September 8, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Genesis 41
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning we are doing something slightly different with the lesson from Genesis – because of the sheer mass of it, I asked Earle to only read the first 16 verses of the 41st chapter of Genesis. This was recommended by a commentary that I was reading after the bulletin was made, so I apologize if the difference in the reading and the bulletin confused anyone.
As we work our way through the text, I would invite you to follow the text along in your pew Bible or your own personal bible. You can find the 41st chapter of Genesis on page 34 and 35. Most of the text we will cover can also be found in your bulletin.
I returned home from the Diocese of Mid America’s Synod late last night, but also, if you know my recent travel stories – I was amazingly on time.
For some context about the Anglican Province of America, which is our denomination, for those of you who don’t know: The Diocese of the Eastern United States is both the largest and most powerful diocese in our denomination. It is filled with good people and wise priests who love Jesus and I count myself as fortunate to call them many of them friends. The Diocese of Mid-America is the second biggest, but only a fraction of the size of the east, it is about twice the size of our own diocese, which means we are both very small dioceses that are spread out over a wildly large geographical area.
It was a blessing to spend time with my brother priests who face many of the same challenges that we face here in Prescott.
For us, especially as orthodox, Bible believing, liturgically traditional Anglicans it is easy to grow discouraged.
Bishop Giffin asked me to preach at one of the services and then he preached at the other. Both of our sermons ended up having to do with persevering, regardless of the cost to ourselves, and trusting fully in the sovereignty of God.
We were also reminded in one of the readings that even in the worst of times, God has always preserved a remnant. Now, please don’t hear this as “The APA-DOW is God’s remnant.” That is not what I am saying. There are faithful Christians all over the country in many denominations striving to do the will of God. But as my generation, and the one immediately following it mature, we are seeing more and more men and women identifying themselves as “nones,” that is they check the box in surveys that say they identify with no religious tradition.
Christianity in America is on the decline.
Now – I actually think this is a good thing – because it is forcing those of us who are Christian to take our faith seriously. It is calling us to start living in a radically different way than those who have decided to live in the world. None the less it can seem discouraging, if we only look at the numbers.
In light of the struggles that lie before us, the Bishop’s used a beautiful analogy in his sermon that I am going to steal and I want to challenge you to remember as we work through the text of Genesis 41, and as we think about our lives in a post-Christian time.
I assume everyone has seen a beautiful hand made rug.
On the front of the rug there are intricate and ornate designs, but then you flip it over the design is often indecipherable. The strings run everywhere, and it certainly doesn’t seem all that pretty. This is often how life seems to us – messy and uncomfortable, with weird paths running all over the place.
We can’t see what God is doing, and it isn’t until years later when we flip over the rug and see the amazing design of the weaver, plotting the different pieces together that we can see that he created something wonderful in us that glorifies him.
Today as we examine Genesis 41, we see how God works – we see that “The sovereign God exults his suffering servant to kingship to save the world.” If we view Joseph in light of this – we realize in a very real way that he both fulfills God’s promise to Abraham that “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” but also that Joseph acts as a type for us to see a greater suffering servant who provides salvation to all who will believe in Him.
Before we dive into the text we need to know what happened to Joseph in the previous 13 years of his life. We need to see how Joseph suffered because while he occasionally excelled because of his work ethic, his is not an easy story of leisure, rather a story of pain and frustration.
When we left Joseph last week he had been sold into slavery and bought by a man named Potiphar who was an office in the royal court and the Pharaoh’s captain of the guard. At first all is okay. Potiphar sees that the Lord is with Joseph in all that he does. The text doesn’t explain what this means but apparently Potiphar is impressed enough that soon Joseph is put over everything in Potiphar’s house.
But one day – because Joseph was “handsome in form and appearance,” Potiphar’s wife decides that she would like to be with him, in a biblical sense, and flat out asks Joseph to sleep with her. Wisely, Joseph says no. Soon her desire for him became too much, and mad that he slighted her, she gets Joseph alone, grabs his clothes so that he has to run out of the house without his “garment.” (yikes)
Friends, we will be faced with moral choices day in and day out, we will have temptations befall us. While what happens next to Joseph tells us that we can do the right thing and still lose out – it is a good thing to hold our ground and not be tempted into sin. We learn from Christ that it is better to suffer for righteousness sake and truly live than to live in licentiousness and thoroughly die.
Now – Joseph flees Potiphar’s wife, but the woman grabbed his garments and they came off in her hand. She then did something truly wicked, she told her husband that he had come on to her, and left his clothing behind. So, Potiphar threw Joseph in jail.
While he was in jail, he again, worked his way up the ladder, until he had a fair number of responsibilities. During this time he met two men – the chief baker and the chief cup bearer for the king. Both of them had offended Pharaoh and been tossed into jail. While they were there they both had dreams. The dreams were similar, and Joseph interpreted them for his fellow prisoners, one dream promised that the cup bearer would be released, and the other promised that the baker would die.
