Proper 19A’23
17 September 2023
Genesis 50.15-21
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; In the Name of the Holy Three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[1] Amen.


If you were to have to try an explain what formula would be required in order for a person to end up being successful, what would be on your list? Well, they would be born in a wealthy nation, into a good family, where the parents were both shining examples of wisdom and virtue, and well off financially. They would need to receive a well above average education from a fine institution of higher learning. They would need to be socially connected to the “right people” who could open the right doors so that they would be sure to have opportunities for proper advancement. Certainly, this person would turn out to be successful in life ending up in a position of power and prestige, along with the members of their family, and their trusted friends. Our reply might be, “Weelll…maybe not.”  Most of us with any life experience knows that success doesn’t always come dished out with a silver spoon.


In the story of Joseph, the definition of what success truly is and ‘the formula for achieving it is quite different than what we might think, here are just some of the necessary requirements for success: First you need to come from a neurotic and dysfunctional family where the parents are known to play favorites. Their favoritism creates jealousy and some serious sibling rivalry. Next, you need to add in a heavy dose of mystical dream experiences that will be judged as presumptuous, prideful and impractical. Dad adds to the brother’s jealousy by having a coat specially made for Joseph using expensive multicolored fabrics. Joseph has a series of dreams, one of them is depicted in the image on the cover of your bulletin. In this dream his brothers, symbolized by eleven sheaves of wheat bowing to the larger sheave at the center, which represented Joseph ruling over them. In another dream he is symbolized by the Sun and the Moon with his brothers symbolized by eleven stars bowing to the planets.


Joseph made the mistake of telling his brothers these dreams that predicted he would one day rule over them. This was the last straw and they kidnapped him and threw him into an inescapable pit. They then lied to Jacob, their father telling him that Joseph had been killed showing him Joseph’s coat they had dipped in goat’s blood.  His greedy brothers decide to make a profit by selling their brother into slavery to Egyptians who in turn take him to Egypt. Mysteriously, he ends up serving in the household of Potiphar, a high official in the Egyptian government. But some more bad luck strikes, the Potiphar’s wife takes a shine to the handsome slave and tries to seduce him. When Joseph rebuffs her advances there is hell to pay and he’s thrown into prison. God was with him though, and he is given favor and trust by the prison guards. One morning he interprets the dreams of two servants of the Pharoah, the baker, and the wine steward who had a falling out with Pharoah and the law. One is released and lives, while the other one is executed. The Pharoah has a dream and the servant who had been in prison with Joseph remembers that he had rightly interpreted his dream. Pharoah sends his lieutenant to retrieve Joseph to see if he can interpret his dreams, and he does, predicting that there will be seven years of bountiful harvests followed by seven years of famine. Pharoah releases Joseph from prison and places him in charge of his household.  Joseph immediately instructs the royal granaries to begin storing extra grain.


The famine had spread to surrounding countries and to keep from starving, Jacob has to send his sons to Egypt to buy grain. After some trickery by Joseph, he reveals himself to his brothers. Shortly after seeing Joseph, Jacob dies. The brothers are terrified and fear that Joseph will now take his revenge and kill them all. They beg his forgiveness, then Joseph, rather than taking revenge has compassion weeps, forgives them, and then it happens after all these years Joseph’s dream is fulfilled as all of his brothers fall to their knees bowing before their brother and declaring themselves to be his slaves.


Joseph then with 2020 vision says to them: “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 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. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones” and he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

What is this story trying to tell us about God? About our lives and our family’s lives? Does this mean that all of the tragedies in Joseph’s life were caused by God for the sake of a bigger purpose? No, I don’t believe so. Was all of this pain and suffering being done to Joseph by a cruel God? No, I don’t believe so. What if something was not being done to Joseph but something was being done for Joseph? Yes, I believe so. For surely the plan of God is about forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, and love. Joseph points us to confident trust in a loving God who promises to never leave us or forsake us, who is able to use all the pain, shadows and sufferings that life can dish out and mysteriously work his purposes out. In the end, our call is to be faithful, that is to show up as best we can, to face whatever life is throwing at us while trusting that something bigger and greater than ourselves is at work. Joseph wound up being in a foreign land for just such a time as this – to save thousands upon thousands of lives from starving, not the least of which were his own family members who had betrayed him. 

The late writer, poet and priest, John O’Donoghue echo’s Joseph’s words in a piece he wrote entitled, “For Someone Who Did You Wrong:”


                              Though its way is to strike

                              In a dumb rhythm,

                              Stroke upon stroke,

                              As though the heart

                              Were an anvil,

                              The hurt you sent

                              Had a mind of its own.


                              Something in you knew

                              Exactly how to shape it,

                              To hit the target,

                              Slipping into the heart

                              Through some wound-window

                              Left open since childhood.

                              “While it struck outside,

                              It burrowed inside,

                              Made tunnels through

                              Every ground of confidence.

                              For days, it would lie still

                              Until a thought would start it.


                              Meanwhile, you forgot,

                              Went on with things

                              And never even knew

                              How that perfect

                              Shape of hurt

                              Still continued to work.


                              Now a new kindness

                              Seems to have entered time

                              “And I can see how that hurt

                              Has schooled my heart

                              In a compassion I would

                              Otherwise have never learned.


                              Somehow now

                              I have begun to glimpse

                              The unexpected fruit

                              Your dark gift had planted

                              And I thank you

                              For your unknown work.[2]



Through the eyes of faith, we can see that perhaps something is not being done to us, but something is being done for us, and even the dark gifts can be used by God, “you have intended to do me harm but God meant it for good.” Amen.




[1] Excerpted from a service for Good Friday (revised), The Book of Common Prayer, p.280

[2] O’Donoghue, John, To Bless the Space Between Us (Harper San Francisco)