Genesis 45:1-14; 25-28
There are some fish that cannot be caught. It’s not that they are faster or stronger than other fish; they are just touched by something extra. One such fish was the Beast, and by the time I was born he was already a legend. He’d passed up more hundred-dollar lures than any other fish in Alabama.
Some said that fish was the ghost of the thief who drowned in that river 60 years before. Others claimed he was a dinosaur left over from the Cretaceous Period. I didn’t put any stock into such speculation or superstition. All I knew is that I’d been trying to catch that fish since I was a boy no bigger than (some of you).
On the day (my son was born) well, that was the day that I finally caught him. Now I tried everything on him: worms, lures, peanut butter, peanut butter and cheese, but on that day I had a revelation. If that fish was the ghost of Henry Walls then the usual bait wasn’t going to work. I was going to have to use something that he truly desired: gold.
Now I tied my ring onto the strongest line they make, strong enough to hold up a bridge, they said, if only for a few minutes. Then I cast upriver. The Beast jumped up and grabbed it before it even hit the water. http://johnaugust.com/downloads_ripley/big-fish.pdf
When I finally landed that catfish, I brought it right it to my face and I looked it right in the eye. Then the Beast spit out my gold ring. Not wanting to deprive my soon-to-be born son the chance to catch a fish like that of his own, I threw the Beast back into the water with a splash. (Ibid)
So goes one of the many tales of Edward Bloom in the movie, “Big Fish.”
So as Edward’s son Will grew, he was mesmerized by his father’s stories, but by the time he was dating, his father’s stories were old and worn out. He’d heard most of them told so often he knew them all by heart and he’d come to resent his father for telling them because he told them to everyone.
The other reason he resented his father telling those stories is that his father insisted that they were real. When you are five that’s one thing, but when you are fifteen or twenty-five, things change. Because Will’s father didn’t change, he felt like he didn’t know his father at all.
Not only did he think there was no truth in his father’s stories but he began to think they must have been cover for a man who sowed seeds of sin during those times he was away from his family on business.
So after the big fish story was told on Will’s wedding day, that was enough for him. He left home and he and his father didn’t speak or visit for three years. Will kept up with his father through phone calls with his mom.
That changed the day she told him the chemotherapy was no longer working and his father’s time was running short.
So Will and his wife hopped a plane and headed home. But he was sad to discover that his father had not changed. He was still telling the same worn-out stories, which charmed Will’s wife, but left Will exasperated.
Will wanted to know his real father before he died. He believed that his father had never shared a truthful thing about himself. That began to change as Will plowed through some papers in the garage and he found an old deed to a house in Spectre. Will had heard about Spectre in his father’s stories but had always thought it was a just a mythological place.
He found the town on a map and traced down the house’s address and the woman who lived there told him the true story of how his father connected with a wealthy Wall Street executive and saved the entire town, one house and one business at a time. The woman that lived in the house was the original owner. While she had fallen in love with his father, she assured him that his father had remained true to his mother.
He discovered that the story about his father going missing during the war and being presumed dead for many months was true, and so were many, many other unbelievable parts of his father’s stories, even if he did embellish them.
The great revelation for Will came when he discovered that many of his father’s stories were told to hide some of the pain of the past and were retold as stories of joy.
That story of catching that big fish on the day Will was born—and other stories surrounding his birth, for example, were told to cover up the pain of not being present the day Will was born. Will was born a week early and his father was on the road on business and it wasn’t possible for him to be there.
Will learned this from the family doctor as his father lay dying in the hospital. It was the first time he had heard the real story surrounding his birth.
Dealing with the truth and sharing the truth can be painful. Becoming real can be painful. Because we hate pain, we often do whatever we can to avoid it or cover it up.
Sometimes we avoid being honest or generous because those things can be painful. Sometimes we live in denial because living with reality hurts too much. Sometimes we will not share our real selves because we fear rejection, or because we are ashamed, or we cannot forgive ourselves or others. It’s easier to tell a tall tale or live a lie.
These days, people can create false identities on the Internet. They find it easier to create fantasy selves rather than to be honest about their real selves.
To keep from dealing with our real selves we might use a vice like food, or alcohol, or an inappropriate relationship.
We don’t want anyone touching the pain that lies beneath the surface so we do what we need to do to protect it. We keep people away from those sensitive areas and people learn that there are some questions we will not answer. We have erected “No trespassing” signs around those areas of our lives.
Now this is not to say that every issue of our lives should be out there for public display. That would be unhealthy, too.
I am saying that being real is learning to become comfortable with ourselves as persons God made in His image and who have been given gifts He wants us to use to help others.
It is learning to deal with our mistakes and understand that we are people of imperfection. It is learning how to forgive ourselves of our mistakes and how to love ourselves.
It is learning how to laugh at and laugh at ourselves.
Too many people live their lives like it is the set of a great Western. They have every appearance of being real. However, the inside of the person doesn’t match what they are showing to others on the outside. Of course this front doesn’t fool everyone.
We mostly fool ourselves into thinking this way of life is real and will lead to happiness.
Why do we live this way? Most people do so to avoid dealing with pain in their lives. But that’s only a mirage. What it does is keep us trapped in our pain and in denial.
If you choose to walk with Jesus, Jesus will help you move through your pain in order to bring you into a healthy place where you will become what Henry Nouwen called a “wounded healer.” You will not be afraid to be real and because you have learned to embrace and face those painful areas of your life, you then become one of those rare individuals who can help others walk the road of pain in their lives.
