Thursday, March 17, 2016

Faith for the Journey

This will be the last week of the Joseph story.
I hope that you have enjoyed hearing it these past five weeks.
I have enjoyed preaching on it.
Every time you dive into a Bible story with depth you find something new about that story.
This time I noticed how much Joseph’s story of faith is tied to ours.
In the story of Joseph he experiences God much the same way that we do.
In the story of Joseph God is an important character, but God never actually shows up.
God is in the background.
God never appears to Joseph in a burning bush like he did with Moses, never shows up as three strangers like he does with Abraham.
God never directly talks to Joseph to give him advice or to comfort him.
Never tells Joseph directly that everything will work out and be OK.
Isn’t that the way that we experience God?
I don’t know anyone who has talked to God in a burning bush, or through a cloud.
All I know of over 12 years of pastoral counseling are people who have struggled to understand what God was up to in their lives but who carried on in faith.

We don’t hear too much in the story about what Joseph is thinking and feeling as things are happening in his life.
But we can imagine that Joseph at times must have been wondering what was happening.
He never knew directly that everything that was happening to him had some greater purposes.
Instead he trusts God and has faith.
Without hearing directly from God he simply keeps going, and believing.
And that how it is for all of us.
We never know when we are living through things how all the pieces are going to work out.
We never know what is in store for us.
We sometimes might wonder what God is up to, if God cares at all.

As we think back on Joseph’s story we see how God was at work in his life.
And through this story we can see the way God is involved in our lives.

We see that it starts with sin.
Much of our life is populated with sin, real sin.
Not some fake superficial version of it.
But with real things that we do to other people that hurts them.
And we experience the pain of that sin.
We experience the pain of broken relationships, missed opportunities, and broken dreams.
Because we are selfish, because we have been hard of heart, jealous, or simply mean.
I was telling the confirmands this week that one of the gifts of our faith is that we get to confess our sins.
We get to confess the real sins that we have done, or have not done.
We don’t have to hide behind the facade that we are “good people”.
But we get to lay bare our imperfections and brokenness before God and each other.
Because through confessing of sins we do experience the good news.
We experience forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation.

Joseph also experiences difficult times.
We see him imprisoned unfairly.
We see him wait for over two years in a prison cell.
We all experience moments or times in our lives that are difficult.
We experience hardships out of our control.
What can we do in such times?
All we can do is grab onto God have faith, and pray.
It doesn’t seem like much of an answer.
But it is all we have.
That is how we experience God through faith in difficult times.

We also see that Joseph was given many gifts by God.
The most obvious of these gifts is that he can interpret dreams.
We see the gift of dream interpretation is what helps get him out of Jail.
It was his God given gift that helped him.
And we too experience God through the gifts that God has given to us.
Our gifts are ways that we contribute to our community and the world.

We also see God working through dreams.
Dreams in this story are pivotal to help the characters know what God wants of them.
We too can experience God in our dreams.
They are ways for God to tell us everything is going to be all right, ways for God to direct our future.
We also have dreams of what we want our lives to be like.
Those dreams can help us to step confidentially into what God has called us to do.
Our dreams are what we have that give us passion for the work we get to do.

We see that God ultimately works through forgiveness.
The story ends with another assurance that the forgiveness is complete.
Without forgiveness this family could not be complete again, and God’s future could not move forward.
We experience God in our own lives when we are able to forgive each other and move on.

The story ends with Joseph stating his faith that God will come and lead his people to the Promised Land.
Joseph in the end continues to have faith that God will be true to God’s word.
Joseph has nothing to base this on other than faith in God.
He has no evidence to suggest that God was going to lead them to the land promised.
We too have to ultimately have faith in God without any proof.
We will not get some magical moment when God shows up to map out every future for us.

In our lives this is how God works.
We can’t see it, but in faith we know that God is there for us on our journey.
God is offering us a hand on the way.
And all we can do is have faith that God’s hand is in it all.
God’s hand is in our sin, gifts, dreams, suffering, triumphs, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
God behind the scenes is involved in it all.
God is with us on this journey and like Joseph we know this only through faith.

I want to end by sharing a poem by Jan Richardson.
Some of you have heard it already as I have shared it at the start of a couple of meetings.
I share it again because in this Lenten season it has given me strength and comfort.
It has reminded me what Joseph knew and what this story teaches us.
That God travels with us on our path, and is the one who reminds us that we are beloved.
If you would enter into the wilderness,
do not begin without a blessing.
Do not leave without hearing who you are:
Beloved, named by the One who has traveled this path
before you.
Do not go without letting it echo in your ears,
and if you find it is hard to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what this journey is for.
I cannot promise this blessing will free you from danger,
from fear, from hunger, or thirst, from the scorching
of sun or the fall of the night.
But I can tell you that on this path there will be help.
I can tell you that on this way there will be rest.
I can tell you that you will know the strange graces that come to our aid
only on a road such as this, that fly to meet us bearing comfort and strength,
that come alongside us for no other cause than to lean themselves toward our ear
and with their curious insistence whisper our name: Beloved. Beloved. Beloved.
Whatever your path is or has been this Lenten time remember that you are beloved, that God is walking with you.
May your faith in God continue to comfort and strengthen you on your path.

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