Three days later these things came to pass – the cup bearer promised he would not forget Joseph when he was restored to Pharaoh’s side. But like so many well intentioned things – he did, or perhaps he was afraid to lose his restored position by mentioning this young Hebrew man.
This is where we picked up this morning. Two years after the cup bearer had been released.
Think about that for a moment – Joseph had to languish in prison for two more years on top of the years he had already spent!
The cup bearer hears the king desperate to understand his dream asking all the wisemen of his kingdom what this dream could possibly mean. Each of them were baffled.
Now – we can take this as a warning – the wisemen of the kingdom of pharaoh are the ways of the world. We can trust in the ways of the world, but often they will lead us to a dead end. It is better to understand and trust in the ways of God, it is there that we find the answers that we are looking for, it is there that we find life.
The cupbearer remembers his offenses, he remembers the man who promised him freedom and gave him hope in the darkness of his life. He tells this to Pharaoh, how this young Hebrew man had interpreted his dream, and his interpretation was correct. So Pharaoh sends for this young man.
It is interesting when we read of Joseph coming to Pharaoh, it speaks of Pharaoh bringing Joseph out of the pit. Remember how he had been cast into a pit by his brothers? We see the sovereignty of God here. Just as God had allowed Joseph’s brothers in their wickedness to cast Joseph into the pit, so God uses Pharaoh to bring him out of another the pit.
Now – once Joseph comes before Pharaoh, he displays a certain element of honesty and boldness. When asked if he can interpret the dream he doesn’t say “I’ll give it my best shot.” No, he says “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Do we have the boldness of Joseph to say “I won’t trust in myself, but I will trust in God?”
Here we can also learn an important lesson. Joseph’s faith didn’t grow during his seasons of blessing. He didn’t become wildly wealthy and in that learn to praise the Lord. No, he went through the pits.
He is literally described as being in a pit more than once in his life.
It is when we go through that valley of darkness and death, when we are in the pits of life that we learn to see and trust that the Lord as the good shepherd.
These things are hard to hear if you are in the valley – if you are longing for the touch of the good shepherd, if you are longing for the sweet relief that He brings, we often just want the frustration to be over with.
But do not grow weary when you find yourselves in that valley my friends – trust that the shepherd is with you, trust that the great tapestry maker is doing something beautiful with your life, trust that He will work out the evil that you’ve been through for your good and His glory.
When we start to look at our lives as living sacrifices that are meant to be burned for the glory of the Lord, we realize that these mysterious times take on deeper and new meaning. We can see this with Joseph. Remember how arrogant he was as a young man? But now, he is bold, but he doesn’t point to himself, he doesn’t say “certainly Pharaoh, I’m going to interpret your dream, and then, guess what buddy? I’m pretty sure you’ll give me a ton of power.” No – instead he says “it is not me, God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”
As we grow in Christ – we are called to give God all the glory and all the credit with a sincere heart for all our success.
The Pharaoh then repeats his dream a second time. His dream has two parts – first a series of fourteen total cows – the first seven are healthy and good cows – the second set of seven are lean, and they swallow up the healthy cows but do not gain the health. In the second half of the dream there are seven ears of corn on one stalk, good and healthy, then seven unhealthy ears appear and swallow up the healthy ears.
It would seem that without even missing a beat Joseph knows what’s going on and he tells Pharaoh that God has revealed what he is about to do to the king.
Here it is important to note – scripture makes continually clear that God is sovereign over all the kings of the world. As Christians in America we hold a high view of the office of the president. We often recognize that he is put there by God. I have made note of this a couple of times – regardless of what we think of the president, we see that he is a servant of God and we pray for him as such. Whether the president recognizes his servitude or not – he will answer for how he uses his power.
But – the same is true for every world leader. The Prime Minister of England, the Chancellor of Germany, the leaders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and even the Chairman of the Communist Party in China. All of these men and women are in one sense placed there by God, and will be held accountable for how they use their power and leadership.
When I preached on Friday – we looked at the Book of Habakkuk and saw in passing how God used the wicked and vicious nation of Babylon to judge his chosen people who had wandered from godliness. This wasn’t a permanent judgment but a calling of men and women back to a place where they can glorify God and live lives that are pleasing to Him.
We also see the immediate tension here between the sovereign will of God and the free will of men. Certainly, there are governments that displease God, but God lets them persist. So it is hard when we hear of a cruel government (or even a cruel person) persisting to also acknowledge that God is sovereign. What we see a mysterious dance of the will of God, and the will of man.
The best explanation of it that I have heard is – that because God is eternal – he sits outside of time – because he is omniscient – he knows all things – he knows how every situation can play out and so when Jonny chooses to sin, he is not surprised, but uses even that bad action to work out things for good. This isn’t permission to sin, or flee from God – but how we can better understand the evil that befalls us.
