Saturday, September 13, 2008

Genesis 50:15-21, Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 14, 2008

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:15-21, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The story of Joseph has it all; sex, lies, deceit, family conflict. Those reality TV shows have nothing on this story. Joseph was the victim of his brother’s jealousy. You remember how he was cast into a well to be killed because he was dad’s favorite. He got the best stuff like the expensive coat of many colors. And apparently he got more of dad’s attention too. He stayed home while the other brothers had to go with the sheep in the far fields. Joseph didn’t help either telling his brothers (and his parents) that they’d be serving him some day, because he dreamt it. His brothers hated him enough to want him dead. Jacob sent him out to spy on them and they would have killed him too, had it not been for Brother Reuben. He convinced them to sell Joseph to the traveling caravan of Ishmaelites. That put Joseph in Egypt in the house of a man named Potiphar. He was a hard worker and soon was in charge of everything this powerful man owned. And apparently he was a hansom boy because Potiphar’s wife had a roving eye and it caught Joseph. She cornered him to have a little affair but Joseph refused. She screamed bloody murder and got Joseph thrown in jail. This was better than the alternative, because Potiphar certainly could have had him executed on the spot. In the prison Joseph again rose to a good position, he always seems to land on his feet. While he was there the king’s cup bearer and baker were thrown in prison. When they had dreams they didn’t understand, Joseph told them what they meant. The cup bearer would be back with Pharaoh, the baker would lose his head. When it all turned out as Joseph said he asked the cupbearer to tell Pharaoh about him. But Joseph was forgotten and spent more time in the jail. When Pharaoh had a dream he couldn’t understand the cup bearer remembered the dream teller in prison. He told Pharaoh and Joseph had his chance again. The dream was about seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. Pharaoh was so pleased with Joseph he put him in charge of preparing for the famine. Meanwhile back at home, the famine struck hard and Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to by food. Unknowingly the brothers came upon their “dead” brother, who was now in charge. He provided for their needs and brought the whole family to live with him in Egypt. That’s where our text for today picks up. The brothers wonder if Joseph is just waiting for their father to die to take out his revenge. Joseph shows he is a man of great character. He might be entitled to a bit of revenge but he’ll not take it. “What you meant for evil, God meant for good. Look at where we are and how God has taken care of us. God is indeed faithful.”

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, ESV)

I often read this passage at the bedside of a member in the hospital. It is a passage we Christians are familiar with and take great comfort with. But as often as we hear it and even though we believe what it says, it is also true that we don’t always see that God is doing what he promises to do. After all, a three or four year vacancy is a long time. How can that possibly be “for the good?” Didn’t you often ask yourselves what you did that God would treat you this way? When we run through tough times, it is easy to think that God isn’t keeping his promises. When life is hard and trouble is forefront we wonder where God is in it all. When our hopes and dreams seem to be fading away, when what we want for our future evaporates before our eyes we ask God why he isn’t keeping up his end of our life.

How like the brothers of Joseph we are. God does good for us and we doubt his promises. Trouble comes and we look to the worst instead of the best. God is faithful and we mistrust his promises. In other words we sin. We can’t help it. We find it very difficult to trust God’s promises. We find it difficult to accept that God allows trouble and heartache into our lives. We want God to work the way we ant him to work. If I were God, I’d surely not let people suffer this way. If I were God, I’d eliminate suffering. If I were God, I’d make sure every day was a happy day instead of a sad or troubled day. If I were God… that sounds familiar doesn’t it. Isn’t it the snake in the garden that told Adam and Eve that they could be gods? “If you eat the fruit you’ll know good and evil, and you can be in control instead of God.” For all our talk of faith and trust we haven’t come very far from the Garden have we? We haven’t gotten over our desire to be god. We still want things our way instead of God’s way. We forget that he indeed knows what is best. It happens often when we stand in the face of trouble afraid. We are fearful that we will suffer. We want to avoid suffering at all cost.

That is just like Joseph’s brothers. They were afraid of suffering for the sin they had done to Joseph. They were looking at years of guilt, years of payback. But instead of revenge Joseph comforts them. God uses even evil such as this and makes it good. Joseph was telling them, that God used their sin to save thousands from starving. He used their sinful act and saved their family through it. Joseph’s faith and character tell us a lot about who he is, but even more they show us who God is. God takes evil in the world and uses it for good. We can’t always see the results, so we sometimes think there are none.

Imagine if the disciples had the faith of Joseph, when the guards came to arrest Our Savior in the garden, they would not have fled in to the darkness. They would have trusted that God would use that very evil event and used it for the good of all people. Don’t we all need to learn that God will take care of us in all things, no matter what we face, no matter how long the vacancy, no matter what the pain we face, no matter what the trouble? The truth is we are like Joseph’s brothers when we think we are like Joseph.

And yet, we have a Savior. We need a Savior. We are lost in our sin, helpless, like the brothers lacking faith when we need it most. Like the disciples in the garden unable to see the good that will come about because of suffering. But as sinful as we are, God is even more faithful. We have a brother who is gracious and faithful to us. It is our sin that leads him to pain and suffering. It is our faithlessness that brings him to blows of the whip. It is our arrogance and pride that drives the nails into his hands and feet and the thorns into his scalp. Our brother sold into death. This brother is even more faithful than Joseph. He has even more mercy than you and I and Pharaoh’s right hand man. He saves us not from famine but from eternal death. He says about us, “Father forgive them.” Jesus Christ God’s son, our Brother, and Savior forgives. His blood shed on the cross is our cleansing. His innocent suffering and death at our hands is what sets us free from sin, death and hell. God uses the most terrible event in history, the killing of his only son, to bring forgiveness to all people.

The passage we are so familiar with in Romans continues with these words:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32, ESV)

The answer is yes indeed! God gives us all things we need. If he sent Jesus to suffer and die for our greatest need, he will take care of all of our other needs as well. God is perfectly willing to use what ever means are necessary to do what is best for us. Imagine if a parent wouldn’t discipline a child for playing in the street. When traffic killed the child we would be outraged. God will do whatever is necessary for our benefit. Mostly though God uses trouble and pain remind us of Jesus. Suffering and uneasy times push us to faith and trust. When there is nowhere else to turn we turn to God. When all our regular supports fail God is faithful. Sometimes we need to hit the bottom to be reminded that our Gracious God and Savior Jesus Christ, has done all things necessary for our salvation, and that all things are in his hands.

But that isn’t all. God indeed gives us everything we need and then he gives us more. As in everything else God’s math doesn’t add up according to our thinking. He gives all and then he gives even more. We have his Word, where he tells us of his love for us in Jesus. He tells us of the salvation won for us through Jesus perfect life, his sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection. And then there’s more. We have the assurance of God’s name placed on us in Holy Baptism. We are his. God is where his name is. He is not far away when you suffer, he is close at hand to strengthen you and lead you through. God is right in the midst of our suffering with us. He gives the body and blood of Jesus shed on the cross, that by eating it you would be strengthened in faith. You are reminded of the price paid to save you from sin, the suffering and death of Jesus and that gives you the sure and certain hope that your suffering actually has purpose, just as his does. His blood and body go into you and cleanse you from your sin of doubt. Forgiveness strengthens faith. Forgiveness restores relationships. Forgiveness restores trust. God forgives you through Jesus.

My dear Christian friends, I wish I could promise you no trouble in your life. I wish I could say there would be no pain in you future. I can’t. God doesn’t make that promise to you either. What he does promise, what he wants you to remember and hold on to in faith, is that it always has a purpose. He wants you to trust that he works it out for your good. He makes that promise to you.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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