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David Hines © 20 August 2017
I saw a surprising Facebook post from my oldest daughter Karen a few weeks ago. It was paying tribute to Aunty Phyll. Now, I didn’t know she had an aunty Phyll so I thought it must have been one of her husband’s aunts, and didn’t reply.
Then a few days later I got another Facebook post, from my youngest daughter Nikki, who lives near Levin. She was asking if I could pick her up from the airport in a couple of days time, to take her to Aunty Phyll’s funeral in Auckland. I was embarrassed because by now I had guessed who Aunty Phyll might be, but I wasn’t be sure. And didn’t like to admit I didn’t know.
So I did some google searching and found it was my ex-sister in law. Have you ever heard of an ex-sister-in-law. She was my former wife’s sister. And I also found her husband had died, a few years ago and their oldest son had died a few years before that.
Here was a whole family of people whose lives I had dropped out of – by neglect, when my first marriage broke up. I remembered two of her children had called me Uncle David back then, but neither they nor I had made contact since then.
I wondered, would they feel I was intruder now, if I turned up in at their mother’s funeral service.
But I thought, Nikki assumed I was still part of that family. And if she was repairing that bridge after all that time, then surely I ought to take the plunge as well, and go with her to Aunty Phyll’s funeral..
It was a very moving experience. I knew about half the people at that funeral… and we all greeted each other like long-lost friends.
I remember one man I knew from way back, who was now in a wheelchair, and he hadn’t seen several of his own children for years. I could share his sadness.
But there were happy reunions. Another man introduced himself to me and said…. do you remember you married us. I had forgotten it, but I soon did remember. I had married him and his wife 50 years ago … it must be their golden wedding about now. Their wedding had been in that very church.
I joked about it to his wife …. I said I’ve just been reminded I married you about 50 years ago. She joked back. When you left the ministry, we wondered if our marriage would still be valid.
I had not only lost touch with many of my family … but also with many of my church friends. I used to be a member at that church, until 20 years ago, and many of them remembered me … a few of them I had met since … but when my marriage broke up, the minister asked me to leave that church, and so I did.
It was a cruel thing for her to say, but maybe realistic.
But now they all remembered me and welcomed me, and vice versa.
All this shows how lax I have been in keeping up with past friends. But I pass this story on in case you have slipped into that situation, or in case you know other people who have quite a small circle of friends and family. Even good friends can drift apart, for a number of reasons; sometimes just by moving to another town.
It was an eye-opener, for me.
Split-up number two
That very same week, another couple in our extended family split up… and many were in shock and giving support to them …. but after about a week, Marion and I realised we were only keeping touch with one of the ex-partners … and we thought … why does the whole family have to split. And so we phoned the other partner, and said… you will still be family to us.
Split-up number three
So those are two examples of broken families, and how they are now healing a little.
Broken family number three is a story from the Bible, which by coincidence is the Christian lectionary reading for today. Have you heard the story of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat?
Today’s reading is the climax of that story, where the Jewish patriarch Joseph meets up with his 11 brothers after a major bust-up between them, that happened maybe 20 years earlier.
Is there anyone who doesn’t know the story of Joseph and his brothers?
I’ll give you the outline. Joseph’s father Jacob had two wives. His older wife Leah had 10 sons. The other wife, Rachel had only one son who was Joseph. Rachel was Jacob’s favourite wife, and so Joseph was his favourite son, and when he gave Joseph his coat of many colours was an incredibly insensitive present. It was a put-down of all his other sons.
This led to Joseph having arrogant dreams about him being famous and his brothers bowing down to him.
This led to the brothers being furious and trying to kill him, throwing him into a pit.
This led to Joseph being rescued from the pit by some nomads who were travelling down to Egypt and sold him as a slave.
That led to an even worse disaster, when his master’s wife tried to seduce him, and he got blamed and thrown into jail.
But from that point Joseph’s story turned a corner. He was still in jail but he started interpreting other people’s dreams, and kept on getting it right:. One dreamer was pharaoh’s cup-bearer, and Joseph said this man’s dream meant he was going to be freed from jail, and would go back to pharaoh’s household.
