Entering Joseph’s Life
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Sermon Notes from Pastor Christine… Our story from Genesis has a deceptively happy glow to it. However, the statement, “So, there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers,” holds a multitude of emotions and undergirds the ragged road we call life. Joseph is so overcome by the presence of his brothers that he sends everyone else away. And then, once alone with them, he weeps desperately. This moment is paradoxically filled with joy and sorrow; loss and gain.The lectionary would have us begin at verse 3, with Joseph revealing himself to his brothers, but without verses 1 and 2, we could assume that Joseph has forgotten the pain, has easily reconciled the past, and is ready to move on. This reading from Genesis is often touted as one of the Bible’s most vivid dramatizations of mercy and forgiveness. But this isn’t just a story of easy assurances.Joseph’s story is filled with shades of gray – darkness and light, intermingled every corner of Joseph’s life.The darkness of the brothers’ hate, the darkness of Joseph being sold into slavery and then confined to prison, the darkness of Jacob’s family situation as a famine struck and he sends his son’s (Joseph’s brothers) in search of food, and maybe even the darkness of Joseph’s manipulation of his desperate brothers (although, who can blame him?).These all color the joyous reunion we have before us today. The pain of yesterday seers deeply and yet the promise of tomorrow kindles hope.Joseph may be able to quip, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good,” now – when he has the upper hand, power over his brothers, and things are on an upswing for him, but what about the years upon years when Joseph was seemingly abandoned by God?The typical presentation of this story is: All things work together for good; forgive as Joseph forgave; God’s plan is greater than our plans. Which is a nice, neat, happy ending; but is tiresome, off-putting and ultimately adds more pain when people are traversing the dark. The truth is many endings for many people are not yet that happy – maybe never will be.Joseph’s background matters, because the most honest place to enter the story of Joseph is to recognize he was wronged. On so many levels he got the shaft. I mean, exactly what was the hand of God doing when his brothers threw him down the well shaft? Where was the providence of God when Joseph was framed for rape? How can malaise and loss be God’s plan?Certainly, Joseph found some reconciliation, but it doesn’t erase the past or the pain.And, if we broaden our focus a bit, what was the hand of God doing for the four hundred years Joseph’s ancestors, God’s people, were in slavery, and oppressed under Pharaoh? That’s twenty generations of people left in the darkness – in the unspoken, uncharted territory of suffering and the sense of purposelessness that haunts those paths.Maybe there’s some benefit to saying out-loud that sometimes we feel like we are part of those twenty generations wandering in the dark, looking for the Promised Land, and God is nowhere to be found.I wouldn’t blame Joseph, or those twenty generations of people, or those living in domestic violence shelters, or families sitting in oncology wards, or those filling bankruptcy and foreclosure, or those sleeping in homes constructed from trash bags and tin, or those with a heart that’s been splint clean down the middle by love, or those for whom life just hasn’t added up the way they planned, if they are just flat out angry at God.Maybe it was easy for Joseph to welcome his brothers with open arms and to forgive God for every godforsaken pit he ended up in. I don’t know. But what I do know is if Iwas in that position, I’d be afraid.Afraid of being abandoned again.
Afraid of losing it all again.
Afraid of trusting again.
Afraid of loving again.And angry.
Angry at everything.
Angry at nothing.
Angry mostly at God.And pretty sure this was NOT how life should be.
Somehow in the midst of all this God ends up feeling like a foe and a friend. Which is it? And I can’t help but hear the whole “Love your enemy, bless those who curse you,” in a different light.I know that all sounds blasphemous.Honestly, how do I reconcile my fear? How do I forgive God? How do I make friends with my enemy, whoever that may be?Now, here’s the thing about these queries, I am acutely aware that I’ve painted myself into a corner, because I know I don’t have the answers to all the questions I ask. And I don’t have the answers to all the questions that get asked of me. In painful times I end up saying, far more often than I’d like, “I don’t have answer for that.”However, I think not asking the questions is far more detrimental to faith than not having the answers. I believe that by asking the hard questions, it forces some type of attempt to make sense of things; to make sense of faith; to make sense of God. It’s only because I am desperate for God that I can be angry with God. It ‘s only because God promises that perfect love casts out all fear, that I can presume to expect release from my fears. It’s only because Jesus says I should befriend my enemies that my heart is conflicted with confusion.So, I think it’s fair to quarrel with God’s words by inquiring, “Since You said these words, how is it possible that certain things happen?”Life just doesn’t make any sense, and yet paradoxically we know that life itselfdoesn’t make sense. Do you know what I mean? It seems in life’s nature that lives and hearts get broken – those of people we love, those of people we will never know, and sometimes our very own lives.One of the reasons we find making sense of God and life so perplexing is we are part of what we are trying to understand. We’re so deep in it. As I think about Joseph’s story I’m struck by how the moments of comfort and succor were few and far between, and when those moments did arrive they were often delivered by ugly messengers: slave owners, prison guards, demanding kings, a band of brothers who despised him.And all I can think is why does grace, love, and God so often come in such ugly packages? Another question I don’t have the answer to…
But I only need look to the cross to be reminded of how ugly and painful resurrection can be.And so, I think that a faithful life – one that is committed to God; one that honors others; and one that preserves our souls – is mostly being willing to stagger from one safe enough space to another, trusting that some solace, peace, or promise will be found there.It seems true that despite my fears and my anger and my questioning – despite the fact that I often turn God into the enemy – God still reconciles Himself to me. Still forgives me. Still calls me His child. Still staggers through life with me. And with you.There’s this point in Joseph’s story when his brothers strip him of his coat and cover it with the blood of a goat as evidence of his death. You probably know this part – there’s a whole musical written about his flamboyant technicolor dream coat. Now, it’s just a coat, but really this is the beginning of the darkness, because from this moment on he is stripped of everything. Everything but his life.It is a terrible moment, followed by more terrible moments. And yet, Joseph, by his sheer courage and belief, keeps rebuilding his life, despite every obstacle in his path. And so he weeps terribly when he sees his brothers.
Weeps because his life has been resurrected.It’s scandalous when anyone is stripped of everything but life itself. Almost impossible to reconcile. And yet when the courage to face fears is found; when the audacity to believe despite it all is proclaimed; and the tenacity to start again is mustered – they are constant, constant reminders of the Resurrection.In the godforsaken, absence quicksand of life, sometimes you can hear a faint alleluia rising from those who weep. And sometimes, if we watch we will see the hand of God putting the stars back in the skies, one by one.