March 4, 2019 – What God Plans for Good-John 11:45-57, Genesis 50:19-21, Romans 8:28

suffering-jesus

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all.  Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”  He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.  So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?”  Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. John 11:45-57 (ESV)

The Romans did succeed in destroying Herod’s Temple in AD 70, and it has never been rebuilt. The Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, is all that remains of the Temple.  The Jewish people, even today, are scattered throughout the world.  So it could be said that the religious rulers weren’t entirely correct.  The Romans did take over “their” place, though they did not succeed in destroying God’s people. We remember that the true descendants of Abraham are God’s children by faith, not by genetic lineage.

Caiaphas’ words were prophetic, though not in the ways he may have meant them. One man did die for the sins of all people, and for the unity of God’s people.

The evil that the chief priests and the Pharisees had plotted against Jesus was actually according to God’s plan for the salvation of the world. God can see beyond what looks rational to us. His plans defy our logic. Some things that can appear to be a grievous evil or injustice may end up being used to good purpose.

Joseph was his father’s favorite son who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Even though his father was led to believe Joseph was killed by wild animals, Joseph was preserved by God for the sake of his family and ultimately for the sake of the bloodline of Jesus- even though along the way he endured slavery and prison.  When his brothers came to Egypt needing help, Joseph forgave them. The trials they had sold Joseph into into ultimately put Joseph in a position to save his family.  We read in Genesis 50:19-21 of Joseph’s gracious forgiveness and good treatment of his brothers who had sold him into slavery: “But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

At this point in the story it would be difficult for Jesus’ followers to see anything good in the intent of the chief priests or the Pharisees, but God had plans to bring good out of their evil plotting.

Jesus knew of the chief priests and Pharisees’ plans to put Him to death. He knew that He came to live on earth as a man precisely so He could become the perfect, holy sacrifice to redeem His people.

As the Jewish nation was preparing for Passover, unbeknownst to them, the true Passover Lamb was being brought to the slaughter.

The curse of death was brought about by the sin of Adam, the sin of one man that each of us inherits. But through the new Adam, Jesus, the curse of death is broken.  One man – one perfect and holy man, whose blood was shed to redeem all of God’s children….

As we approach the season of Lent and consider our own mortality, we consider Jesus as the Lamb of God, who willingly gave His life so that we can live forever with Him. What one group of men meant for evil, God planned for our good.

September 21, 2018 -Trust…but Verify, Potiphar’s Wife, and the Eighth Commandment – Acts 17:10-11, Genesis 39:6-20, Exodus 20:16

truth

Ronald Reagan used to quote an old Russian proverb: Trust, but verify. Long before Ronald Reagan, some of the earliest Christian believers in Berea were commended for being discerning regarding what Paul and other preachers taught.

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.  Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:10-11 (ESV)

As we study the Bible we are called to be discerning. Our faith is not a blind or an uninformed faith, but a faith handed down to us through the word of God.  If we want to hear from God, Scripture is where He speaks to us.  We need to look for evidence to corroborate what we are told, and to learn for ourselves what the Bible says.  This not only applies to our study of Scripture, but the insistence on truth should be paramount in how we live our lives together with others as people of God.

There is a movement in politics and culture known as #metoo to which the sounding cry is “Believe Women!” It is true that women have been sexually harassed and abused by men in power in the workplace.  It is true that women have suffered the effects of domestic violence in the home.  It is also true that many women have been intimidated or coerced into remaining silent and not reporting abuse.  Many women who have truly been abused have been ignored when they tried to tell their stories. Many women live in fear of their abusers. Many women live with abuse for years, in silence, for economic or other reasons.  Some become so paralyzed by fear that they convince themselves that they either deserve the abuse, or that it is somehow “normal.”

These acts of harassment, abuse and violence against women are illegal as well as being morally reprehensible and sinful. When these acts occur, they should be reported and investigated. When a person is proven guilty of perpetrating such acts, that person should be punished to the full extent of the law.  There should be no tolerance in our society for sexual harassment and abuse.  However, women who exploit and malign innocent men for their own personal revenge or gain must also be called out.  A woman should not get a free pass for using false testimony to incriminate or tarnish the reputation of an innocent man. Not every woman who cries “wolf” is telling the truth.

When anyone’s testimony about abuse could be tied to destroying the credibility of another for political expediency (both political “sides” have been guilty of this- think Monica Lewinsky or Anita Hill) or in one way or another can be levied to his or her own personal gain, or used to preserve one’s hide (to cover for a consensual affair, for instance), that testimony should invite heavy scrutiny.  The proverb, Trust, but verify, certainly should be in play.