The other dreamer was Pharaoh’s baker, who thought, wow, is there good luck coming to me as well Joseph, said no; it means you are was going to be killed.
The musical follows all these scenes very closely, rubbing in the sarcasm very well.
In this scene with the baker in prison, Joseph says: Don’t rely on all I said I saw
It’s just that I have not been wrong before.
And both dreams came true.
Then pharaoh started having dreams, that frightened him. and the cupbearer told Pharaoh he knew a man in jail who could interpret them.
So Joseph was brought out of jail to see pharaoh and explained that his dreams were about good following bad. Egypt was going to have seven years of rich harvests, followed by seven years of famine.
And Joseph told Pharaoh: you need to find a wise person who can steer you through this crisis.
Now you don’t need to be a genius to figure out that the wise person was Joseph himself.
And he became Pharaoh’s prime minister: He ordered the Egyptians to store up food during the seven good years, and he then distributed it to the rest of the country in the seven years of famine.
A great story of good, coming out of a series of disasters.
But there was a bigger surprise still to come.
When the famine came to Egypt, it also hit Joseph’s brothers, back in Canaan. They thought he was dead. And they heard that there was there’s heaps of food in Egypt… so then went there and started begging.
And of course, the man handing out all this food was Joseph, who they had tried to kill. And they made their begging speech, and didn’t recognise him.
But Joseph recognised them. And – tada – this was what he had dreamed about all those years ago, his brothers all bowing at his feet.
And he said to them, It’s me, your brother Joseph.
Naturally, they were then terrified that he would kill them for trying to kill him all those years ago.
But instead of revenge, Joseph was super-kind to them.
He said: you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear. I myself will provide for you and your children.
It was a family reunion to end all reunions.
And so Josephs 10 brothers came to live with him in Egypt, plus his youngest brother Benjamin who he had never seen, and his father Jacob… and their families
And they all lived happily ever after.
A beautiful story, but how much of it was true.
I read a Jewish commentary who said none of this was true. There were no tribes of Israel as far back as that. The united family of tribes probably started somewhere round the time of king David, about 1000 years later.
Split up number four
But there is a true family story of reconciliation hidden behind all these legends. It’s just a theory, and I read about it from Christian commentators.
They say there was probably not a single story of the Jewish ancestors; there were two..
One of the stories starts in Iraq, and it’s reflected in the legends of Abraham and Sarah. These migrants left Iraq and headed west to what is now Syria and then south to Israel.
But then there’s a second story says the ancestors came from Egypt, and that story is reflected in the story of Moses, who led the ancestors to the land of Israel.
So which story is true: did the Jews come from Iraq or Egypt.
And these controversial scholars say – these stories could both be true in part. It could be that some of their ancestors came from the east and some from the south.
And the Bible editors, many years later, papered over the differences and said:
- their ancestors started off in Iraq,
- then they migrated to Israel,
- then Joseph migrated them to Egypt,
- ready for Moses to migrate them back to Israel again.
So the story of Joseph is the glue that joins the other two stories together.
So it’s fiction, but still powerful
Now these tribes may be legends but the Jewish people of today are very real, and are celebrating these same stories.
And some of them claiming that very same land as their homeland.
But later centuries, Muslims claimed that same land.
And then Christians tried to claim it was their land and take from the Muslims.
And today new tribes are trying to re-write the story yet again.
But I am not going to try and suggest where the future of Israel should go….
Simply to suggest that the history of broken families and broken nations is a universal story. And many other nations could tell parallel stories.
Including New Zealand, where we are still cleaning up the mess of Maori and tauiwi, who both migrated here in the last 800 years. And like long lost relatives, we are still sometimes at odds with one another over inequalities that we personally did not create, but we need to deal with..
And we also inherit the problems of other migrants and refugees worldwide, escaping disasters we did not create, but also need to deal with.
And it’s a problem of governments worldwide, how far they should welcome these migrants, and how much they should look after those who are here now. Most recently Jacinda Ardern is suggesting we should slow down immigration for awhile,, till we have enough houses and roads to cope.
And again, we did not create this situation, but we need to deal it. And I think we need to pick leaders who have visions of reconciliation.
