Serving a Sovereign God
A Homily for 14 Trinity
September 22, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Genesis 45
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
“Now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
In one paragraph, Joseph informs his brothers no less than four times that it was not them, nor him, nor even Pharaoh that brought him to Egypt, that brought him through the darkest of times his life, or that elevated him so that he was only lower than Pharaoh. The ramifications of this statement are wild and large – larger than our problems, and larger than our successes.
I wonder – as you survey your life – are you willing? Are you able to say “God brought me here”?
If you are reaching the twilight of your life – as you look back can you see God’s providence in bring you to this moment in time?
If you are in the midst of your life having watched your children grow, but it would seem the race is far from over, can you see God’s hand moving through the ups and downs, do you know that he will walk with you as you go through more of life?
If you are young, and fresh, and optimistic about the future, your career only just beginning, do you have the faith to know that you can trust God with whatever you face, that He is with you as you make these choices?
I am prone to envy – prone to thinking “if only I had,” prone to wondering what would have happened if I had made a different choice at certain junctures. Yet, this passage acts to remind me and us – that it is God who uses each of our choices to glorify himself – the good, the bad, and even the ugly ones. It is God, not us, as Joseph will say later, who uses what we meant for evil for good. This last statement is an even harder pill to swallow, but as Christians we are called to have a high view of the sovereignty of God, called to trust that he will bring His church through all things, that he will bring life abundantly.
Life abundantly does not refer to some heretical idea of “your best life now,” it does not say that if you pray for it, you will get it, if you are good enough, tithe enough, do the right things well enough you will be materially blessed. No, this idea is rubbish, heretical, and frankly cheapens our faith. We know, that you can do everything right and still be poor in materials. No, the abundant Christian life means a life lived fully in Christ, it means a deeper dwelling in God’s grace, it means being set free from the sins that hold us captive.
Sin, especially habitual sin can ruin a life. Please, please here me clearly: sin, unchecked will destroy your life. One of the exercises we are occasionally asked to do – in seminary or in theological training is to contemplate what would happen if we were caught in a serious sin – usually a sexual one – if we were to have an affair for example the question is: whose lives would be affected by this?
It doesn’t have to be a sexual sin – but any sin – can and will hurt the community – can and will hurt our friends – can and will hurt our family – can and most certainly does hurt ourselves. But above that – sin destroys our relationship with God.
We may think “it’s only a little lie to get us out of this fight with our spouse quicker,” “it’s just one more drink, I’m not that tipsy yet,” “I’m just flirting, it’s okay,” and the rationalization goes deeper and deeper, it goes on and on, and in that moment we do not see how this deception degrades our soul, degrades another, distorts our relationships, and warps our ability to love as Christ loved us. In the moment of rationalizing our sin – we do not see how we turn our back on God.
But it is these sins – whatever sin you may be struggling with are what Christ died to set us free from. We are set free that we might know Him intimately, know him well.
My friends – mortify your flesh, let Christ set you free, talk to your priest who loves you if you’re struggling and find your conscience on fire this morning, find a friend to walk with through your struggles and who will hold you accountable. For that perpetual sin, that constant companion will kill you if you don’t give it to Christ, and it will hurt those whom you love the most if you don’t seek the abundant life that Christ gives.
But – God is sovereign – God can take our darkness and drive it out with light, it is God that gives us the abundant life – not us.
There are two things that can happen when we talk about the sovereignty of God – out of fear we can veer away from any discussion of it, talk boldly of the free will of man, or we can emphasize heavily the sovereignty of God – the latter, I think is the lesser mistake.
If we over emphasize the free will of man, suddenly we become co-redeemers with Christ, suddenly we have a God who is impotent in the face of all that is wrong in the world, suddenly God is not God, but some senile grandfather in the sky who is unable to do anything because of man’s free will.
Regardless of where we come down on this – we will struggle with the idea of evil in the world, but an all knowing God who can redeem in the midst of the horror, a God who can comfort us in our tears as our lives crumble down around us. An all knowing God who can use humanities evil for good and can sanctify even the darkest of days is a God worthy of honor and praise.
A God who is sovereign, who knows all the choices that you and I can, may, and will make, and knows how to direct the ordering of the world, so that He is glorified, so that life is preserved, so that a remnant will remain, so that one day in His coming again every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord – this is our God and He is worthy of our worship.
The sovereignty of God does not demand that we see God as a grand puppet master and us as mere automatons who can only do what God ordains – but He asks us to trust in an incredible mystery – that mysterious dance between God and man, that as finite beings we cannot completely understand.
