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Genesis 45: 1-9, 15   God Sent Me      February 24, 2019

The passage today is a turning point in the story of Joseph. Joseph faces the brothers who tried to kill him. When that didn’t work, they sold him into slavery. Years have pass. There is a famine. The brothers go to Egypt looking for food. They don’t know it, but the person they ask for help is the brother they thought was dead. Here is where we pick up the story.

 

There once was a farmer who had an old horse. It was his only horse. He could tell the horse was unhappy being penned-up, so he let it loose. The villagers heard about it and said, “That’s not good! You must be sad?”

The farmer replied: "Who knows? We shall see.”

Two days later the horse came back rejuvenated after being able to run around the countryside. The horse brought with it twelve younger and healthy horses which followed the old horse into the corral.

People heard about the farmer's good luck. They stopped by to congratulate him. “How wonderful! You must be happy?" they said

Again, the farmer said, "Who knows? We shall see."

The next morning, the farmer's only son set off to train the new wild horses, but the son was thrown and broke his leg. When the villagers heard about the misfortune: "How awful! You must be sad?”

Once again the farmer said "Who knows? We shall see"

Several days later a war broke out. The Emperor's men arrived in the village conscripting all the young men for the Emperor's army. But, since the farmer's son had a broken leg, they didn’t take him. "How wonderful,” the villagers said. "You must be very happy?"

Again, the farmer said, "Who knows? We shall see!"

As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a limp. Again, the neighbors came by, "Oh no,” they said. “You must be sad.” But, what did the farmer say? "Who knows? We shall see."

As it turned out, with all the other young men off at war, even though the farmer’s son had a limp, he was still the only person young enough and strong enough to do so much of the needed work. So, old farmer became wealthy and, in turn, was very generous to the villagers. And all the villagers said, "Oh, how fortunate we are, you must be very happy?"

To which the old farmer said what? "Who knows? We shall see!"

Life is like that. With all these twists and turns. What looks bad could be good. What looks good could be bad. We won’t know it all until it is all said and done.

 

If anyone could relate to that parable it would be Joseph. One moment Joseph seems to have everything going for him and the next moment his life seems to be in a mess, and we have no idea what is going to happen next. His life was not straight line, but a meandering journey all leading to this to this meeting with his brothers in Egypt.

The story begins. Joseph is the favorite son of Jacob and Rachel. They don’t even attempt to hide their favoritism. They give him what Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical called a, “Technicolor dream coat.” I don’t know about you, but, for most of us, if you had older brothers or sisters, what we got were hand-me-downs.

Now, as wonderful as all that attention was for Joseph, it wasn’t wonderful to his brothers. They resented him. Yet, Joseph had a great imagination, which is good, except, Joseph is a spoiled brat. He tells his brothers about his dreams: “Brothers, I had these really cool dreams and in them, I saw you bowing down before me, isn’t that neat?” In one dream Joseph sees the sun and the moon orbiting around him and he sees eleven stars in the sky (guess how many brothers he has? – eleven!) and they are all bowing down before him.

For a man with a lot of imagination, Joseph was so self-absorbed he doesn’t stop to imagine how these dreams could be hurtful. His brothers are fed up with him. This dream about them bowing down before him, was too much. They get so mad they scheme to kill him. Just as they are about to do him in, Reuben, the eldest brother stops them. “Thank you. Thank you, Reuben!” says Joseph. What a relief. Saved by a kindly older brother. Except the older brother doesn’t exactly save him. Reuben says, “Let’s not kill him. Let’s just throw him in a pit for a while.” Now, it’s obviously good not to be killed, but being thrown naked in a hole is hardly something to be happy about. While Reuben is gone, his brothers, who aren’t so forgiving, decide to sell Joseph into slavery.

You see? It’s up and downs for Joseph. Joseph is like the old farmer. He is never quite sure if this is good news or bad news? Joseph ends up working for Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guards. Joseph does such a good job, that Potiphar puts him in charge of running his whole estate. Which is good.

Now, it just so happens that Joseph is a handsome guy, which might also be good. But, if your boss’s wife is smitten with you, that’s trouble. She tries to seduce Joseph. Joseph refuses.

I think it is important to stop here and wonder about that. Why didn’t Joseph give in to Potiphar’s wife? Joseph seems to understand it was wrong to do this. But, where did he learn that it was wrong?

