Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Genesis 45:3-11, 15 Faith, Time, and Understanding

Betrayal, this very word may bring up mean memories. Mean memories are those that can still elicit negative emotional responses in us. Mean memories can hurt, shame, depress us. Mean memories are painful.

Betrayal is painful to experience and painful to remember. I apologize if my talking about this word has made you uncomfortable. Sometimes the difficult things in life, the painful things, can help us grow the most spiritually.

If I were to ask for a show of hands of how many of you have experienced betrayal or perceived betrayal in your life, I believe most every hand would be raised. In a world as selfish, materialistic, and competitive as ours, betrayal happens all the time.

When the betrayal comes from someone close to you, someone who you love, and who you feel should love you, it can really hurt. I cannot even imagine how Joseph felt the day his brothers took away the coat he was so proud of and threw him into a pit. I cannot even imagine the fear he likely felt as his brothers sold him into slavery. The Scripture tells us there were relational difficulties in the family, but the hatred and jealousy of the brothers seem so disproportionate to the vileness of their actions. But then again, no one can hurt you more than someone to whom you are close.

The story of Joseph is a story of one tragic event after another. His brothers sell him into slavery. He is taken from his land into Egypt where he is sold to another person. While a slave in this person’s home he is falsely accused of doing something he is completely innocent of and put into prison. While in prison, he helps another person who promises to help him but then forgets. Even though he found ways to be helpful and successful in slavery and in prison, I doubt that life was very pleasant.

What makes this story even more difficult is that Joseph is faithful to God. Joseph trusted God. And even though he is faithful and trusting, he still has these bad things happen to him. This does not seem right. It does not seem fair.

If we are honest, when bad things happen to good people, people who love God, the question of why often arises. Where was God? Why did God let this happen? Does such a question mean that we are not faithful? No, it means we are human. It means we are limited in our understanding. It means life does not always happen as we think God should make it happen. It means we are not God.

Why is there suffering? Why is there disease, sorrow, grief, and pain? Why do divorces happen? Why do families fight? Why do bad things happen to children? Why does God allow violence? These questions arise out of the fact that we are made from love, and it is hard to justify love in the midst of so much evil and hurt.

Such questions, such experiences can make people resentful and angry. Such questions and experiences can harden hate and deepen doubts. Such questions and experiences can ruin lives, but not Joseph. Why was Joseph not angry or bitter? Why was Joseph not vengeful and vindictive?

The only answer that was possible is the relationship Joseph had with God. Joseph trusted God even when times were bad. Joseph held on to his faith even when it was hard to understand why he had to face the difficulties which came his way through no fault of his own. Do you think Joseph ever asked why, why me God? If he did, it would not be a sign of losing his faith.

Remember the words of the most righteous, good, and innocent man, Jesus, who said while nailed to a Roman cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk. 15:34 NRS) These same words were uttered by a man called a man after God’s own heart, King David. Psalm 22 begins with, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” (Ps. 22:1 NRS)

True faith trusts despite situations. True faith holds fast regardless of circumstances. True faith expresses itself knowing God loves and God’s love will not be driven away by our lack of understanding of what God is doing.

Do you understand there will be times in your life that you will not fully understand what God is doing? Do you understand that every day of your life there are risks you cannot perceive? There are dangers you cannot predict. There is an enemy who is constantly trying to deceive you, manipulate you, use you to foster its diabolical desires? It is not if but when. If you have not learned to turn to God, to trust God, to have faith despite circumstances and situations you will be in trouble. If you do not know God loves you and that all things will work out for good because the Lord knows and is active you will have an even more difficult time. You will be in desolation. Being in desolation without support deepens the hurt and pain.

God used Joseph to prepare Egypt for a coming long-term famine. This saved countless lives. God was also going to allow Joseph to save his own family from starvation. Joseph likely did not know this while all the bad and unfair things were happening, but when his brothers come before him when he is second in command of all of Egypt it is not revenge or anger that wells up in him. It is understanding.

He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.

Joseph’s faith gives him a gift. His faith gives him understanding. His faith gives him love. His faith gives him the power of forgiveness. Joseph can give his family life in a time when death seemed to have the upper hand.

I know I have faced what I believed was terrible unfairness. I have experienced great betrayal. I failed miserably in my understanding until the love of God gave me another chance, another opportunity to trust and love. Yes, the mean memories still arise, and I experience still experience the pain of my failures however now I can view them through the eyes of God’s faithfulness and love and they no longer can drag me down. In fact, I can now see the good that God was doing.

The path of faith is never easy, but life itself is not easy. Bad things will happen. Pain will come. Faith, however, will lead to understanding.

Paul writes, “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:3-5 NRS)

In this world with so many mean memories, this is how we can deal with difficult questions and challenging realities. In faith, we never walk alone.