwards.
Now many of you don’t even know what a station wagon is. A station wagon is a van that looks like a car. And in the dark ages when I was growing up, the very back seat faced backwards. You never knew where you were going, but you knew where you had been. That was where Susan and I sat, watching the scenery go by, telling stories and listening to the grown-ups talk. Those are the trips I remember!
There is another trip that I remember, however. I was a senior in high school and one Saturday, when it came time to leave, Uncle Hugh was sick, and could not go to the game. We stood around a while wondering how we would get there! Who would, who could drive? Finally, Aunt Jack looked at me and handed me the keys. For the first time, I would be able to see out of the windshield! I would be able to see what was coming, rather than what was past.
It was a whole different experience. It was quicker. Things seemed to go by faster in the front seat. Things like other cars just kept coming at us. There wasn’t time to gaze out on the trees that God had painted Clemson orange just for the day. There wasn’t time to wonder whether the driver in that car was on our side or not. No, when you are looking out the windshield, you are more concerned with where you are going. You have to make sure that you don’t miss that turn that will save you 15 minutes. You have to be sure to get in front of that truck, or else you will miss your exit.
Looking out the windshield is a different experience than seeing it out the rear-view mirror. You see the same sights. Only they look different. But which way gives the best view?
In many ways, that has been the question of my life. As a fresh person as Wake Forest, I remember sitting in a BSU meeting one night when Doug Long asked the question, “Is God’s will something that you see in advance, or do you just recognize it as you look back over your shoulder?”
The question changed my life! I had been raised to believe that God’s will was something you discovered out the windshield of life. It was always out in front of you and you had to make sure that you didn’t miss the turn. But in his question, Doug raised the possibility that we see God at work only when we look back.
I think that was the case for Joseph. I believe that Joseph saw God at work as he looked back on his life. Do you remember the story? Our scripture this morning picks up near the end of the story. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite child, the one to whom he gave the coat with long sleeves. Joseph may have been the favorite of his father, but he was not held in such high regard by his brothers. And for good reason. He lorded over his brothers as if he were the favorite child. And after years of this, the brothers had enough. One day as they were out in the fields working, they thought about killing him, but then decided to sell him into slavery.
Thus, ended their trouble with Joseph.
Now I doubt that while Joseph was in the slave pits of Egypt he thought, “I bet God is working this out.” Later, he was bought by a family who had him working as a house slave, but when that didn’t work out Joseph found himself in prison. I doubt if he spent his days singingabout how God was working everything out. Even after he moved from prison to the king’s mansion Joseph had to have wondered where God was in all of this.
There are times when we have to wonder the same thing. At times as we go through life, it is difficult to see how God is working. At times there seems to be more pain and hardship than anything else. A job suddenly becomes precarious. A storm wipes away all that we have worked for. Circumstances change, we are on the losing side, and suddenly it seems as if God has forgotten our name. And sometimes the pain comes from the very place where we are seeking solace.
I served a church that was birthed in the midst of such pain. I doubt if the original members of this church looked out and said, “Gee, isn’t it great what God is doing!” I heard their story. I watched as they have wiped away the tears in the telling.
Many of us have similar stories. There was that time in your life where it seemed that God was gone, had forgotten your address, had left you alone. Those times are real. They are painful. We cannot discount them. But the good news of the Joseph story is that God is at work, taking the scraps of our lives and improvising. God did not sell Joseph into slavery. God did not want to see Joseph in prison. That was the work of evil done by selfish people. That was not God’s doing. But even in the midst of all that, God was at work!
Even when we can’t see it, God is at work. At times, that is hard to believe. Sometimes it seems that things are being manipulated by forces that have nothing to do with God. That was true for Joseph. He was bought by a family who needed a house slave. He was sent to prison because he would not be seduced by the wife of his owner. He interpreted a dream in order to help out a fellow prison mate.Looking ahead, it was hard to see God at work in any of those events. Things were just taking their natural course.
