Seventh Sunday After Pentecost February 19 and 20, 2022
“Life’s Lesson” Genesis 45:3-15
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Today’s reading from Genesis is a teaching about life’s lessons. It is the account of Joseph after he had reached the pinnacle of his life, he was the ruler of Egypt, only sitting under the throne of Pharaoh. Joseph – you know where he came from, right? Abraham had Isaac. Isaac had Jacob. Jacob had 12 sons – including his favorite, Joseph. You probably remember him with his “coat of many colors.”
But Joseph’s early life and middle life was miserable. His brothers hated him. His favoritism was not appreciated. And they were going to kill him and have this battle with him be over. They would tell his father, Jacob, that some wild animal devoured him, they put blood all over that lovely coat and then would live with the lie. But the oldest brother, Ruben, the one responsible for his safety, said that they shouldn’t be so rash. They took off his pretty coat, threw him in an empty well and decided that they could sell him as a slave. And that’s what they did. Life’s lesson: Don’t get on the wrong side of your family. They can treat you terribly.
Joseph, handsome and strong, became a slave. His life, most certainly, was going to be terrible. But somehow, he ended up in the home of an important Egyptian, Potiphar. And this young, handsome, strong man caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife. I think they call her a cougar – she wanted that young man to come to her bed. But he refused. And she kept on pursuing. He said, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). So to get even with him for his rejection, she made up a story and said that he had tried to rape her and that landed him in prison. The slave become a prisoner. Life’s lesson: Virtue doesn’t always pay well.
After a few more years in prison God allowed him to interpret a dream that another prisoner, the man who served at Pharaoh’s table, had. He said to the man, “When all goes well for you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison.” (Genesis 40:14). The guy got out just as Joseph had said, but we read what happened next, “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” (Genesis 40:23) Life’s lesson: Don’t trust anyone. Don’t rely on anyone. You’re in this for yourself.
If anyone was a victim it was Joseph. For years, decades, his life was the result of bitterness, deceit and lies. Albert Camus, a French philosopher said, “Life is a bad joke.” There is no rhyme or reason to life. We’re born. We live. We die. That’s it. Life is just a bad joke.
Then we get to Genesis 45. Joseph’s life had changed. Pharaoh had a dream that he couldn’t understand and he was told of Joseph’s ability to understand dreams. Pharaoh called Joseph in and told him of a dream where 7 fat cows were eaten by 7 skinny ones. Joseph said it was the picture of 7 years of prosperity followed by 7 years of drought and hunger. Joseph became prominent in Egypt. In our reading Joseph’s brothers had come from Canaan to Egypt to get food, the only place that had any left. His brother’s didn’t know that the man in front of him was Joseph. But Joseph knew them but he could not control his emotions. He demanded that everyone, other than his brothers, leave the room. They witnessed his meltdown. They spoke about his sobbing. And he revealed himself to his brothers, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt.” (Genesis 45:4) And his brothers were silent. It says that they were terrified at his presence.
What was going to happen to them? He had the power. He could have tortured them. He could have made things even. But he didn’t. He had learned life’s lesson, a most wonderful one – the lesson of seeing God’s plan even in the worst of situations. Joseph said to them, “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Genesis 45:5, 7-8) Later Joseph would reassure his brother’s, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19)
In this marvelous account we see that God had not forgotten Joseph. His life and the terrible things that he went through didn’t happen by chance, or dumb luck, but by God’s design. The Presbyterian’s are big on a teaching called Divine Providence. It fits well into this. John Gibson, out of Scotland, writes, “It invites us to think of God as working always behind the scenes, controlling but not forcing the pace of events, permitting things to happen rather than directly causing them to happen, achieving his purpose through men’s actions rather than upon or in spite of it.” He then goes on, “They (his brother’s) meant to do Joseph harm, and they did him harm, and God let them do him harm; but all the while God was planning to use that harm for his own ends, and gradually things turned out not as they, but as he wanted.” (The Daily Study Bible Series. Genesis, Volume 2, Pages 291-292)
God’s lesson in our life says that when things look to have no order and we don’t see any hope, God has not forgotten us. He still has a plan for our good. Romans 8:28, in the New International Version says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In the J.B. Phillips paraphrase we read, “We know to those who love God everything that happens fits into a pattern of good.”
Joseph had a wonderful lesson of life. He didn’t justify his brother’s evil intent. He didn’t shrug his shoulders and say, “Shucks, It didn’t matter.” No, he says a number of times – “You did something very evil to me” but he recognized that God had a plan that took years to unfold which eventually came to light.
Life’s lessons are most wonderful when you know that Jesus and His gift of love is at the center of the plan. I saw a person who was suffering greatly both physically and spiritually and emotionally. They thought they knew the reason for such suffering. “Pastor, I’ve broken all 10 commandments many times in my life.” They looked at their life and their suffering and knew that God was getting even. God’s great lesson has to be that His mercy is greater than His judgment. Another Old Testament figure, Micah, has said, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19)
Life’s lesson is seeing the plan of Jesus to bring us life. Pastor Mark Rouland from St. Charles, Missouri writes, “If you squint when you watch Joseph limp victoriously through life, you might be reminded of another who was despised by his brothers, the favorite of the Father. Who entered the pit and proclaimed in prison, who had his righteous character publicly crucified along with the rest of him, and whose chose to give life instead of death, to give his bread for your hunger, and offers mercy rather than revenge, who tips the scales in your favor by his favor.” (Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 32, Part 1, Series C, Page 51) Do you see Jesus in Joseph?
The lesson that you learn isn’t just for you. It is what you will give to others. Joseph was placed in his position by God so others would live. There were still 5 more years of famine following this meeting with his brothers. He told them that they were not to worry that he would provide for them. They saw a lesson of love, forgiveness and generosity in all that he did. He must have known what Jesus was going to say – “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
What lesson do we give to others? What will others learn from us? In life’s hard moments, when our character is called into question, when we must act when things are difficult, what lesson will we teach others? If you have kids, or grandkids, if you have neighbors or friends will they see bitterness, anger or revenge when you are wronged or when life is not fair? Or, will they see a calm, a faith, a confidence that God is still doing a work for you and through you? Can you exhibit a peace even in times of chaos? With Joseph and with Jesus will you say, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Life’s lessons are God’s transforming lessons. He changes our life and the lives of others. May our God keep on teaching us life’s greatest lessons. May our Almighty God give us a deeper faith in Him and in His ways daily. Amen!!