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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 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 special 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 drew a chart of the ups 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 watched 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 for me 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 recalled had a teacher years before who 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, his 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 1225 BCE 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.


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 doing her hair


and asked her to 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 looked under the door and saw the waiting feet and fled for his life.


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 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.


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.


garments discarded ; garments put on,


symbolically confirming the break with his past.


taking on the Egyptian style of dress and 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 he expresses 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.


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




God’s favour did not spare him suffering.


He had been thrown down a well and later committed to the royal dungeons.


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………While you meant evil against me, God meant it for good, to ensure that many people be kept alive as they are this day.


He says it three times so they do’nt miss the point vv. 5,  7,  8




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


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.




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 lures 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,

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 into good – a common theme throughout the scriptures.

The cross is the most obvious example.

Where has God been working in the ups and downs of your life?

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