Sunday message 9 February 2020 -Intended for Good
Readings: Genesis 37:3-8; Genesis 50: 15-21; Romans 8:28
INTENDED FOR GOOD
We look for a couple of words – a sermon title or thought – to put on the notice board outside every week.. I suggested “Happy Families”. We opted for something else eventually. “Intended for Good:.
Do you remember playing happy families?
I had to google the rules: The player whose turn it is asks another player for a specific card. If the asked player has the card, he gives it to the requester and the requester can then ask any player for another card. If the asked player does not have the card, it becomes his turn and he asks another player for a specific card. Play continues in this way until no families are separated among different players. The player with the most cards wins. (Clear as mud).
One of the rules states that a player cannot ask for a certain card to deceive any player if he does not have a card in the set he is asking for.
How funny is that.
We’ve looked a bit at the life of Jacob. His dream of a staircase to heaven at Bethel. His wrestling with God at Peniel. His limp. Like a thorn in the flesh it was a constant reminder of his vulnerability. We looked at Paul’s saying – “when I am weak then I am strong.”
Jacob is renamed Israel. The one who struggled with God and prevailed? Although we said that the name actually meant that God prevailed.
Well he does doesn’t he? Ultimately. We were joking this week about the idea that some people have that when we get to see God we will have it out with him about all the things he could have done better. Moses, Jonah, Job – all found out that God ultimately prevails.
It’s in the family that some of the toughest things are handed out.
It makes sense really. Family is our main place of operation for care, nurture, education and training, passing on of the faith, shaping society – the list goes on.
It’s the obligation we can’t shake off. Parenting especially, or being a parent. You know my favourite story of the lady who turned 100 who when asked said the best year of her life was when she turned 90 – because all her children in that year were safely in a rest home.
You can’t divorce your parents or kids. As much as you may like to.
The irony of “no deception” allowed in the card game “happy families’ is of course that the family of Isaac – Jacob, Esau, and then Jacob’s 12 sons – they all seemed to specialize in deception.
It started with Abraham passing off his wife as his sister. More than once (Gen 12 and 20).
It is seen in Jacob’s and his mum Rebekah scheming – in the stealing of Esau’s birthright and blessing.
Jacob’s return to face the music – to face Esau – is also tainted with subterfuge. Remember he splits the family and people into two groups – probably so that if one gets destroyed at least the other will survive. He sends gifts to curry favour with his brother who you will remember wanted to kill him.
Jacob’s family is a real muddle.
It has all the classic signs of a modern family.
- Irritatingly arrogant teenagers
It gets worse with the brothers plan to kill the irritating favourite brat. Never mind the fancy coat, those dreams just were too much.
Gen 37:8 His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
We had readings from each end of the story of course. There are 12 chapters between our two readings (although you can leave out chapter 38). It’s the longest saga in Genesis and the whole bible. It must be there for a reason.
What major themes can we consider?
Human unfaithfulness or disloyalty is one. It runs through the story. His brothers are less than loyal selling him. Potiphar’s wife is hardly honest. Even the chief cupbearer who didn’t get his head lopped off forgets Joseph which means he spends an extra two years in jail. The lies of the brother to their father must be the low point in that whole story. Interesting how a goat features both in the deception of Jacob’s father (the skin of the goat is used to trick him into thinking he is touching Esau’s hairy arm) – and a goat is killed so that Joseph’s coat can be dipped in blood to support the lie that he has been taken and devoured by wild animals.
A stronger theme in the whole story is that God is present and active even in the midst of suffering.
God is clearly with Joseph from the beginning. He is singled out for some kind of destiny and gifted. His dreams are sent from God (Gen 27:5-11).
In Genesis 39-40, we see again and again that God is with him and has chosen him.
- “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man” (Genesis 39:2a),
- “His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.” (Genesis 39:3)
- “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (Genesis 39:21a)
- “The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.” (Genesis 39:23)
In chapter 40-41, God is especially with him during his tough times and suffering. He can interpret the dreams of two fellow prisoners, although there is some irony as both have their heads lifted up, one to success and the other to execution. Finally, he can interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams.
This gift, too, is a sign of God’s presence with Joseph, as Joseph himself declares: “Do not interpretation belong to God?” (40:8).
The repeated point is clear for the reader – God was with him, especially in his suffering.
