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It’s good to be together. One of my professors in seminary used to begin each class by saying that. It’s good to be together. It’s good to be reunited, isn’t it? It’s good to hold onto the hope of reunification if it’s not something we’re experiencing right now in actuality. Reunited.
This morning I want us to consider this story of reunification. I want us to consider what this story tells us about God and what it tells us of our lives with God. It is in stories after all, that we learn about such truths and are shaped by such truths. Who could have predicted how all our stories would go over the last year and a half? Who could predict how our stories will go in the coming months? Our lives got flipped, turned upside down. We read of tears in this reunion story of Genesis 45. Tears of joy. Tears of sorrow. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart. Reunions can be joyful, can’t they? We’re happy to see one another again, aren’t we? I’ve told you before about family reunions that I used to be a part of with my extended family here in Ontario. They were joyful times and I miss them. Reunions can be bittersweet too. As we’re joyful, we also miss people in our family who were no longer with us.
We are coming to this reunion this morning from many different places and I’m sure feelings are mixed because, as I like to say, I know it can’t just be me. It’s a joyful thing to be back together. At the same time, we’re missing those who won’t be back with us. People have moved on in different ways. We might look back over the last 18 months and have things that we are mourning. People whom we have lost. Time that we have lost. We might regret things. There are things that might cause us to feel remorse. The pandemic is by no means over and we might be feeling fear around that. We might be feeling unease about stepping out into an uncertain future.
So we turn to the story of Joseph and his brothers. The favoured son, along with his brother Benjamin. They were the boys that Rachel had – the rest of Jacob’s sons were technically half brothers to Joseph. Joseph the dreamer. The wearer of the Technical Dreamcoat. Many of us have heard the story from our earliest days:
This is the story of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children because he was the son of his old age, and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
A bit of a tattletale. A youth with not a lot of discernment when it came to what he told his family about dreams. Though the dreams were not primarily about power – they were about being delivered. They were about salvation. Joseph becomes a victim of human trafficking. His brothers conspire against him and sell him to a group of traders, who end up selling him as a slave to a captain of the Egyptian guard named Potiphar. Joseph becomes the head person at Potiphar’s place. He’s thrown in jail when Potiphar’s wife accuses him of sexual assault. His ability to interpret dreams land him the governor’s job. Joseph’s skill at governing means that not only is starvation staved off in Egypt during seven years of famine, but other nations come to Egypt to buy food. His brothers go down to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph doesn’t make himself known to them. He demands that they leave someone behind to ensure that they’ll come back with brother Benjamin. When they return with Benjamin, Joseph plants a silver cup in Benjamin's luggage prior to their trip back to Canaan. Joseph tells them this means that Benjamin will need to remain in Egypt as a slave. The brothers have a chance to show him that they’ve changed. Judah steps forward and offers his own life so that Benjamin might be set free and return to his father (which is really something when you think of the person who will be born from the tribe of Judah who will offer his own life so that we might be set free and return to our Father). This is where we come in today, and I recommend you read over the whole story – it runs from Genesis 37 to 50 (with a break in chapter 39 for the story of Tamar but that’s for another day). This is where we are today. Joseph makes himself known to his brothers. A family is reunited and there are four things I want us to consider today as we celebrate our own reuniting.