As I reflect on my own life – as I reflect on the summer I came to know Christ – I can safely say that if God had not come crashing in on me – I would not have come to Christ – it was Christ who came to me, not I to Christ, it was Christ who called me out of the mire, our of my sorrow and into his arms. There was a beckoning, and a response, a softened heart, and an aching desire. A deep mystery of love that to this day I do not completely understand.
There is a great mystery in Joseph’s words – a mystery – that yes his brothers did evil, such an incredible evil – it was not enough that they would sell someone created in the image of God into slavery – they sold their very brother into slavery! Let us not soften their cruelty - they did evil – but God used it for good, this truth exemplifies is the play between our will and God’s.
Now last week we worked through chapter 43, and Joseph and his brother are reunited but Joseph has not yet revealed to his brothers who he is. In chapter 44 Joseph basically entraps and then tests his brothers. This passage seems almost cruel – but Joseph wants to know if these men who had done such incredible wickedness to him were truly contrite or still men who would happily sell their family for profit or revenge, or their own safety.
We see something similar when we read St. John’s Gospel – after His resurrection, Christ ask St. Peter not once, or twice but three times if Peter loves him. Even as we read the text we can hear the pain in the saint’s voice. At the third, the text tells us Peter was grieved and exclaims “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you!” How the saint must have ached at that moment – but friends, remember just a few days before – Peter denied Christ, not once, nor twice, but three times.
God is not unkind – God does not give us more than we can handle when we dwell richly in Christ – but though grace is free, sanctification can be painful for those sins which we love too much, those idols which we construct in our heart can feel all together painful to give up. But it is worth the cost. The momentary ache is better to be replaced for the aching for the second coming of Christ. So lay your idols down before the throne of the king of kings and let him take them and replace them with himself.
Do not cheapen grace by thinking it will leave us unchanged, by thinking we can give Christ lip service and not our lives, that we can say we love him and go on with our lives as they were – no, when we come to know Christ he turns our world upside down, he frees us from the bondage of sin, but sometimes we must watch those things we hold most dearly be burnt up in the sanctifying fire.
So it is that repentance can be costly, can be painful, can be seen as a wealthy Egyptian pressing into us with burning questions, can be seen as our Lord asking us not once, nor twice, but thrice if we really do love him, and then telling us that in our old age we will be led to a cross, just as he was led to a cross.
Grace is costly not cheap, grace cost Christ his life, and demands that we give every aspect of our life to Him. Grace demands that we give what is beautiful about ourselves, and what is ugly, give what we delight in, and what we mourn in to Him. Grace demands nothing less than our entire life, our selves, our souls, and our bodies be given to Christ.
Immediately before we start our lesson Judah – the one who designed Joseph’s betrayal years before, the one who seems to be one of the wildest amongst his brothers, pleads with Joseph for the life of his brother Benjamin. Finally he says “how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.” It is at this that Joseph can no longer hide from his brothers his identity, it is at this that he is convinced of his brother’s contrition.
As I read the story of Joseph I cannot help but think of the story of the prodigal son – though as many commentators note – it should really be the story of two lost sons. Here Joseph welcomes his sinful brothers back with tears, just as the father welcomed back to lost brother with incredible joy. Joseph had been given everything – and with his sinful brothers he decides to share his blessings.
Friends – when a sinner drops to his or her knees and cries out to God – cries out that he can no longer take the pain of his sin. God does not stand there with his arms crossed and think, ha, will see. No God rejoices!
God rejoicing at repentance does not take away from his sovereignty, does not take away from the fact that he is omniscient, that it is God who softens a sinner’s heart – but rather it adds to his incredible love for his people.
Just as God rejoices – just as Joseph wept – we weep and rejoice – we are glad for this sinner who comes home, glad for the sinner finally set free for we have been set free too.
This doesn’t mean that the younger brother in the prodigal son didn’t struggle after he came back, it doesn’t mean there weren’t still sins in Joseph’s brother, this doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with the sins we are prone to prefer. It simply means in coming home to our heavenly Father, there is joy, and there is freedom from all that has corrupted us.
Now, I want to skip over the middle section and come back to it in a minute – but having been revealed to his brothers, having given them promises, that were affirmed by the Pharaoh the brothers return to their father Jacob. They tell him “Joseph is still alive.” Joseph who was dead is not dead – for Jacob Joseph may as well have been resurrected!
