There’s a saying you may have heard. “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.” There are times when we may wonder about that. Is God good when there is a tragic death? Is God good when you lose your job and you’re left wondering how you are going to make it financially? Is God good when a loved one suffers a serious illness?
I had a young family of four come for financial help this week. A little two-year-old girl and a newborn daughter. FPL was turning off electricity the next day. The church gave them $170. Their lease was not begin renewed so they were out in two weeks, not knowing as of now where to go. I emailed the mom Family Promise’s website address. They were so grateful for this help.
It’s hard to see folks having such a tough time. I’m glad when people in need ask for help. They’re right to do so. I wish we could do more, but we helped. Family Promise will help. I believe they will get things together and get further where they want to be than they are now. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.
It takes strength and faith and hope and sheer love sometimes to be able to say and believe that. Let the Lord have more of your heart when your heart feels less than it used to. When goodness is in short supply, lift your heart to the Lord, even if it weighs as heavy as a stone. God’s goodness will be revealed to you in time.
Joseph’s story is complicated and one of the longest of the patriarchs in Hebrew scriptures. Joseph is one of Jacob’s twelve sons he had by four women, two wives and two non-wives. The family dysfunction is palpable. Favoritism never works well, and in this family, favoritism goes back at least a generation. There was favoritism in Jacob’s family of origin. Isaac the dad favored Esau, while Rebekah, mom, favored Jacob. The results were not pretty; unfortunately, Jacob didn’t learn from this. He clearly favors his youngest sons, children of his favorite wife Rachel, with Joseph being favored of the favored. This leads to all kinds of issues.
Jacob has a beautiful coat made for Joseph, the coat of many colors – or as they have it in the Broadway musical, the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Joseph is arrogant and flaunts his favoritism. He tells his brothers of his dream in which they are all bowing down to him. As a young man, he is not a real likable person. With the coat and then the dream, his
brothers reach the limit. They mean to kill him, but one brother, Reuben, does the best he can and convinces them to throw Joseph into a pit instead. In the end, they pull him out and decide to make some cash on the little braggart, selling him to Midianite traders who are passing by. Talk about sibling rivalry gone bad!
Then, they took Joseph’s coat, his coat of many colors, and dipped it in goat blood. They took it back to Jacob, who naturally believed the brothers’ story that his favorite son Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.
This brings us to today’s scripture. The Midianite traders went on to Egypt and sold Joseph to Potiphar, one of Pharoah’s high officials and captain of the guard. He was now enslaved in a foreign country hundreds of miles away from his family.
Nevertheless, Joseph did well in Potiphar’s house. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, good with people, and before long, Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of the household. He’s in charge of purchases and upkeep. He has the keys to the home. Joseph becomes a trusted advisor and overseer. Talk about making an omelet from a lot of cracked eggs!
But there was this issue with Potiphar’s wife. Joseph was a good-looking guy, and Potiphar’s wife had a thing for him. She tried to seduce him, tried to interest him, but Joseph wouldn’t fall for it. One day, when Potiphar is away and none of the household servants seem to be around, Potiphar’s wife tries again to entice Joseph and grabs his robe. Joseph runs out of the room, leaving his robe in her hands. Now, it’s either him or her who’s at fault. She calls all the members of her household and says, “My husband has brought this Hebrew into our midst and that man made advances toward me. I screamed and look, he ran and left his robe!” Potiphar comes home and she reports the same thing.
Did you catch what happened there? There’s a racial or cultural dimension to it. “This foreign man, this outsider, this Hebrew tried to take advantage of me.” Pointing out that Joseph was a Hebrew was important.
Now, in a sense this episode is not the way it usually works because it’s usually the man taking advantage of the woman. The male boss makes suggestive comments to a female subordinate because he can get away with it. But in another sense, it’s exactly the way that it usually works because it’s the powerful preying on the powerless. In this case, Mrs. Potiphar makes suggestive comments and comes on to a Hebrew slave because she
can. Joseph doesn’t have a chance to deny it and nobody would believe the Hebrew slave’s word.
