Sermon “God’s Promises, No Matter What” Genesis 50:15-21
The audio link is a little experimental, as I was working on deciding what to pick up for a couple of home-bound families in our congregation. There may be a drop-out of a few minutes at one point. Please forgive the experiment :). Audio is at http://dl.dropbox.com/u/23575548/120122Genesis50.mp3
Lord, confirm to your people your covenant love and promises, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
If you've been following our Bible Reading Challenge this past week you read over a good portion of Genesis, reaching the end just recently. Remember, five chapters a day, five days a week, and we'll have read through the Bible in about fifty weeks. In our readings this week we saw Joseph emerge as the main character. And there was a pattern in his life which I think we can see in our own lives as well. We know this will happen, after all, because Joseph was a sinful human just like we are. He was a recipient of God's blessing and he reacted much the same way we would. He took God's blessings and used them for his own advantage, at least a good part of the time.
Let's remember what happened to Joseph. It was revealed to him that he would find his family bowing down to him. He decided it would be a good idea to tell his family members about this revelation. The young brother who was already known to be a favorite of his father, who was never known for doing a good day's work, bragged to his brothers and showed himself to be exactly the kind of arrogant young man they would like to sell to slave traders.
When Joseph was humbled in that circumstance, he was again raised by God's mercy to a position of leadership, this time a higher position of leadership than he had before, in the household of Potiphar. Once again, his self-righteousness shows through even as he is being entrapped by Potiphar's wife. So Joseph is humbled again and sent to prison. In prison, by God's mercy, Joseph finds himself in a position of leadership and assures his fellow prisoners that his interpretation of their dreams will be accurate. He gives glory to God but also to himself and gets to wait longer for his release from prison. When he is sent for in prison because of Pharaoh's troubling dreams, he seems to have been humbled adequately, though he still can't resist suggesting that Pharaoh should elevate someone who is really smart, like himself, to the position of leadership in anticipation of a famine. During this period of Joseph's exaltation he is made a pagan priest, he marries two daughters of Pharaoh, and is glad that God has raised him up and blessed him to make him forget his life in his father's house. He glories in God at the same time that he says he is glad that he is not in the position he used to be in, as a member of the household of God's promise. Meanwhile, Joseph is Pharaoh's instrument to enslave all the people of Egypt and gain possession of all their lands.
When the famine became severe Joseph's brothers came to buy grain. They found themselves in the position of bowing down to Joseph, exactly what God had revealed to him that they would do. How did Joseph use this situation? He tormented his brothers with their past failings and sins. Yet at the same time he did serve as God's instrument to preserve their lives and deliver them into the land of Egypt where they could live and thrive.
At last, Joseph seems to have come to his senses. This arrogant young man has been both blessed by God time and again and has been humbled by God time and again. He has seen that God fulfills his promises and claims all the glory for himself, no matter what his servants try to do. Over and over again, Joseph has seen that the Lord who promises his favor on his chosen people will show his favor on those people. Our Lord is the God who blesses us. And no matter how much credit we try to claim for God's blessing, our claims are nothing. It is not by our own righteousness, not by our trying hard, not by our circumstances, not by our intelligence, not by any of our resources, but only by the power and grace of God that we are delivered from death and destruction. Joseph has seen this time and again.
How are we to react to this grace of God? We see those reactions in our lectionary readings for today as well. In Jonah, when confronted by the majesty of God the people repent and plead for God's forgiveness. In 1 Corinthians we turn our cares and concerns over to our Lord and trust that he can use our resources and our very lives for his purposes. In Mark we see that when the Lord calls his disciples they drop what they are doing to go and follow him. There's this dynamic that we can call “Repent, Believe, Follow.” God shows his grace to us and we realize our sin. We repent. He gives us the things of the faith, delivering them to us through Word and sacraments, passing them down from one generation to the next, and we trust that he is still the Lord of promise. We see that Jesus loved us and died for us, revealing his authority to take our sin and to put it to death, rising to newness of life. God calls us by revealing specifics of his work in our world, and we respond by entrusting our very lives to him, running our business as if it is his business, governing our families as his family, loving our wives as he loves his Church, trusting and obeying husbands as the Church trusts and obeys the Lord. This “repent, believe, follow” dynamic shows up over and over in Scripture. And it fits the life of Joseph as well.
