A lot has happened since we last were with Joseph. Remember, he was in the pit about to be taken to Egypt and sold to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials?
Joseph becomes Steward of Potiphar’s estate. Joseph is very good looking. Potiphar’s wife is attracted. Joseph ends up in jail. (Read chapters 37-50 if you want to know the details!)
But then old Pharaoh starts to have unsettling dreams and only Joseph can interpret them. He tells Pharaoh about the coming famine and how to manage the economy and at the age of 30 Joseph becomes Egypt’s Secretary of Agriculture.
The famine is felt back home where father Jacob and the eleven sons are barely surviving. Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to get some grain and they come face to face with their brother, but they do not recognize him. Joseph, however, recognizes them but does not reveal his identity. Finally everyone is reunited; even Father Jacob moves to Egypt.
And to make a long story very short the setting for our passage this morning takes place after the death of Jacob. The sons are scared to death that Joseph will now exact retribution and revenge.
But instead of revenge there is reconciliation, protection and promise.
“Do not be afraid.” Joseph says. “Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to harm me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”
Or as the Jerusalem Bible has it; “The evil you planned to do me has by God’s design been turned to good…”
That is a theologically rich statement. But we shouldn’t be surprised really, because the theology at the end of Genesis is the theology at the beginning of Genesis when God’s Spirit hovers over the goo of creation, the mass of formless void and calls forth light and land. God calls it good. God is always creating. NOTHING is wasted. The formless void becomes land, even the bad parts are recycled in the sustainable economy of grace. Yes, even evil becomes good. The worst of our human actions become a lump of clay for God to mold.
God makes all things new and all things good. St. Paul knew this: “All things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)
It takes courage to trust and live as if God’s goodness gets the final word. It takes great imagination to step back and view the great arc of history and even your own life through these lenses.
Yes there is evil in the world. Yes, we are sometimes mired in wrong, and stymied in sadness.
The actions of Joseph’s brothers are evil. And yet, God intended them for good to save a numerous people.
Evil is a human invention and yet God creates. Human pretention affects divine intervention for a time – but our acts do not sway because they cannot sway the ultimate purpose.
Of course the questions come: Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Why did God not stop the holocaust, or the great famines? The answers to those questions are big and often become distractions to what, I think, is a more fundamental question: It is not about where is God, but where am I, where are you? Where are the leaders? What are our choices?
Slavery in this nation was a great evil. We are still mired in the void of racism. At many moments slavery could have been stopped; our founding fathers knew that a price would be paid– and yet for a time economics trumped justice and ignorance tamped down righteousness. God is still turning this for good.
We could have actually fought the war on poverty instead of pivoting to the war in Viet Nam – we could have. Today, it is a great evil that in this nation the number of people in the pit of poverty is on the rise.
There could have been voting rights before the 60’s.
South Sudan, Central African Republic, Syria, the occupied lands of Palestine, terrorism cells;
It is not God who causes these things, we humans are very adept at selfishness and evil mischief;
It appears as if the “invisible hand” of capitalism is more important than the open hand of the hungry. We forget that God has the whole world in his hands.
The story of scripture is that God does indeed let consequences come … for a time…for three and four generations, but God’s mercy lasts beyond time.
God sees. God hears. I think God’s heart breaks at the evil that I perpetrate by commission, omission and downright willfulness; it doesn’t have to be that way. And yet, I imagine God at the great work bench of creation – still forming, creating, redeeming, reconciling, forgiving ME – making good out of muck; calling you and me, not to throw people in the pit, not to look the other way, not to capitulate to the powers and principalities. Inviting us to be co-creators – telling us what is required: justice, kindness, humility – Jesus on the cross revealing the depth and breadth, the height of love that will overcome.
Bishop Desmond Tutu knows this truth:
Goodness is stronger than evil// love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness// life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours, victory is ours through God who loves us.
Victory is ours, victory is ours through God who loves us.
And in the sureness of victory, Bishop Tutu put his life on the line and Apartheid is no more.
And what happened between Joseph and his brothers in the north of Africa happened in South Africa: truth and reconciliation. And God with women and men in that action creating – and it is good!
And what happens on the great canvas of history happens too on the postcard size palates of your and my life. We act and react, we hurt and hurt others, often not discerning, often selfish, protecting our own, often looking the other way, keeping silent, doing nothing, blaming, judging, – that is not of God, that is on you and me. BUT…
Remember a time you said; “I am sorry,” and meant it. And you were forgiven. And it was good.
Remember the time you told the truth, you couldn’t hide anymore – you didn’t want to stay in the closet any longer – and you were redeemed and empowered. And it was good.
Remember the time you broke down and cried because there was simply nothing else to do and you were washed and made new. And it was good.
Remember the time you took that chance and spoke out, maybe even made a fool of yourself – but you knew if you didn’t say something the stones would cry out, or your gut would burst – And it was good.
Remember a time when you fed the hungry and welcomed the stranger and gave away…And it was good.
Remember the time when you forgave – like Joseph – and let it go; the cycle broken. Heaven moved. And it was good.
Remember the time you just hung in there – and the open sore became a scar of wisdom. And it was good.
James Russell Lowell, a 19th century poet wrote “The Present Crisis” during the dark days of before the Civil War. “Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,” he wrote.
You and I still have decisions to make. Some may hinder God, yes, actually slow down the Creator’s delight. Hinder but not halt. Lowell goes on…
…. “Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record// One death-grapple in the darkness ‘twixt old systems and the Word;// Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,— Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”
God in the shadow;
God keeping watch;
God creating still;
God…waiting for you and for me to step into the light and join the Creator, fashioning justice and joy for all.
If God takes the worst in us and makes it good, just think what God can do when we offer our best?
So be it!