Pentecost 8A, Sunday August 7, 2011.
Joseph in the pits
If you could name a few of the greatest blessings God has ever given you – what would they be?
What has God promised you, both in the Bible and in your personal experiences?
What do you think happens to God’s blessing when you are in the pits?
Have you ever been the favourite in class, or in the team or in the family? How as that?
Has there been favouritism in your family. If so, what has it done to your family?
THINGS I NOTICE ABOUT THE TEXT
There is grief, sorrow, jealousy, favouritism, pain, injustice, abuse, lies and just about every bad human behavior on show here from various people and yet God’s blessing endures. it is a very, very human account of people and God’s promises intersecting
It is a long way from the Hebron Valley up to Dothan in the north of the country. They are out on the edge of their territory – a great place to “lose” their troublesome young brother.
Joseph was definitely not worldly wise in the world of family politics. He was only 17 and he showed it by sharing his dreams of dominance with his 11 other brothers.
Jacob even sees that it will not go for his favourite son, Joseph, if the lad keeps sharing these “dominating” dreams with his brothers 9v10). But Jacob does nothing except notice this dynamic. Why didn’t he act to teach his young son something about life?!
From last Sunday, we now take up Jacob’s story some years after that wrestling for God’s blessing in Jabbok River when he has had his twelve sons, one of whom is Joseph. In anyone’s book, Jacob has been blessed! Twelve children is a good number! God’s promised blessing to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, way back in Genesis 12, of a whole nation of descendants, a great name among the nations and land in which to live a blessed life – so that this nation could be the bringers of God’s blessing to all nations, is taking shape.
But, as is always the case, imperfect human beings seem unable to live in God’s promised blessing. We forget God’s promises, doubt his faithfulness and play god ourselves – trying to determine their own dreams for the future. Our text today is about the seeming end of a dream; the end of God’s promises and blessing.
I don’t know what it would be like to be one of 12 brothers, but I know what it is to be the youngest. I might know what it is like to be regarded by my siblings as the favourite. That’s what my sisters always said about me when it came to escaping the wrath of my dad. I was, after all the youngest and the only son he had. But unlike Joseph, I was not hated by my siblings. My sisters never ganged up on me and threw me into a pit!
In our text we see that awful string of things that destroys a family; favouritism, jealousy, hatred and physical and emotional harm. The seed of the trouble is favouritism by a father to one child. For old man Jacob, Joseph was a special sign of God’s blessing in his life (and maybe a source of pride in his virility!).
For 17 years in this large family, Joseph was treated with more focus and favour than all the rest. Joseph even got a specially made coloured coat for his 17th birthday. The others never got that. Favouritism bred the seeds of discontent and family feuding.
Fuel was added to the fire when this young kid started unwisely sharing his dreams of world domination with his 11 older brothers! – saying in several ways that they all would bow down to him sometime in the future! The text just says…”and they (the brothers) hated Joseph all the more”.
Of course, they were not only hating Joseph, but actually, God’s blessing. These dreams of Joseph being dominant among the 12 brothers were signs of God’s continued presence and promise. But no one in this family could hear it or believe it. They were locked into established patterns of dislike. Human brokenness again begins to destroy God’s blessing for a family and the world.
It goes to show that once we give up on God’s faithfulness to his promises in our own lives and settle for only what is in front of us we can find ourselves anywhere. Here, we are in the territory of all out hatred. Anything is possible.
One day the 11 brothers see an opportunity to get rid of this young favourite, coloured coated dreamer. There is disagreement about how brutal and final to be. Some want to just murder him. Most want to just get rid of him by less excessive means.
The only reason they decide not to murder their brother is so that they don’t have to be cursed for the rest of their lives by the guilt – not out of even one ounce of compassion or kindness to a family member. How complete is this hatred?! If this word today is anything, it is a stern warning from the Lord about the horrible consequences of playing favourites in family or in life.
The passing traders purchase Joseph from the 11 brothers for their spice trade journey to Egypt. The brothers cover up their hatred and its consequences. Sin is always like that. We have to cover it up if we don’t repent of it before God.
They spin a yarn to the old man, Jacob, about beloved Joseph being taken by a bear and they produce the much hated coloured coat with some goat blood on it for “proof”. The old man is distraught for weeks. No one can console him in his loss and grief.
What looked so good is now diminished. God’s blessing is diminished and damaged. That is what it looks like to Jacob and to those of us hearing this Word.
We have darkness here. We have a young man in a pit of darkness. It is a pit of hatred, mistreatment, betrayal and all of this from those who are closest – family.