But there’s reason to believe that Potiphar had his doubts. The text says Potiphar was enraged and took Joseph and put him in prison. The consequences should have been a lot worse, as torture leading to death would have been de riguer. Joseph suffers wrongfully—he’s thrown in prison. He would have taken that any day over the alternative, however.
This morning’s scripture seems ripped from the headlines. Much more often, a man is the one in a position of power who abuses a woman. The behavior can range from comments, looks and whistles to something much, much worse. The news on this front can be dismal. We’ve had doctors molesting Olympic gymnasts and Hollywood producers taking advantage of young actresses. When it comes to men mistreating women, there is a wide range of severity: from unwanted comments to deadly violence. What they have in common is the fact is that so many suffer because they were women, and men chose to abuse them.
The church must condemn this in the strongest possible terms. Sexual harassment, abuse, and violence run counter to God’s purposes and hopes for girls and women, and men and boys. We’re not to be prey or victims, perpetrators, or predators. Those who have suffered will hopefully find the courage to come forward. Speaking words into pain releases one to breathe again. Letting the perpetrator hold the burden of guilt and fear frees the victim to live better.
A question we may have this morning is, “Where is God in Joseph’s life?” Joseph’s life was a series of peaks and valleys, highs, and lows. One after another. When we say God is good, it’s not because God is kind of a spiritual Superman who flies in and saves the day. God is good but not because if we follow Jesus everything will be sunshine and roses. No, God is good because we are never forgotten. God is always there, always for us and always with us.
The Lord never got off Joseph’s crazy roller coaster ride of a life. There was no point at which Joseph went beyond the point of no return. God never said, “Geesh, this is loco. I need a break.” Just so we’re clear, this isn’t because Joseph was different than us, and by different we mean better or more special than we are. It’s because of who God is, the one who searches for the one lost sheep when ninety-nine others are doing just fine.
When we’re treated unfairly, unjustly, when we suffer because of the evil intent and actions of others, where’s God? Hanging on tight to your downhill runs and your uphill flights. You twist to the left or you roll to your right, and the Lord’s still holding on. It’s a life grip God has on you. You can’t shake the Lord.
We are all blessed by God. We are blessed in the good days, in those times when a lot of good-looking sunshine falls all over you and your loved ones. We are blessed also in the difficult times, when the curtain come down and a tattered flag of one’s life seems to fly at only half-mast. In all our days, God has you in sight. You are accounted for. You aren’t missing, and the Lord hasn’t gone AWOL.
This was true for Joseph even at probably his worst moment—when his brothers denied him, hated him, tore him from his father, mother, and home, and sold him as a slave. Wasn’t God there when Reuben convinced them not to kill Joseph? Didn’t he save his life? In that bad of a situation, wasn’t that the power and goodness of God bringing what was the best that could be brought out of this situation.
Everything that happens is not God’s doing. Everything that happens is not God’s will. What happens that isn’t God’s will is the definition of sin. It’s not possible to say humans sin and to say everything that happens is God’s will. Both can’t be true at the same time for the same action. We can choose to cooperate with God’s intentions, or we can take another path. We can follow Jesus’ ethic of love for neighbor, a stranger, the wrong doer, even; or we can live for ourselves and ignore the humanity of our neighbor.
So can other people choose; and they do painfully, as it turns out. When that happens—when we are the one who is suffering—it doesn’t mean God has abandoned us. Despite what can sometimes be ours or others’ best efforts to the contrary, God is always working for good.
Romans 8:28 is a wonderful verse often translated as “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.” It doesn’t mean everything works out for the best, at least not how we would define it before going through what we go through. It means whatever happens, God takes it and starts again to work for good. The Lord is tireless in pursuing good and bringing blessings.
God is good all the time. All the time, the Lord our God is good!
Can the church say Amen?