We're going to start with some Bible Study. In invite you to follow along in the pew Bibles.
We‟re going to start in the Book of Genesis, chapter 42. The story about Joseph is long and
complicated. As we work our way through its ending, keep in mind this question: Where is
God in this story? Where or when does God show up?
So far, we know that Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, and that – out of jealousy – his
ten older brothers sold him to traders on their way to Egypt. They bring home his beautiful,
now blood-stained, coat and tell their father that a wild animal killed him. Once he lands in
Egypt, Joseph fortunes vary wildly (somewhat like last week‟s stock market), but in the end
he becomes Pharaoh‟s right-hand man, the “chief of staff,” if you will, to the king of Egypt.
In the three chapters leading up to Genesis 45, the Scripture reading we‟re examining
today, a famine has hit the land of Canaan, where Joseph‟s father, brothers and their
families live. Because of Joseph‟s remarkable foresight and planning, Egypt has an extra
supply of grain to sell. “Thus,” it says in 42:5, “the sons of Israel were among the other
people who came to buy grain, for the famine had reached the land of Canaan.”
Have you found God in this story yet?
But Joseph has inherited his father‟s skill at deception and trickery and, even though he
recognizes his brothers when they show up at Pharaoh‟s doorstep, he decides to toy with
them awhile, as payback for their behavior towards him many years before.
42:7 – When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like
strangers and spoke harshly to them….
Joseph accuses his brothers of being spies. He puts them in prison, and demands that his
younger brother Benjamin, who had remained in Canaan, be brought to him. The oldest
brother, Reuben tries to exonerate himself from any responsibility for the mess they‟re in:
42:22 - Then Reuben answered them, „Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you
would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.‟
Mind you, Reuben is stretching the truth here. He told his brothers not to kill Joseph, but
he didn‟t exactly tell them not to “wrong” him. Instead he proposed selling him!
Their families are threatened with starvation, they are in prison, and they‟re bickering about
who said what when. Does this sound familiar? I told you so. Don’t look at me. I told you
this would happen. But did you listen? Nooo…you never listen.
So the brothers kvetch at each other in prison, and it‟s Joseph who finally comes up with the solution. He keeps one of the brothers, Simeon, and sends the rest home with the grain and with the expectation that they will bring Benjamin back to him. What about now? Have you seen God show up yet?
When they get home, Jacob refuses to allow them to take Benjamin. Ignoring the fact that
they‟ve brought home the precious grain for which he sent them, he focuses on how hard
life is for him. “You have deprived me of my children - first Joseph, then Simeon, and now
you want to take away Benjamin?”
As the famine gets worse, Jacob‟s family continues along its downward slide into disarray
and division. 43:6-7: “Why did you tell him about Benjamin?” “How were we supposed to
Jacob finally relents. He send his sons back down to Egypt with double the money that is
needed, many gifts and an extra dose of guilt. 43:14b: “If I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”
Upon their return, Joseph receives His brothers graciously and returns Simeon to them. He
hides his tears upon seeing his younger brother, Benjamin. But he‟s not yet ready – or
willing – to reveal his true identity and initiate a family reunion.
So he sends them back to Canaan, with the money they brought and with his own silver
cup, placed in Benjamin‟s sack. Once they are on the road, he sends his steward out after
them to accuse them of stealing the silver cup. Now we know why he made it so far in
Pharaoh‟s court. His political skullduggery is even better than his father's!
Has God made an appearance in this story?
They return in remorse and guilt, and, as Bill read for us, Joseph finally admits to them who
he is. (45:1-4)
What‟s the result of Joseph‟s confession? The family had been in disarray -- angry, jealous,
bickering. Now there is unity, a unity so powerful that it even affects even the Egyptians in
a positive way. 45:18-20 – Pharaoh extends hospitality to Joseph‟s family. “The best of all
the land of Egypt is yours.”
One more time, Joseph sends his brothers back to Canaan. This time with a word of
45:24 “Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving [Joseph] said [to
his brothers] “Do not quarrel along the way.” My favorite line! “No fighting, children!”
In the end, Jacob‟s entire family moves to Egypt. They settle in Goshen, where they can
continue as herders of livestock.
What we see from Genesis 45 on is a complete reversal of family disunity we saw in earlier
chapters. Gen 45 is the hinge. Even in the vocabulary it uses, the chapter lets us know
that Jacob‟s family is back together. In the first 19 verses of chapter 45, “son” appears 4
times, “father” 6 times, and “brother” 5 times.
If the first half of the 45th
chapter is the hinge around which family disunity (dysfunction)
becomes unity and wholeness, verses. 5 – 8 comprise the hinge of those 15 verses. Let‟s look at them more closely. 45:1-4. Joseph identifies himself to his brothers. 45:5 –
8. In verse 5 he explains that “God sent me before you to preserve life. And again in
verse 8: “so it was not you who sent me here, but God….”
Finally, God shows up! Here in Joseph‟s interpretation of his life story, God makes an
What Joseph says about God is not actually all that surprising or unusual. We have
suspected all along that what human beings mean for evil, God means for good. It is the
timing of his interpretation that is more important: Joseph‟s interpretation brings God into
the picture, at the same time as his own role in the story switches from powerful advisor to
the Egyptians…to brother and son.