We see this with Joseph. Until now, it would almost seem as though God had abandoned him. In Chapter 37 which we read last week – it certainly seemed that God had left him. We would not have been offended or upset if Joseph cried out “why have you abandoned me?” In fact, he may very well of.
But – in chapter 39, it tells us that it is obvious that the spirit of the Lord is with him. Today, we see how bold the Lord has made Joseph’s faith.
God used Joseph’s suffering to draw him nearer.
God reveals to Pharaoh what he will do – and now we start to see how God is working out all things for the good, not only for Joseph, not only for his family, but for the whole world. Joseph tells Pharaoh that God will allow for there to be seven years of goodness, seven years to prepare for the following seven years. Following the seven years of goodness and plenty there will be seven years of severe famine.
Joseph then tells Pharaoh that because he had two forms of the dream that it is set, God will do this thing and gives him political advice. “Find a wise man who will help your country get through this tough time and instruct him to set aside a large portion of your crops for the next seven years.”
Again – remember Joseph’s arrogance in chapter 37? Remember how he told his brothers he would rule over them?
Now, Joseph does not presume, but simply states.
This is what needs to be done.
We will soon see that the king recognizes that the best man for the job is Joseph. It would have been easy for Joseph to say “I’ll tell you my plan if you elevate me,” but instead he just spells out what seems best from his perspective. He shares what it seems God’s will is and leaves it at that.
But what Pharaoh saw was Joseph’s wisdom and the fact that the spirit of God rested upon him. So, Joseph is elevated to act out his plan. After this, the only person more powerful than Joseph in the land of Egypt was to be the Pharaoh.
Remember, when Joseph was 17 he was sold into slavery, over the following years he had successes, but he also had brutal and unfair failures. We left him last week in the darkness of being sold into slavery by his very own brothers. But 13 years later.
He became second in command in the land of Egypt.
Do we have the courage and perseverance to wait thirteen years for God to work out our situation? Do we trust him enough in the long dark seasons to believe that whatever happens he will bring us through all the better?
This is the great challenge that faces us as Christians, especially Christians in a time that has been called “post-Christian” by most social commentators.
Our hope and faith is placed in the truth that God can work out even these things for His glory and the good of the church. It may just take more time than we would like but God is working. Even in the discouraging news that about 20-25% of people in their 20s consider themselves “nones,” we can have hope, because for those of us who do have faith, our faith in Christ is growing deeper and bolder.
Now as we have seen the reward for Joseph’s perseverance, we learn that he had two sons. Now, his hope being fulfilled he gives them names so he would not forget what God had done: Manasseh: “God has made me forget all my hardships and all my father’s house.” And Ephraim: “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
Do you look back on your seasons of affliction, and say, “my how God has been faithful in that season!”
I once heard of a type of organic wine, it is grown in almost a passive sort of way. The vintners allow the plant to suffer, if you will, as they under water the plants. This forces the roots to go deeper and deeper pushing their way through the hard rocks in search of water and nutrients, the roots grow deep into the ground. But the result is delicious and fine wine.
Suffering has a way of making out roots grow deeper.
I have found in areas that have a lot of churches, the faith is often shallow and taken for granted. In the areas that I’ve lived where Christians are the minority, their roots grow deep, and the faith is steadfast.
For Joseph we see this, and if you remember my story last week, I can testify that it is not the easy seasons in which my faith has grown, but the seasons where I wonder what God is doing. It is in those season that we learn of God’s faithfulness all the more.
We have now see that God is faithful – God allowed his servant to suffer, in order that he could be elevated to a position of nearly kingship. Now we can flip over the rug of Joseph’s life and start to see the patterns coming together. God has worked the pain, and the ugliness into something beautiful.
But there is another king whom God allowed to suffer. Christ had to pass through death before his resurrection and ascension into heaven to take his rightful place at the righthand of the Father. Christ’s suffering for us is not only the way to freedom, it was also his pathway to his enthronement.
Finally – the church will suffer and we will also personally suffer. This is one of the promises Christ left us. Yet – it is through that suffering that we are sanctified, and that we too can then be raised up.
I remember talking to someone during a rough period in my life – he looked at me and smiled and said “God is doing something beautiful.” I looked back and him and responded “it sure doesn’t feel beautiful!” In my heart I knew he was right – but at the moment I didn’t feel it.
As we grow in Christ we are given the permission to believe that our suffering isn’t insignificant, we are given permission to learn to trust that God is working out all things for our good.
On the last day – we will be set free from the pains and scars of this world, and the church will be elevated to dwell in the new Jerusalem with God. To dwell in the peaceful city and know him intimately but for now – we must pass through valleys of darkness in order to be drawn closer to him.
Though there be many mysteries in life, remember the great tapestry maker knows his design – knows his design for Joseph’s life, for Christ’s life, for our lives, and of course for his church. He is creating something beautiful, though at the moment it may not feel beautiful. My dear friends – persevere, and learn to trust the Lord all the more.
In the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.