September 20, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Ah Joseph! He is such a well-known figure with a well-known story…well, sort of. He certainly has had many stories told about him, and there is a musical. These stories and musicals have done much to ‘color’ our knowledge of this Joseph—Joseph and his Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat! So, when we hear Joseph mentioned, we think of:
- That rainbow coat…that sparkles!
- all the vivid and life-altering dreams
- his rise to rule an empire
- his good governance that not only saves Egypt, but Israel and the surrounding world.
Joseph! The Interpreter of Dreams!
But the substance and the details of the story of Joseph and his life are anything but sparkly. Joseph comes from a contentious family, which happens when the patriarch chooses favorites—favorite wife, favorite child. This favoritism led to some pretty serious sibling rivalry. Those dreams that saved the world initially got Joseph into trouble. It didn’t go over well to have the favorite son waltz among his brothers in his fancy coat bragging they would all bow down to him one day. Joseph almost becomes another fratricide in the Book of Genesis, almost another Abel. It is a slave caravan bound for Egypt that saves his life. Joseph is dragged to a foreign land against his will, leaving behind home and family. He becomes a slave. He is sexually harassed, falsely accused, and then imprisoned for a crime he refused to commit. No more rainbow coat in Joseph’s life. He experiences much that would cause many to despair.
And yet…in this 39th chapter before us, the story proclaims, four times(!), that God was with Joseph. “The Lord was with Joseph!” Potiphar knew this. The jailer saw it. God is with Joseph. This claim of God’s steadfast presence serves as a bracket for the story of Potiphar’s wife’s harassment, deceit and false accusations. “The Lord was with Joseph!” the text proclaims. But given all that has happened, we might feel compelled to respond; “Really? Are you sure? Because, Joseph went from favorite son to the pit, from the pit to a slave caravan, from home to a foreign land, from slavery to prison.” Does the story keep insisting upon God’s steadfast love and presence because it does seem as if Joseph has been abandoned? Maybe. Or/and, does the text keep proclaiming “The Lord was with Joseph” because WE keep falling into a false sense of what ‘God with us’ means?
It is human nature to want ‘God with us’ to mean protection in the literal sense. It is only natural to want prosperity to be defined as ‘nothing bad happens to us ever.’ Of course we want that beloved hymn to be concretely true, “Standing on the promises…safe and secure for all alarm.’ We want for God to be our shield from the dangers of life, that God will not let our foot be moved. We want our God to be our shade at our right hand so the sun will not strike us by day nor the moon by night, as Psalm 121 sings. Or from another beloved psalm, we so want God to lead us in green pastures and beside still waters, but no dark valleys please! We DO know, we DO know, that this isn’t how life works, especially this year we know, no matter how strong our faith may be. What was our children’s sermon story two weeks ago? “Rain before rainbows, clouds before sun, night before daybreak…” So, what DOES it mean to proclaim ‘God with us’ when it seems like the world is falling apart?
The great gift and the lifelong struggle is that God created us in God’s very own holy image. God breathed God’s fiery Spirit into us HOPING AGAINST HOPE (remember last week), hoping against hope that we would answer God’s call to partner with God in order to bless all the world. God gives us this choice each and every day, each and every moment. God gives this choice to much of creation, to enter into partnership with God in blessing the world…or not. Or not. And in this glorious and reckless freedom…’stuff’ happens. God certainly yearns to lead us in green pastures and by calming waters, but the reality of the world is that God must also journey with us through shadowed valleys. Family contentions do happen, along with rivalries. Freedom can be lost, betrayals and harassment and deceit causing pain. The reality of our world is that there is pandemic and gross inequalities. There is violence and storms and floods and fires, corruption and oppression. To partner with God, to work with God, to redeem and restore the world, means that many times we need to face these things head on; in our own lives, in the lives of others, in the world around us…like Joseph did.
God is with us in all these things! God IS with us! That is the promise we are living into with this current worship series, and frankly, everyday of our lives regardless of any series. The rainbow DOES follow the rain, as God promised Noah on week one of our series. God promised that creation would never again be cut off. Last week, we journeyed with Abram as he traveled to an unknown land so that he and Sarai would be God’s blessing in and to the world. Today, Joseph clings to the dream-promise that God WILL make a way out of no way. How do WE live into such promises when the rainbow has not been painted across the dark clouds pressing in on us? How do we open ourselves to experience God when that ‘stuff’ happens? Our world would seek to sell us a book on the five easy steps, or share a quick formula for self-assurance, but with God it is a journey—our way of discipleship. And it is just that, a way, a way of life, something we practice living each and every day.
John Wesley, the founder of our denomination, tried to summarize all this into three simple rules. Some of you Methodists out there might be able to recite them along with me:
- Do no harm,
- Do good,
- Stay in love with God.
“Stay in love with God” is a modern adaption of Wesley’s original rule three, “Attend to the means of grace.” Attend to the means of grace…give attention to those practices that open you to God’s grace always available to you. Practice the ways, engage in the practices that help us experience God.
- reading, meditating and studying scripture;
- prayer and fasting;
- attending worship and partaking of the sacraments;
- healthy living and sharing God’s love with the world
Do good! Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Visit the sick and imprisoned. Welcome the stranger. Do justice! And always, always examine our words and actions so that we are not causing harm to others. We certainly can do much of this individually, but more importantly, we are called to do it as a community—a Beloved community.
At first glance, Joseph’s story is very much a hero story, with Joseph standing alone grounded in the presence of God. But if we read more closely, we see that Joseph created community everywhere he could along his journey. As he took over Potiphar’s house, he caused blessing for all who lived and worked there. In prison, Joseph created a community that felt free to share their dreams and nightmares. Joseph brought the nation of Egypt together in the cause of preparing for seven years of famine to thereby save more than just themselves. We, like Joseph, learn to experience God with us by maintaining our healthy, spiritual practices every day, and by investing ourselves in a community, even socially distanced, that holds the dream-promise for one another, paints those rainbows across the skies, for us when all seems dark and stormy. Do no harm. Do good. Attend to the holy habits that keep you open to God’s presence. And let us give thanks for the members of our community who have helped us proclaim this simple and powerful truth, even in the darkest of valleys: “God is good! All the time! All the time! God is good! Thanks. Be. To. God! Amen.