Remember Who We Are
“I am Joseph.” Judah’s offer of himself in place of his brother Benjamin leads to a new situation. Joseph has hidden his tears before. The first time he turned away from his brothers so they wouldn’t see him crying. The second time he went out of the room. This time they’ll stay together. It’s everyone else who is commanded to leave the room. “Have everyone leave my presence!” Joseph cries out. It’s just the brothers. The translators are gone. Joseph is speaking their language. “I am Joseph. Is my father still living?” I am Joseph. His name means “He adds.” God adds. God will add. They are all part of the same family. In Christ God makes us into a family. God has added me. Are you able to say that God has added you? What a wonderful thing to be able to call ourselves. I am Joseph. Is my father still alive? It might seem strange that Joseph is asking this question seeing as Judah has just spent a not inconsiderable amount of time explaining to Joseph that it would kill their father should they return to Canaan without Benjamin. Joseph’s words remind his brothers that they have the same father. They are all children of the promise. As we have our family reunion(s), let us remember that we all have the same Father. That our Father is still living. We are all children of the promise. We will stand as children of the promise, as the song goes. This is what we will do. We will stand together as children of the promise, no matter what has gone on. We will stand as children of the dream. The dream was never about who would have power over whom or whose sheaf was better than other sheaves. The dream was about the salvation. The dream was about the saving of lives. The dream is about the saving of life. To live in the Family of God is to be children of the divine dream, the divine vision which is the reconciliation of humanity with God through the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. The vision described by the prophet Isaiah of the wolf living with the lamb, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child leading them. Here’s how the writer/preacher to the Hebrews described it: 22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Here’s how John described the vision in his book of revealing:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
We’re people of the vision. People of the promise. Let us live into this identity as we reunite, making the dream known in all we do and say. Happy To See Each Other
Are we happy to see each other? I pray to God that God inspires such joy in us that might move us to tears. It’s been 22 years for Joseph and his brothers. It’s a beautiful scene really. Joseph is overcome. No stiff upper lip here. There is such depth of feeling that the sound of Joseph’s weeping can be heard by the Egyptians and by Pharaoh’s household. It’s ringing through the city because this mutual affection that is ours is not just for our benefit. The brotherly and sisterly affection which Paul wrote we should be loving one another with, is not solely for our benefit. May we live as children of the promise. May we live into the promise by taking Jesus’ words seriously - that all might know we are disciples of Christ by the love that we have one for another. What a touching scene: “Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterwards his brothers talked with him.” After 22 years, restoration of relationship. Reconciliation despite what had happened (and if anyone had a reason to hold a grudge, surely it was Joseph). Twenty-two years earlier Joseph’s brothers hated him and could not speak peaceably to him. Now they’re together and the emotion of the reunion is enough to move them to tears. We have this wonderful detail at the end of v 15 – “and after that, his brothers talked with him.”
You Sold Me – God Sent Me
They are looking forward now. “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old,” cried the prophet, Isaiah. (Of course, Isaiah also said “Remember the former things” because we’re rarely called to do just one thing.) “And now…” says Joseph, “do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves…” It is here that we get to the whole crux of the matter, and it’s not for nothing that we use the word crux here, for how can we not think of the place where the truth that Joseph is speaking here is made known in a whole new and wonderful way. “You sold me,” says Joseph, and then we have those two wonderful words – “but God”. “But God sent me.” “It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you,” Joseph tells his brothers. “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.”
“Even though you intended to do harm to me,” Joseph will tell his brothers later in the story, “God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.” God intends life. God turned a place of death into a place of live. God turns graves into gardens. A valley of dry bones are turned into an army. There is a larger purpose for everything even though we not see it right away, and we might never see it on this side of the mirror in which we see dimly. Nevertheless, we persist. Nevertheless, our hope remains. Nevertheless, we trust. Someone has described God’s hand at work like this: “God’s purposes are not thwarted by human sin, but rather advanced by it through his good graces. The hand of God is seen, not only in clearly miraculous interventions and revelations, but also in the working out of divine purposes through human agency, frail and broken as it is.”
God’s hand at work is at times unseen, or only seen in retrospect. We catch glimpses of it though don’t we? I hope we’ve seen glimpses of God’s hand at work in our lives over the past 18 months. Perhaps in the way that technology has enabled us to remain close. Perhaps in the things that we were forced to do without that we found we could quite happily do without. Perhaps in the way in which we longed for some of the things that we weren’t able to do and our joy in being able to do them once again.
Throughout this story, throughout all our stories, we see God’s sovereignty at work – hand in hand with human action. Both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are in play. As followers of Christ we’re called to live between the two. We believe that God is in control but that doesn’t absolve us of action. We believe we are called to action and at the same time we are entirely dependent on God in our action. We’re going to be looking at the story of the restoration of the people of Israel in Ezra and Nehemiah over the coming weeks and there’s a great line in Nehemiah 4 which goes “So we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.” Pray and set a guard.
God Works in the Ordinary
Because the God to whom we belong, dear friends, works in the ordinary. There is work to do at the end of this passage. It’s not just about a happy reunion scene. Verse 9 “Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.” Taking part in God’s life-giving work for the world is an all of life thing, after all. Joseph’s father and brothers and their families had things to do to take part in God’s life-giving work. We have things to do in order to take part in God’s life-giving work. There are people all around us suffering. There are people all around us at their wit's end, lashing out in all kinds of ways or withdrawing. How might we show the light of life to them? We needn’t bemoan the fact that we are not large in number. God works in the ordinary and God does not despise the small. God worked through a childless couple, a wandering Aramean and his wife, to whom a promise was made. God worked through a younger brother sold into slavery. God works through an itinerant rabbi, a son of a carpenter put to death in an obscure province of the Roman Empire. And look what happened with that!
Look what’s happening with that. Let us look at what is happening with that and thank God for all of His goodness to us, on days of reunification, and every day.