When All Seems Hopeless
Sometimes in life things just “don’t go your way.” You try to be a good person, someone who volunteers to help whenever needed. You try to do all the right things, helping friends who need help moving, paying your taxes, being polite to other people. You try to be faithful with your skills, participating in your church’s ministry, studying the Bible regularly. You try to be wise with your time, not spending hours scrolling through Social Media, but making time for family and giving your offering to support your church.
But no matter how hard you try, things just fall apart. When you need help no one is around. Your hard work doesn’t seem to have any results. If you feel like this at times, guess what? This is how things must have felt for our hero of faith, Joseph son of Jacob, the Joseph we heard about in our Old Testament reading from Genesis. Joseph lived a life of ups and downs.
You see, when most people think about the “Old Testament” Joseph, they think about Joseph as second-in-command of Egypt. They think about Joseph who saved Egypt from a seven year famine by saving grain during seven years of plenty. So what most people don’t think about is the young Joseph for whom things just fell apart again and again and again.
Joseph was his father Jacob’s favourite son. Joseph even had a special coat that reminded everyone of this. And so when Joseph had some dreams where everyone in his family, even his father, were bowing down to him as their king, this was “the last straw.” You should read about it in Genesis. But in short, Joseph’s brothers threw him down in a pit to die, and eventually sold him into slavery. You can say, things fell apart.
But then something good happened. Joseph was sold to a man named Potiphar, who was the captain of Pharaoh’s guard, a very important person. And Joseph was so faithful serving him that he eventually managed Potiphar’s entire estate. And Joseph was so faithful to Potiphar that when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him again and again he refused. Then things fell apart. Potiphar’s wife “framed Joseph” and made it look like Joseph was the person in the wrong. So Potiphar threw Joseph in prison.
Well guess what? Joseph was a model prisoner. And he served the prison warden so well that Joseph was in charge of everything again. And not only that, one day there were two important royal officials in prison with him, Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer. And Joseph interpreted their dreams for them, and asked them to remember him and mention him to Pharaoh when they got released. But, things fell apart. The one died, and the other forgot. And for two more years Joseph stayed in prison…until one night Pharaoh wasn’t able to sleep. You see, one night Pharaoh had two dreams, and both were kind of weird. In the first dream, there was these seven large, fat cows who came to the Nile river to graze. But then seven ugly, sickly cows came up behind them and ate them. In the second dream he saw something similar. Seven stalks of high, health grain grew up before him. Then seven dry, withered talks grew up and swallowed the healthy ones. What did it mean?
You see, these were not ordinary dreams like we might have almost every night. There was something about them that disturbed him. They were sent by God. And they were both so similar. So Pharaoh tried to get supposed wise men and experts to interpret them, but no one could, until someone remembered Joseph.
Do you remember that baker who forgot about Joseph? Well, this time he remembered Joseph, that one Hebrew dream interpreter, and before too soon Joseph is out of prison, clean shaven, sharply dressed, and standing before the ruler of one of the most powerful empires the world has known.
Joseph says he can interpret the dreams — well, not him, but the God who is with him can. And Joseph tells Pharaoh that both dreams have the same meaning. God is going to send Egypt seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. So Pharaoh needs to get ready to store crops in the cities to prepare. And that’s where our Old Testament reading begins. Pharaoh was so impressed that he put Joseph in charge of Egypt. Joseph had Pharaoh’s “signet ring,” which basically allowed him to make any order and pass any law he wanted.
I wonder what Joseph thought. I wonder if Joseph thought everything was about to fall apart again, just like things did at home with his brothers, and with Potiphar, and with the officials in the prison. We can’t be sure what Joseph thought, and to be sure if you read the end of Genesis for yourself you can see that things with his brothers and family got complicated. But we see this, God saved his people through Joseph, and by saving his people God prepared the way for Jesus to be born to save us.
And if you have the chance to read about and study God’s people in the Bible, one fact stands out. The way God works doesn’t always make sense to us. And I mean more than just the common saying “God works in mysterious ways.” God often works in ways that seem totally contrary to what he promises.
Think about Joseph’s life. God showed Joseph that even his family would bow down to him and serve him. Do you think Joseph had doubts about that when he was sitting in a pit he brothers threw him into and left him to die? Or on the road to Egypt as a slave? Or during his years in prison?
In my opinion, one of the craziest things about Joseph’s life is that he didn’t give up hope. Joseph stayed faithful. When Joseph was a slave in Egypt, he was a faithful manager. When Joseph was in prison, he was the best prisoner he could be. How is it that Joseph never gave up hope?
Joseph never gave up hope because of whom he put his faith in. Joseph never gave up hope because he knew that God always kept his promises, even when it seemed impossible, and even when it took years. Being the great grandson of Abraham, Joseph would have grown up learning about God’s promise to send a Saviour. And if you read through Joseph’s life in Genesis for yourself, you’re going to read again and again that: “The Lord was with him.”
When we feel like losing hope and God’s plans don’t make sense to us, we need to go back to God’s promises. We need to read the Scriptures and see how God fulfilled his promise to send the Saviour. We need to remember our baptism when God adopted us, individually, into his family. We need to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper together and receive his grace. The Lord is with us. The Lord is with you. The Lord lived for you, died for you, rose again for you, and is coming back to be with you. The Lord sent his Spirit to find you and bring you to faith. The Lord is with you.
I can’t say what’s going on in all of your lives. Maybe things are crazy and chaotic. Maybe things are calm and nice. But I do know how it’s going to end. In the end of your story Jesus will come back and raise you from the dead, just as he promised (unless he comes sooner!). Remember this when all seems hopeless. The Lord is with you.
So be with each other. Honour God in your marriages and families as he has honoured you and promised to guide you and protect you. Be the best worker or student you can be, remembering Jesus who worked to save you. Come to worship faithfully and receive God’s good things in Word and Sacrament. Encourage each other, take care of each other, and enjoy time with each other, especially when all seems hopeless. The Lord is with you. Amen.