I saw that played out in the life of my former church. It was a new congregation worshipping in rented space. The task was to find a permanent home. Our site location committee was struggling over where our church would be permanently located. We had some parameters drawn on a map and explored options all around the area. From time to time our moderator would stop by and say, “We should look at Daniel Island.” Daniel Island wasn’t on the map. It wasn’t inside the circles we had drawn. It was a brand-new development being built. We had no members living there! There was no reason to even look there! At last, to shut him up, the chair of the committee told Walter and I to go and look at the island. It wasn’t said, but the feeling I had was, “Go look and then we can get to work on a serious idea!”
At the time, the road ended at the corner. There were a handful of pioneers on the island. And we rode around, and saw what was there, and thought about what was to come. And went back thinking, that would be a good place for a church, for some church.
Over 20 years later it is hard to imagine that we didn’t see it. It is hard to believe that there were still questions in our minds. But then, that is how it is with most of God’s work. It wasn’t until he saw his brothers come in, seeking the food in Egypt that they could not find at home that Joseph caught a glimpse of how God had been at work. It wasn’t until our church met several years later that it was crystal clear that God had been at work. In the bad times and in the good times, God is at work!
And many times we don’t see it! Even now! There are so many things going on in our churches-programs to cover, and bills to pay, and people to see and missions to do that sometimes we don’t see the way that God is working even now. We are so busy driving down the road of life that things are coming so fast that we can’t see it. Maybe what we need is to get in the back seat and see where we have been. Maybe, even better, we just need to stop and see where we have been. To see how much our children have grown, to see how much we all have grown.
We need to do that as a congregation, but we also need to do that as individuals. Do you ever see God at work in your life? When the dark storm clouds come rushing in, do you see God at work, or do you hunker down for cover? As you take your children to school, do you see God leading you to a mission field? As you walk through the hall and take time to speak to that colleague who has been having a rough time at home, do you hear God speaking through you? As you dig a trench that will someday be the foundation of a habitat house, do you feel God working through you?
Probably not. You are just doing the things that you always do. But it may very well be that it is in those little things that God is most at work. It is only when we look back that we are amazed when we see the hand of God, even in our own lives.
Is it God? Are there other explanations? Sure! We can always come up with another explanation. The Daniel Island Company needed a church to fill out their model of an island town. On their part it was a business deal. But who says God can’t work through something as mundane as a business deal? The Pharaoh needed someone to oversee the food business! And through it, Joseph was re-united with his family. The one that had been rejected became their savior, the one to give them food.
That is the story we tell every time we gather for communion, when we recall the events of Holy Week. I don’t think that anyone in Jerusalem that Friday saw the hand of God at work. Rather they saw the hands of a criminal nailed to a cross. And yet, it was in that very act that God showed us how much we are loved. For even in that horrible event, God was at work, calling us home.
I pray that we will have the faith to look back over our shoulder and see the way that God has been at work in our world, and even in our lives. It may give us the faith and assurance to look forward and move into our future with God.
About the writer:
While Dr. Don Flowers is the pastor of Port Williams United Baptist Church in Nova Scotia, most people know him as the spouse of Anita Flowers, who is frequent contributor to Reflections. They are the parents of two daughters. Prior to their adventure in Canada, Don was the pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Charleston, SC. He also has served as Minister of Youth at First Baptist Church, Greenville, SC and Lenoir, NC. Don has degrees from Wake Forest University, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Candler School of Theology.
Scripture and Music:
Psalms 37:1-1, 39-40
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Give to the Winds Your Fears
Now the Green Blade Riseth
Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise
Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life
Hymn of Promise
O Word of God Incarnate
Festival Sanctus (John Leavitt)
Offertory (John Ness Beck)
Hymn of Promise (Natalie Sleeth)
Now the Green Blade Riseth
Forgiven (Buryl Red)
Jesus, My Lord, My Life, My All (Bob Burroughs)
O Lord Most Holy (Franck)
O Rest in the Lord (Mendelssohn)
Forgiven (Buryl Red)