Joseph’s Middle Passage

LGBTQ Safety or Religions Liberty

Last year the Ontario legislature mandated that all schools, religious or otherwise establish Gay-Straight Alliances, groups where gay students could gather to talk about their issues. This is an attempt to prevent bullying. The Roman Catholic church, that operates schools of course saw this as a threat to their religious liberty.

In an article in the American Conservative entitled The Botany Club: Gay Kids in Catholic Schools Eve Tushnet processes some of this given her experience growing up in a progressive private high school. She weights the pros and cons of what an organization like this might mean for students in the context of a Roman Catholic school. Here she makes the follow observation.

How could an openly-acknowledged Gay-Straight Alliance aid in this discernment? Well, for one thing, its relationship to the adults around it would not need to be antagonistic. The school chaplain or a local priest could attend some of the meetings, and talk with the kids about any misconceptions they may have about the faith. Specifically, I often hear that it’s okay for the Church to require (most) priests to be celibate, since they chose that way of life, but it’s cruel to require celibacy of gay people since we didn’t choose to be gay. This isn’t a good way to think about vocation–you don’t always choose what God is asking of you, and it’s rare that the greatest sacrifices in your life are the ones you chose entirely freely. A priest talking honestly about his own discernment process, and whether or not he felt directly “called” to celibacy, might offer a better model of discernment–and a better understanding of the purposes and challenges of a celibate life.

She makes the following statement in the next paragraph: Every form of love has its own kind of cross.

Choice: The Great American Demand and Expectation

Our culture is the water we swim in, the air we breath.

Early on in childhood we get the message “if you can dream it you can do it!” and we are gold we can be anything we want to be.

I think few of us really believe this is true. We keep telling our children this because we want to encourage and motivate them to pursue good things within the realm of possible options that might be available to them. That is a good thing.

The message we give, however, is deceiving. We raise expectations to an incredible level only to have them dashed by the realities of the limitations that all life brings to us.

Most of us are shaped not so much by the dreams we wish we could accomplish, but by the limitations that have been imposed upon us. Most of us will not have pages created about us in Wikipedia. We will not be remembered much outside of our biological families and friends. There will be no monuments to us. As the words of the Psalmist say, “the grass withers, the flower fades, and our place remembers us no more.”

The danger of our “if you can dream it you can do it” expectation raising, and especially the Christian variation of this “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me” is that it creates an expectation that life is somehow ours for the choosing and it is God’s job to give us the life we’ve always wanted.

Most of us, if we were honest, might suggest that if we were given the life we thought we wanted we’d be healthier, more powerful, wealthier, better read, more traveled, more famous than any of us are today. We might also be monsters.

Joseph

If anyone would have reason to expect great things from his future life it would certainly be Joseph.

In his culture dreams were considered to be revelatory and Joseph had the best dreams about himself. He imagined that his whole family would be bowing down before him. As a kid he saw this, was sure of it, and proclaimed it to his family, who didn’t take the news so well. In fact his brothers were so angry with him they wanted to kill him but since there was no financial reward in murder decided to sell him into slavery instead.

Last week we saw in slavery this pretentious young man had grown into a God-favored youth who did what we right even when it cost him. God’s favor seemed to spread to Potipher’s fields and flocks but didn’t protect him from Mrs. Potipher. He was thrown into the royal prison only to be exalted by the head jailer and once again given a position within the prison, as a slave, of importance and responsibility.

…But Who You Know

The royal baker and the royal cup holder offended Pharaoh and were thrown into Joseph’s prison. One day he finds them both downhearted. Both had had dreams and they didn’t have access to a professional dream interpreter to tell them what the dreams meant. Joseph volunteered to do the discernment and did so. The baker had a dream that he would be let out and executed, while the cup bearer was told he would be released and re-established to the Pharaoh’s side. Joseph asked that when this happens the cup bearer remember Joseph and get him out of prison.

What Joseph foretold took place, but the cub bearer forgot about Joseph and he remained in prison. Once again, God’s favor seems to benefit those around Joseph, but Joseph himself languishes.

Frustrating Middle Stories

This week when I was confronted with this text I was a bit annoyed by myself for not simply putting it together with either the text before or the text after it. It seems like a kind of a middle place in the story where there is an important development but no grand conclusion or lesson.