I can not think of a greater joy for the old man to have heard. His beloved son lives on and is wildly successful in another land. Not only is he and his family saved from the severity of the famine, but his own flesh whom he had thought was dead lives on. So it is that Joseph brings his whole family to Egypt, so it is that the story of Exodus is set into motion, the story of God drawing his people into a deep dependence and intimacy with him. But for today – Jacob takes his entire family down to the land of the Egyptians, but for today we learn that “it is enough Joseph my son is still alive.”
Now – we skipped the middle section because just as we started there – I think it is important to end with this challenging thought – it is not the brothers but God who has brought Joseph where he is now.
In this Joseph is able to see God’s hand – that through his pain and sacrifice – God desired to preserve life, to set aside a remnant, to keep alive many, that God has lifted him up out of his sorrow.
For this is what God does. I know I refer to Psalm 23 time and again, but I think in it we can find a great hope for life, and comfort for even the darkest of days in it. In that Psalm, we are given a hope that supersedes earthly dreams – and reminds us of our calling to look forward to the banquet feast of the Lamb which is being prepared for all who are called. God is ultimately going to rise us up to enjoy that feast. What good news this is!
I want to challenge each of you to think about your lives this week – think about where you’ve been and where you are now – can you say that God has brought you to where you are now? Can you humble yourself in-light of your achievements to see God working through those things that you are proud of doing? Can you see God in your pain and disappointment? Can you see him healing you and bringing you into something else?
I mentioned being one who is prone to envy and wondering what life would be like if I had done just one little thing differently, or if a situation had different results – what if I’d gone straight into seminary out of college, what if I’d had to courage to speak my feelings, what if I’d moved to Denver instead of Chicago, or stayed in Maine instead of going to California.
When I find my mind wandering like this – I look at the life I have now – the incredible gifts I get to enjoy in the moment of this day – the friendships I have, the gift of getting to walk with all of you through life, the joy of getting to worship God with you week in and week out, the delight of getting to minister the gospel to you – and I realize just as it was enough for Jacob – it is enough for me, and how rich I have become.
This doesn’t mean I don’t have regrets, this doesn’t mean there aren’t people I wish I’d treated better, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t sins that I’ve committed and now mourn – but it does mean that I can trust that God will work out all things, even my regrettable sins, for my spiritual good and His glory.
Once we see God’s providential hand and care in our lives – once we see the joy of knowing that God is sovereign, and he is the ruler of our lives, that we are merely called to trust and obey – there is a freedom in saying and trusting and believing that it is enough. For it is enough to know that God is drawing us into his eternal kingdom, that he is bringing us into His joy and love and grace.
(Please note – that knowing that God’s providence is enough doesn’t mean that sometimes life won’t painful, that sometimes we won’t scream out to God wonder why we have found ourselves there, that sometimes we will need help to carry on – God’s providence can give us confidence even in the darkest of days – but in the darkness do not fear to ask for help.)
Today concludes our survey of the book of Genesis. I do hope that this was a profitable study for all of you – I pray that as we surveyed how God worked in the lives of the patriarchs you were able to see how he works in your life, I hope that as you saw God’s providential care, you saw how God can redeem even the deepest darkness of the world, I hope that you can reside in that incredible hope that we are given in Christ.
Next week is St. Michael and All Angels Day – this is one of twenty or so Holy Days assigned in the Book of Common Prayer. It happens to fall on a Sunday this year – so we will observe it. This means for those of you who are newer, that our liturgy will be slightly more elaborate than normal. It also means that we will be exploring the question of what Angels and Demons are, and how they interact with the material world, which I hope will be both edifying and interesting for you.
The following week I will be in California for dear friends’ wedding – our friend Deacon Joe Mayntz will be here to lead you all in Morning Prayer and preach on the gospel for that Sunday.
I think when I return we will discuss the future of the church – my vision and prayer for where we are going. In doing this – it will give us an idea of where we want to go, give us a launching pad for planning for the future – but we must remember that whenever we say “I would like to go here, or there,” we know from St. James that we must also say “if it be God’s will,” in that we are reminded that this church is not my church, nor is it your church – but it is the church which God has put us in. All Saints belongs to God, not to me, nor the vestry, nor you. We are mere stewards of this place. There is a goodness and beauty in this truth.
As we plan, as we look forward to the future – we are reminded yet again of the sovereignty of God. We give all our plans to him – our plans for our lives, our plans for our church, our successes and failures, our hopes, dreams and disappointments, and trust that he will use all of them for our spiritual good and his glory.
As we conclude, let us remember to submit to the Holy Spirit so that he may make the disposition of our heart such – that we, like Joseph can say – “do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.