Another Coat Left Behind

This week’s sermon Scripture Genesis 39.

FB Meyer in his character profile about Joseph and his technicolor dreamcoat asks, “Would you rather, like Joseph, be living in difficult circumstances with a clear confidence or like Joseph’s brothers; successful but with blood on your hands and guilt in your heart?”

This week’s sermon points out that Joseph made a difficult situation a success. Forced into slavery by his brothers, he went to work in a strange land and produced success for his boss, Potiphar. Potiphar saw Joseph’s success and also Joseph’s partnership with God. It was clear to a non-believer that Joseph took his marching orders from his God.

Joseph also experienced the prospect that success can create temptations. The temptress in this story was Potiphar’s wife and she doesn’t even get her name mentioned.  But it is clear in the telling that she was bored by the success found in affluence. Though she had everything she wanted, she cannot keep her hands off Joseph. She wanted him as a plaything.  Joseph resisted the seduction but was forced to flee without his coat. Again.  The coat became the evidence used against him and he was thrown, yet again, into a pit.  This time with other prisoners. Do you see it?  The only one virtuous and faithful was the one who was punished. Bad things do happen to good people.

Finally, Psalm 105 reminds us that although Joseph ended up in the pit, there was a  promise in the making.  The Scripture says in vs 18 that as a result of his imprisonment, “iron came into his soul.”  Joseph, even in the most bleak of moments, was being sustained and strengthened for some future calling.  A calling that would be more demanding.  It was in this moment of difficulty that he received the constitution that he needed for future success.

The Promise and the Pits

This week’s sermon Scripture reference: Genesis 37 cont’d

Thanks, Matt Judkins for the reminder of this exhibit in the British Museum:

“An interesting map is on display in the British Museum in London. It’s an old mariner’s chart, drawn in 1525, outlining the North American coastline and adjacent waters. The cartographer made some intriguing notations on areas of the map that represented regions not yet explored. He wrote: “Here be giants,” “Here be fiery scorpions,” and “Here be dragons.” Eventually, the map came into the possession of Sir John Franklin, a British explorer in the early 1800s. Scratching out the fearful inscriptions, he wrote these words across the map: ‘Here is God.'”

The story of Joseph doesn’t start off very promising. As a seventeen year old, he finds himself ratting out his lazy older brothers to his dad.  Not only does dad punish the sons but rewards Joseph with the famous coat of many colors.  J is definitely a fink (or a snitch in today’s parlance) in the eyes of his bros. J has made it even more insufferable by conveying his visions on the guys, “You will all, one day, bow down to me.”  Good one little bro.

My reading of it is that he is so reviled by his brothers that it is no longer safe to go out into the fields with them. He’s staying home in some familial witness protection program when his crotchety old father sends him back into the fray.  “Go out and check on your brothers,” was the instruction.

Sure enough, the brothers do have it out for him and his dreamcoat, and his fancy dreams of one day being their object of worship and respect. Those dreams don’t leave much room for the traditional family line and inheritance protocol.  The brothers conspire to kill him and only a last minute suggestion by Ruben keeps Joseph alive and thrown into a well.  We know the story, he is then sold off to a traveling band of merchants headed for Egypt.

There be dragons in Egypt. and scorpions and there might as well be giants too.  A hellish circumstance for anyone and completely confusing when you measure the dreams against the reality.  But of course, we know how the story goes and what we all love is a comeback.  This is the pit of a story that ends well. But not before it goes badly first.  I think you know where I’m headed on this.

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”   Luke 9: 24

Dreams are great, they can carry us on a bad day but when God has a hand in it, there’s dividend besides.  There’s a dangerous but predictable moment when we wonder where is God in all of our difficult moments. But the collaboration that is taking shape in the midst of our doubts, our setbacks and our sufferings is the fruit of God’s presence. We’ll see it when it’s over if not before.

Richard Rohr calls this, “mature second half of life stuff.”  The reality of death and doubt as a life affirming and redeeming force.

Waiting On the Promise

The story of Joseph and his technicolor dreamcoat is the stuff of Broadway, for sure. His story has sex, betrayal, political intrigue and personal redemption. Who doesn’t love a story that includes a bedroom scene that fades to a prison. Can Joseph, raised as the favored son, really see things differently from his position of privilege? The real question is whether he can rise above the larcenous culture of his family of origin to ascend to some more worthy and honorable position.

This is a question I often pondered while serving as chaplain at juvenile correction facilities. Young boys and girls who seemed innocent at the core found themselves in jail because of the malevolence of others. I would wonder if they could see the errors of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Could they grow and adapt to more positive modes of behavior? Could they resist the influence of older schemers.

During the winter and Easter season, I will be walking my fellowship through a study of Joseph’s life found within the pages of Genesis 37-50. It’s stock filled with twists and turns, highs and lows, family deception and redemption.