Sunday, 21 September 2014

Digging deep for faith

Genesis 39
Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife
​ Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. So Joseph found favour in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.
Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. 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, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to the members of her household and said to them, “See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.” Then she kept 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 insult me; but as soon as I raised my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.”
When his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, saying, “This is the way your servant treated me,” he became enraged. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favour in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.

This morning, in baptism, we have witnessed promises being made.
And we, too have made promises.
Promises have been a feature of our lives recently.
In our National life.
And in our church life.
It's been all about promise.
As you know, we are moving through some of the big Old Testament stories in our worship.
Stories that some of you might remember from Sunday School days, stories that you might have seen in animated films - like today's story of Joseph.
We've got the  Dreamworks animation - Kimg of Dreams or  Andrew Lloyd Webber's Musical, Joseph and his amazing technicolour dream coat 
We've been exploring these old stories to find signs of God's promise or covenant.
And,so far, that's been pretty straightforward.
In the story of Noah and the flood, we discovered the promise of God never to destroy the earth again.
And in the Abraham story last week, we saw how God called Abraham to leave all that he knew and travel to a new land where he would be blessed and where he would become a blessing for all the world.
So fairly big, specific covenants that God made with people.
How does the story of Joseph, and especially the part of the story we read today fit into that theme of Covenant?
It's  a humdinger of a story.
A tale of trust and lust and enticement and exploitation with a lot of integrity and revenge thrown in.
It has echoes of a tale as old as time itself. 
Of power being abused for a moments pleasure. 
Of reputation being besmirched to cover tracks of deceit and lies.
This story reminded me of a book I read this summer - 12 years a slave by Solomon Northup - the memoirs of a free man taken as a slave during the American civil war era. 
What kept him going through all the brutality and despair of enforced slavery was the knowledge that, in another world, he had a wife and children.
His mission was to return to them.
He knew of a different life and the memory of that sustained him and enabled him to keep on going and to keep on hoping that one day he would find a way back to that life.
Joseph, the hero of today's story, also knew  a past in which he was not a slave but lived in a privileged position. 
Was it that memory that gave him the confidence to move beyond the impossible situation into which he was thrust?
Were the tenets of God, on which he was raised, so well ingrained in him that instinct kicked in, preserving him from succumbing to the temptation laid before him?
This is the child, now grown, who shared his dreams of greatness much to the chagrin of his brothers.
Remember Joseph told his family that, in his dreams, all his brothers bowed down to him?
This is the child, now a man, favoured and protected by his father.
Remember his father gave him a coat of many colours?
This is the young man, now matured, who was sold by his jealous brothers into slavery.
As far as his family knew, Joseph was already dead - after selling him to passing traders, Joseph's brothers took his blood soaked coat of many colours back to his heart broken father.
Injustice, suspicion and envy were familiar refrains in Joseph's life.
But so too was the knowledge of a God who honoured promises.
Joseph's great grandfather was Abraham, whose story we considered last week.
Abraham who packed up everything at the age of 75 and travelled because God asked him to.
Abraham who, although childless then, believed God's promise that he would be blessed as the father of a great nation.
And now, here is Joseph, his great grandson, believing in that same providence of God.

As well as discovering a God who honours promises through these old, old stories, it's also clear that being blessed by God, indeed being faithful to God, does not mean that life will go smoothly. Stuff happens, whether we honour God in our lives or not.
And things don't always turn out as well for us as they do for our Old Testament heroes.
As the story goes on, Joseph's sojourn in prison after rejecting the advances of Potiphar's wife, placed him, eventually in a position of privilege and trust. 
Once again, his skills of dream interpretation come into play, this time a skill received more favourably than it was when he practiced on his brothers.
After interpreting the dream of one of his jailers, he went on to interpret the dreams of the king and helped the nation plan for an anticipated famine.
So Joseph didn't quite end up at the bottom of the heap as may have been expected in the light of the allegations made against him.
But we know that that is not always the way things work out.
Some injustices are never put right.
Joseph couldn't have known how things would pan out for him.
But he was assured of a God who honoured promises.
And that kept him going through all the darkness he endured - in the scorn of his brothers, in his time in slavery and in his imprisonment.
A God who honours promises.

This is a text that speaks to us today, people of faith in this age.
Blessed people.
Blessed to live in this land where we have the freedom to vote on our future government.
Blessed with the resources to make a difference to the lives of others for good whatever the outcome.
So whether this weeks Referendum result was the one that you wanted - or whether it wasn't,
Let's recognise ourselves as the blessed people we are.
And let us move forward in grace.
Moving forward requires trust and integrity, leadership and responsibility.
It requires confidence in our ability and in the goodness of God, a confidence that we can move forward, facing whatever trials may come.
None of us is assured of an easy passage in life but we are assured of the presence of God with us.
How we weather difficulties or disappointment may force us to dredge deep,to resurrect the faith we once knew. 
Moving forward also involves us adapting the tenets of faith to an ever changing landscape, taking ancient wisdom and allowing it to speak into new situations, to see potential and to grasp opportunities, refusing to be side tracked by deceit and lies but maintaining confidence in a God who has seen it all before and goes on loving people into fullness of life.
Moving forward involves us believing in the promises of God and living into those promises for good that we make in our lives. 
Not just for our sake but for the sake of our children and all who come after.
May this ancient story of Faith today, inspire us anew, to seek justice, to practice integrity and to embrace our neighbours as we move forward together, united in our love of God, our country and one another.
Thanks be to God.
(Music - Joseph - Close every door)

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