Joseph. Joseph of “Technicolour Dream-coat” fame.
The ‘leading man’ in one of the best stories in the Bible.
Born to be talked about, and even sung about.
Possibly tall, dark and handsome.
Definitely, the focus of my attention on my hen-night!
Joseph; someone who would gain any man’s trust, quickly and efficiently.
In the chapters before our reading this morning, first Potiphar, then a prison governor, had placed an awful lot of trust in Joseph, and it wasn’t anything to do with a coat, or with dreams.
No, scripture tells us that that Joseph appears to have been a very able administrator…. “the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” (Gen 39:23) Someone must have recognised where his talents came from, for the fact to be noted in scripture!
But when it came to explaining dreams, it’s Joseph who, quick as a flash, shifts the responsibility for what he’s about to say away from himself. It’s not Joseph, it’s God who’s going to do the explaining!
Joseph says it three times, just in the verses that we’ve heard this morning:
v16 God will give Pharaoh the answer….
v25 God has revealed to Pharaoh, what he is about to do;
v28 (again) God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do.
But Joseph isn’t passing the buck out of a sense of self-preservation. God was giving Pharaoh these dreams, and therefore it was imperative that Joseph gave the credit to God for their interpretation, otherwise the significance of their meaning would be lost.
Because, Joseph knew that God was up to something! He recognised that God was trying to make it clear to Pharaoh that he was about to do something really significant. It was quite simple to explain that God was giving Pharaoh privileged information, the inside story on what he was going to do next; that he was going to give Egypt seven years of feast, followed by seven of famine.
Ever the picture of efficiency, in the bit of this story that hasn’t been read this morning, Joseph then outlines a rather natty little plan to get Egypt through the famine; save a fifth of the good harvests of the first seven years, to feed everyone during the next seven years. “Simples!”
Joseph, in this one swift move, gains Pharaoh’s TRUST, his respect and achieves the miraculous – he opens Pharaoh’s mind to God’s control of creation. “Since GOD has made all this known to YOU …” says Pharaoh to Joseph.
This is a Pharoah we’re talking about, a God among God’s! Here was a Pharaoh not only acknowledging the control of another God over the created world, but also acknowledging that though it was Pharaoh who God had given the dream to, he, Pharaoh, was powerless! Without God working through someone other than Pharaoh, someone even lower than his own servants, Pharaoh had no way of knowing what was going to happen. No wonder he was going to lay all his TRUST in the man who had just revealed all this too him!
Joseph was right, God really was up to something. Up to something big. It was much, much bigger than a 14 year cycle of feast and famine. It was bigger even, than working through the dreams of a Pharaoh to save a few lives!
The book of Genesis is all about conception, about God’s plan for the world he created, and specifically his plan for the people and tribes of Israel – it’s all about God making stuff happen. For the tribes to recognise their freedom under God, to enter with him into their promised land, they must first increase in number in Egypt. God’s people were going to grow and be protected among the wealth of Egypt, created by the administration of one of their own, Joseph.
We don’t know whether Joseph recognised the big picture. We don’t even know if Joseph at this stage foresaw a time where being in a position of power in Egypt would enable him to protect his family and be reconciled with them.
But what we know he did recognise, was not just God’s control of his life, but God’s use of him to impact on the lives of others. Joseph TRUSTED that God was in all things. The fact that he was good at his job, the slander and lies that put him in prison, the dreams that seemed to surround his life, and the lives of those around him. God had his hand in all things, and Joseph TRUSTED God enough to recognise that and proclaim it.
It’s a good story isn’t it. The Joseph story has got it all: attempted murder, family intrigue and relationship breakdown, sexual harassment, extremes of wealth and poverty, prisons and palaces. At the centre of the story is Joseph, but every time it focus’s on him, he turns the story back to focus on someone else; God. He works hard using the skills the Lord has given him, but when he succeeds, he’s pointing everyone back to God, not himself.
For the servant who brought Joseph to Pharoah’s notice, and for Pharaoh, their dreams were important things. When someone who was known as TRUST-WORTHY proclaimed their meaning and by doing revealed the future, that got their attention and TRUST still further. So when that person, Joseph, then said this was all down to something else, to God, that too could be TRUSTED. God was acknowledged and trusted by Pharaoh because of the trust and respect placed in the one who proclaimed him.