We learn in the story of Joseph that not everyone’s testimony- even a woman’s- should be taken at face value.

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge.  He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.  And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice.  And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”

As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled.   And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. Genesis 39:6-20 (ESV)

We should take the story of Potiphar’s wife as a cautionary tale. Accusations of misconduct or abuse should be taken seriously, but there should also be a burden of proof beyond the circular argument of “he said-she said.”  It is just as much of an error to dismiss an honest witness as it is to believe a groundless witness without proof.

Humanity was good at breaking the Ten Commandments even before God handed down the tablets of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Breaking the Eighth Commandment seems to be just as rampant in today’s society and in the media as it was back in Joseph’s time.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16 (ESV)

Don Henley mentioned in the 1985 song, “Dirty Laundry,” that we all love dirty laundry. Even though we might try to avoid the more salacious stories in the news, we still find ourselves gravitated to “the bubble headed bleach blonde that comes on at five,” and we all ask ourselves, “Is the head dead yet?”

Humans love a tasty piece of gossip.  Some people also crave the attention that comes from being portrayed as a victim.  Not every claim can be taken at face value as true.

We must take the time to listen to each other- and to investigate the facts before we make decisions that will affect another’s life or reputation. Gossip has the capacity to destroy others’ reputations and cause them undeserved suffering and harm.

As Christian people we are called to look at our lives through the lens of how our actions affect our neighbors. Many women who come forward with testimonies of harassment and abuse are telling the truth. Those who have truly suffered from harassment and abuse should be heard and civil justice must be sought whenever possible.  The reality is though, that some women are false accusers such as Potiphar’s wife. Her false testimony landed Joseph in prison even though he committed no crime against her, her husband or God.

The good news for all of us is that in our fallen world Jesus forgives us when we confess our sins to Him and ask Him for forgiveness. We are free to call on the Holy Spirit for help to love our neighbor- to care for those who have truly been damaged by sexual misconduct, abuse, or domestic violence, and to be discerning when people slander others for their own personal gain.

August 21, 2008- Shadow, Refuge, Light and Jesus, Lord of All -Psalm 36:7-9, Acts 7:9-16

Cross

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light. Psalm 36:7-9 (ESV)

And the patriarchs, (i.e. Joseph’s brothers) jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.  But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.  And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.  And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. Acts 7:9-16 (ESV)  (See also Genesis 37 and Genesis 45:1-15.)

God, the fountain of life, the light of the world, God our refuge, is for us. Even though situations can appear hopeless, God makes a way for His people.

Joseph seemed to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was his father’s favorite child, much to the disdain of his older brothers.  His brothers became so angry with and jealous of Joseph and his favored position that they decided to take his clothes and sell him into slavery.

One might think that it would be difficult to see the hand of God in being sold into slavery and to being made to suffer humiliation and even time in prison (Genesis 39) during that enslavement.  Yet God preserved Joseph so that he would be able to provide a way for his family to survive a terrible famine.

Sometimes we might wonder what God is doing with us in our particular time and place.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

Walking by faith- trusting God- doesn’t always make sense. We have no idea most of the time what God has in mind when we find ourselves in situations we would never want to be in.

It’s hard to say, “Trust God,” when someone is in the middle of suffering. It’s hardest of all when we have to look up and trust God through impossibilities, through adversities, and through our tears. Sometimes we wonder what use we can be to ourselves or others when we are disabled, or broke, or too scattered and busy. Other times we wonder if God really cares about us or our lives.  As we study the Bible, time after time we see all the ways that God makes a way for His people.  We can trust He will make a way for us as well, even when we can’t see it or we don’t understand.

We look to Jesus, whose thoughts were of us as His earthly life bled away on the Cross. What did God do with such a seemingly senseless sacrifice? Jesus told us that we must take up our crosses too – Luke 9:23– as we follow Him.  Because He died and rose from the dead, we share both in His death as well as His resurrection life.  He walks with us through it all- even as He walked with His forefather Joseph through the impossible and the unfair and the seemingly hopeless.

Walking by faith, trusting God, seems like a very silly thing to do if we subscribe to the wisdom of this world. Confessing our sins to God daily, putting on our baptism and accepting His free grace and forgiveness, bringing our prayers to God, forgiving others, serving others, these are gifts of the Holy Spirit to us.  Jesus is the only Way, Truth and Life.  He works in and through – and sometimes in spite of- the crosses we are called to bear even though we don’t see how most of the time.  We may never see the good that God works in and through us in our lifetimes.  Even so, because of God’s good gift of faith, we can hope beyond our temporary circumstances. We look up, we trust God, and we know that we are covered under His wings.

