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Sermon for Proper 19/Ordinary 24 Year A Joseph

August 11, 2017

`You intended to harm me but God intended it for good.’ –words from our first reading

 

In the name…..

 

In the days before Religious Education was multi-faith

 

We did Bible stories.

 

Joseph was fun.

 

We spent 40 minutes listening to and singing along with Joseph and his amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

 

OFSTED would probably disapprove – spoilsports.

 

 

Then we did a chart called ‘Joseph’s Ups and Downs.

 

Born – dad’s favourite – up

 

Given specials coat – up

 

Dreams of greatness – up

 

His brothers loathe him and throw him down a pit – down

 

He is rescued – up

 

Sold as a slave, he works for a high-ranking official in Egypt –up

 

He’s accused of rape and thrown in jail down

 

He gets to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and becomes prime minister – up

 

 

 

Then the kids are invited to do a chart of the up and downs in their own lives.

 

One 11-year-old told me he’d been born with a hole in his heart and would face major surgery when he was older.

 

 

 

Many years later I recorded Songs of Praise.

 

Not a programme I like but this one was from Holmfirth

 

– home of dirty seaside postcards and where they filmed Last of the Summer Wine;

 

more significantly in the catchment of area of my first teaching post.

 

 

 

 

They interviewed a young man who spoke of how he coped with heart surgery.

 

He’d had a teacher years before did a lesson on life’s ups and downs.

 

He’d gone into the operation confident that this down would be followed by an up.

 

 

 

Being a hoarder, I still have my records.

 

Sure enough, 1975, same name – note that he’d told me about his heart problem.

 

 

 

We all reflect on our lives’ ups and downs

 

So this story appeals

 

And it’s the life we know.

 

No angel appears, no sea is divided, no voice of God speaks publicly.

 

And there’s another version:

 

An Egyptian papyrus from about 1225BCE tells of a young man who was much wronged.

 

His name was Bata, and he worked for his elder brother,

 

making him clothes, herding his cattle, and harvesting his fields.

 

Every evening he would bring home produce from the fields for his brother,

 

who would be sitting at ease with his wife.

 

At night Bata went out to sleep among the cattle in the stable.

 

In the mornings he cooked breakfast and then took the cattle out to the fields.

 

One day when both brothers were out sowing, they ran short of seed.

 

Bata was sent home to fetch more.

 

He found his brother’s wife dressing her hair

 

and asked her to rise and give him the seed without delay, as his brother was waiting.

 

‘Do not interrupt me in the middle of my hair­dressing,’ she retorted. ‘Open the bin and take what you want.’

As he loaded himself with five sacks, the woman began to speak admiringly of his strength.

 

Suddenly she took hold of him, pressed herself upon him and promised to make him fine clothes.

 

Bata resisted.

 

But she convinced her husband that he had attacked her and demanded he kill him.

 

The elder brother sharpened his spear and waited behind the stable door.

 

Bata approached unsuspectingly, loaded with produce, his dear cows entering before him.

 

The first cow to enter called back a warning to him,

 

the second likewise.

 

Bata looked under the door and saw the waiting feet and fled for his life.

 

As he went he prayed, ‘O my good Lord, you are he who judges between the wicked and the just!’

 

The story continues with many marvels and mythical turns, until Bata becomes ruler of Egypt.

 

His elder brother is brought to him and Bata appoints him his deputy and heir. Interpreted by love – J. Eaton (BRF 1994) p.41

 

 

 

But the Bible’s version has symbolism:

 

Young Joseph had been given a special garment which was the envy of his brothers.

 

Later, Potiphar’s wife grabs his garment in her attempt to seduce him.

 

The ‘garment’ is referred to no less than five times.

 

Is the narrative telling us something of significance through the use of this image?

 

Is the garment something to do with Joseph’s public image,

 

his armour of detachment.

 

Perhaps, in a limited way, some chink is made in his defences.

 

 

 

When Joseph is appointed to be governor ‘over all the land of Egypt’ the text describes garments in great detail

 

Pharaoh gives him the royal signet ring,

 

arrays him in ‘garments of fine linen’

 

and puts a gold chain around his neck.

 

There is a discreet shift from garments discarded to garments put on,

 

The moment of coming before Pharaoh is perhaps a watershed in Joseph’s life,

 

a point at which he makes a critical decision about his future.

 

We see him changing his clothes and symbolically confirming the break with his past.

 

The shaving and changing of his garment implies taking on the Egyptian style of dress and the taking on of Egyptian identity.

 

 

 

But Joseph gives his sons Hebrew names.

 

Manasseh ‘For God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house’

 

and Ephraim ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction’.

 

In the Hebrew names of his sons we find an expression of both his joys and his sorrows,

 

His ups and downs.

 

In the midst of his determination to forget his father’s house and all his hardships, they are ever present;

 

Joseph has travelled far.

 

The untried youth of seventeen has become a great man.

 

There is success and satisfaction in every sphere

 

but a deep affliction remains Soul Searching: Psychotheraphy & Judaism – ed. H. Cooper (SCM 1988) p.194f

 

 

 

God’s favour did not spare him suffering.

 

Like Bata in the Egyptian tale, he fell victim to the desire and then the spite of his master’s wife.

 

He was committed to the royal dungeons, having previously been thrown down a well.

 

Plenty of time for reflection then.

 

But he was not beyond the reach of God’s faithful love.

 

The prison governor came to rely on Joseph as Potiphar had done earlier and as Pharaoh would later.

 

 

 

Then along come his brothers, desperate for food.

 

And Joseph said to them, Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? While you meant evil against me, God meant it for good, to ensure that many people be kept alive as they are this day. So now, do not fear

 

He says it three times so they do not miss the point:

 

God sent me before you to preserve life. v. 5

 

God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant. v. 7

 

It was not you who sent me here, but God. v. 8

 

 

 

No doubt the brothers in their guilt must have thought, “No, we sent you here, because we hated you and we feared you.”

 

No doubt Joseph answered his brothers, “I thought that too. But then I became aware that a larger purpose was at work, transcending these petty quarrels, looking far into the future, and I became aware that my life was more than the sum of my little fears, my lit­tle hates, and my little loves. My life is larger than I imagined, and I decided to embrace that largeness that is God’s gift for my life. I acted differently because I acted in ways befitting God’s odd way with my life.”

 

 

 

A larger purpose.

 

providence.

 

It means that God sees before (pro-video),

 

that God knows well ahead of us and takes the lead in our lives.

 

I don’t mean “fate,”

 

Nor that God deliberately sends suffering.

 

Rather that he draws something good to come out of it.

 

 

 

And isn’t there a parallel with Jesus?

What the world intended for evil, to crucify the son of God,

God intended for good,

to accomplish what is now taking place which is the salvation of many lives.

“As for you, you meant (hasab—planned) evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

The brothers’ purpose was evil, but God took their evil act and brought something good out of it

God transforms evil to good – a common theme throughout the scriptures.

The cross is the most obvious example.

Where has God been working in your life?

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