Luke 6: 27-38 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Genesis 45: 3-11, 15 February 24, 2019’
“God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
As I prepare to read the story about Joseph and his brothers, I am reminded of the news story this week of Jussie Smollett, and how fast things changed for this young man. Here’s a young, famous, privileged actor on the set of Empire, unhappy with his salary and, I have to believe, unhappy with the lack of attention he receives in the spotlight. So, he allegedly feigned a homophobic and racist attack done by thugs who called him names and beat him up. Then, he allegedly feigned victimization with the Chicago Police. Only to have it all come out that he paid people to stage the attack, and his wounds were self-inflicted.
Now, according to the Chicago Police Chief, Eddie Johnson, Jussie Smollett is the victimizer, and the police, changed from “helper” and “believer” of Smollett’s story to being the victims of his hoax. You can’t make this stuff up! What a weird case of role reversal. Who knows how this one will end?
Way back in early Genesis days, there was an awful case of injustice that turned into role reversal as well. Joseph was next to the youngest among a bunch of his brothers, but he was their father Jacob’s favorite. Joseph had prophetic dreams and predicted his brothers would eventually serve him. His brothers were upset and jealous of Joseph, and he became a victim of their abuse. Being the ones in power, the brothers intended to kill him, but instead beat him up and left him for dead in a pit. Then they changed their mind and decided not to let him die but would sell him into slavery of Egypt, and give Daddy the fake news about his death.
Now in Egypt, Joseph went from victim in slavery to relative privilege because he was bought by Potiphar, a captain of Pharaoh’s guards. But he soon found himself in prison after being falsely accused of sexual misconduct by Potiphar’s wife. He languished there for years until he was called upon by Pharaoh to interpret a dream which led him to become the second most powerful man in Egypt.
Meanwhile, the dream he interpreted forecasted a major drought and famine, which allowed Egypt to stockpile supplies, but of course, Joseph’s brothers back home were affected. Now victims of the famine and vulnerable, the brothers come to Egypt for help and encounter the now powerful Joseph whose command is second to none except the Pharaoh himself. But the brothers don’t recognize him.
Joseph understood that God’s deeper plan was meant for good. His entire journey was all part of God’s deeper plan, not just for him, but for his entire family. He understood that God found a way to keep alive many survivors, even through calamity, slavery, despair, and famine. Jacob and his family came to live and prosper in Egypt.
That story, I believe, has an important message for us today. God has a way of creating a good plan out of our bad situations. God is in the restorative business, and if we have faith in God’s ability, and trust in God’s timing, and a heart to practice what God teaches, then no matter what the storm, no matter how dire the circumstances may be, no matter how long it takes, God is working at a deeper plan than what we see on the surface.
Our struggles can seem overwhelming, but I believe God wills good for our lives. God has a deeper plan. In the moment of deep struggle, it can be difficult to understand the point of anything. In the maze of hurt feelings, of guilt, of pain, of long-time struggle, we wonder how we will get through. But, Joseph’s story invites us to trust that God has a deeper plan in our struggles.
As we mentioned in the Joys and Concerns, Wes is going through a very painful and challenging recovery after his jaw surgery; however, through the pain and recovery of a jaw that was wired shut, his hope is built up because he believes the outcome leads to goodness of life. He believes, as I do, that the pain and recovery will lead to less sleep apnea, deeper sleep, and less chances for life-debilitating diseases like heart attack and stroke. I told him, “You may have added years to your life!” “For sure!” he said like a ventriloquist. God has deeper plans.
People struggle with economics, addictions, self-identity, even physical disabilities. In the work setting, the demand to perform or get the contract or bring in clients can be so daunting and stressful. The other day Barb’s co-worker asked her, “How do you not feel the stress and anxiety of needing to get clients in each month?” Barb said, “I do my job, do my best, and put the rest into God’s hands.” We can turn over to God the parts we can’t control. We can trust in God’s ability to see well beyond what thing we’re going through. Because God has deeper plans for good.
Now lest this idea that God has deeper plans for all of us sound all neat and tidy and wrapped up, let me remind us that while we might be in the throes of tough situations, or even if we aren’t, we are always children of God and disciples of Christ. The stark thing I notice from the Joseph story is that he could have held that grudge against his brothers. He could have taken advantage of the role reversal now that he had privilege and power over them. He could have tossed them into prison and said, “There! See how you like it!”
But, he didn’t. Instead, he acted much the way Jesus taught. Joseph loved his enemies/brothers. He forgave them. He was merciful. He wanted to renew a relationship with his father Jacob. He wanted them to come and live with him in Goshen. And, Joseph saw that God had deeper plans that used his previous struggles for good.
I think our faith journeys call us to realize we, too, have choices of how we react to our life’s situations. If we are victims in our circumstances, and not-so-pleasant things happen to us, it’s easy not to love your enemies. It’s easy not to forgive our victimizers. We’ve all been the victim before in varying degrees, some much more than others. But Jesus says love your enemies, forgive our victimizers, and do good to those who hate you. To make that choice enacts God’s deeper plans and gives God the chance to use the struggle for good.
Does this mean I have to love the driver who gets in front of me and drives only the speed limit! UGH! Yes. That means I have to love and pray for the person who wants to leave our church because we welcome and include every person in our mission and ministry. That means I have to love and pray for the leaders of our government with whom I have the most profound disagreements both theologically and politically. To love even these enacts God’s deeper plans. God can use the struggle for good.
However, if we’re honest, we’ve been in situations where the role is reversed, too. Sometimes we’re Joseph. Sometimes we’re the brothers. Sometimes we are the person who is going through an ordeal, and sometimes we are the person who is causing the ordeal. Sometimes we’re the victim, and other times, we’re the victimizer. Sometimes we curse others, other times we’re on the receiving end. Sometimes we strike others, and all of us know what it means to be struck. I bet all of us, a time or two over the years, have taken something that doesn’t belong to us, and also have had something take from us, too. None of that is good. We are all susceptible to sin.
That doesn’t mean God abandons us. The good news is in power and powerlessness, in privilege and in want, God has a way of creating a good, deeper plan out of our bad situations, if we have faith in God’s ability, trust in God’s timing, and have a heart to follow Jesus. To love our enemies and do good. To not be an enemy and do good. From wherever we are in life on our journeys, I think we are invited to trust God, exercise humility and generosity, and practice what Jesus teaches with others. We are, in the words of our closing hymn:
Standing at the future’s threshold,
grateful for God’s guiding hand.
Asking no protected stronghold,
called to be a pilgrim band.
Seeking ever for new vision
of the gospel for our day.
We move forward in God’s mission
with our faith to show the way.
Perhaps that’s the deeper plan of God.
Let us stand and sing this hymn as we conclude our worship today. Amen.