Rev. Eric Dillenbeck
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Genesis 40 & 41

Last week we began a journey with Joseph, a journey that showed us how devastating sibling rivalry can be. We learned that Joseph was not an easy traveling companion. While I am sure he was a very godly man, he did not seem to have a clue as how to get along with those closest to him.

He was an entitled young man and the world was his oyster; that is until his brothers had enough. They grew tired of the favoritism he enjoyed and the dreams he was given. They wanted to put an end to his dreams so they threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery in Egypt. They thought this was the end of their brother. They thought their actions were enough to end God’s dreams, but God had other plans.

Feeling despair unlike anything he had ever felt Joseph was taken down to Egypt. He could not understand what was happening. His brothers had thrown him into a pit and then sold him into slavery. How could this be happening to him he wondered. His family had abandoned him!

But God did not abandon him.

When Joseph was sold to an officer of the Pharaoh the Lord was with him and helped him to prosper, helping him to rise to a position of power in his owner’s house. But once again Joseph was filled with despair after being wrongfully accused of an inappropriate relationship with his master’s wife.

But God did not abandon Joseph.

The Lord’s blessing was upon him and soon the Chief Jailor placed Joseph in a position of power, a position that brought him into direct contact with those the king threw into jail. Two such individuals, the cupbearer and the baker of the Pharaoh were thrown into jail. One night they were both disturbed by their dreams. They could not figure out what the dreams meant and were greatly troubled. Joseph, knowing something about dreams, listens to them.

The Cupbearer said, “In my dream there was a vine before me, 10and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” (Gen. 40: 10-11)

And Joseph, as if this dream was not even a challenge, launched right into an interpretation saying, “the three branches are three days; 13within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer.” 14But remember me when it is well with you; please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place.” (Gen. 40:12-14)

Joseph is no dummy! God has helped him see that this man will be restored to his position with the Pharaoh, the only person able to get him out of prison.

Joseph also interprets a dream for the Pharaoh’s baker who said, “I also had a dream: There were three cake baskets on my head, 17and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” (Gen. 40:17)

Unfortunately for the baker, Joseph’s interpretation of his dream is not so favorable. 18Joseph answered, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; 19within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you! —and hang you on a pole; and the birds will eat the flesh from you.” (Gen. 40:18-19)

And things went pretty much as he interpreted they would. The Pharaoh had to find a new baker and the cupbearer got his job back. And Joseph was hopeful that his situation was about to improve but the cupbearer forgot all about him.

For two years the cupbearer forgot about Joseph, leaving him in prison. But God did not forget Joseph and God certainly did not abandon him. It was not until Pharaoh began to have dreams that the cupbearer remembered and convinced the Pharaoh to rescue Joseph from the prison. “15And Pharaoh said to Joseph,

‘I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ 16Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.’

17Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘In my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile; 18and seven cows, fat and sleek, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. 19Then seven other cows came up after them, poor, very ugly, and thin. Never had I seen such ugly ones in all the land of Egypt. 20The thin and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows, 21but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had done so, for they were still as ugly as before. Then I awoke. 22I fell asleep a second time and I saw in my dream seven ears of grain, full and good, growing on one stalk, 23and seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouting after them; 24and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears.’ 25Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‘Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what God is about to do.

26The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one.

27The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, as are the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind. They are seven years of famine.” (Genesis 41: 15-27)

Joseph went on to explain the dreams further, explaining how Egypt would enjoy seven years of bountiful harvests, harvests to plentiful that the Pharaoh would not be able to imagine it. These years would be followed by unimaginable drought and famine, as Egypt has never seen. The doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.

Recognizing the discerning Spirit of God upon Joseph, Pharaoh puts him in charge over his entire house. Only Pharaoh himself would be greater in the land of Egypt.

God surely did not abandon Joseph.

And Joseph took full advantage of his new station in life. He stored up the treasures of harvest for seven years and then when the famine struck he opened Pharaoh’s storehouses so the people did not perish. All the world ended up coming to see Joseph to buy grain because God did not abandon Joseph and God did not abandon God’s people.

The Word of the Lord Thanks be to God

Our man Joseph is a significantly different person on this end of his journey through life. At the beginning of our journey with Joseph he was this young obnoxious tattletale who had the world handed to him.

But as we know, journeys change people. Like Joseph, we encounter pitfalls that challenge how we understand our place in the world and humble our egos, making us more open to new understandings.

Journeys rarely take the path we always thought they would and sometimes, like Joseph, we are forced to take paths we would not choose to journey down.

• A company falters and has to cut jobs and suddenly you are looking for new employment.

• You wonder why that pesky cough will not go away only to discover cancer has come to spend some time with you.

• Your parent or child becomes ill forcing you to spend time where you are really needed.

The list can go on and on. We, like Joseph, encounter unexpected and sometimes unwanted detours all the time.

Joseph was forced down many paths he did not sign up for. He was thrown in a pit; He was sold into slavery; He was falsely accused and thrown in jail; He was ignored and forgotten by someone in a similar circumstance.

Joseph was forced down many paths he did not choose on his journey. But on those paths Joseph discovered an important thing. He discovered the presence of God was still with him. He discovered the presence of God was still working for him wherever he found himself and he began to trust. He began to trust in God’s power to bring about good things; he began to trust in the power of God’s grace to work in and through him and for him;

He began to trust more in God, than he did himself.

Joseph has learned and now stands as the model of the godly life, but significantly it is a life lived in the midst of the full range of human problems; it is a life that reflects the complexities of the human experience and at the same time the joy and privilege of serving God with all he has been given.

When the Pharaoh himself finally calls upon Joseph to interpret a dream and then to guide Egypt through the crisis the dream foretold Joseph does not flinch, he does not shy away and he does not allow the power of his new position to go to his head. Instead he trusts in God’s power and becomes an agent of grace for the whole world.

There is no doubt those unwanted paths are difficult and there is no doubt that they can be painful, but there is also NO doubt that God’s presence is at work in you and through you when those changes happen.

This week some of our brothers and sisters in Colorado found themselves on a new and unwanted path. They became victims of senseless violence. It is easy to throw up our hands and ask where is God, to throw up our hands say, “this is just too much!” or “Nothing can be done!” But Joseph reminds us to trust in God, to trust in the grace of God at work in and through us. This very day you have been at work to alleviate pain and suffering. Your mission dollars, which have gone to support the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Ministry of our denomination, are already winging their way towards Aurora, Colorado.

You are already actively supporting chaplains and congregations who are serving as agents of God grace for the whole world.

But there is much work to do! Change is happening all around us which means each of us has the opportunity to become an agent of grace for this congregation and for the whole world. You are invited to place your trust in the power of God to do far more with you and through you than you could ever hope to do on your own. You are invited, like Joseph was before you, to place your trust in the One who journeys with you and through you to the far reaches of the world.

To trust and to follow knowing the power of God is with you, even when you are in the pit, even when the path seems long, even when you don’t know where to begin.

May it be so! Amen.