What “Does” God Intend? 

Sunday, September 27, 2020
Pastor Mark Aune

Genesis 37:3-8, 17b-22, 50:15-21

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen

Today is confirmation Sunday at Augustana and it is another reminder of how much our lives have changed since Covid 19 turned our world upside down.

Confirmation Sunday is a big deal at Augustana. We want it to be special, a memorable moment in the timeline of faith development for our young people to pause and reflect on what it means to be part of the church and Christian community. The 35 young adults who confess faith in Jesus today are doing something significant and it has eternal consequences.

Plus, they will have the distinction and the memory of being the first, and hopefully the last group of young people to affirm their faith in Jesus Christ in a church parking lot and not in our sanctuary.

Given how strange it really is to have our confirmation service in a parking lot, I suppose it is fitting that our bible reading for today is strange and unsettling as well. It includes the ugly underbelly of family strife and outright hatred as well as how God is present and active in the middle of this messed up family.

We meet Joseph today and even though the musical about his multicolored coat is full of good music and lyrics, it doesn’t do justice to the dark side of this family we meet in Genesis 37.

Joseph is 17 years old; the favorite of his father and his older brothers were very jealous of him. Jacob 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.

It wasn’t just the robe and Joseph’s favorite status that bugged the older brothers. Joseph was an irritating, know it all, obnoxious younger brother.

When he has a dream that foretells his older brothers bowing down to him and serving him, they hate him even more and decide to get rid of him. First, they want to kill him but, in the end, they just decide to sell him to the Midianites who take him to Egypt where he is sold again into the household of the Pharaoh.

I can’t even begin to name all the layers of disfunction and heartbreak in this story. The power in this story is how real it is to our own lives. It is easy to see ourselves in this story.

  • It names the struggles families go through.
  • It reminds us that families don’t always get along.

I can’t help but wonder if Joseph asked himself where God was in all this trauma he experienced.

  • Did he question the presence of God in his life?
  • Did he feel abandoned by God, stuck in an unending loop of misery with no end in sight?

We ask similar questions, even today. Maybe especially today.

  • 6 months into a pandemic with no end in sight.
  • Daily reminders of what is lost.
  • Staggering numbers of death because of Covid.
  • Anxiety about the future as we cry out for it all to end as quickly as possible.

When I take a step back and pause for a moment, I find myself wondering and asking, what good will come out of this period in our lives?

What is God up to and what are God’s intentions in this cauldron of pandemic, politics and public health we simmer in right now?

I believe the Joseph story can help us answer some of these questions. I believe the Joseph story has something to say to 35 young people who are publicly confessing their faith in Jesus at a time in their lives when they have every right to question the presence of God in our world.

We must go to the end of the story to see what happens.

We must go to the end of the story in order to understand.

Then we have to take this Joseph story and hang on to the promises and the outcomes even as we cannot see what the outcome of our stories will be.

While Joseph’s father thinks he is dead and mourns his loss, Joseph thrives in Egypt. He faces many trials and through it all, keeps trusting God and relying on God until he is in a place where he can truly help the people of Egypt.

Then without knowing it would happen, he helps his own family. The same family that sold him into slavery.

Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” 16 So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17 ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also wept. 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.

The intentions of God can be difficult to see and understand. It is nothing short of remarkable to hear Joseph’s words to his brothers.

  • Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.
  • Think about the spiritual maturity it would take to say something like that and believe it.

Joseph’s ability to even make this statement of faith is only possible because of his deep, long standing relationship with God. This kind of a relationship takes time. It takes practice. It involves being tested.

The faith these young people confess today will be different in 30 years.

Hopefully it will be stronger.

It will be deeper.

It will manifest itself in ways they cannot even begin to imagine today in this parking lot.

Perhaps they will even have a faith like Joseph’s. The ability to look back on the trials and tribulations of their life and say, even though harm was done to me, God brought good out of it.

God was always watching over Joseph, especially in the darkest moments of his life.

And because Joseph trusted God and constantly put his life in God’s hand, he grew to understand and clearly see God’s intentions instead of his own. That is a clear sign of faith.

We have that same promise. This congregation, this community has modeled that promise for our confirmands.

Seeing the good, holding on to the good when life is challenging, and you are faced with pain and difficulties is not an easy thing to do. But when we believe and trust that God’s intentions are always for good, it gives us power.

It gives us the power to say, getting confirmed in a parking lot is a cool thing and God is present right here on this asphalt and in these cars.

It gives us to power to say, I forgive you for what you have done to me and I still love you because we are family and God has brought us together.

It gives us power to keep moving forward when every day brings a new challenge and we can’t see where we are going or what the outcome will be.

But we keep moving forward, trusting God, believing in God and seeking out ways to know God better and better.

Today we rejoice in our confirmands as they take one more step into living God’s intentions. It is one of what will be many steps they will take.

You and I walk with them, and together we can see the intentions of God are good.

For that hope and promise we say thanks be to God. Amen

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