Read Genesis 37:1-36
We reach a point in our lives when we can look back and see God’s hand at work.
God has a marvelous way of connecting the dots of our lives in surprising ways. God never wastes an experience but can transform it and use it later. Sometimes we can look back at an experience, years later, and say, “God used that experience, though challenging, to help form me into the person I am today,” or, “God used that experience, though difficult, to bring me to this place in my life.” It’s a matter of maturity, part of growing up, when we can claim that our life is not all about us, but really part of the ongoing story of God’s work in the world.
We just finished these past few Sundays with Jacob and his tale of deception. We wondered why God had chosen and blessed him. We discovered that God is always working behind the scenes in our lives, and that God is with us, in spite of our messes and failures.
In our reading today, we begin with the story of Joseph.
Jacob had twelve sons and two daughters, the last two children were Joseph and Benjamin, born to his beloved wife Rachel. As the story begins, Joseph is a teenager, seventeen years old, and a bit of a tattletale. Gleefully he would tell his father whenever he caught any of his brothers goofing off, not doing what they were supposed to be doing. In such a situation one would hope that the parent would discourage this kind of spying and tattling, but apparently Jacob did the opposite, by encouraging it.
In this story of family dysfunction, Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his sons. He gifted Joseph with a “long robe with sleeves,” as our translation puts it. In some translations, it is called “a coat of many colors.” Joseph likes to wear his robe and parade it in front of his brothers. His brothers resent him; in fact we are told they hate him, “and could not speak peaceably to him.”
Wearing such a beautiful robe prevented Joseph from doing any work. In fact, Jacob may have given his son the robe because he didn’t want him to do the laborious chores: “This son of mine is special I don’t want him doing the grueling work.” Again, not a good example of good parenting.
And to make matters worse, Joseph has dreams of greatness. In one of his dreams bundles of wheat bow down before him. And it gets worst – in his second dream the sun, moon and eleven stars bow down before him. Joseph is so full of himself that he shares his dreams with his brothers and father. The result is that his brothers hate him more than ever and he also angers his father. In disbelief Jacob asks Joseph, “Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” (v.10) His brothers were resentful of him to begin with, but his dreams made it even worst. It is one thing to have dreams that your siblings and parents will become your servants, and quite another to share them.
One day Jacob instructs Joseph, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” (v. 14)
In other words, go and spy on your brothers. And so, off he goes wearing his coat of many colors.
His brothers see him approaching in the distance. They knew he was coming to spy on them and report back to their father. “Here comes this dreamer (v.19) they say to one another. “Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” (v. 20) They would no longer have to worry about what he would tell their father.
There can be something sinister about being part of a group. People will say and do things in a group that they would not normally say or do by themselves.
This past spring, a college fraternity in Oklahoma made the news with a racist chant. An investigation revealed that the racist chant of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity had been taught at an event of the fraternity’s national organization four years ago.
That chant was learned and brought back to the local chapter. And then the chant was taught to pledges as part of the pledging process.
I wonder how many of those fraternity brothers had a sense, deep down, that this was wrong, but participated anyway because it was expected of the group. It’s like they had become blind to right and wrong.
We can see that kind of dynamic at work in this story of Joseph and his brothers.
One of his brothers, Reuben, rises to the occasion and offers a less drastic solution. Instead of killing him, they should throw him into a pit and leave him. Reuben was not completely blinded by his hate, he secretly planned to come back and rescue Joseph.
And so, they strip Joseph of his fancy robe and throw him into a pit.
As they eat lunch, they spot a caravan traveling with camels and goods to sell in Egypt. Another brother, Judah, suggests that they sell their brother and make a profit. Reuben, who would have disagreed with their action, is gone. The others agree with Judah, so they pull him from the pit and sell him for “twenty pieces of silver,” and the slave traders take Joseph to Egypt.
On their way home they devise a plan to tell their father that Joseph must have been killed by wild animals. They take Joseph’s robe and dip it in goat’s blood to authenticate their story.
They lie to their father just as Jacob lied to his.
Joseph’s brothers think they have solved their problem. Joseph would no longer be around to torment them by getting them into trouble or parade in front of him with his fancy robe as if he were some kind of prince.
We are left hanging, not knowing what will happen. However, God continues to work behind the scenes.
There will be healing of the hatred and blindness; their eyes will be opened; there will be reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers; from this evil, God will bring good.
A perceptive theologian once wrote: “I believe that even our mistakes and shortcomings are not in vain and that it is no more difficult for God to deal with them than with our good deeds.”
When I was 28 years old, I moved from Minneapolis to the town of Wadena, Minnesota, and then to Jamestown, North Dakota, to follow a job opportunity. I had to sell a house and take a loss on the sale. I asked my wife to quit her job and to come with me. It ended up not being what I thought it would be. It was a dead end. In many ways it was a foolish decision.
However, if I had not gone, I would have not met a certain Pastor in North Dakota who inspired me to enter Pastoral ministry; it may have never occurred to me to become a pastor.
I would have not have applied to seminary; and I would not have received the enthusiastic support that I received from that church in North Dakota.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Yet many of us would describe our lives as filled with detours, and moments when we have lost our way. That straight line becomes a roundabout with circles and zigzags. The story of Joseph teaches us that faith involves more than simply believing in God but believing that God can be counted on. In time God will lead us to where we are meant to be.
Let us pray: assure us that you are with us, even in the worst of times…bring us to the place you would have us be in our lives. Amen.
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