2 Timothy 2:15 says this:
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
The word of truth is that we should not accept for ourselves the credit for our skills, but point rather at the living Word, our creator God and Jesus Christ, as their source. After all the Psalms tell us that “He who trusts in himself is a fool!”
To be the TRUST-WORTHY people we hopefully are, we must consistently point to the greater truth of how we come to be that way.
I have many Facebook friends, but one of them is a bit special, a bit different, and has a tendency to crop up in my sermons rather a lot! We’ve only met him once, but because of the many stories we’ve heard about him, and the people who TRUST him, he has our respect. And every time we read a story about him, or from him, God always gets the glory. He’s Canon Andrew White, the vicar of Baghdad.
Relatively recently he had a team from God TV with him filming in Baghdad, and though I haven’t seen the programmes, Canon Andrew’s commentary on the responses of the film-crew to their visit was telling. The crew said:
“The most amazing thing was the people; people who had seen such persecution and yet we could see the Lord in their eyes and the Glory of G-d in this place.”
We are safe and comfortable here in the West, in our leafy semi-rural suburbia. But can people see the Lord in our eyes and our lives, the glory of God in Yateley and it’s people? Perhaps we’ve been able to bring God’s glory to visit in the testimony of those we’ve invited to Yateley, but it’s us that really count. We are the one’s who people meet on the street, in the shops and round the take-aways and pubs, the ones whom people locally need to recognise as TRUST-WORTHY and who must point to God as the source of our skills and attitudes.
One of the very noticeable things about Joseph, and also about Canon Andrew, is that they proclaim their TRUST in God BEFORE they know or see revealed how it is that God is working through them, or others to reveal himself. Even before he’s heard the dreams, Joseph tells Pharaoh (v16) that God will reveal what they mean. I’ve read about Canon Andrew doing similar things, particularly with the American military personnel that he has worked closely with. I’m sure it is only through TRUSTING God repeatedly, and knowing exactly how God tends to use us, that we can make that TRUST apparent in advance, in such a way that people really sit up and take notice (like Pharaoh did!)
We’re more fortunate than Joseph. Through scripture, and the revelation of God’s work in millions of individuals before and around us, we can see much more of the big picture than Joseph could. We know of God’s faithfulness to the family that became the tribes and nation of Israel. We know of his promises to them that God honoured despite their failure to TRUST him. We know and love the Lord Jesus Christ who brought about the relationship we now enjoy with God. Jesus did that because he understood his own place as God’s Son, and because of his great TRUST in the purpose and will of God, he revealed the God’s love to us through the cross and resurrection.
I had the privilege on Thursday of meeting, praying and worshipping with Christian members of our Armed Forces, at their main Day of Prayer event in London. The theme of the day was Hope, the Christian “hope” that one of them described as being the environment in which love thrives best, like fish do in water. Theirs was a hope that spoke not of wishful thinking, but was based on scripture, and even more importantly their experiences of working to gain people’s TRUST in some of the grottiest places in the world, knowing that the risen Christ was along-side them in what they were doing. Theirs were lives that noticeably gave God the glory.
My reflection on their lives, was that because of who they are, what they do and how they do it, I TRUST them and I TRUST their testimony of God at work in their lives. Just like the padre who said love swims round in hope, so I believe I saw hope, swimming around in the TRUST that they place daily in God, through the love of Christ at work in the world and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Are the people of St Peter’s to be trusted? Are we living lives that point to God through the way we use the skills he has given us? When people tell stories about us, or we talk about each other (and we know we do), are they stories that build TRUST, not just in us, but in God? Are we trusting God to use us, seeking to recognise what God is about to do, what he is saying to us at this moment?
I know these are questions that face us as a church, at a time of anticipating new beginnings. But in the story we heard today, God was at work on a huge scale, through one key character, Joseph. God was recognised through the TRUST that Joseph placed in God and witnessed to, by what he said and how he did things. That responsibility is now yours, and mine. And it’s not a story in a book, or on stage, but it’s real. Do we TRUST God enough to proclaim his name?
The opening words of Psalm 25 say this:
“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul, in you I trust, O my God.”
They echo the words of Psalm 23 which are a statement of trust;
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
God is at work in each of us. We each have the ability to witness to the TRUST that we have and place in God, and the impact that has had on our lives. We need to allow God to shine his light through us, so that others can see and hear that we TRUST God, so that they can do so too.