Genesis 37:1-28 and 50:15-21 | Mission First: Called Series | Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost | September 25, 2016 | Dennis Sanders, preaching
It’s not Christmas yet, but I want to talk about that holiday classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” We all know about this 1946 movie directed the famous Frank Capra. What I want to talk about this morning is the dreams of George Bailey. George is the main character of the movie and it is probably the role that Jimmy Stewart is best known for. The thing that I always noticed is that George had big dreams. Even at a young age, he dreamed of seeing the world and was ready to do so. The sad thing is that every time he tried to live out those dreams he was stopped by some tragedy. As a young man he was ready to leave Bedford Falls, but his father took ill and died and he had to run the Building and Loan with his uncle. Then he gets married and George had planned a big trip for his new bride, Mary. But this took place in the Great Depression and there was the spectre of a bank run, so Geroge had to save the bank and give the panicked crowd that gathered assured that their money was safe. World War II happened and his friends and his brother fought in various theatres of war. But George didn’t follow them- he couldn’t because he lost hearing in his left ear as a boy saving his younger brother who had fallen into an icy lake. It keeps going on and on. Every time he tries to escape to live out his dream, life keeps him tied to this town. We all know that things come to a head on Christmas Eve when the Building and Loan is threatened by its competitor run by Old Man Potter. And we know Geroge tries to kill himself, but Clarence the angel saves him and allows him to see the world as it would exist if he had never been born. It’s then that he realizes the good that came even when life tossed him lemons. He learns that his dreams didn’t match up to the things he did to save the town and his friends around him. In some way he was part of a bigger dream, a dream that allowed Bedford Falls to be a humane place.
Last week, we met Abram who later became Abraham. God told Abe that he would become the father of a great nation. Even though he and his wife Sarah were up in years, they did have a son named Issac. Issac has two children, twins- Jacob and Esau. Jacob marries and has 11 and later 12 children. One of those children is named Joseph. He is at this point the youngest child and was considered the favorite by Jacob. In fact Joseph gives him a coat that is very ornamental, a sign that he wouldn’t be doing manual work like his brothers, but would be managing things, in essence he would be their boss. In fact, it was worse than that. Jacob was grooming him, the youngest, to run the family business. This was something that was supposed to be the purview of the oldest son, but Jacob goes against custom to give Joseph the job. Being an only child, I don’t understand the dynamics of siblings, but I do understand how it would feel when you get passed over for a job by someone who is younger.
It’s important to note that Joseph was aware that he was the favorite of Jacob. Which made him kind of a jerk to his brothers. Joseph had a God-given talent; he could interpret dreams. He dreamed that they were binding stalks of grain and the stalks of his brothers bowed down to Joseph’s stalk. Like I said grade A jerk.
Of course his brothers become angry. He’s rubbing it in that he is the Special One and they are incensed.
One day, while they are working in the fields, Joseph comes up at the behest of his father. The brothers decide to hatch the most awesome scheme: to kill him. But Ruben, the eldest tells the other it makes no sense kill Joseph. He tells them to put Joseph in a cistern for the time being and do something later.
Ruben looks like the hero here: the one that was the sensible one, who had a soft spot for Joseph. But Ruben had his reasons to reasons to treat Joseph with kindness. You see in chapter 35, we learn that Ruben had an affair with one of Jacob’s wives and such an act was considered to challenge the authority of the father. Maybe that’s why Ruben wasn’t the favored son. Perhaps Ruben thought that saving Joseph’s life would please his father.
Another brother, Judah, also spares Joseph’s life by telling the others that it’s a good idea to send Joseph into slavery. Selling him would make more than what they got as herders and it meant getting rid of the”dreamer.” So Joseph is sent into slavery and they lie to their father that his favorite son was killed by an animal.
Between chapters 37 and 50, we follow Joseph’s journey into Egypt. He gets to work in the house of a government official, but is falsely accused of trying to rape the officials wife, who wanted to sleep with him. He ends up in prison,but it released when people learn he can interpret dreams. He is called by the Pharoah to interpret his dream and he is able to discern a famine is coming and the nation must prepare. Egypt is saved from a devastating famine and in turn, helps other nations that are affected by a drought. Joseph is made what would basically be the Prime Minister of the nation . Joseph’s brothers return to the scene again as they travel to Egypt to get food during the famine. In the end, Joseph is reunited with his brothers and his father.
But in chapter 50, we learn that Jacob dies. After his burial, Joseph’s brothers are worried. Now that Jacob is dead, will Joseph make life hard for them? They come to Joseph and tell him that before Jacob died he told them that Joseph must forgive his brothers. His brothers really hadn’t changed- they were movtivated by self-interest. Jacob never said this. Instead of asking for forgiveness for how they treated Joseph, they instead invoke their dead father telling Joseph that he had to forgive his brothers because it was what dear old dad wanted.
They get down on their knees and bow before Joseph in an act of false contrition. In many ways, this was the dream he had all those years before; Joseph’s brothers bowing before Joseph.
You might have expected Joseph to respond in a haughty tone, happy that his brothers were getting what they deserved. But instead, Joseph starts to weep. He then says the following: “Don’t be afraid. Am I God? You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people, just as he’s doing today. Now, don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your children.”
Joseph understands that throughout all the years of pain and separation God was at work. Joseph realized that God was present in the hard times in his life and that evil didn’t have the last word.
This is a tough verse to talk about for some. It could be used to make light of people’s sufferings and I would never advise saying this to someone when they are in the thick of grief. Also, none of this is saying that God planned all of this. The brothers had a choice to sin or not sin, they were not forced by God to sell Joseph into slavery. Joseph saying means that when we face suffering God is present and can use those hard times in our lives for some greater purpose. The brothers put Joseph into slavery, which was not God’s plan or will. But God was able to use this to help save Egypt and the very brothers who sold Joseph into slavery. Joseph was able to see that he was part of a larger story, God’s story.
None of this is to offer and excuse for suffering, but it is a way saying that God isn’t absent in our sufferings.
In Joseph’s wildest dreams he didn’t imagine that he would be running a nation. He had plans to run the family business. He didn’t realise that his dream was also God’s dream.
As part of our ongoing series about being called, we learn today that we are being called to dream, but not to simply dream our own dreams but enter into God’s dream, to join a dream that is much larger than we could ever imagine. I think that is what Joseph is getting at in his response to his brothers. When he was a teenager, his saw his dreams as benefiting him. Now, he sees he was part of God’s dream and hope for all of creation.
George Bailey was initially upset that his dreams never came true. He resented that Bedford Falls and the Building and Loan kept him from living the life he wanted to live. It wasn’t until he saw that his life was a part of a bigger dream that he realized that life really was worth living. He may have never seen Tahiti, but because of the good he had done he had become as his brother Harry tells the town at the end of the movie “the richest man in town.”
Joseph had his own dreams and he expected to live out those dreams. But Joseph learns that he is part of a larger dream, one that saves lives. He and all of us learn that God is present, amid all the scheming, all the lying, all the anger, always working what was meant for evil and bring out the good. Thanks be to God. Amen.