As I pondered this I reflected on the fact that most of our lives are lived in these middle spaces. Most of our callings are spent in prisons not of our choosing, and it is in these spaces where we work out our vocations of loving fellow inmates, of trying to keep hope alive even when there is no assurance of reprieve or resolution. It is in these spaces that our characters are formed, refined and revealed.

As the favored child of Jacob Joseph was a brat. As the enslaved, imprisoned by favored child of God, used to bless those around him, Joseph is a hero, but one that few know or recognize. These are the spaces within which God works.

Necessary Resignation

Within this subtle, middle story is a perspective that we instinctively find deeply offensive. While our choices and decisions are certainly important in our stories, God’s hand is the one that finally governs.

In many ways the stories of the cup bearer and the baker are incidental to the larger Joseph story. These are not characters that will play an enduring role and so, like the Redshirt members of the landing party on Star Trek seem disposable.

We are not told how these two royal officials have offended their master. We are not told why the cup bearer is restored and the baker executed. Like the sons of Judah we see their judgment and are left in the dark.

This is a very different story than that of Odysseus who plays one god off or another to make his way home and control his own destiny. In the story of Joseph we are recipients of our future.

As we saw last week though, neither is Joseph passive. He asks the cup bearer to remember him. Joseph isn’t blocked for using choice to better his situation, but it all comes within a context of trust and faithfulness as we saw last week with Mrs. Potipher.

Trusting the Author

The book of James opens with an audacious command to consider trials of all sorts as pure joy.

James 1:2–4 (NET)

2 My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.

Most of us know that there is no guarantee that suffering will produce a good work in you. Suffering alone won’t necessarily make you mature. For many people suffering makes them bitter or frightened and these two conditions can lead them to vengeance or control.

If suffering is combined with trust it can lead to maturity and generosity. Not only must Joseph not give up to despair or give into bitterness or hatred but he must develop endurance. Endurance is created when hardship is combined with trust and hope.

Misery

The narrative we imbibe every day suggests that we are in charge and we can have our dreams as long as we are willing to fight hard enough for them. The dark side of this expectation is that most often the fighting means that our dreams come at the expense of others.

If you live long enough in this world you will quickly learn that much of what you enjoy you have through the generosity and hard word of others. Some of what you suffer you have brought on yourself and some of it you have simply received.

Misery and limitations will come into your life and you will need to figure out how to respond to it. What you do in your misery defines you.

Deliverance

If misery is combined with a firm and certain hope that there is a God in the universe, and that God is not only disposed towards your welfare but has in fact sacrifice himself on your behalf, the miseries you face can give you strength end endurance.

This week I was speaking with a man who has had a long journey towards God. He’s not perfect yet, but he is learning to forgive, and to love his enemies, and to turn the other cheek. I pointed out to him that in his prison, in his own hardship, what the presence of God had done in his life is to turn even the strokes of his enemy to his favor. His hardship gives him the opportunity to grow in grace, to learn endurance, and to endure hardship in hope.

Gratitude

If you live in a spirit of entitlement where you imagine you deserve the good things you have because somehow you have earned them all, when good things come your way you won’t experience much joy.

If, however, you understand that you have been freed from a prison of decay, and good things come into your life, you can rejoice in them.

What’s more, if endurance and hope have taken up residence in your heart and you see that even the hard things in life work to make you stronger and more ready to see God face to face then gratitude and generosity even towards those who don’t deserve it will bless you and give you joy.

If Joseph had had an entitlement complex going to prison for the lie of Mrs. Potipher would have crushed him. He would have been no use to the steward of the prison and in no position to offer hope and guidance to the two royal officials. Even though is generosity seemed to get him nothing in the short term, his freedom from bitterness and fear blessed him.

You have been given far more than the thin dreams of Joseph. You have been given Christ’s resurrected body ascended to the throne of heaven.

Every form of love has its cross, but in Jesus our crosses lead to tombs and our tombs lead to Easter.

Heidelberg Q/A 1

Q. What is your only comfort
in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own,
but belong—

body and soul,
in life and in death—

to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in On the way to Sunday's sermon and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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