We read in Genesis 50, beginning in verse 15 (NIV):
“15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”
God has called Joseph to repentance. He has done it again and again. And finally, here in Genesis 50, that repentance seems to be genuine and lasting. Joseph is no longer trying to put himself on the throne. He is no longer exalting himself as an object of worship. He knows that it is God we worship, none other. May the Lord work this same kind of repentance in us, humbling us. I recall in one of the confessions of sin that is often used, though it isn't as common today as it used to be, we say, “I am heartily sorry” for sin. I ran into one person whose father, when he was about eight years old, told him that he needed to be reading the confession of sin out of the hymnal. Quoting it from memory wasn't doing well for him. The reason? The boy was being quite frank, saying what we all admit to. “I am hardly sorry” for sin. Isn't that the truth? Our Lord confronts us with sin and we're sorry. But really we are hardly sorry. We aren't sorry enough. And it will pass, all too soon. May the Lord show us the weight of our sin before him. May God the Father remind us that our sin is so crushing that when God the Son took it upon himself he was abandoned by God, forsaken, cast into torment. Our sin crushes us. Like Joseph we are imprisoned again and again, and all our efforts to rescue ourselves fall apart. We need a deliverer. May the Lord grant us repentance so we may be forgiven.
What did the Lord work in Joseph for belief? What will he do in us? As Joseph was driven from one place to another, again and again he saw that God was using him in the lives of people who surrounded him. God's gracious will was at work even in slavery, even in prison, even in his decades of separation from home and family. Did Joseph believe that God was accomplishing his good will? Do we believe that our Lord is accomplishing his good will in and through us, regardless of our circumstances? Do we see that whether we are in want or in plenty, whether we are in sickness or in health, whether we are in sad or happy circumstances, the risen Lord Jesus Christ is working out his will, and that his will is to bring his blessing and favor on our world? He who died for us has also risen from the dead and will bring us to rise in newness of life as well. Even in this difficult providence that the Lord brings about, bringing his chosen people into captivity in Egypt for five hundred years, yet the Lord is using the children of Abraham, the children of promise, to bless the whole world. We may not understand how this is happening. In fact, I'll just about guarantee that we won't understand it. Yet it is God's promise and our Lord always keeps his promise. Blessing he will bless us. He will never leave us or forsake us. He will be with us always, to the very end of the world. Our role is to believe that he is working out his good, not evil. That's just what Joseph confessed. That's just what we confess. Even when life looks difficult, we know that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has called us to faith and will carry us through the world we are in, using us as his instruments of grace.
So how did Josph follow the Lord? Most of the time he didn't seem to have much choice, did he? He was probably tied up, literally tied up, for many of his journeys early in his adulthood. And once he was in Pharaoh's household he had political ties which would have been nearly impossible to break. Maybe we feel like we are bound by circumstances. Maybe we think we aren't free to follow our Lord like he would like us to. But that isn't so. Where God has called us, he will always make a way for us to follow him. Has the Lord given you gifts? He will make ways for you to use those which he desires, in the way and at the time he has prepared. You know I don't like to stand up and give you a “thus says the Lord, this is how to follow God in obedience.” Where the Lord calls us we can follow him. Is the Lord calling you to be witnesses to him? This is always his call. Has he given you access to his written Word that you can read and study? Has he put you in the surroundings of a local church where you can gather on a weekly basis, and maybe even more frequently, to receive encouragement, exhortation, and training in righteouseness? Do you have a pastor who will read the Scripture and pray with you and take you around on visitation, doing studies, and preparing and working in worship services as you consider whether the Lord might wish you to serve in pastoral ministry or to train as a deaconess or as an elder or deacon in the local church? Has the Lord surrounded you with friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers whom he would desire to bless? Hs he provided you with finances that you can use to show mercy? Maybe he has even provided you with some vacation or personal time from your job that you can use to devote yourself to study, worship, or service. Maybe he has given you gifts to feed the hungry, to deliver goods and services to people who need them, to bring prosperity to an employer that can use that prosperity to keep many people employed and provide them with wages so they can live and serve the Lord. Our Lord has made many many ways that you and I can follow him in our vocations. May we see all these opportunities as opportunities to be our Lord's instruments of blessing to our world. As Joseph found he could take no credit for God's blessing, we also see that we receive no credit for God's blessing. Salvation is of the Lord, not of us. May we be God's instruments, giving glory, honor and praise to him.
Now may the Lord of all grace bless us by making us his instruments of grace in our world, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.