Which do you think came first? That Joseph realized what God had done in his life, and
therefore was able to call them closer to him and reveal himself to his brothers? Or that he
called them closer, revealed himself to them…and then understood how God had worked
Both are true! One way of reading this story is to see that Joseph acknowledges God‟s
presence in his life history and thus is able to act, creating unity where once there was
disunity. But another way of reading this story is to see that Joseph acts to create unity
where once there was disunity, and as a result is able to recognize God‟s presence in his life
In the end it doesn‟t really matter, because the result is the same: The power of God‟s
promise breaks back into the story, which then pushes the narrative in a new direction
toward family unity. This story shows us what is true in life everywhere: “Theological
insight and proper human action work in tandem; revelation and ethical transformation are
It‟s easy for us (Westerners) to see how belief leads to action. For us that is a natural way
of thinking about the relationship between theology and practice: you believe something,
and then you act on it. We believe that God is merciful and forgiving, so we act (or we try
to act) mercifully and with forgiveness. But action can also lead to belief. There are times
when we act mercifully and with forgiveness, and even without intending for it, we gain a
greater understanding of who God is.
I know this seems backwards. Why would you act on something you didn‟t already believe?
I imagine that some of you might be thinking that this is some kind of new-fangled
philosophy that is trendy at the moment but will soon, mercifully, disappear like leisure suits
and bee-hive hairdos. And it‟s true: there‟s a lot of talk these days about the reciprocal
relationship between thought and action. But actually this line of thought has been around
a long time, hundreds of years, even. And it‟s been especially prominent in Methodist
When John Wesley was just starting out as a newly-ordained priest in the Church of
England, in the 1730s, he sailed to the colony of Georgia to minister to the small British
community in Savannah, to preach to the British prisoners who had been sentenced to do
time there, and to convert the Indians. He was a miserable failure on all fronts and left –
quickly – after only two years. He returned to England in a state of deep spiritual dejection, convinced of his own sinfulness
and ashamed of his lack of success. He called himself “altogether corrupt and abominable.”
At one point, he wanted to stop preaching. But his Moravian friend, Peter Bohler, gave him
this advice: “Preach faith until you have it, then because you have it, you will preach it.” In
other words, “just do it.”
Wesley took Bohler‟s advice. And shortly afterwards, he experienced the gift of God‟s spirit
in such a powerful way that it energized and directed his very successful ministry for
decades to come.
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was
reading Luther‟s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he
was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my
heart strangely warmed. I felt that I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an
assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even MINE, and saved ME from
the law of sin and death.”
Did you catch the order of events? First Wesley took action – he went to a Methodist
society worship service, even though he didn‟t really want to. Then he experienced God‟s
Holy Spirit and was able to understand personally what “salvation by faith alone” was really
all about. That moment on Aldersgate Street was the watershed of Wesley‟s whole career.
It gave him the direction and the spiritual energy he needed for his remarkable, lifelong and
history-changing ministry. But he didn‟t go to that meeting knowing that, he just did it.
Action can lead to God who leads to belief. Belief can lead to God who leads us to action.
God is the hinge around which our beliefs and our actions revolve.
One of the most common questions I‟m asked as a pastor is about discerning God‟s will.
“How do I know if it‟s really God talking to me?” people will ask. “How can I tell the
difference between God‟s will and my own, or my mother‟s or father‟s, or my spouse‟s or
partner‟s?” “How can I know for sure what I‟m supposed to do in this situation?”
We allow ourselves to be paralyzed into inaction because we don‟t have the mental map laid
out before us. We hesitate to take the first step because we don‟t know yet what the finish
line looks like. We want to wait for the theory to be clear before we put anything into
practice. It‟s called “the paralysis of analysis.”
Because, of course, you can’t know for sure. You can‟t know how things are going to end
up, or whether you‟ve made the right decision, or whether the path on which you‟ve
stepped is your choice or God‟s choice or your mother‟s choice. That‟s why they call it
faith! Sometimes you just have to give it a try, and see where you go. The assurance
we‟re given is not that the result will be as we want, but that we have what we need for the
Author Corrie Ten Boom wrote of an incident in Munich after World War II. On a lecture tour
during which she had preached about the need for forgiveness, she was confronted by a
"beaming and bowing" former S.S. jailer of Ravensbruck prison, where her sister perished
and she herself barely survived. After the man stretched out his hand, she tried to raise her
own hand and could not. “I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent
prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness. As I took his hand the most
incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current
seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that
almost overwhelmed me.”
“And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that
the world's healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives,
along with the command, the love itself.”
In order for Corrie Ten Boom to understand and believe the truth about God‟ forgiveness,
she first had to try acting as if it were true.
In order for Joseph to see how God had used his brother‟s evil for a greater good, he first
had to act as if it were true, by welcoming them into his home and his heart.
Are you stuck at a crossroads? Are you wondering if the choice you‟re contemplating is
your own, or God‟s, or your mother‟s? Are you thinking that, if only you knew how it was
all going to work out, you‟d be willing to take the plunge? Are you wondering if God is ever
going to show up in your life‟s story? Maybe the time for waiting is over. Maybe it‟s time to
take the first step. No matter where you path leads, I can guarantee you this: God will
meet you along the way.
M. Soards, T. Dozeman, K. McCabe, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A,
After Pentecost 1, Abingdon Press, 1992.
Story about Corrie Ten Boom from:
David Douglas, “Coventry Cathedral's Message of Forgiveness,” Review for the Religious,
November-December l999, volume 58, number 6, 638-648.
Maldwyn L. Edwards, “John Wesley,” Edited into digital media in July 1994-5 by Clyde C.
Price, Jr. Published jointly by World Methodist Council and the Association of Methodist
Historical Societies, Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, USA.