Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 15)

Text: Genesis 45:5
“I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  Now do not be upset or blame yourselves because you sold me here.  It was really God who sent me ahead of you to save people’s lives.”

The unseen hand of God

There are those who believe that what happens in our lives is simply a matter of making the right choices.   

Life is like going to the supermarket.  We want to buy toothpaste.  We look along the shelves and see all the different brands.  You read on the packets how they make your teeth whiter and brighter and your mouth fresher.  You can choose whatever you like.  You can choose the brand you always buy or you can try something different but whatever you choose you are stuck with it until you finish the tube.  If it turns out that the toothpaste you have chosen is disgusting, there is no one else to blame except yourself.  You made the choice and you have to live with it.  That’s how life is. 

If you make bad choices about your health, your habits, your relationships, your lifestyle – too bad – that’s the way life is.  So suck it up and live with the consequences.

There are those believe that what happens in life is a matter of chance.  Life is like the roll of a dice.  It’s pure luck or some might call it fate but you don’t get any choice in the matter. If you’re run over crossing the street that’s just bad luck.  There’s no other explanation. 

I saw a toddler run across the road out here a couple of weeks ago after school.  Some of the onlookers focussed on how it was by pure chance/luck that he wasn’t run over.  Others focussed on the lady in the four wheel drive who chose to brake just at the right time to avoid hitting him and the other lady who chose to jump out of her car and scoop him up before he could cross the next road.  A split second made all the difference.  Was it choice or chance or something more?

You might say this about the story of Joseph in the Old Testament is a one about choices and chance.  Today’s reading brings us to the last act of this story. 

Joseph was the youngest and old Jacob didn’t hide the fact that out of all his sons Joseph was his favourite.  That’s a recipe for family trouble.  And adding to the resentment the brothers were feeling toward Joseph, Jacob gives him a magnificent coat.  And then to make things worse, Joseph tells his brothers that he had dreamt about them – they were bowing down to him as if he was someone real important.  No doubt, the brothers saw Joseph as a real pain in the neck. To make things worse, his father even sent Joseph to check up on his older brothers.

You can see chance and choice at work here as this story unfolds.  By chance Joseph happened to turn up when his brothers had about had enough of their little brother.  By chance Ishmaelite traders just happened to pass by at the right time and saved the life of the bratty, spoiled, big mouthed, dreamer. 
And Joseph made a bad choice when he wore that dazzling new coat his father gave him on that day and made real bad decision to tell his brothers that one day they would be bowing down before him.

And as luck (or chance) would have it, he ended up in the home of a rich Egyptian officer named Potiphar.  He did very well, that is, until Mrs Potiphar was looking for a bit of steamy romance and Joseph’s choice to not get involved landed him in jail. By chance, he got out of jail and was placed in charge of the entire Egyptian welfare program.

And who should show up in Egypt looking for food?  Joseph’s brothers.  You can imagine how shocked they were when the Egyptian ruler says, “I am your brother Joseph.”  Not only were they shocked but terrified.  That was the worst news they could ever have hoped to hear. It was bad enough to stand before a powerful Egyptian governor who was angry because of a theft on a previous visit, but to find out that he was their brother whom they had treated so badly — that was too much!  What rotten luck.  They had no chance now.  

But as the Egyptian ruler spoke, they realised that he wasn’t angry with them, even though he had every reason to give back the same murderous hatred and unkindness that they had shown him all those years ago. 

What he said just blew them away, “Do not be upset or blame yourselves because you sold me here.  It was really God who sent me ahead of you to save people’s lives.”  

This story that started out to be one of resentment, betrayal and unforgiveness turns to be a story of God’s divine intervention.  Joseph didn’t see these events as bad choices by the brothers or chance that he should be there in Egypt just when his family needed help.  There is something far greater behind all of this than chance or choice or the resentment of his brothers. 

God had used that bratty teenager and his bragging about his dreams. 
God had used the anger and murderous feelings of the brothers to carry out a plan that meant the saving of his father Jacob, and all his brothers and their families. 
God had used the slave traders, Potiphar, his wife, the Pharaoh, and the famine.
Joseph summed it up like this, “It was not really you who sent me here, but God.”  Or “you meant to do me evil, but God used that evil to bring about good.”  As far as Joseph was concerned chance or good luck had nothing to do it.  This was all part of God’s plan to save the nation of Israel, the nation from which the Messiah would come.

Joseph in the end was able to look back on the twists and turns of his life and proclaim, “God sent me ahead of you to rescue you in this amazing way …It was not really you who sent me here, but God.”  It was clear to him that even though choice and chance seemed to control his life when he was in the thick of a bad turn of events, he was wrong.  I’m sure that Joseph must have wondered as he was dragged off to Egypt as a slave or suffered in a dungeon for doing the right thing when the boss’s wife tried to seduce him, “Why me?”  It would have been easy to say, “What rotten luck!” or to blame his brothers for everything that had happened.

Instead he saw that God was behind it all.  God didn’t cause the brothers to be resentful and angry but he used their jealousy and sordid murderous plan to carry out his plan of rescue and make sure that Jacob and his family and his descendants were safe.  When it might have seemed that God had forgotten Joseph and the trouble he was in, all the time God was not far away.  There was not a moment when God was not caring and understanding and alongside Joseph in the ups and down of his life.

This happens in our lives.  Bad things happen to us along our journey through life.  There is something of a mystery behind the reason why these things happen at particular times in our lives but we can be certain that God isn’t the cause of these evils.  God didn’t cause any of the troubles in Joseph’s life neither was he indifferent to Joseph’s suffering.  He cared deeply about Joseph.  However, he used the evil in Joseph’s life to bring about good.  God’s hand was guiding Joseph along the way even though he didn’t realise it at the time. There is a hand that guides us along the way.  In the middle of it all we don’t see it but at some time as we reflect on the twists and turns of our lives, it’s amazing to see how it has all fitted together.

We may have doubted God’s love and concern for us,
we may have abandoned him for a while,
we may have cried out to God in pain and grief,
but all the time, as it was for Joseph, God has been there with us all the time watching over us.  Life isn’t one damning thing after another.  God graciously intrudes and we are amazed at how God has everything worked out.

God says, “My thoughts are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

We don’t understand the why and wherefore of many of the events in our lives but we do know that behind them all we have a loving heavenly Father and Saviour.  God promised at our baptism to always be there for us and he is.  It’s his hand that guides us through dark days and confusing times and uses those moments to draw us closer to his love and bring blessing to others. 

There will be those times when we will throw up our hands in horror and question “why”.  There will be times when our faith will be tested.  There will be times when we will doubt the love and the wisdom of God but we can trust his grace.  We can rely on his word of promise. We can certain that God never gives up.

Let me finish with a word from St Augustine.  He said that our lives are like a chicken yard full of random tracks crisscrossing this way and that in total confusion.  Seen through the eyes of faith, straining to see the purposes of God, our lives take on a pattern, and we discover a certain design, a direction as if led by a loving hand – the unseen hand of God.   Then we know with Paul that “in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purposes” (Rom 8:28).


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
17th August 2014

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