The sermon this morning was about Joseph as it’s told in the book of Genesis. I’ve missed most of the series but today the minister was talking about two dreams the Pharaoh had … seven fat cows and seven lean cows, seven fat ears and seven lean ears. It’s a long story. Joseph has been in prison for a long time … a decade … under false charges, and has grown wise. He is also smart and even in prison he gains the trust of the warden and is put in charge ‘of all that was done there’. (Gen 39). When the Pharaoh looks for someone who can tell him what his dreams mean, the cupbearer remembers Joseph earlier interpreting a set of dreams when he was in prison with Joseph. So Pharaoh shares his dreams with Joseph; he interprets them and is released and put in charge of managing the 7 years of prosperity the dreams foretold, in preparation for the 7 years of famine, also in the dreams.
It’s sort of a great story. The young, always smart Joseph, first sold by his brothers, then imprisoned by the Pharaoh, comes out as the wise man, the administrator whom the Pharaoh appoints to oversee, pretty much everything in Egypt. The minister today talked about Joseph being smart, and becoming wise. And about courage. He said that Joseph always seemed to be smarter than the people around him, but that his wisdom came through pain and suffering as it does, he said, for all of us. Wisdom, he said, is a lived attribute. He said that Joseph being smart may have made the interpretations of the dreams more obvious, but his developed character of wisdom had given him the courage to say and to do what needed to be said or done.
Also this morning, someone posted a reference to Sophie Scholl. I had not heard of her but hers is a fitting, important story on Remembrance day, or on any other day for that matter. She was the 4thof 6 children of Magdalena and Robert Scholl. They were a Lutheran family, devout Christians, and Sophie had a strong interest in theological and philosophical thinking, including sermons by Cardinal Newman about ‘a theology of conscience’. As a young girl she became part of the German League of Girls but was already aware of dissenting views of her father and others. Her brother Hans, just a bit older, had eagerly embraced the Hitler Youth program but became ‘entirely disillusioned’ with the Nazi Party.
Sophie graduated from secondary school, though by now she had little interest in her classes which had ‘largely become Nazi indoctrination’ sessions. She loved children and taught kindergarten for a while before joining the auxiliary war service as a nursery teacher. The military-like regimen of the Labor Service troubled her and she began practising a passive resistance to the Nazis. In 1942 she enrolled at the University of Munich to study biology and philosophy. Hans was studying medicine there and he introduced her to his friends. Friends because they had mutual interests … but soon, the question that most consumed them all was how an individual must act under a dictatorship. Her father, at this time, was serving time in prison for a critical remark he had made about Hitler to an employee. And she and her friends were by now hearing of atrocities being committed by German soldiers and of the mass killings of Jews.
And then she came across a pamphlet left by the White Rose. A small resistance group, it was only their third pamphlet, secretly written, printed and distributed to encourage a German resistance to Hitler and the Nazis. Sophie discovered that her brother Hans had helped to write the pamphlet and she joined the effort. They wrote and distributed three more as widely as they could. On Feb 18, they had left pamphlets in the hallways outside classes in session so that students would come out and pick them up. Still before the break from classes, she and Hans had some pamphlets left; Sophie picked them up and flung them out into the atrium. The custodian saw this and reported her; she, Hans and another White Rose member, Christoph Probst were interrogated by the Gestapo for 4 days, during which Sophie’s leg was broken. On the 22 they went to trial for high treason, with no access to a legal defense.
Sophie Scholl is recorded as saying only this, in her defence, to judge Roland Friesler: ‘somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.’ All were found guilty and condemned to death, which was carried out by guillotine only a few hours later. Prison officials, later describing the scene, emphasized the courage with which she walked to her execution. Hans yelled ‘long live freedom’. Sophie’s last words were shared with her cell mate, Else Gebel: ‘how can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually, to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?’
The young group had hoped for a massive revolt, but it didn’t happen. Hitler and the Nazis continued with their brutality, their lies, and their final solution for the Jews and everyone else they didn’t like. But over the years, this story has become known. The Germans documented well, and since about 1990 the records have been accessed. Films have been made, writing has been done. The last of the pamphlets was smuggled out of Germany and in mid 1943, the Allies dropped millions of copies all over Germany. Today over 200 schools in Germany are named after the Scholls. Books, including Sophie Scholl: The Real Story of the woman who defied Hitler have been written.
In an opinion piece about guns in the USA, a doctor in Florida who examined the bodies of recent Parkland massacre victims said this. The damage caused by the AR-15’s is much greater and more lethal than that from a more traditional hand gun. The bullet travels at three times the speed and shreds any part of the body leaving it almost always irreparable. The chance of surviving even a bad AR-15 shot is slim, he said. And still, when senior politicians were asked again about the urgency of gun laws they instead urged caution. They added that mental health is perhaps more the problem, and that passing a law would likely not have prevented the shootings. When the Florida State legislature was asked to vote on a law to ban use of the AR-15s, they soundly defeated the motion.
On this day, November 11, there is the ending of two World Wars, and the sacrifice of millions and millions to remember. It’s a day about soldiers who gave their lives, those who survived, and the millions of other people who also suffered enormously. It’s also about the Sophies and the Hanses, those many people among us everywhere who have the wisdom and character of Joseph, the courage to do and to say things that must be said and done … even at enormous personal cost. It’s what Jesus did; they killed him for that.