Out in Fellowship Hall, Becky put up a quote from Proverbs 22:6. If you haven’t noticed it, maybe you can today. It says: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it.” This is part of what we try to do here. I think the main reason Joseph knew to resist is because he went to Sunday School? Someone taught him the Ten Commandments. You shall not covet your neighbor’s stuff. You shall not commit adultery. Joseph’s parents did a lot of things wrong, but they did one thing right. They taught Joseph the Word of God. And here he is, whether consciously or unconsciously, he remembers. We see Joseph acting out his faith in ways which may eventually bless him.

Once Potiphar’s wife realizes he’s not going to sleep with her, she turns on him. She accuses him of rape. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. He is sent to jail. Joseph can’t seem to get a break.

Once in jail, Joseph makes friends with the jailor. They like him. He interprets dreams for his jail mates. One of the dreams helps the butler get a job working for Pharaoh himself. The butler is so happy that he promises to tell Pharaoh about Joseph and help to get him out. This sounds like the best news Joseph has for a long time. Except, the butler forgets his promise. Joseph is in jail for another two years. Just as it seems life is going to turn around for Joseph, he is knocked back down. He is on the mountain for awhile only to end up back in the valley.

What Joseph experiences is no different than what a lot of us experience. Life is a series of valleys and mountains. And, just like Joseph, doing the right thing doesn’t always bring immediate rewards. Joseph tries to be a moral person. He fights off temptations. He shows compassion. He tries to be honest. And, yet, bad things still happen. Nothing seems to change until this day when he meets his brothers and then everything changes.

At first the change seems almost imperceptible. Joseph himself probably didn’t even notice it. But through all these good and bad experiences, something happens to Joseph. I think his faith – just below the surface – but being lived out as he tries to do the right thing – is changing him. The story begins with a self-absorbed teenager, so wrapped up in himself, he can’t even see how his arrogance might hurt the people he loves. Then, we come to this moment.

His brothers have traveled to Egypt looking for food. They don’t know it, but the person they are asking to help, is the brother they tried to kill. When Joseph first sees them, he is angry. All that misery and all the memories of what they did and what happened to him, came back. Because of them, he was betrayed and belittled; he was demoralized and imprisoned. He doesn’t tell them who he is. He gives them a hard time. He accuses them of being spies. Joseph realizes has the power to do to them what they tried to do to him. Just at that moment, when we might be prepared for him to take vengeance on them, Genesis says, Joseph broke into tears. The flood gates opened, and all his grief and anger and resentment washed away.

Then Joseph says something which is not of this world, but this, I mean, his ability to say these things, could only be made possible by the grace of God. He says, “Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Wow – really? Joseph is trying to console them! He tells them, “Don’t be upset with yourselves?” They should be upset with themselves, right? They tried to kill him. They should be mortified. They are. In fact, they are not just mortified. They are scared to death: “What will Joseph do to us?”

But, of all things, Joseph tries to comfort them.

Joseph changed. He didn’t get to this moment all at once. It was over time - through the rising and falling tides of the mistakes he made and the mercies he received. All the choices he made, led to this change.

Here he was. Joseph’s dream is literally coming true – do you remember? His brothers are bowing down before him, just as he predicted. And what does Joseph do? Joseph bows before them. Like Jesus kneeling to wash the feet of the disciples who would betray him, Joseph is consoling the brothers who tried to kill him. When he does that everything changes.

He isn’t Joseph the selfish boy. He is now Joseph the righteous man. He isn’t a victim of circumstance any more, he is an instrument of peace.

All the cruelty and all that suffering was not sent by God, but was used by God for something good. Notice, Joseph doesn’t just save his own people. God uses him to save the Egyptians too. He provides food for the very people who would eventually enslave the Hebrews. God used Joseph to bring them all back from the precipice of starvation.

Most of us would expect Joseph to get even. Most of the time, that’s what happens. But, one reason we are here is to imagine we can be more than what we are. We are here to become what God wants us to be. Joseph did that.

Our lives are not that different from Joseph’s. The falls, the failures, the betrayals, the pains and remorse, the joys and happiness. God is working behind the scenes. Whatever stuff that happens to us, God wants to use as a blessing, but we still need to choose. We choose to do our best and follow God’s will as best we can. It may not change the world and it may not change what other people do, but it can change us. Over time, it changed Joseph.

 

TO GOD BE THE GLORY FOREVER AND EVER. AMEN.