We often pray that God will be with people in need or a crisis – which is a bit odd as he already is with us as believers. I think what we intend really is that God will be with them to help them make sense of the struggles and get through with a sense of purpose and a dose of courage.
The key thing is that the Lord takes Joseph to a better place through this. His presence is transformative. It makes a difference.
God meets Joseph in his suffering, but God does not leave Joseph there. God enters into the situation to bring Joseph out of it, to another and better place. And most importantly – along the way God blesses others through Joseph. It’s a “blessed to be a blessing” thing. It’s central to our whole faith.
He survives and he thrives – the presence of God has great influence and effect.
First Potiphar and his household, later the chief jailer and all those in prison, and finally Pharaoh and all of Egypt.
It’s all part of his family’s identity and covenant promise – to Abraham and Sarah – that they and their descendants would be blessed and that through them, all the nations of the earth would also be blessed.
And for our “happy families” theme today, Joseph’s brothers especially receive blessing through him. Especially since they don’t deserve it.
THE PATH IS DIFFICULT
The challenges Joseph faces are still pretty awful. Being sold into slavery. Separated from those he loved and in a foreign country. False charges of unfaithfulness and prison.
The deception is there right at the end though after Jacob dies – the brothers are still scheming in their fear that now that dad is gone Joseph may actually take revenge.
So they make up a lie – with a story of what their dead father was supposed to have said. Joseph wept – is one of those lines that display another side of this very smart and powerful man.
In fact it’s surprising how often he weeps – privately, publicly, and in this case in front of his family. I remember seeing my dad cry – for different reasons. I must have been about 10. We were listening to a radio program and it was the unjust suffering of an innocent man that brought on his tears. I’ll never forget it. (My passion for justice and fairness must have come from somewhere.)
The climax of this tale is verse 20 of chapter 50: Gen 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
One American commentator writing on this story said this – even a jerk doesn’t deserve to be thrown into a pit to die. There is no justification for the violence in this family. There are brief redeeming factors – like Reuben who wants to rescue Joseph and bring him back to his father – but he is not a hero for long. He slips into the deception.
But it is pretty extreme.
I don’t know what challenges you face in your life and especially in your family life. But I do know this. As God used sinful human intentions and actions for good ultimately in Joseph’s life, he is also with us in our worst situations.
- In the pit.
- Trapped in our prisons.
- Facing betrayal and cruelty.
Maybe you’ve got this amazingly perfect family. I don’t know.
I remember one year after getting too many family Christmas letters from friends extolling the virtues of their children and their incredible achievements, I wrote a very short one saying that only my dog deserved mention as being well behaved and fulfilling her dogness that year.
I do know some of your stories though.
After almost nine years you do get to know peoples’ pain. The complexities of adoption (there are many of us in that category). Children who reject what we teach them and what we stand for – especially in their turning away from God. Who reject us sometimes.
Physical pain and suffering – we’ve shared a lot together. Nearly losing people in medical crises. Loved ones dying of cancer. Failed businesses, being retrenched, depression, financial struggles, unfaithfulness and divorce that we don’t really want. Having children far away whom we love and don’t see. Strokes, accidents, grandchildren having to have limbs amputated, medical diagnoses that are both daunting and shocking, and some who have lost more than one sibling for various reasons. Plus rejection and people who won’t reconcile. And people who are toxic and dangerous who harass us.
God is in the midst. I can’t promise that he will fix the things we would love to see fixed, or when he may do that.
But I won’t be moved – in the sense of being thrown off course – by those who seek to harm us whether deliberately, or those who are probably too stupid and selfish to know how hurtful they can be.
But if we learn anything from Joseph – it’s about God with us and using what others intend for evil for good.
He doesn’t cause these troubles or want them for us.
But just as he was with his son on the cross, he is with us.
He will have his way and he will work things for good.
- Be encouraged. And don’t give up as you trust him.
- Don’t let anyone rob you of the strength and joy, the peace and security, that is ours in Christ.
- Don’t let people steal your hope.
- Dig into your bibles – into the promises of God.
Joseph never let go of them. Even at the end this is what we read:
Gen 50:24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Prayer of the day: God of dreams and hope, You spoke to Joseph in his dreams, and those dreams led him to great danger. Yet you used the challenges in his life to save the lives of others. In you, no good thing is accidental. You work in us and through us, even when we are not aware of your presence. Help us to know that you are with us, and that only you are capable of turning all evil to good. We pray all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Amen.