Joseph the success
Genesis 39: 6-23 & 41: 17-57.
I can remember one of the first jokes that Rev. George Sherry told me.
A priest and a minister were on a train arguing about how to do mass/communion. They were getting more and more het up about the way it should be done and how the other one did it the wrong way. Until the priest eventually had had enough and just said, ‘Look, let’s just agree to disagree. You do it your way, and we’ll do it God's way.’
I recalled that story the very first time I did an adult baptism.
I offered the person total immersion, and he asked how we could do that. And I explained that we would use the local Baptist Church that night because they had a baptistery to do that kind of thing. The service was very moving and it was a great night.
Until at the end of the night the Baptist church officer, there to open up for us and make sure that everything was prepared for us, came up to me and said, ‘You didn't do that right. We don’t do it that way.’
There is this belief that everything is black and white.
A right way to do things and a wrong way to do things.
And I struggle with that concept. Because I know that life is messy.
The other problem I have, which is even more important, is that I think we have a huge battle in our hearts between God and ourselves.
That there is a conflict between what we think God should be doing and what God thinks God should be doing.
I think that on the whole we spend our life believing that God should be changing the world so that it makes our life better. If you don't believe me then think of your last week’s prayers. What kind of things did you pray for?
That you might do your job better, that you might have a better relationship with your spouse or child, that your pain is eased.
You might not be as selfish as to pray that you win the lottery, but you might pray that God takes an illness away from yourself or someone you love.
We might not like to admit it, but on the whole our main relationship with God is that if God loves us then he will want to do things for us.
I’m not condemning people for that, I am just saying that that it the way we tend to look at it. Life is messy and God should make life a bit less messy.
But I don't think that is the way God looks at it.
I think God looks at it as his job is to make our hearts better so that we become better people. Instead of God rearranging our outsides so that we feel better, God wants to rearrange our insides so that we become better.
Look at these passages today.
There is a very bad way to look at them.
The bad way of looking at it is that God makes our world better so that our life is easier.
Here is Joseph, having a hard time of it.
But Joseph doesn’t need to worry because God is going to sort it all out for him.
He gets sold by his brothers into slavery.
He then ends up in Potiphar’s house and takes over the running of it and life is good. God has helped him out.
But then Potiphar’s wife accuses of him of rape and he ends up in prison.
But don’t worry, God will sort it out.
God will make everything fine for Joseph. And so he does. The Pharaoh has a dream, and Joseph interprets the dream and the Pharaoh makes Joseph his second in command.
Now Joseph is like a king, he has wealth and power; he has a wife and a couple of children.
Now he is a good man, because Joseph has done what God wanted and God has rewarded him and made sure he has everything he deserves.
The only problem with that is that it is a load of rubbish.
Let’s push that theology a bit.
If that is the way it is, then does that mean that God doesn’t care about poor people that stay poor?
If that is the way that it is, then does that mean that God shows his favour through wealth?
If that is the way that it is, then what happens when it doesn't work that way?
How are we going to be better people when God isn't making it better for us?
The truth is that God wasn’t working on Joseph's outside; God was trying to work on Joseph's insides, his heart.
There was a phrase in Margaret's sermon last week...
God may have not been all that bothered about Joseph becoming powerful, but God was bothered about what kind of person he would be when he held that power.
The truth is that Joseph was a natural planner and organiser.
That’s what he did.
Put him in any situation and he could organise it.
As a slave in Potiphar’s house, he organised it.
As a prisoner in the Pharaoh's prisons, he organised it.
As a food collector and distributer for the whole of the Egyptian food supply, he organised it.
It was the thing that Joseph was good at. But the truth was it didn't make him a better person.
Because the truth was that whatever Joseph did, wherever he went, he took his emotional baggage with him.
In our last reading Joseph has won the lottery.
He has a wife, two children; as much power and wealth as anyone could want.
But is he happy?
Look at his sons.
He could have called them anything.
He could have called them, ‘God has been good to me.’
He could have called them, ‘Look at my success.’
He could have called them, ‘I have been blessed.’
He could have called them, ‘The past is behind me.’
He could have called them, ‘Dreams do come true.’
But what does he call his sons?
‘God has made me forget all my sufferings and my father’s family.’
Only it doesn’t sound like he has forgotten his sufferings, and to wish his family away? To me it sounds like there is still a lot of hurt and anger there.
And years later when he has another son he isn’t feeling any better.
His second son is called...
‘God has given me children in the land of my trouble.’
The land of my trouble? How is this ‘a land of trouble’ for Joseph? He has a life that even now people would dream for, yet he is unhappy?
This is like someone winning the lottery and calling their next child, ‘God has given me a child in the middle of my misery.’
Joseph has everything except the one thing that he wants, the one thing I think we all want, a heart that is content and at peace.
Joseph is still haunted and angry by the fact that his brothers wanted him dead, that they sold him into slavery.
Joseph still wants revenge.
And that is good news.
I know it doesn’t sound like good news.
But I find it great news.
It’s great news because of two reasons.
The first is that I don’t need to chase all those things that I think are going to make me happy because Joseph proves that they won’t make me happy.
Joseph’s mistake is the same mistake that billions of people still believe today.
If my life was better, then I would be a better person.
Joseph's life was a lot better but it wasn't making him a better person.
Billions today still believe that garbage.
If I had the wealth of the Kardasians. If I had a new nose, or breast implants.
If I had a better car or lived in a better neighbourhood or had a better spouse.
If I had a better job or better cloths or went on better holidays then I would be a better person.
Making the outside of our lives better is no guarantee that our insides become better.
It didn’t work for Joseph, it won’t work for us.
So I don't need to waste my time chasing those false dreams.
I don't need to chase the dream that things will make my life better.
The second reason I think this passage is great is that with God’s help Joseph does get better. But it takes years and years and years.
And God sticks with him throughout all that.
Through the time of slavery, through the time in prison, through the time of wealth.
Through the anger and frustration.
Through the struggles of an arranged marriage.
Through the struggles of learning and living in an alien culture.
Decades and decades and decades...and God sticks with him.
Joseph is a work in progress.
Joseph is a tough work in progress.
And I think Joseph is a tougher work in progress than he needs to be because I think his natural ability gets him out of a lot of scrapes so Joseph thinks he doesn't need help.
So he is a slave, he can make the best of that.
So he is in prison, he can make the best of that.
So he has lots of money, he can really make the best of that.
But because he does it, he doesn't think he really needs God.
And he doesn’t realise just how much he does need God.
But God sticks with him.
And I find that comforting.
Because I think I am a pretty smart person.
I think that I can do the best of a bad job.
And there is too many times in my life that I don’t realise just how much I need God.
And it is comforting in those moments when I am not so arrogant and I realise how much I need God that I also realise that God has stuck with me.
God has seen I am a work in progress, and he is still working away.
Hoping that the insides will change and I will become the person I should be.
We don’t need to chase the false dreams; they really don’t make life any better. A comfortable hell is still hell. And who wants to stay in hell?
But God sticks with us.
Because God isn’t interested in changing our outside so that out life is better. God wants to change our insides so we become better.