It’s the same principle that Joseph talked about, with different details. Bringing good outcomes, out of broken homes.
And it’s a bit like the wolves and humans in an ice-age 40,000 years ago, who were not related by blood at all, but found clever new ways to join each other’s families.
(That last paragraph relates to what David shared with the children during ‘Time for all ages’ earlier in the service, reprinted below – Editor)
How to make a dog
I’d like to tell you a story about how to make a dog. And I’ve brought our dog along to show you, how to do it. (Our dog were sitting at the back of the church, till I called the dog to come and sit with me and the kids up front).
Dogs look a bit like wolves, and they are cousins.
The first thing to notice is that dogs are a bit like wolves, don’t you think.
But there are some things that dogs do, that wolves can’t.
One thing is that dogs know their name. Watch what she does
Yum Yum. (She comes running up to me from the back of the church)
Come. Wolves won’t do that, they are too frightened, or too fierce.
Sit. (She sits) Wolves don’t know all these words.
Step up. (she begs for food – Feed her) Wolves don’t beg you to give them food.
And dogs like being fed by people. They’ll eat the same stuff you do, like cake and ice-cream, if you let them. Wolves don’t like cake …. they can’t digest it very well.
And dogs like children. She’d like to lick your face, but you may not like that.
So just say ah-ah. Dogs know what ah-ah means, without you having to teach them.
Dogs like to do tricks. Like fetching a ball. Or carrying a teddy round the house.
They like putting on clothes. They hold out their paw to help you put it on.
Don’t try that with a wolf.
So how did dogs get to be like that?
About 40 thousand years ago, there were no dogs at all, but there were wolves….. And they were friendly to other wolves; they would all go out hunting together.
And a strange thing happened. Some of them started to be friendly to people.
Why did they do that?
Well; we’re not sure, but one idea is that: some people are very messy and leave their food scraps on the ground and the wolves would come along and clean it up. (Now, Only friendly wolves would do that).
And another idea is that wolves knew how to hunt together .. some still do this rounding up a herd of reindeer, and catching the slow ones. And people might have joined in the hunt.
And gradually the friendly wolves started to look different.
Their mouths got smaller, they got fewer teeth, because they were eating our food, as well as meat.
And friendly dogs don’t need such big teeth anyway.
And they got smaller.
And they got floppy ears. I don’t know why they did that.
They got new genes so they could digest rice and wheat like we can.
And all this took thousands of years to happen, as some wolves, and some people, started to hang out together..
So that’s how scientists think we made dogs. But it took a very long time.
Well a scientist called Lyudmila in Russia, thought she would try to make a dog in her own lifetime.
Not starting with a wolf, but a fox.
She started, in 1959.
She got hundreds of wild foxes, and put them in cages…. And she tried holding a stick out for them …. and most of them were frightened, and would try to bite her so she had to put on very thick gloves.
But one or two of them didn’t bite, so she used those peaceful foxes to be the mothers and fathers of the next group of puppies.
And in the next generation there were quite a few more puppies who didn’t try to bite her.
And after four generations some of the baby foxes didn’t bite and they wagged their tails and came over to see her.
And by the sixth generation … some of the baby foxes would whine when they were unhappy, and would come over and lick her. And they would look up when she called their names.
By 1974, they were up to 15 generations, and by then some of the new puppies were starting to look different as well. They had rounded faces, like puppies, and they had bushier tails. A few even had floppy ears. And they had patchy fur in different colours.
Not all the puppies were friendly like that.
But now Lyudmila is 83 years old, and still breeding foxes.. and now there are 70 percent of them that look and act like dogs.
So I think you can say some of these foxes are now dogs ….. and maybe if this was kept up for a few hundred years, all the puppies would end up being dogs.
And lots of other wild animals have become more friendly to people. Like cows that let people milk them. And sheep that let people mind them.
But dogs were the first, because they were already friendly to other dogs, and gradually came to see people as their friends as well.
So If you want to have a dog; the first thing is to find a mum or dad who likes dogs, and can take them walking several times a day. Because dogs really don’t like being in the house on their own, while you are at school. They need to have lots of friends.