Sunday we asked God to grant us the spirit to think and do always those things that are right. Our Old Testament Scripture reading gave us the example of Joseph.
You’ve likely heard Joseph portrayed as a braggart and a tattle tale, perhaps in an effort to explain his brothers’ jealousy. Perhaps some teach him that way in an effort to justify their own jealous tendencies.
Some say Joseph bragged about his dreams.
But Scripture doesn’t say he bragged about them, it merely states that he reported them. And just because your brothers are jealous doesn’t mean you made them jealous.
Remember Cain? He was so jealous of his brother, Abel, that he entertained murderous thoughts.
God found Cain stewing in his anger and asked, “What’s your problem? If you do what is right, I’ll bless you, too. Sin is crouching at your door, don’t answer it.”
But he did answer it. When given the choice between yielding his heart, mind and behavior to God and being blessed, or stubbornly holding onto his anger, he took the anger and killed his brother. Abel wasn’t killed because made Cain jealous. Abel was killed because Cain wanted to do what he wanted to do and be blessed anyway. And he hated that God doesn’t work that way.
The assumptions we make about how Joseph reported his dreams are shaded by the bits of our personality we project onto him. When I read the account of his dreams, I don’t imagine Joseph bragging at all.
What do you do when you have a really wild, vivid dream? Do you report it to whoever is at the breakfast table?
I think that’s what Joseph was doing, just reporting a couple of weird, amazing dreams and naively believing his family would be amazed by them, too.
What about Joseph as a tattle tale?
There appeared to be just cause right there in our bulletin: “Joseph brought an ill report of them to their father.”
That’s how all the modern translations I’ve consulted tell it. But the Septuagint – the original translation of the OT from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek – tells a different story.
The Septuagint says it was the brothers who brought a bad report against Joseph. They were the tattlers. The exact wording: “And they brought against Joseph a bad fault to Israel, their father.”
“But,” Scripture continues, [in spite of the bad report] “Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age.” No reason other than he was born in his old age.
I keep hearing from friends who are becoming grandparents that grandkids are so much more enjoyable than kids. Perhaps because you can relax and enjoy children more when you are no longer striving for all the things for which youth strives.
In addition, Joseph as a braggart and snitch isn’t congruent with the character he displayed during the rest of his life.
Joseph was seventeen when his dad sent him to Shechem to check on the health and safety of his brothers. Some 17-year-olds would say, “No way! I’m not going. They hate me!” But not Joseph. He said. “Okay, (Septuagint: I’m ready).”
Being hated by your siblings is a long, lonely road to walk, and Joseph walked it, all the way to Shechem.
When he finally arrived his brothers weren’t there. At that point, some teenagers would shrug their shoulders, return home and say, “They weren’t there.” But not Joseph, he went the extra mile – the extra 20 or 30 miles to be more accurate – to Dothan.
That’s what always doing the right thing looks like – going the extra mile, even when you’re hated. Even when you’re really tired of being hated.
The rest of Joseph’s story reminds me of a book from my childhood. Remember it? The one with the guy in a parachute on the cover?: “Fortunately Ned was invited to a surprise party…” “Unfortunately the party was 1,000 miles away.”
Unfortunately going the extra mile got Joseph sold into slavery.
Fortunately “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered and the Lord gave him success in everything he did.”
That phrase recurs several times throughout Joseph’s story. “The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in everything he did…” Perhaps that is the key to always doing what’s right. Having the Lord with you, talking you through it.
But what came first, the chicken or the egg? Did Joseph always do what was right because the Lord was with him or was the Lord with him because he always did what was right?
Scripture tells us that God chose David to be the second King of Israel, because, as he said to Samuel, “He will do whatever I tell him to do.” Perhaps God chose Joseph because he was the same sort of man – one who could be counted on to do the right thing – to yield his heart, mind, and attitude to God.
So Joseph found favor in his master’s eyes and became his trusted attendant. But either Joseph was really hot or Mrs. Potiphar was really horny, either way, she pursued him relentlessly and when he wouldn’t acquiesce to her request, she accused him of rape and he wound up in prison.
Some people would be angry and bitter about now. But not Joseph. How do I know he wasn’t bitter and angry? He reached out to others, even in his own need.
The Lord was with Joseph in prison and Joseph was put in charge of all the other prisoners. One morning he noticed a couple of the new guys looking dejected. He sat down and asked them what was wrong. They had both had disturbing dreams the night before. Joseph said, “I’m pretty good with dreams, let’s hear ‘em.” After hearing the dreams he told the first guy that his dream meant he would be restored to his position as cupbearer to the king within three days. The cupbearer was thrilled and relieved. Joseph said, “When you get out of here mention to Pharaoh that I don’t belong here.” The cupbearer said he would.
But, he didn’t and Joseph languished in prison another two years.
Two more years of faithfully performing the duties placed in front of him. Two more years with his dreams on hold.