September 13, 2017- Are We In the Place of God? Genesis 50:15-21, Ephesians 2:10

Joseph-and-Benjamin-in-Egypt

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?”  So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.”  But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.  So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. Genesis 50:15-21 (NRSV)

Are we in the place of God?

When it comes to exacting revenge, we shouldn’t presume to stand in the place of God, even though sometimes we really want to.

Surprisingly Joseph doesn’t choose to repay his brothers for selling him into slavery even though he would have every right to do so. In our lives there are so many times we want to take our pound of flesh from everyone who has wronged us, and we want to play the tit for tat game.

The problem with playing tit for tat- exacting our own revenge- is that we don’t have God’s perspective on the purpose of events in our lives.

Joseph’s brothers had no idea that the pesky younger brother who was their father’s favorite would be transformed from being a slave into a savior.

In some ways Joseph teaches us about one of his descendants- Jesus- Who became the suffering servant and ultimately the Savior of all.

Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice and joined us in our humanity. Humanity rewarded Him by hanging Him on a tree to die.

Yet God’s mercy and grace abound even when we betray our fellow humans. Like Joseph, Jesus comes to us as a brother, a friend, and offers us provision in our times of desperation and need instead of the vengeance we deserve.

Joseph ended up in Egypt for the very purpose of preserving his family- a family that includes Jesus’ ancestors. God knew what was happening to Joseph was ultimately for good even though Joseph’s brothers intended their actions for evil.

How do we know that the cruelty someone else inflicts on us today may not end up as a means for us to glorify God?

Sometimes being merciful is hard. It’s difficult to forgive when we have been wounded.  But sometimes that’s God’s plan for us, to forgive the unforgivable and love the unlovable.

We may not stand in the place of God, but we can trust that He stands with us, and that He will give us what we need to do the good things He intended for us to do. Even when it’s hard.  Even when we want revenge.

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NRSV)

September 12, 2017 – Selling Your Brother Down the River – Genesis 37:18-28

Joseph-Thrown-in-the-Pit 

They saw him (Joseph) from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 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.”  But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.”  Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. Genesis 37:18-28 (NRSV)

Siblings can be vicious, especially when one sibling is highly favored over others, and /or when resources are in short supply, and/or the siblings are close in age. Jealousy can motivate the fiercest of competition. The competition and rage that jealousy inspires can end in tragedy.

In Joseph’s case he was clearly Jacob’s favorite son. His father, Jacob, had a special coat made for Joseph, and set him up in a position of authority over his older sons. It seemed to be a bit of a mistake for Joseph to share his dream of being in power (Genesis 37:1-11) over his brothers, as this revelation only poured gasoline over the fire of their jealousy and rage.

As the story continues, it looks bad for Joseph. He’s sold off as a slave to the Egyptians, but it’s a kinder fate than what he would have suffered at the hands of his brothers.

God stepped in for Jacob. Even though he was sold as a slave, and endured prison and other trials while in Egypt, he found favor with the Egyptians and eventually found his way into the Pharaoh’s court.

Joseph, the brother who was sold down the river, was put in a place to help his brothers and the rest of his family when they were in desperate need during a famine.

The telling element of Joseph’s character was that he was more than willing to help his brothers who had sold him for what would be equivalent to about $25 today.

The level of Joseph’s help to his family during the famine- including his betrayer siblings- is also worth mentioning. He didn’t send dented cans of beets and okra or old toothpaste samples and expired produce to his family.  He sent the very best of the food stores and other products of Egypt.  (Genesis 45)

In our lives we have played both roles- the betrayer and the betrayed. Even though we would like to think better, we have all been in the place of Peter the apostle who claimed he could never betray Jesus, yet he did it three times just as Jesus knew he would.  And we have all been on the receiving end of a friend or family member who has let us down or been cruel to us in some way.

Yet in spite of betrayal and hurt there is grace. In Christ there is grace to for us to forgive those who have trespassed against us, (as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer) and even to aid them in their time of need.  In Christ we can accept the forgiveness of those we have wronged and we can move closer to make what was wrong right again.

God always proves to be the hero of the story, not us. God can and does work His will even through our tragedies and our failings.

How can we be messengers of grace today?