August 20, 2023
Scripture Reading: Genesis 45:1-15
On the wall in the room I use for an office at home, there is a vertical strip of markings with the names of Mary Ann’s grandchildren next to them. I’m guessing you know what they mean.
They haven’t visited us for a while, so when they came this last time, they headed for this room where, one by one, they backed up to the wall and Mary Ann put a little mark on the wall along with their names, to indicate how tall they are now.
Each one was taller than the last line. Maybe an inch and half, maybe three inches! And then there were claps and wows and smiles! “Look how much you’ve grown!”, we said!
It’s a fun thing and you would think they had done something notable for which they should get some credit, like running a marathon or swimming a mile or something! But they hadn’t done a thing but grow!
I wonder why we don’t have a similar growth chart on the church wall to indicate just how much each of us has grown spiritually since the last time we measured. Where would your mark be in comparison to last year? I’m not at all sure I would want that! I think, in the case of Joseph, however, there would be a big jump between the day he was taken captive and sold to traders going to Egypt, and the day he next met his brothers as second in command to the Pharaoh!
The intervening chapters (and a number of years passing) between last week’s sermon (ch 37) and today’s are full of fascinating stories. They would be interesting for you to read, but I suspect reading them would bring up some painful memories for Joseph.
How painful it would be to remember your own brothers engaged in a debate: “Shall we kill him or sell him?” And the long, lonely trip to Egypt, probably bound and thrown in a cart on the way. And the bartering process to see whose servant you would become!
How did he feel when he ended up in the house of Potiphar, captain of the guard for Pharaoh? What did it mean when the scripture tells us during those trying days: “The Lord was with him and the Lord gave him success in all that he did?”
Well, one thing was clear during those days – Joseph was drawing the attention of Potiphar’s wife. The text says that he was “well-built and handsome.” She tried to seduce him one day and he respectfully denied her. “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”
Not accustomed to hearing “no” from a man, she pursued him “day after day” to no avail until one day she grabbed him by the cloak and said: “Come to bed with me!” He left the cloak and ran
When Potiphar came home, she said: “He attacked me and when I screamed for help, he ran!” So, they immediately put him in prison, though he had done nothing wrong!
How do you live with that injustice? There in a miserable prison cell, what are your thoughts as you remember your father, mother, brothers and God? What happens to your soul? What happens in the dark moments with only your thoughts?
I know where my mind and heart would go. The days and nights of seething resentment, bitterness, fantasies of retaliation and deep despair.
It is obvious that allowing his mind to dwell on these negative thoughts was not Joseph’s choice because he became known in the prison to be a person of leadership potential, compassion and spiritual sensitivity! The prison guard put him in charge of the whole prison! He listened to the other prisoners and even explained their dreams to them because it was his special gift!
The Pharaoh heard about him and Joseph was summoned to interpret dreams for the Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s dream was that there would come seven years of plenty for Egypt followed by seven years of famine. Because of Joseph’s skill and insight, he eventually was released from prison and elevated to a place of great responsibility in all of Egypt.
When famine came to the land, he was strategically positioned to save the lives of whomever came to him for help. One day, it was his brothers who came from far away because the family was starving!
What a moment! Here is the ultimate test of one’s character! Do you suppose that Joseph had ever longed for the moment when his teenage dreams actually came to pass? His moment of opportunity – when scores could be settled and justice meted out?
And yet, you can read it for yourself in Genesis 45! Joseph exhibited such an abundance of mercy! He threw his arms around those brothers! Every one of them, including the one who suggested they kill him and the one who said “No, let’s sell him and keep the money!”! What a model of the nature of God and how like Jesus on the cross! This inexplicable bubbling up of compassion mixed with forgiveness, so undeserved and startling! HOW YOU’VE GROWN, JOSEPH! We would have understood if you had dealt a full hand of REVENGE on those brothers! We would have said: Those brothers deserved every last bit of it!
We would have understood if you had turned into a total rebel, Joseph! Had you been possessed of a defiant, angry, bitter demeanor, we would have said: He has good reason. Do you know the suffering he endured again and again? No wonder he is that way.
We would have understood if you had wilted into a corner with chronic depression and internalized self-hatred. We would have said: What a sad outcome for that poor man. Do you know what he’s been through
But what we don’t understand is this: It can only be the work of the Holy Spirit of God that he has been transformed into such a character as he has today! Surely, God must be something like Joseph!
Indeed, God is! How God does it, I do not know, but that God does it, I do know! Our theme song could be: Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see.
It’s not solely to our credit that we back up to the wall of measurements and find we have had a stunning, mind-blowing growth spurt this year! But if the painful reverses of life do visit you with undeserved loss, my prayer is that even then, the God of grace will produce in you those transformations that can be explained no other way than Grace! “Look how much you’ve grown!”