Genesis: Roots, Relationship, Redemption
A Genesis Word
This is the last week in our series on a brilliant piece of God’s Word: the book of Genesis.
So far we have walked side by side with figures like Abraham and his wife Sarah… their son Isaac. But of course we can’t forget our encounter with Hagar and Ishmael- who boldly interrupted this grand tale of covenant with a lesson on the provision of God. Then we spent time with Isaac and the impossibly strong Rebecca who had two nations fighting in her womb. Nations that came from Jacob and Esau – the warring twins (Jacob the trickster, Esau the hunter…). Then we drew close to Jacob, and followed after him as he married Rachel and Leah… and fathered 12 sons. 12 nations.
And then, through the crowd, we spotted the youngest of the sons. At seventeen years of age… just growing into manhood. And we saw that there was something special/ intriguing about him… so we followed… followed to find yet another unique and flawed character, a young man that inherited his father’s taste for manipulation…
The perfect man to teach us about the audacity of dreaming big dreams in the name of God and about our need for God’s grace.
If you can remember back to that chapter of the Genesis story, Joseph (this youngest son of Jacob) was granted visions from God. Visions that painted for him a picture of the kingdom that was to come.
When Joseph told his family about his dreams, his brothers found them incredibly pompous and annoying! And given the character of Joseph… I don’t really blame them… He was daddy’s favorite, had a fancy coat of many colors, he was a tattletale… and he had a rather naïve nature.
So, low and behold. Annoying baby brother got thrown into a pit by his eleven big brothers… and sold off to some passing Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt! Sold for twenty shinny silver coins. Not a bad deal.
And that is where we left off last week.
Watching this dreamer-man be bound up and carted off to Egypt.
That’s a rather precarious place to stop in the story… What happens to Joseph!?
Well, sadly the story of Joseph does not make for a very smooth/ glossy “rags to riches” kind of tale. He had a lot of ups and down… First, he was sold into slavery to a guy named Potiphar. Then, apparently he had some skill and charm because he rose to a level of overseer above his fellow slaves. But then just as things were looking up, Scripture introduces us of the first would-be “cougar.” Potiphar’s wife makes a pass at him, but Joseph turns her down! When he “resists her” as Scripture tells us – she is none to pleased about that, so she throws him into prison on false charges of sexual assault.
From slave, to manager, to prisoner.
While in prison, there are moments of hope and moments of hope dashed…
But years later, the Pharaoh himself (the big kahuna) find himself in need of a dream interpreter. And handy for Pharaoh he has one rotting away in the dungeons beneath him (so to speak).
So, Joseph is fetched. The servants bathe him, shave him, dress him up and send him to Pharaoh.
And there he uses his divine skill of dream interpretation. He tells Pharaoh that there is a famine coming. But Joseph assures Pharaoh that this is an opportunity.
Joseph may have been a naïve youth… but he grew into a clever man.
He advises Pharaoh to start squirreling away grain and food so that when the famine comes… Pharaoh could provide for his people. Pharaoh could save the day!
And that is exactly what happens!
So as the years fly by, Joseph is elevated to Pharaoh’s right hand man, and when the famine hits Joseph is put in control of the food distribution.
And who should land on his doorstep, half starved and looking for mercy, but his older brothers.
The same ones who had trapped him, sold him… gave him over to years to slavery and imprisonment… all because they didn’t like the way he dreamed.
Joseph’s family life and work life collide!
This scene is vivid… so picture it, if you will.
Here come the dusty, road weary smelly Israelites, Jacob’s sons. Gaunt from years of famine. Wearing the humble close of laborers, with their long beards.
Here they come into the glittering halls of Pharaoh’s palace – an oasis of decadence in the desert of Egypt- ready to beg a foreign king for food and rations for their family so as to spare their elderly father the grief of watching them all die.
And standing in front of them, the man to hear their plea, is Joseph a handsome man of about 40, impeccably dressed, clean-shaven, well-fed and strong, draped in gold, and with Egyptian kohl rimming eyes – Joseph, a powerful man.
This makes quite the picture.
So here Joseph stands, with the might of the Egyptian empier at his fingertips, not to mention that this guy (even from a young age) has been backed by the blessing of God… so here he stands with a choice in front of him… bearing all the power: Revenge on his weary hungry brothers? Or forgiveness?
What would you do?
What does it take to forgive someone? For hating your dreams. For hurting you, for throwing you into literal or metaphorical pits? For causing heartache? What does it take to forgive as Christ commanded?
We have all know a heartache or time in a pit…
What do you do when you find yourself in Joseph’s sandals?
Well Joseph, it seems he wants to forgive, but he finds it hard, so he tests them first. Remember this is Jacob’s son. Son of the trickster.
He sets up this scenario involving one of the brothers. Joseph makes it look like he is stealing and then Joseph demands that this thief stays and suffer the consequences.
So will the brothers leave Benjamin behind? Will they concoct another story to account for his absence? Will they break their father’s heart again?
