Thursday, September 20, 2018

Sermon Sketches ~ Gen. 39:1-23--God with Us.

How easy it is, when no one is looking, when no one is do just what we want to do. No one will miss a few items from the storage room when there are so many things in there; no one will notice some food items missing from pantry, it’s so full; no one will catch that I misrepresent my assets on my income tax return; no is going to see me cheat on this exam; no one is going to see what happens when I’m out of town—after all, "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." That’s the attitude that we have far too often...and how far from the truth we have wandered.

Joseph has been through some hard times. If anyone deserves to have a chip on his shoulder, it’s Joseph. Sure, he had those amazing dreams of his brothers all bowing down to him. That didn’t settle well in the family. Then, Dad (Jacob) gives the boy this crazy-wild outfit to wear...and that only makes the brothers more jealous and angry. Finally, they’ve had enough and decide to kill the boy. Now that is jealous and angry to an insane degree! But, one brother intervenes—"let’s just sell the guy into slavery and tell the family he’s dead;” that way, no search party...and he’ll be gone forever. Out in the pasture, they toss Joseph in a deep well, rip and shred his precious cloak and splatter it with blood from a sheep they slaughter for supper, and then take the cloak home to show that Joseph has been killed by some wild animal. And Joseph is gone.

When we read the stories of the dreams, Joseph doesn’t seem braggadocios—at least not in my reading. He seems rather matter-of-fact in the whole thing, and he is not recorded as droning on and on about it. He has a dream, tells the dream...and moves on. Does he deserve the hatred his brothers have for him? Probably not that degree of hatred. So, he’s sold into slavery...and ends up in Egypt where a fellow named Potiphar buys him and brings him home.

Young, healthy, handsome Joe is not only strong and able; he has a good mind. He organizes. He plans. And, he has a way with people—there are some leadership qualities there. Soon, Potiphar puts Joe in charge of the household—over the other slaves, over purchases, upkeep. He holds the keys to home. He does his job well. He doesn’t take a little here and a little there. He doesn’t turn away when other slaves are out of line—he corrects them. He is what we would call a man of integrity.

Integrity has been defined and articulate in various ways:

Merriam-Webster defines integrity as 1) a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values, 2) an unimpaired condition, and 3) the quality or state of being complete or undivided.

Others have said...

 “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”   ― Oprah Winfrey

 “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.” —Chinua Achebe

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”  ― Abraham Lincoln

Integrity is the teenager in California who this week found a purse beside the road that contained $10,000...and took it to the police station and saw it returned to the owner.

Integrity is the politician who graciously concedes defeat and walks away.

Integrity is not taking advantage of people, situations, and laws...just because you can.

Integrity is selecting the best person for the job rather than the person who’s related to so-n-so. (And integrity is firing the person who is not doing the job.)

Integrity is as simple as the person who promises to be there, who gets through with work after a long day and is tired...but shows up anyway because he or she promised to be there.

Oh, to have people of this character in public life today!

Joseph adhered firmly to code of living, he allowed nothing to impair him, and he was complete and undivided in his determination. And, not even the mistress of the house was going to deter him from his path of life, his way of living.
     “Joe, come...let me show you something.”
     “Joe, you look tired—just lie down here with me a while.”
     “Joe, no one is around, no one will know. Potiphar won’t be home for hours.”
Joseph’s response? “No.” And he said “no” over and over and over.

Why? What led to this firmeza de conciencia (strength of conscience)? Could be that Joseph was keenly aware of what we see over and over again throughout this narrative, a truth that comes through time and again in Scripture? At the beginning and end of this passage, we hear “...the Lord was with him....” Could it be that Joseph was very aware that God was with him...there...and everywhere? Could it be that he learned something powerfully important in his experiences—that at the bottom of that well he sensed God’s presence with him? As he trudged along beside the other slaves headed for Egypt, did he feel God was with him? As brought order to Potiphar’s home, did he know God was with him...right there, with him?

The Psalmist sings of this presence, this inescapable presence of God, in Psalm 139 (NIV):
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Wherever Joseph goes, God is there. When Joseph is part of the slave caravan, God is there. When he is in Potiphar’s house, God is there. When he is thrown into prison, God is there.
When we get to the New Testament, God is there as well. In fact, God breaks into our world in a new and amazing way:

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”) (Matthew 1:23).
In Jesus, God with us...God now walks among us.

Wherever we go, God is with us. When we are enslaved to addictions, God is there. When we’re home or at work or in between, God is there. When we are imprisoned in difficult situations or relationships, God is there. No matter what seemingly bottomless well we think we’re stuck in, no matter what strange situation, no matter how distant we may be from all that is comfortable and known, God is with us.

Perhaps knowing God was there is what gave Joe the courage to remain true, to do the right thing. Perhaps that idea that “no one will see” or “no one will know” is simply a lie we tell ourselves—because God is there. God is with us! God is with us and God loves us.

Too often, we imagine that if God is there, God is standing over us, waiting for us to screw up so punishment can be dealt. I think of Jesus...walking beside me. I think of Jesus, laughing, talking, interested in me, in you. He walks with us not to “catch” us; rather, Jesus walks with us because he loves being with us, he wants to share life with us...and, he wants to help us to live well, to live lives of love and care, to live with integrity.

Integrity is seeing those people, places, attitudes, beliefs and activities in our lives that are out of line, out of character, with who we are as Christians and deciding to remove them from our lives. Easy? NO. Not at all. If it were, we’d all be people of integrity all the time—integrity feels a lot better than the cheating, stealing, defrauding, lying, playing-favorites self. But, God with us! The Spirit of Christ is with us to help us, encourage us, cheer us towards a life of greater and greater integrity. Do you need to make changes? God invites us to a life of integrity. We can do what’s right, we can live well, because God is with us, empowering us to live that way, God’s way. 


(Sermon Sketches are the bare bones of sermons that are 'in-process' around the mid-week mark. I invite readers to build on what I've written, make suggestions, and ask questions.)

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