Without wounded healers, we might all be a bunch of crazy, psychotic people, unable to deal with our stuff, because we all have stuff. We are all wounded. The question is not whether we are wounded; the question is, “Can we be honest about our wounds and can we be healed?” Can you use your wounds to help others heal?
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
Now if you have ever truly loved anybody, especially a child, you should understand this. You don’t mind being hurt to protect, to give, to guide, to show, to direct—whatever you need to do to love that child and insure that child’s well-being.
Here on Father’s Day, fathers who love with that kind of self-giving love understand this.
However, when people abuse us, take advantage of us, and try to control us, this causes us such pain that we pull back and begin to pretend with a lot of people. The real person that we are meant to be doesn’t always show up.
With this in mind, perhaps you can hear the story of Joseph from a new perspective today.
After several decades, Joseph had to decide whether to reveal his real self to his brothers. In doing so he would have to open up old wounds.
What were those old wounds? When Joseph was seventeen-years-old his brothers hated him so much that they sold him into slavery and pretended a wild animal killed him. They then told this lie to their father.
However, through God’s providence, Joseph went from being a slave to the second in command in Egypt. Because of his ability to interpret dreams, he was able to predict the seven-year famine and help Egypt collect enough grain to save thousands and thousands of lives.
The famine brought his brothers to Egypt looking to purchase grain. When Joseph realized who they were, he had a dilemma. He could put them in prison. He could have them killed. He could take their possessions.
However, not all of his family were there. What about his father? What about his younger brother Benjamin? He also wondered what kind of men his brothers had become.
Since they did not recognize him, Joseph set up a series of tests to see how they would respond.
The brothers proved to be honorable and remorseful about what they had done to Joseph.
Joseph had to decide whether he was going to reveal who he was and who he had become.
This is a decision many of us have to make in some of our relationships. Are we going to be real with our family, a girlfriend or boyfriend, with those we work with, with people at church?
We cannot control the response others have toward us, but we do decide whether we are real with the people around us.
Do we deal with old issues and resolve them so healing and forgiveness can take place or do we just let them go?
Joseph shows us that when confrontation is done out of love and with the intention of loving and forgiving, while painful, it can also be healing.
Joseph exemplifies this as he decides to confront his brothers with their past.
The only way Joseph was going to have a real relationship with his brothers and his father was to deal with what happened when they were young men.
We cannot be real and live in denial about things people have done to us or things we have done to others. Being real may mean acknowledging some act before we can hope to move beyond it.
Joseph could have taken revenge. He could have taken his brother’s freedom. He could have taken their possessions. However, none of those would have relieved Joseph from his pain.
Instead, Joseph took them by surprise and he revealed his real self. He became vulnerable before them and sent all of his guards away and he wept before his brothers as he revealed who he was.
Sometimes part of becoming real is letting go. It is letting go of our past mistakes and allowing grief to run its course. It is realizing that even in the midst of the worst of times, God has been with us and has not forsaken us.
It is letting go of the debt that others owe us and forgiving them of that debt, even though they may reject our offer. Otherwise, we just carry that unforgiven sin around in our lives and it becomes more painful to us than it is for the one we hold it against.
We saw an amazing display of this kind of release of debt from the family members at the bond hearing of Dylan Roof for the murders of nine men and women killed inside Mother Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Charleston last week.
“You took something very precious away from me,” said Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, her voice rising in anguish. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.” https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2015/06/19/church-shooting-suspect-thought-blacks-were-taking-over-world/IOuZIsIzXdOvdTQFF0jhEP/story.html
“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” said Felicia Sanders, the mother of 26-year old Tywanza Sanders, a poet who died after trying to save his aunt.
“You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know,” she said in a quivering voice. “Every fiber in my body hurts and I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders is my son but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you.” (Ibid)
Part of becoming real is embracing the pain of dealing honestly with ourselves and with others because it is the pathway to healing.
In the movie, “The Big Fish,” the son almost missed finding that pathway. In the end the son realized that his father was never going to change and so maybe he was the one that needed to.
If we are not careful, we will be like that son. We will wait around for that father to change, or for that brother to change, or for that sister to change until it’s too late.
Sometimes, being real is not about being right; it’s about being loving. It’s about working for common ground despite your differences.
Sometimes, being real is just saying, “I made mistakes, too.” “I was wrong when…”
Sometimes it’s having enough guts to say, “You hurt me when you did that to me, but I have forgiven you. Can we move on?”
Remember, Jesus was never wrong, yet he was real enough that He gave his sinless life away to sinful humanity.
His real self was revealed when He hung on the cross and he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:24).
He was real when he spoke to the thief dying next to him and assured him he would be with him that day in paradise.
He was real when he instructed John to take care of his mother.
He was real when he cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
He was real when he admitted he was thirsty; when he said it was finished and when he said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
How about you?
Who needs to know the real you? Is it a father, a brother, a sister, a son, a daughter, a neighbor, a friend?
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
Prayer: It is most important Lord that we are real before you. May your Spirit move among us, convincing us to humbly acknowledge our real selves to you, not because you do not already know us but because we cannot find healing and joy without starting down this road. Give us the humility and the courage of Joseph to reveal our true selves to you. Through Jesus we pray. Amen.