You can dwell on all the bad things that have happened to you – sold into slavery when you were just trying to help; exercising sexual integrity and being falsely accused anyway; helping someone who doesn’t help you back. You can rehearse all the injustices and conclude that God doesn’t care, or you can look for all the ways He helped you in the midst of it all and be grateful.
You know the rest of the story. Pharaoh had a dream that no one understood, the cupbearer finally remembered Joseph, Joseph interpreted the dream and even offered a brilliant plan to deal with the impending famine. He was made second in command of all of Egypt, was reunited with his dad, wrestled with prospect of reconciling with his brothers and in the end did the right thing.
And, if you know the whole story, Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were greatly blessed.
What lessons can we glean about always doing right as we watch Joseph’s life unfurl?
- Go the extra mile, even when people hate you. Be good for goodness’ sake.
- Do your job well, even when you thought sheaves were going to bow down to you and you’re someone’s slave instead; give it your all even when you thought your life was going to be greater than it’s turning out to be.
- Take a compassionate interest in others, help them even in the midst of your own need.
- Let God be with you, even when you are languishing for two more years. Let Him still be with you. Listen to Him, yield your heart and attitude and thoughts to Him.
- Consistently do the right thing and your children will be blessed with a great legacy.
- Trust that what the haters mean for evil God means for good. God always means for our good.
In order to trust you have to think right.
Which brings us to Sunday’s gospel reading (from Matthew 14).
Mark and John gave a slightly different account, but Matthew told us that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side of the lake.
He made them get into the boat. That’s an important detail.
After He dismissed the crowds, He went up the mountain by Himself to pray.
By the time He finished praying, the boat was quite far from land. The disciples had been battling wind and waves all night and they were probably exhausted by the time Jesus caught up with them. So when they saw Him approach – walking on the sea – they were terrified. Not because the waves were battering their boat – some of them were seasoned fisherman, they knew how to handle wind and waves. They were terrified because they thought they saw a ghost.
How do you think right when you’ve been up all night battling strong winds and now you think you see a ghost?
You look at the facts:
Fact 1: Jesus made us get in the boat. It wasn’t our idea.
Fact 2: Jesus sent us to the other side of the lake. He didn’t, as Beth Moore so brilliantly pointed out, send us to the bottom of the lake.
Conclusion: So what if it’s a ghost? The second Jesus sent us ahead to the other side of the lake our arrival was guaranteed.
Same right thinking applies when you are Peter, endeavoring to do what only God can do.
What God invited you to do.
Peter got out of the boat and started walking toward Him. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and began to sink.
Peter had complete confidence in Jesus’s invitation until he saw the strong winds.
Reminds me of the first time I water skied: I grabbed the rope, the boat pulled me right up and I was skiing and having a really good time slipping in and out of the wake. And then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t be doing so well on my very first attempt, and with that thought I let go of the rope.
People can’t walk on water.
But when Jesus is the One doing the inviting, we can. So what if the wind is strong? His will is stronger. When He invites you to “Come,” He will get you there.
Or do you think He plays cruel tricks? Invites us and then lets us sink or swim?
When my first husband left me I spent many moons in a battered boat trying desperately to figure out what I had done to deserve abandonment. I rowed hard against a sea of accusations because Job wasn’t the only one who had bad friends. I evaluated my imperfections against the, in some cases, greater imperfections of my non-abandoned friends trying to make sense of it all. I felt like my life was doomed.
And then God climbed into the boat and reminded me of the facts.
He reminded me of that Sunday morning in April when I was getting ready for church, I was being baptized that day. And as I zipped myself into my floral dress, a thought floated through the air, “He’s going to propose today.”
He, I figured, was my boyfriend, who was also being baptized that morning. We had only been dating 4 months and we hadn’t talked at all about marriage so I just let the thought float right on by. I finished dressing and then practiced the Scripture verse I had chosen to recite before the dunking.
And sure enough, sitting on a sofa together in the pastor’s office – dry clothes back on, hair dried – waiting for the rest of the service to end, he did indeed propose.
And there were the facts: God knew that the marriage would end even as He floated that thought to me on that April morning. Perhaps that’s why He whispered it, So I’d remember that He was well aware that I was getting into the boat.
And even though He knew it wasn’t seaworthy, He didn’t try to stop me. He loves me and He didn’t try to stop me.
It’s not like I was rebelliously getting into a lemon of a boat. He was a christian, I was a Christian, his parents were happily married. I did my due diligence.
I hadn’t made a fatal mistake. I hadn’t married outside of His will. I wasn’t doomed. God knew and He allowed. He loved me and He still allowed. And if me getting into what He knew would turn out to be an unreliable boat was okay with Him, then from now on, it would be okay with me. I still couldn’t say the d word but I would trust that God meant it for good.
Praise God for always meaning it for good,
for speaking truth to our battered souls,
for taking the oars from our flailing hands,
for urging us on as we walk the lonely road,
for directing our thoughts as we languish for two more years.
Praise God for giving us the spirit to think right and do always those things that are right, even when life is habitually hard, that we, who cannot exist without Him, may be enabled to live according to His will.