In other words, Joseph wants to know if they learned anything from selling him. If they regret it. If they would dare repeat the action again… have they changed? Are they repentant?
And boy, do they ever pass the test! They beg Joseph! They beg him to understand that their brother is not a thief that he didn’t do this. Another brother offers to be imprisoned in Benjamin’s place. They tell Joseph of their elderly father back home who they love and how they couldn’t bear to break his heart again… not after the death of his favorite son Joseph.
Joseph sees in front of him changed hearts. He sees their remorse and their pain. He sees their willingness to protect their younger brother even at the cost of standing in his place.
Joseph gets the answer that he is looking for, so he forgives.
I can’t help but think at this point… Thank God that God doesn’t work like this! Joseph make them earn his forgiveness- But our God is one who forgives freely! We make people gravel/ earn it from us. We make them dance and dive through hoops to prove that they are worthy of forgiveness. We forgive not like God, but like Joseph. How very human of us…
And then Joseph does something else very human – he bursts out sobbing. He sends everyone from the room except for his brothers. And he shout, “It’s me! I am Joseph!” He shouts this so loud, sobs so hard that it is heard all through the halls of this glittering Egyptian palace.
And then he says something truly remarkable. He says, “This is God’s work. God sent me here so that all our lives could be saved. God sent me to Egypt, not you. This is God’s work that I am here.”
Joseph, in that moment, released himself from years of slavery and imprisonment, years of harboring wounds inflicted upon him by his brothers. And he released his brother’s of guilt and shame. In that moment of brave godly forgiveness.
Joseph acknowledged that even though he had been though hell, that somehow this is all a part of God’s saving work! This was a lesson for them all about forgiveness, and fixing what is broken- reconciliation.
Now, this is not to say that God intended harm to come to Joseph, rather this is all to say that God’s good work is coming about even in spite of the crap that was heaped upon Joseph’s head.
God can use the pits that we get thrown into. God can use the things that enslave us. God can use the hurts in our lives to bring about something that is good. Like gluing together broken pieces of glass to become a mosaic. That is our gospel truth for today.
God intended for us to be a people of forgiveness. A people that can look for God’s redeeming work even in the darkest of places, and embrace it. That is the lesson of Joseph. That is the lesson of the whole of Genesis.
I’ve said it once, twice… maybe I have said it a thousand times. I am not sure. But I really love Genesis!
Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Noah and the Arc, the gift of covenant, the story of our roots! All of these stories are about God’s redeeming work.
I love this story of beginnings. With its deeply flawed characters and its infinitely creative and loving God.
I love this story of grace.
I love the full circles, the underdog heroes, and I think above all… I love its… conflict. Mostly because conflict is something that we all know… it feels real and relatable. Within this epic tale of struggles, that spans generations, we get to see God at work inside of the conflict- healing and washing. We get to see God set the stage for Christ’s ultimate redeeming work… And that is what Genesis is all about. Redemption.
As we open the newspaper, turn on the nightly news, as we troll through Facebook, it is my prayer that we see, not the shards of a troubled and broken world, but I pray that we see… Genesis.
The world of Genesis is not some lost and foreign culture with antiquated lessons… but Genesis is still happening in our world today!
When we see racism and gun violence- like what is happening in MO…
When we see that bully depression take yet another victim like Robin Williams…
When we see our Christian brothers and sister in Iraq flee from terrorism…
When we see border war that are catching children in its cross fire…
I pray that we don’t see brokenness… I pray that we look for Genesis.
Look for how God is working/bringing about REDEMPTION.
Joseph got throw into a pit, sold into slavery, imprisoned for wrongful charges of sexual assault. But God was able to redeem that! God was able to take Joseph from the pits and raise him into authority.
Know that when you hear about these terrible things happening in this world… that GOD IS THERE! GOD IS REDEEMING IT ALL!
Because of what happened in Fergusen, MO, there is now a national conversation happening around the lingering reality of racism and violence. Thank God for that.
Because of Robin Williams, there is now an opportunity for our churches, our schools, our society to say that mental illness is not something that is taboo and needs to be locked away… but that it is real and that it hurts and that it needs to be brought into the light.
Because of what is happening in Iraq and what is happening at the border. People are inspired to address injustice. To excersis compassion, to pray…
God is picking up the pieces. Gluing them together into a kingdom mosaic.
As Frederick Buechner once said, when it comes to God, “The worst thing is never the last thing.”
How great is that!?
This week as you go about your business. I want you to keep an eye out for the dark pit like places and situations in your life/ in our world. Look those things straight in the eye and ask God what redemption looks like here. “What are you doing to fix this, God?”
And then do what Joseph did, shout out “this is God’s work!” Hand it over, trust in God, and embrace that fact that God called you to be a person of great compassion and forgiveness.
Let us Pray,
God, we live in a Genesis world. One full of flawed characters dark places and conflict. But we know that you are at work in this world. We know that you’ve got this! Help us to trust in you. To be patient, to be forgiving/ compassionate people as we await your kingdom. Lord, we know that with you the worst things are never the last things.
In Christ’s name, Amen.