We have hatred on show. We have thuggery, gang-land behaviour, underbelly stuff. We have cover up, deception, trickery. We have unfettered grief and loss; a Dad distraught at the loss of a loved child. Where is God in all of this? Where is this dream of a future of blessing? What was looking good now seems to be falling apart.
I had a recent experience of feeling this kind of deflation while on R&R leave. I went bush for a week. I drove our van right out into the heart of the Gascoyne region. I had been looking forward to getting isolated, sleeping in a swag, not seeing people for a while, seeing the bush in full bloom after the rains, seeing that big blue sky and that red, red dirt – and finally viewing the largest rock ion the world – My Augustus – 1200km NE of Perth.
My spirits were up as I hit the first dirt road and beautiful river crossing….. However, I made the mistake of having reasonably well-worn tires and only one spare. I had two punctures along the way. The first was in a safe place and was sorted out easily. The second was “the end of the dream”. I left Mt Augustus station with one spare tyre, a puncture repair kit and 340km’s of gnarly dirt road with hundreds of washouts, creek crossings, corrugated parts, cattle grids and dust before me. It was not a good drive. The enjoyment I was seeking in just being out there in the beautiful inland was out of reach. I was on tender hooks.
I made it to 170kms (half way), stopped, checked the tyres; all good. Within 5 minutes of that stop I went over a cattle grid and heard the sound of metal on metal. My heart sunk even further. I stopped. Sure enough; a blowout. A 40cm gash in the side wall of the tire. There was no way of fixing it. So I had 170km’s to go with no spare.
I had only seen one car so far this day and only three cars on the road for the last 2 days. If I got a flat, I would be waiting a long time. Even though I had plenty of water and food and sleeping gear, it was still scary. My mind was engulfed in doubt and fear.
I pulled into a homestead to try and fix the spare. There was no one around. I still had 80km’s to go. Sitting in the car trying to decide what to do – stay at the homestead and wait until someone turns up (which could a whole day, or keep going, I heard something in the soul. A strong direction and even a voice…”Trust me”.
I wonder whether that is what the God of promise and blessing says to his people in the pit. Is that what Joseph heard in the pit? Is that what the grieving Dad heard in his loss? Is that what we hear?
I hear this simple direction not only about a 3 hour moment on a dirt road. The moment I heard it I knew it was for me here and you here. I don’t know if we are in the pit with Joseph, but the promise that was right before our eyes only 4 years ago is hard to identify now in some ways. We have been through some hard times these last 4 years.
We begun about this size and shape, and God blessed us with kids, parents, baptisms, confirmations, 1st Communions, activity, numerical growth, financial blessing and we were “living the dream’ as a congregation and college of the Lutheran Church of Australia.
For anyone of us here who has worried about this place, given our heart to this place, served shoulder-to-shoulder with each other in this place and seen these interesting times curtail in some way those earlier signs of God’s blessing in Jesus seem like they have diminished, this word is word for you.
Being in the pit was not the end of God’s blessing for Joseph. A family lost in jealousy and hatred was not the end of God’s presence and promise for that family.
• The mistake of playing favourites was not the end for a mistaken parent.
• Painful loss and grief was not the end of life and hope for an old Father and grand-father.
• The despising of God’s word and the signs he sends was not the end for a fledgling community who would
still become a nation of struggling winners under God.
Same for us…..
Going through hard times and seeing things be trimmed back a bit, and experiencing the concern and worry about what seems lost is not the end of our present in God’s promise. God is in the pit and many steps ahead – as he was for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.
Any jealousy, dislike, unresolved conflict or friction between others is not the end of God’s community and his plans for his people to be a blessing to each other.
Any mistakes we make as parents or educators of children or colleagues and partners – any moment when we have fallen into playing favourites is not the end of God’s favour toward us through his loved Son, Jesus, our brother and friend “to the end of the age”. His mercies are new every morning and anyone who calls on his mercy and his promised will receive.
Loss and grief and the heavy sorrow they bring does not snuff out God’s enduring promise to conquer death in our lives and bring joy after the sorrow, rain after the drought, peace after the turmoil, as he did for those followers in the boat in the storm.
We are always fledglings in life and in community and God’s blessing promises to sustain us and make us prosper in God’s way and timing. He is calling us to simple trust him with our life – all of it.
We will hear of the magnificent way in which Joseph and his brothers and his father and a whole community are brought to hope in God’s promises again as we carry on with Joseph next week. Trust the Lord. His blessing is upon us and working through us as we put our faith in Jesus. Amen
What is God calling you to do in remembering how he has blessed you?
Is there a way to undo favouritism in your life?
What would be the blessing you need from God at the moment.
What do you think about Ocean Forest at the moment and God’s blessing among us?
Things have diminished in various ways and we have shared some tough times. Is God calling us to trust him a new ways? How?