Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 21, 2014
First Christian Church
Before we go into today’s text, some backstory. Joseph was the son of Jacob who happened to be the grandson of Abraham. He was the youngest of Jacob’s sons. Being an only child, I’ve never totally understood sibling rivarly, but this is definitely a textbook case. Jacob doted on his youngest, keeping him from doing the really hard work. He even gave him a fancy robe, something his brothers didn’t get.
Of course, his older brothers hated their little brother. But they didn’t react by whining, they wanted to kill Joseph. Ruben, one of the brothers was able to disuade his brothers from offing Joseph. Instead, Joseph was sold into slavery and was soon on his way to Egypt.
This is where we find Joseph at the start of chapter 39. Joseph was sold as a slave to the house of Potiphar. He has gone from a favored son to a slave. But as the passage notes, the Lord with Joseph. He ends up in the house of a high-ranking Egyptian official. After a time, Joseph went from being a common slave to running the household. He went from working in the elements to working inside and managing the affairs of the household. Joseph was so good at what he did, that his boss completely trusted him with everything.
So far, Joseph’s story sounds very much like a rags-to-riches story. Our society loves these kind of stories. We love hearing about someone who was down and out and some how improves himself despite the challenges set in his way. We love these stories because they talk about someone who through hard work is able to pull himself up by his bootstrap and succeed.
Now, when you hear these stories, most of the time we never talk about what happens after they “make it.” We want to believe that the pinnacle of success is constant, but of course, nothing ever stays the same. We can go from making $100K a year to losing a job and then making $24K in a lower paying job. Things can go from good to bad in a second.
So, Joseph was doing well. God was truly with Joseph. But was the good time a sign of Joseph being faithful, of being rewarded by God? But would God still be with Joseph when things took a turn south?
So, things were going well for Joseph. Then Potiphar’s wife enters the picture. She finds the young man rather attractive and she is interested in fooling around. Joseph tells her he will not break his master’s trust, let alone sin against God. But Ms. Potiphar can’t take no for an answer. She keeps pestering him, telling him over and over to “lie with me.” He keeps telling her no. Then there is this one day where no one else is in the house save the misses. Joseph comes in to do his work and she pounces on him. Joseph runs out of the house probably on in his boxers. He gets falsely accused by Mrs. Potiphar and her husband puts him in jail.
A side note, the common understanding is that Potiphar believed his wife and punished Joseph. But the common punishment for rape in that time as death, not imprisonment. Potiphar might have known what his wife was doing and opted for the least bad option.
But Joseph is now back at square one. He went from running the house of one of the most powerful men in Egypt to now being a common criminal. But then there’s that phrase again: the Lord was with Jospeh. Joseph ended up being the person in charge of all the other prisoners. He was still a prisoner, but something good came out of this injustice.
What does it mean to be blessed? There is a common understand among some people that God means for us to be happy and wealthy. It’s called the Prosperity Gospel and I don’t have the time to go into it, but the main thrust behind it is that God intends for good things and when those good things happen, God is blessing us.
But is blessing only about good things? Joseph was good person, maybe even blessed, but that didn’t prevent him from becoming sold by his brothers or getting falsely accused or ending up in prison.
The Lord was with Joseph. That phrase tells us a lot. No matter what was going on in Joseph’s life, God was with him. God was with him as he rose to favored position in Potiphar’s house and was there when Joseph was in prison.
We all need to be blessed. But that blessing is not about having it all. God blessed Joseph by being present in Joseph’s life and Joseph responded by following God, even if it meant losing it all.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans he says in chapter 8 verse 28 that “all things work together for good[a] for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
The point of this verse isn’t that good can come out of some horrible experience as it has sometimes been interpreted as. No, it is that God remembers us in the good times and the bad.
There is a saying that I’ve heard many times over the years. It’s goes like this, “God is good. All the time. All the time, God is good.” God is good. Sometimes we have a hard time believing this. We might wonder where was God during certain points of our lives. We may wonder if God is good when we are diagnosed with cancer. Was God good when a child dies? How about when your job is eliminated and you are left wondering how in the world you are going to make it financially.
But the reality is, God is good, not because God is a spiritual Superman that comes in and saves the day. God is good becasue we are not forgotten by God. God didn’t forget Joseph.
The rest of the story of Joseph is that he is freed from prison and again rises in power to become the second most powerful person in the land of Egypt. He reunites with his brothers whom he forgives. His whole family moves to Egypt and after Jacob dies, his brothers wonder if he will bear a grudge. Joseph responds, “ 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.”
All of us who call ourselves Christ followers are blessed by God. We are blessed in the good days, when we have a good job and good health and we are blessed when we are laid off and dealing with a chronic disease. God is there working for the good of all, working to remind us we are loved by God and that God is always with us.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God. Is. Good. Thanks be to God. Amen.