Readings; Psalm 16, Romans 8:31-39, Luke 6:31-38, Genesis 37:1-8,
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, February 7th, 2016
Possibly the most influential position in today's world, that anybody could attain, would be that of chief adviser to the President of the United States. It matters not who the president is. If you become the 'go to guy or gal' who the president consults before making decisions, then 'You've got the whole world in your hands'.
How would you get that job? What route would you take? Be educated at the best schools and colleges? Serve some time in the military? Occupy a number of politically significant roles in both national and international settings? Be a total patriot with a reputation for sound decision making based on observable facts and trends?
The character we are considering today, Joseph, was none of the above. He was a spoiled, uneducated farm boy with a head full of dreams. We've been talking about an 'Upper Story' and a 'Lower Story' that flow throughout the 66 books of the Bible. The 'Lower Story' in the story of Joseph is that he didn't have a chance! The 'Upper Story' is that, when your life is in God's hands, God can turn every setback into an opportunity.
God takes Joseph from a pit into which his brothers have thrown him, to a place in life, where, in his own words, he is 'Father to Pharaoh, Lord of his entire household and ruler of Egypt'. Egypt at that time is the most influential, wealthy, glittering, super-power in the world and Pharaoh was at the head of that pyramid of power. Before God builds a nation, God grants to one of his children an experience of what world domination felt like.
Notice this about Joseph's story. The setbacks in Joseph's life actually come about because of his faithfulness to God. One of the big barriers to wholehearted commitment to living out our faith is that we are afraid what the repercussions might be.
We don't make a big thing out of our belief because we fear people will think we are religious nuts. We go along with things we know aren't right, because we fear that if we don't then it will damage our chances for promotion. We don't speak out when we see something is wrong, because we are not sure how people will react to us.
Because Joseph tells his family about his dreams and their interpretation his brothers hate him. If he'd kept quiet about them and hung his technicolor coat in the closet then they wouldn't have thrown him in the pit. But getting thrown into a pit was part of the 'Upper Story' plan.
After being taken as a slave to Egypt and becoming a servant in Pharaoh's household, it places him in a position where Mrs. Pharaoh wants to have a fling with the boy. Because of his integrity Joseph ends up in jail. This too is part of the 'Upper Story' plan.
Because of being in jail, the ability he has to interpret dreams is discovered. Though temporarily forgotten, he eventually is placed in a position where he interprets the dreams of Pharaoh and is elevated to the position of being the adviser to the most influential leader in the world.
Because, though his brothers rejected him, he still has deep love for his family, he becomes an example of how forgiveness can be more powerful than revenge. Because of his compassion, his whole family are saved and move into the most up-market neighborhood in the most prosperous nation in all creation. Not bad for a spoiled farm-boy.
Every closed door, opens another one. Every put down, becomes a step up. Every setback, becomes a step forward. Every action of hatred becomes an opportunity for showing love.
There's a verse in the New Testament book of Romans:8:28 that expresses this same idea. 'We know' writes Paul... to a church in Rome that was going through some difficult times that would get worse before they got better... 'We know... that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God's purpose.'
Don't take that verse out of context. Paul is not saying that every bad and evil thing that happens in life is the will of God. He's not suggesting that planes flying into buildings and teenage suicides and cancer and tsunami's are God's way of saying 'I love you'. Such things are a reminder that whilst God created the world out of chaos, the chaos has never gone away, and that our destructive, sinful disposition is always with us.
This verse is an invitation to allow the 'Upper Story' of God's redemptive, saving love, transform the way we travel though the 'Lower Story' that is our lives, with all their ups and downs, setbacks and disappointments. It's a call for us to be the people God wants us to be, do the things God wants us to do and trust that, no matter what comes our way, God will be there for us. It's a call to find our story in God's story.
Nowhere is that more powerfully phrased than verse 38 of Romans 8,where Paul writes, using words that could fit so well in Joseph's situation as he rubbed shoulders with decision makers who changed the world and was informed by spiritual powers he could not explain; 'I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
Joseph went through some hard times. Some of them were of his own making. In his younger years he was more than a little arrogant. Some of his hard times were due to his families dysfunctional dynamics. What was his dad Jacob thinking when he allowed him to parade around in that posh coat?
None of us are dealt an equal hand by the lottery of life. Joseph had 22 years of a difficult life, but he had 71 years of a blessed life. He believed in the 'Upper Story' and it made his 'Lower Story' life so much richer. It made all the junk that happened to him survivable.
Last week as a church we celebrated communion. We took bread and drank wine to remember what Jesus went through on the Cross for our salvation. We did this because in the gospels Jesus invites us to remember Him that way.
There are hints, even in this story of Joseph, about what God was preparing to do long after God was through with nation building. One of the most moving parts of the Joseph narrative, is where he finally breaks down and reveals to his brothers who he is.
You can picture Genesis 50:20-21 Joseph explaining to them; 'You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children."
A broken body. Blood that is shed. The crucifixion of a man who only desired to be faithful. The hateful actions of an unbelieving world. God takes these actions and bathes them in resurrection light. These words could have come from Jesus on the Cross. 'You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.'
We are never going to explain or understand everything that happens to us and in and around our lives. We are 'Lower Story' people. That does not preclude us from trusting in God to guide us, protect us and lead us. Through Joseph, his whole family are saved from a deathly famine and prosper in Egypt. When Joseph told his brothers 'Don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children'... he wasn't joking!
If you have been following through 'The Story' you should already be noticing a common thread. God seems to confound our earthly definitions and expectations by taking flawed, everyday people and doing beautiful things with their lives.
Think about these heroes of faith we've been looking at. Abraham, the old childless guy living in a tent, Isaac, the blind dude who is duped into giving his inheritance to the wrong son; Jacob, whose actions lead him to be on the run from his brother; Joseph whose arrogance and dreaming lead to him being thrown into a pit.
Through their faith in God, these compromised lives are transformed. As we place our trust in Jesus Christ our lives can also be changed. If we do that we also receive the assurance; 'Don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children'.
We may never actually become the chief advisor to the president of the universe. We may never hold the whole world in our hands. But we are invited to place our trust in the One who does!