November 16, 2014: You Meant Evil but God Meant it for Good!

Posted on : Nov 13th, 2014 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

This Sunday we conclude our journey through the Book of Genesis. We’ve spent 22 weeks journeying through 50 chapters of the first Book of the Bible!

As you may remember, the word “Genesis” means “beginnings.” Genesis begins our story of faith with the words “In the beginning God created…” Both creation stories (there are two different stories) conclude with the creation of human beings. From then on, things get “very real.”

Our story of faith includes faithfulness, deceit; search for God, finding God; wrestling with God, discovering God’s presence, the inability to have children and the surprise of conceiving a child when that seemed impossible; family fights, including selling birthrights, stealing your father’s blessing, giving in marriage, marrying and marrying “the wrong person” – including not the woman you arranged to marry, as well as marrying someone outside the community of faith. We’ve encountered extreme testosterone battles among brothers, ranging from Cain murdering his brother Abel, to Esau planning to kill his brother Jacob for stealing his Blessing, to Joseph’s brothers who dumped him in a pit to die, after which he was sold into slavery. The brothers then lied to their father about what they did.

I think I’ve said this a thousand times, but, I don’t think there is anyone who can read the first book of the Bible and not find someone they can relate to. No matter who we are or what we’ve done in life, we’re all portrayed in this story. And likewise, this first book of the Bible makes it absolutely clear that “being perfect” is not a prerequisite for being included in the family of faith. This family of faith of ours is filled with imperfect people, just like you and me. And yet, each person we have met in this story teaches us something about experiencing God’s love and grace.

And so at the close of this magnificent “beginning” of the story of our faith, we encounter one more example of how God is present with us throughout the entirety of our lives, but especially in the times when we screw up.

The Book of Genesis draws to a close with the death of Jacob (aka: Israel). Jacob is the third of Israel’s patriarchs. The trio includes Abraham & Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel. Our story this week begins with Jacob and Joseph being reunited. It is a joyous, tear filled reunion. Here’s how it is described:

As soon as Joseph saw Jacob, Joseph flung his arms around his father and wept for a long time in his arms. Israel (aka Jacob, Josephs’ father) said, “Now I can die, for I have seen with my own eyes that Joseph, my child, is still alive.” Jacob lived his last years in Egypt under Joseph’s care just like Joseph foretold would happen, when he told his family about his second dream, in which his whole family, the sun, the moon and the stars all bowed down to him. Jacob lived a long life. As he was dying, he made Joseph swear an oath to him that Joseph would not bury him in Egypt, but take him back to Canaan to be buried in the tomb where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah were buried. And so it was.

But shortly after Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers became filled with fear that now Joseph was going to “get even” with them for trying to kill him. In one of the most profoundly insightful revelations, Joseph says to his brothers: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

Some translations read: “You meant to harm me, but God meant it for good.”

Wow! In our life and ministry, no words have ever had more impact and meaning.

The United Church of Christ just commemorated a plaque in honor of the Rev. Antoinette Brown—the first woman ordained as a Christian minister since the times of the New Testament. She was ordained in 1853. That was before women had the right to vote in the United States! In commemorating her ordination they also commemorate the struggle of all women who were, are and still hope to be ordained.

In reading some of these stories – and quotes from the Bible that were used against women, it instantly took me back to our struggle as gay or lesbian Christians for ordination in the Christian Church. In each of those journeys, the words of faith that have kept me going are the words Joseph said to his brothers:

You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

What a hope-filled and hopeful message that is, and what a wonderful way to end the Book of Beginnings! More on Sunday.

Blessings,

Dan

~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Genesis 46-50

Jacob (Joseph’s father) set out with all his belongings, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of their forebears, Rebecca and Isaac. God spoke to Jacob in a vision that night.   God said, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you a great nation. Not only will I go down to Egypt with you, I will also bring you back here after Joseph has closed your eyes.” (meaning after he dies).

So Jacob departed from Beersheba, and the children of Israel (aka: Jacob) took their father, their wives and young ones, and filled the wagons that Pharaoh had provided for their transport. They took with them their livestock and all the possessions they had acquired in Canaan. So Jacob and all his descendants went to Egypt. Daughters and sons, granddaughters and grandsons – all his descendants.

Now Joseph’s father (Jacob; aka: Israel) sent one of his sons, Judah, ahead to meet Joseph in the land of Goshen. When Judah arrived, Joseph hitched the horses to his chariot and rode ahead to meet Israel, his father. As soon as he saw him, Joseph flung his arms around his father and wept for a long time in his arms. Israel (Josephs’ father) said, “Now I can die, for I have seen with my own eyes that Joseph, my child, is still alive.”

When they arrived, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Settle your family in the best parts of the land of Goshen.” Joseph settled the family in Egypt and did as Pharaoh had said: he gave them prime farmland. Joseph also provided Jacob and his family and their household with as much food as they needed.

Thus the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They gained possession of the land and various holdings, and their families grew and prospered. Jacob lived in Egypt for seventeen years, to the age of 147.

As the time of his death drew near, Israel called for Joseph and said, “If I have favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and swear that you will be loyal and faithful to me: do not bury me in Egypt! Once I am at rest, take my body up from Egypt and bury me with my ancestors in Canaan.”

“I will do as you say,” Joseph replied. “Swear to me!” Israel said. Joseph swore to his father, and Israel laid his head on his bed in peace.

Sometime later, Israel said to Joseph, “I am dying, but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your ancestors. Then Jacob called all his children together and blessed them:

Ruben, Simon and Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin.

These are the twelve tribes of Israel.

Then Jacob gave them these instructions: “I am about to die, to be gathered to my ancestors. Bury me with them in the cave that Abraham bought for a burial ground. There Sarah and Abraham are buried, and Rebecca and Isaac, and there I buried Leah. When Jacob had finished these instructions, he breathed his last and was gathered to his ancestors.

Then Joseph threw himself onto his father’s body, weeping over him and kissing him. Joseph gave orders to the doctors to embalm Israel’s body, which, as was their custom, took over forty days to complete. The Egyptians mourned Jacob for seventy days.

When the days of mourning were over, Joseph buried his father in the tomb in Canaan, as he promised. After the burial, Joseph, the brothers and all the others in the caravan returned to Egypt.

Pondering their father’s death, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph is angry with us and repays us for all the wrong we did him?” So they approached Joseph saying: “Before Jacob died he said to us, ‘You must say to Joseph: I beg you, please forgive your brothers for their crime and their sin and all the wrong they did you.’ Now therefore, we ask you to forgive us.” Joseph wept when he heard this. Then the brothers wept also, and fell down before him saying, “We present ourselves before you, as your attendants.”

Joseph replied “Don’t be afraid; is it for me to put myself in God’s place? You planned evil for me, but God planned it for good.

Joseph remained in Egypt with his father’s family, and lived to be 110 years old. He saw his sons grow and have children to the third generation. At last, Joseph said to his family, “I am about to die. God will surely take care of you and lead you out of this land to the land promised on oath to Sarah and Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, and Leah and Rachel and Jacob.

Joseph died at the age of 110. They embalmed him and laid his body in a sarcophagus in Egypt.

[The End of the Book of Genesis (Beginnings)]

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